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Getz, Marshall J. Subhas Chandra Bose: A Biography. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc, 2002

ISBN 0-7864-1265-8
161 pages

Acknowledgments; Introduction; photos; Conclusions; Endnotes; Bibliography; Index

   During World War II nationalist leaders from all over the globe, mistaking the war against Britain being waged by the Axis nations for a broader anti-imperialist policy, looked to Berlin, Tokyo, and Rome for support in throwing off the yoke of colonialism. Among the parade of nationalist leaders who sought Axis support—a list including the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Iraqi coupist Rashid Ali, Chinese "emperor" Henry Pu-Yi, Jose Laurel, and Ba Maw—few have a more intriguing tale than Subhas Chandra Bose.
   Mostly forgotten outside India (in Bengal, the centenary of his birth was widely celebrated in 1997), Bose has over the years nevertheless figured prominently in several fairly obscure books about World War II, including works by Hauner, Corr, Toye, Fay, and Lebra. In his slender new biography of Bose's entire life, however, Marshall Getz argues that it is impossible to understand Bose's war years, his political movement, and his leadership of the Indian National Army without looking at the larger context of the revolutionary's life.
   Toward that end Getz takes up his story with Bose's birth in India as the middle child of the large family (Getz says sixth of eleven; other authors number the children differently) of a respected small-town lawyer. Educated at English-speaking schools in India, plus a stint at Cambridge, the young man's formal training encompassed traditional Western subjects and Bible study. On his own, Bose was drawn to Hindu philosophy and poetry. "He spent long hours practicing yoga and transcendental meditation, or reading obscure and mystic volumes."
   Getz does not study his subject in a vacuum. He emphasizes how Bose was molded by political and philosophical currents raging through the educated elements of Indian society in the early years of the 20th Century. In particular, Bose was much influenced in his early years by the anti-colonialist "Swadeshi" movement.
   Interestingly, Getz also devotes quite a few pages to explain how many of the political events in India during World War I foreshadowed events during World War II. For example, Kaiser Wilhelm II, no friend of anti-colonialists, came to the conclusion that it was nevertheless in Germany's best interest to fund and support anti-British factions in India. Bose was a college student during these years of ferment.

   At Calcutta's Presidency College, Subhas Chandra Bose met politically minded students who advocated various means of liberating wartime India, including the use of violence. Bose disagreed with all of them and concluded that India's freedom depended upon a "process of natural reconstruction." He thought in terms of an organized movement, using force only as a last resort. Bose took a greater interest in politics than in his studies, and he quickly fell in with a group of reportedly seditious students, including Swadeshi activist Ananga Mohan Dam. The Raj's intelligence and security branch, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), kept this clique under surveillance.

   After graduating from college and studying in England, Bose became a civil servant. He then co-founded the radical Independence for India League with Jawaharlal Nehru, also serving in a variety of political and party positions. As a result, Bose frequently found himself jailed by the British authorities. Indeed, unlike Gandhi, Bose eventually embraced violence to overthrow the British and achieve an independent India, and was consequently branded a terrorist. While serving a prison term in 1930 in British Burma, Bose was elected mayor of Calcutta. In 1938, Bose—with Gandhi's backing—served as president of the All-India National Congress. However, the two men clashed over political philosophy and tactics, and Bose was banished from the party in April 1939.
   Afterward, Bose formed the Forward Bloc, a movement dedicated to achieving full independence by means of violence and establishing a socialist government for the sub-continent. The Forward Bloc emerged as a powerful force in Indian politics, and Bose rivaled Gandhi in the number of supporters who believed in his vision of India's future. This is an area where Getz's work shines as he explains the many strands of the anti-imperialist movement in India and fits Bose and his work into the larger political picture.
   Bose initially hoped to obtain support from the Soviet Union, but he was frustrated by Moscow's policies (which Getz describes, going back to the abortive Indian Legion of the Red Army in the 1920s) as well as the rivalry of M.N. Roy's Indian communist party. Bose's turn to Moscow becomes a recurring theme over the next few years. However, without Soviet support, although himself a committed socialist, Bose turned elsewhere in his quest for anti-British allies.

   Realistically, the concept of fascism seemed as alien to India as yoga was to Adolf Hitler. The situation in India differed greatly from that in Germany and Italy, but Bose drew some connections. The void left by the end of World War I became a hothouse for political extremism throughout Europe. Economies had been shattered worldwide. Lives spun aimlessly as an entire generation was lost. As Subhas Bose turned 25, he discovered millions of Europeans wracked by the same problem faced by India: lack of identity....
   As Subhas Bose learned about the meteoric rise of fascist governments, he began to admire the men who controlled them. He knew that powerful figures took over countries and steered them out of difficult times with strong hands. Hitler and Mussolini would have come from the lower castes had they been born Indians, yet they held absolute power. If such men thrived, could an upper-caste, Cambridge-educated philosopher unify India? Could an iron fist mold an Indian national character and expel the Raj forever? Would Bose's personalized melding of "Fascism and Communism" create an autocratic state more oppressive than the one imposed by the British colonial structure? Bose found comfort in the belief that India's multiple parties and factions would always keep India democratic, despite her centralized beginnings.
   One may question if Subhas Bose and his followers truly favored fascism. Bose himself certainly never adhered to fascism. He was a devout socialist in economic philosophy—a philosophy which contradicted pure fascism. Some historians doubt if he really understood the European right wing. Bose lauded fascism as anti-imperialism, yet he never publicly criticized Mussolini for his 1934-36 Abyssinian campaign. He denigrated Britain's condemnation of Italy by saying that the British acted solely in their own political interests. In fact, Bose resented England's use of Indian soldiers to "protect Indians and other British subjects" in Ethiopia.
   Bose claimed that India needed a highly paternalistic government with socialistic policies. Assuming that the young politician completely understood the ramifications of such a regime, and was not just dreaming of glory, how could he balance his hopes with his Hindu upbringing?

   Upon the outbreak of the Second World War, Bose was forbidden to speak in public and placed under house arrest. In July 1940 he was arrested for advocating anti-British violence and imprisoned (his eleventh incarceration at the hands of the British) in Calcutta. Released in December but forbidden to travel or foment rebellion—whatever else Indians might say about the Raj, the British were far more forgiving than many other colonial masters might have been in that situation—Bose decided to leave India and journey to Europe, which he had already visited on more than one occasion during the pre-war years. Getz describes Bose's colorful escape in detail: traveling in disguise by car and train to the Afghan border and then walking and hitch-hiking to Kabul.
   In Kabul, Bose contacted the Soviets and attempted to convince them to protect him and support his anti-British policies. Getz considers this another example of how Bose preferred a socialist movement for India, only turning to the fascist nations when all else failed. In this case, through the intervention of the Italians, Bose was able to travel to the Soviet border under a false identity, then by train to Moscow and onward by air to Berlin where he arrived in April 1941. At that point no one in India knew his whereabouts.
   In Germany Bose found far less tangible support than he had hoped. Even after producing a lengthy blueprint for German-Indian cooperation which produced a great deal of interest among certain German bureaucrats and Party functionaries, Bose found that Hitler and his inner circle continued to pay him little heed. A visit to Italy also produced few immediate results, although Mussolini seemed more favorably disposed toward the Indian. With Japanese entry into the war, Bose also attempted to gain support from Tokyo's representatives in Berlin. By February 1942 Bose had little to show for his dangerous journey to Europe except his marriage to an Austrian woman. (Although Getz does not mention it, there was also a daughter, Anita, born in Europe.)
   During that same month, Bose made his first radio broadcast to India where—after his escape—up to that time no one knew if he were dead or alive.
   In April 1942 Bose finally began to make headway with his quest for Axis recognition and support. This came about largely as a result of differences between German and Japanese plans for the sub-continent and the Near East. Tokyo wanted a joint Axis declaration of Indian independence. Rome for the most part agreed to support Tokyo's proposal. Berlin vetoed the initiative, but Mussolini eventually declared Italian support for Bose's cause. Gradually Hitler himself came around.

   While accurate in that Bose appealed to all types of Indians, more objective works, most notably Roger Beaumont's Sword of the Raj, question the willingness of the captives to enlist in the INA. Apparently coercive measures, such as torture and even the killing of uncooperative prisoners, were used to encourage enlistment. Beaumont substantiates the charge that Bose even ordained the murders of many high-ranking prisoners to wipe out any possible POW resistance. Bose then subjected those "willing" to join—about 2,000 men—to an intensive preinduction brainwashing program under his personal direction.
   Subhas Chandra Bose's new role of army commander profoundly changed his legendary statesmanship. He moved from negotiating with government officials to a recruiting campaign among Indian prisoners of war. His steadfast diplomacy gave way to heavy persuasion and other techniques of modern advertising. The thoughtful angry intellectual left his cluttered desk and adopted the flamboyant style of his Western contemporaries. By August 1942, Bose acquired the typical fascist trappings: a uniform and a new title. He called himself the Netaji, or Revered Leader. His army, known as the Azad Hind Fanj, or the [Free] Indian Legion, had its special symbol: a springing tiger emblazoned on the tricolor shield of India. Bose enjoyed the personal honors of being an Axis leader. Hitler now granted him full diplomatic immunity, and gave him a home in the classy Charlottenburg section of Berlin. The Fuhrer even agreed to change the offending passages in future editions of Mein Kampf.

   But Germany with its Indian Legion was behind its Japanese ally when it came to organizing Indian POWs into a fledgling fighting force. Under renegade Major Mohan Singh, the Japanese-controlled Indian National Army recruited over 16,000 troops who were mostly used for construction and guard duties. Singh and the Japanese, however, did not work together effectively. When the Japanese arrested Singh in 1942, he ordered the INA disbanded. It became necessary to find a new Tokyo-sponsored leader for Indian aspirations.
   Getz is relatively silent on the genesis of Bose's return to Japan. For example, Milan Hauner gives more information about potential air transport to the East courtesy of the Italians, and Joachim von Ribbentrop's warning about the danger and uncertainty involved in such a flight. Hauner also gives far more information and colorful details about Hauner's conference with Hitler. Likewise, Joyce Lebra provides more information about machinations in Tokyo regarding Bose's return. Getz, on the other hand, opens a whole new window on Bose's final period in Germany by claiming that the Indian leader was subject of a Gestapo investigation leading to suspicion that he was actually a Soviet agent! In any event, Bose departed Kiel in February 1943 aboard a German U-boat. Getz claims that Bose transferred to a Japanese sub at an unnamed "South Pacific base." Clay Blair in the second volume of his excellent Hitler's U-Boat War, although he mis-states quite a number of facts about Bose's life, offers a much more complete and accurate account of Bose's return to Asia: Bose and his aide, Major Abid Hasan, departed Kiel on 9 February 1943 aboard the Type IXD1 U-180 commanded by Werner Musenberg and on 27 April transferred to the Japanese submarine I-29 at sea in the Indian Ocean a few hundred miles southeast of Madagascar; they were then delivered to Sabang.
   Upon his arrival in Southeast Asia, Bose promptly flew to Tokyo to meet the Japanese Prime Minister, Hideki Tojo. In a way, Bose's long journey back to Asia paralleled an inner transformation.

   When Bose returned to Asia, he forfeited his role of political philosopher and retired his skills as a statesman, to become the darling of the Axis. Personally, he disapproved of his Japanese patrons. In his 1937 essay, "Japan's Role in the Far East," he criticized the foreign policy of the Rising Sun. Like their European counterparts, Japanese right-wing leaders shook their fists at the Western establishment, yet unleashed their fury against weak China— one of Bose's pet causes. Japan illustrated its destructive capabilities by mutilating China and its false progressivism by creating the "autonomous" state of Manchukuo. Bose realized that Japan's undertaking stemmed from an imperialistic desire no less aggressive than Britain's. He apparently saw no similarity between Tokyo's activities and Hitler's assault of Poland and Czechoslovakia. Bose always accepted Central Europe as Germany's sphere of influence. He concluded his article with the plaintive hope that India would never attempt to reach her potential by destroying another nation....
   In a broadcast made on June 24, 1943, Bose reemphasized the value of Japanese assistance in the Indian revolution. He stressed that the Axis planned to devastate the colonizing nations, including the United States. Compromising his 1937 study, Bose spoke of Japan's commitment to a Free India. He reminded his listeners that India and the Axis warred against a common enemy, and so he trusted the fascists. To dispel any skepticism, he assured the Indians that Tojo aspired to keep his promise of granting freedom to conquered Burma and the Philippines within the year.

   In July 1943, the Netaji in a widely-publicized ceremony in Singapore assumed leadership of the Japanese-sponsored Indian Independence League and the Indian National Army. He quickly reorganized and reinvigorated both.

   Tokyo officially recognized the Indian Independence League as the Provisional Government of Free India, or Azad Hind, on October 21, 1943. Subhas Chandra Bose automatically became the President of Free India. Though it was headquartered in Singapore's Cathay Cinema Building, Bose's supporters looked upon his government-in-exile as a symbolic regime, in much the same way that the French Resistance regarded the London office of La France Libre as an exiled government. While the concept of organization-as-government had appealed to Bose since his Berlin days, Japan's timing may have surprised him. Fueled by pots of coffee and chain-smoked cigarettes, Bose had written the "Proclamation of the Provisional Government of Azad Hind" in one draft, composed during an all-night push 48 hours before.

   The Axis nations and their client states quickly recognized Bose's provisional administration as the legitimate government of India, and Bose opened consulates throughout Asia. In fact, the government's Springing Tiger flag flew only above the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, but the INA was ready to support the Japanese offensive designed to finally wrest Mother India from the British.

   ...Bose left Rangoon on February 4, 1944, to mobilize his army and send them into their long-awaited battle. Out of a pool of 230,000 Indian POWs and civilian volunteers, 40,000 prisoners formally pledged, though only 25,000 actually joined the INA. Despite his charity drives and Tokyo's support, Bose had the facilities and equipment to accommodate only 12,000 troops. The previous September, he was forced to unite the cream of his Gandhi, Azad and Nehru Brigades to form a Subhas Brigade, under the command of General Shah Nawaz Khan. Those unable to participate in active service were immediately shifted into nonmilitary endeavors. Bose actually expected this force—the only viable unit in the INA—to invade and liberate India, naturally with heavy Japanese assistance. The Netaji and his scant troops embarked for battle, crying "Chalo Delhi" ("On to Delhi").

   Unfortunately for Bose, the much-heralded Japanese invasion of India failed, with the INA playing an exceedingly small role. Unlike other writers, Getz provides very little information about this period and no information about the military action. With the defeat at Imphal and the ensuing Allied offensive into Burma, Bose's hopes were dashed. As the Japanese position collapsed and most of his INA troops defected back to the British, Bose departed Rangoon. Getz writes that the Netaji at this point was only concerned with saving his own skin when he fled in the company of the INA women's medical corps. Other writers are far more charitable about his personal courage and the manner of his departure. In any event, as the war turn inexorably against the Japanese, he temporarily settled in Bangkok, more a refugee than a head of state.
   At this point Bose and/or the Japanese government began to hatch murky and unrealistic schemes for an alliance with the Soviet Union. Bose, despite earlier rebuffs from Moscow and strong antagonism from Roy's Indian communist party, seemed to think he was the best man to negotiate with Moscow and that they would find favor with his plans for India. In August 1945 Bose travelled from Singapore to Saigon where he managed to find a seat with a number of Japanese officers aboard an airplane which was apparently bound for Manchuria or—Getz speculates—the Soviet Union, although Moscow had already declared war on Tokyo and invaded Japanese territory. According to Getz, sigint documents show Bose had been planning an overture to Stalin for at least two months, but, under the circumstances, in a Japanese plane filled with Japanese officers, it seems unlikely that Bose could have been flying to the Soviet Union. At a refueling stop in Taiwan the plane crashed and Netaji Bose died within a few hours in a Japanese army hospital from extensive burns. Getz treats Bose's death quickly and matter-of-factly, as opposed to, for example, Louis Allen's more moving account of the Netaji's last hours.
   When Bose originally escaped from Calcutta to Germany, rumors circulated that he had died in an air crash. After his death in 1945, rumors persisted for years that Bose was still alive.

   For about a decade after the war ended, persistent and conflicting rumors concerning Bose's fate circulated through India and elsewhere. Much of the mystery, as expected, revolves around the uncertain destination of Bose's plane. Ten days after his death, US intelligence noted a dispatch from a Japanese mission in Saigon. Unfortunately, they had some difficulty decoding it. MAGIC officers could only report that "on the 17th, at his own request, Bose set off by air for the—[place name uncertain, probably 'Manchukuo'] area." According to the MAGIC report, the Japanese embassy in Bangkok suggested that Tokyo avoid "suspicions among the enemy" by not releasing any information regarding Bose's fatal accident.
   A number of peculiar stories surfaced immediately after Bose's death. In India, many of his followers believed that he survived the crash, but went into hiding. Some claimed that he adopted the quiet lifestyle of a monk. Others said that he actually joined a monastery in the Himalayas, intending to burst again on the Indian political scene when his nation was ready for him. Those convinced in the truth of this story may have remembered that in March 1941, the Bose family announced Subhas's death in a plane crash, when in reality, he had escaped to Germany.
   In 1948, Louis P. Lochner, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and editor of the Goebbels diaries, suggested that the Americans captured Bose in Japan—and executed him! Lochner did not give his source of this false information. The New York Times did not publish Bose's obituary until 1956. During the 11-year interim following the Netaji's death, the Indian government created a committee to investigate the events of August 17-18, 1945. In an exclusive release to the Times, Delhi concluded that Bose was, in fact, traveling to the Soviet Union.

   Lebra's account of the findings of the three-man Indian commission who investigated Bose's death in 1956 is a bit different. According to her, while two of the members agreed that Bose had died in the crash in Taiwan, the third member—Bose's brother—issued a dissident report in which he claimed "Netaji had not died in the crash but had succeeded in reaching the Soviet Union, where he had gone into hiding." Lebra also mentions that in February 1966 Bose's brother announced the Netaji would be returning to India in the following month.
   Despite omitting an occasional point, this is a good book and especially useful for some new material culled from American Ultra and Magic intercepts of communications between Tokyo and Japanese personnel in Berlin. Getz also introduces new speculation about the Gestapo's investigation of Bose's possible ties to Moscow, and the author provides an excellent survey of anti-British politics in India. While the book does not entirely succeed as a full and complete biography of Bose—too many events are skimmed over or left out entirely—Getz's work serves as an interesting overview of a fascinating life, provides a great deal of context, covers the important points, and adds some remarkable speculation. Readers would also be advised to take a look at some of the other literature on Bose and the events surrounding his life, but this book can be recommended as a good starting point.
   Available from online booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from McFarland & Company.
   Thanks to McFarland for providing this review copy.

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Reviewed 9 June 2002
Copyright © 2002 by Bill Stone
May not be reproduced in any form without written permission of Stone & Stone
 

 

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