An online database
of WORLD WAR
books and information
on the Web since 1995
New & forthcoming
Books by subjects
Latest book feedback
Sell your books
Nations at war
Getz, Marshall J.
Subhas Chandra Bose: A Biography.
Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc, 2002
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 supporta list including the
Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Iraqi coupist Rashid Ali, Chinese "emperor" Henry Pu-Yi,
Jose Laurel, and Ba Mawfew 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
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
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"
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
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,
Bosewith Gandhi's backingserved 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 philosophya 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 rebellionwhatever else
Indians might say about the Raj, the British were far more forgiving than
many other colonial masters might have been in that situationBose
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
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 whereafter his escapeup 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.
Bose's bulldog persistence and the prospect of his establishment of the German branch of the Indian National Army changed Hitler's attitude toward the Azad Hind movement. The Nazis loaned increasing amounts of money to the Free India Center, and the Wehrmacht helped Bose organize a POW army. The soldiers were usually frightened village youths who were still loyal to the Crown. German and Indian writers, especially those involved with Bose, later claimed that the POWs willingly allied with their German captors, and became an important part of the Wehrmacht's war effort. In his preface to Ganpuley's book, Adalbert Seifrig described the INA as a cooperative volunteer army of Hindu, Muslim and Sikh Indians.
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 joinabout 2,000 mento 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 forcethe only viable unit in the INAto 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 orGetz
speculatesthe 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
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 Japanand 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 memberBose's brotherissued 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
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 Bosetoo many events are skimmed over or left
out entirelyGetz'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
Available from online booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from McFarland & Company.
Thanks to McFarland for providing this review copy.
Read and submit feedback
Reviewed 9 June 2002
Copyright © 2002 by Bill Stone
May not be reproduced in any form without written permission of Stone & Stone