The Bose Brothers and Indian Independence

With access to diaries, notes, photographs and private correspondence, this book, written by a member of the Bose family, brings to light previously unpublished material on Netaji and Sarat Chandra Bose.

The Bose Brothers and Indian Independence: An Insi

der’s Account

Madhuri Bose
Publisher: Sage Publications
Pages: 265; Price: Rs 750

The Bose Brothers and Indian Independence: An Insider’s Account – by Madhuri Bose, the grand-daughter of Sarat Bose and grand niece of Subhas Bose, provides some fresh insight about this country’s freedom movement in particular the role of the formidable Bose brothers. It is the extraordinary brothers who gave up their joys, comforts and lives for the freedom and unity of India. It sheds light on the earnest efforts of Sarat, elder brother of Subhas, to preserve a single Bengal in the subcontinent’s east, even if partition in the west was unavoidable. The clandestine network of Subhas in Kolkata included friends who were able to smuggle for his inspection an entire dossier of files that the British-run police kept on him.

For an entire week in the summer of 1949 Subhas and his nephew Amiya Nath poured over the files secretly brought to their Elgin Road residence from the intelligence headquarters and returned discreetly to their shelves at dawn. The information in these files facilitated Subhas to make his famous get away from house arrest in January 1941 and find his way to Afghanistan and Germany. There have been differences between the Bose brothers and Mahatma Gandhi who was opposed to the use of the gun or the bomb for liberty though neither the Bose brothers nor the Father of the Nation could tolerate India’s inferiority or subjugation. Sarat’s gallant effort in May 1947 for a United Bengal unattached to either India or Pakistan forms part of the book.

The country’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel were opposed to it as were many others. This inevitably raises the question if Gandhi had continued to support Sarad’s bid, would one have been witness to a United Bengal? At the same time the Mahatma’s proposal for a Jinnah led government in Delhi to avoid partition in April 1947 was rejected by the Congress. The author observed as the afternoon shadows lengthened on a crisp Calcutta’s winter day on January 16, 1941, the ‘Prince of Vagabonds’ (a sobriquet ascribed to Subhas and Sarat) was making his final preparation to escape from his home.

The Bose Brothers and Indian Independence

A day later Subhas had slipped away by car, train and on foot and made his way from eastern to north and northwest India to Kabul in Afghanistan. He eventually arrived in Berlin in early April 1941 by air from Moscow. A carefully planned scheme in league with brother Sarat, and involving a handful of other close family members enabled Subhash deceive the cordon or watching British agents and embark on what he saw as the next and final phase of the Indian struggle, this time by force of arms from outside India. From the time of his arrival in Berlin Subhas spent his time seeking to build and empower an Indian legion, which would fight alongside German troops to prepare for an eventual attack on British India from the West.
His growing disillusionment with the Hitler led German regime’s reluctance to support Indian independence became evident.

He demanded on several occasions, including during his brief meeting with Hitler himself that certain objectionable remarks about India in ‘Mein Kampf’ be removed. That did not happen. Subhas has always been favourably disposed towards the Soviets to whom he had hoped to turn for assistance in an armed struggle against British imperialism. In August 1941 Subhas residing in Berlin in the heart of the Third Reich wrote to the German Foreign minister J von Ribbentrop that ‘the march of the German troops towards the East will be regarded as the approach not of a friend but of an enemy’.

Subhas had persuaded the German authorities that it made more sense for him to play a lead role in the Indian independence effort by force of arms in Asia and in alliance with the Japanese. The message reaching Germans from counterparts in Japan was the desirability of Subhas in the Asia/Pacific theatre of war. He was being called upon to lead efforts in the rejuvenation of an INA formed earlier by Tokyo based Indian revolutionary Rash Behari Bose, but now floundering. Thus it transpired that from eighth February 1943, Subhas undertook a perilous voyage from Europe to Southeast Asia by submarine in the midst of a world war. He managed to reach Tokyo from where he proceeded to Singapore.

With the support of the Japanese government he was able to form the Provisional Government of Azad Hind Force on 21 October 1943 in Singapore. The clarion call for independence and freedom now boomed from Singapore, Tokyo and Rangoon as well as the jungles of Southeast Asia: to the British – an uncompromising demand to leave India; to his countrymen and women – stay united, freedom is coming; and to the soldiers of INA – Chalo Delhi! Under Subhas the INA proved to be a revelation in its own right, defeated in battle by circumstances and superior forces, but destined to be a critical factor in Britian’s final realisation – even after victory in a world war that India could no longer be the ‘Jewel in the Crown’ of their Empire.

The Bose Brothers and Indian Independence

It will remain one of the great unknown of history, what might have happened if Subhas himself had been able to fulfil his vision of leading the INA back to India whether in victory or defeat. To be certain he would have continued the fight against the vivisection of the subcontinent, and his reappearance may have given new life to the ‘tired old men’ who accepted partition as the price for power.

The British were forced to recognise that they had lost the allegiance of the British Indian Armed Forces and could no longer hold on to India. The story of the air crash in which Subhas died is contested to this day. It is hardly surprising many believe that it was yet another ruse for him to slip away once again, this time to link up with the forces of the victorious Soviet Union in Manchuria. If further clarity has to be brought on this matter, then Madhuri Bose maintains the answers will need to be found in as yet unreleased archival material in Britain, Russia, the United States, Japan, and India itself. There is one certainty that the flame of Subhash “has not died and will not die. He will continue to fire the imagination and inspire the generations to come.”

The seeds of Gandhi’s ‘Quit India’ movement of August 1942, seemed to belatedly recognise the broad position of the Bose brothers. Sarat was to spend almost the next four years in jails in India mostly in Coonoor in Tamil Nadu. Sarat did rejoin the Congress but Amiya was later to rue his own role in deflecting his father from the more radical and even revolutionary alternatives bubbling just beneath the surface at that time. He took up the challenge of reabsorption of the erstwhile Subhas led INA into Indian life and politics and propagation of their hitherto blacked out exploits.

Sarat found life challenging on personal family matters. Emille Schenkl, an Austrian by birth who worked for Subhash in Europe on and off as his secretary since mid 1934, had written to him on 12 March 1946. She explained that she and Subhas had married in Berlin January 1942 and a daughter Anita had been born to them in November of that year. Giving the character of the child at three, Emille wrote she is a very good soul, resembles her father completely and being very pious likes to pray. Even though she is a baby she has her own faults of course as everybody else. Sarat welcomed them into the Bose family.

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