Subhas Chandra Bose wrote to his mother when he was only
15, "is God's beloved land." Thirty- three years later,
towards the end of his life, he told fellow-Indians: "Never
for a moment falter in your faith in India's destiny.
There is no power on earth that can keep India enslaved.
India shall be free and before long."
"discovery of India", unlike Jawaharlal Nehru's, occurred
very early in life. Born in 1897, he was deeply influenced
by the intellectual and cultural milieu of Bengal at the
turn of the century. In school and college, he was a pure
humanitarian, social reformer and, eventually, a political
activist. By the time he graduated from Calcutta University,
studied philosophy in Cambridge and qualified for the
Indian Civil Service, his sense of mission was not in
doubt. Subsequently he resigned from the ICS as he did
not want to wear "the emblem of servitude".
acceptance of Chittaranjan Das as his political guru during
the Non-Cooperation and Khilafat movements was a surrender
to a man similarly dedicated to the cause of India's freedom
based on Hindu-Muslim unity. His exile in Burmese prisons
witnessed the transformation of a lieutenant to a leader.
A leader, along with Jawaharlal Nehru, of the left-leaning
younger generation of anti-colonial nationalists. Between
numerous spells in prison, he played a major role in the
student, youth and labour movements. India, he believed,
should become "an independent federal republic". He warned
Indian nationalists not to become "a queer mixture of
political democrats and social conservatives".
demand at the Calcutta Congress of 1928 that "complete
independence" instead of "dominion status" should be the
goal of Indian nationalists was a sign that he was a step
ahead of his contemporaries. He repeatedly spoke on behalf
of the rights of three large communities -- women, depressed
classes and labouring masses.
the Civil Disobedience Movement was launched, Subhas was
in prison. He was elected mayor of Calcutta while in jail,
in 1932. It was at the Karachi Congress and the second
session of the Naujawan Bharat Sabha in the previous year
that he spoke of the need for a new, Indian variant of
socialism. Eventually in February 1933 he was released
after being put on a ship setting sail for Europe. A greater
part of his years of enforced exile was spent as an unofficial
ambassador of India's freedom. This was the period which
saw the transformation of a leader into a statesman. Despite
being in poor health, Subhas travelled tirelessly, spreading
India's message almost all across Europe and north Africa.
home as president of the Indian National Congress Subhas
provided an incisive analysis of the strengths and weaknesses
of the worldwide structure of British imperialism and
an egalitarian vision of the socio-economic reconstruction
of free India.
the end of his first term as president his rift with the
Gandhian right-wing of the Congress grew wider over the
issues of his uncompromising opposition to the federal
part of the 1935 Act, planning for socialism and insistence
on inner-party democracy. In 1939, he defeated Gandhi's
nominee Pattabhi Sitaramayya to be re-elected Congress
president. Faced with a campaign of non-cooperation against
him launched by the Mahatma, he resigned months later.
this political crisis he received strong support, as ever,
from his brother Sarat Chandra Bose and from Rabindranath
Tagore. The poet who regarded Subhas as "Deshnayak" was
confident that his apparent defeat would turn into a permanent
on July 2, 1940 Subhas was arrested it was for the 11th
time. He was sent home on December 5 after he had been
on a fast-unto-death for 10 days. The government had worked
out "a-cat-and-mouse policy" of taking him back to prison
as soon as he had recovered his health. On the night of
January 16-17, 1941, Subhas however made a planned escape.
He was driven from his Elgin Road home in Calcutta by
his nephew Sisir to Gomoh in Bihar from where he went
on to Peshawar. He finally reached Germany.
went to Europe primarily to gain access to Indian soldiers
in the British Indian Army who were being held as prisoners
of war. He had long believed that subversion of the loyalty
of Indian soldiers to the Raj had to be a crucial part
of the final phase of the anti-imperialist movement. German
invasion of the Soviet Union upset his plans of an armed
thrust from the north-west in support of India's unarmed
freedom fighters at home. So he left and after a 90-day
submarine journey arrived in South-east Asia.
assumed leadership of the Indian National Army (INA) as
its supreme commander. More than two million Indian civilians
living in South-east Asia responded to his call for "total
mobilisation". In his army of liberation Punjabi, Muslim,
Sikh and Pathan professional soldiers fought side by side
with Tamil and Malayalee rubber plantation workers. In
his Azad Hind Movement Netaji was able to demonstrate
by example how to achieve Hindu-Muslim unity and amity
and also give women their rightful role in public affairs.
proclaimed the Provisional Government of Free India in
Singapore and with "Chalo Delhi" on their lips the INA
crossed the Indo-Burma frontier. The promised march to
Delhi was halted at Imphal and Netaji was forced to retreat
on foot with men and women to Malaya. "The roads to Delhi
are many," he wrote, "and Delhi still remains our goal."
the winter of 1945 Netaji's soldiers were brought to the
Red Fort of Delhi. The trial of some of their officers
and the saga of the INA reached every Indian home. "The
whole country has been roused," Gandhi observed, "and
even the regular forces have been stirred into a new political
consciousness and have begun to think in terms of Independence."
Netaji had hailed the Mahatma as "the father of our nation";
Gandhi now returned the compliment by describing Subhas
as "the prince among patriots".
can lose," Subhas believed, "through suffering and sacrifice.
If he does lose anything of the earth, he will gain more
in return by becoming the heir to a life immortal." Long
after his mortal end, he remains deathless in the form
of an alternative vision.
Bose is professor of history and diplomacy
and director, Center of South Asian and Indian Ocean Studies,