Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Re-Markings Special Number, Bose: Immortal Legend of India's Freedom - Review Essays

Review Essays
Published in Re-Markings Vol. 16 No. 3 September 2017
Bose: Immortal Legend of India’s Freedom – Contemporary Critical Orientations. Re-Markings Special Number Vol.16 No.1, January 2017. Edited by Nibir K. Ghosh, A. Karunaker & Sunita Rani Ghosh. New Delhi: Re-Markings in Association with Authorspress, 2017. pp. 307. ` 599.

Bose: Enigmatic Icon
Jonah Raskin
For this review, I’d like to call the January 2017 Special Number on Bose a “book” because in my view the word “book” accords the volume the respect it deserves. Yes, it’s a collection of essays, interviews, poems and personal recollections with an introduction about Bose by Nibir K. Ghosh who did the editing with help from his wife, Dr. Sunita Rani Ghosh, who teaches at Agra College, and from Professor A. Karunaker, who teaches at Osmania University. If I were to make this book required reading in a class, I would invite students to think about the ways that writers represent historical figures. Indeed, the Bose special number is a study in representation.
Granted, the contributors offer facts, including the date of Bose’s birth on the 23 rd of January 1897 and the date of his death on the 18th of August 1945, nine days after the U.S. dropped a nuclear bomb on Nagasaki, Japan and 12 days after the U.S. dropped a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima. What the dates say to me is that Bose was born at the end of nineteenth century when the British Empire was at its peak and that he was still alive at the birth of the nuclear age and the emergence of the U.S. as a world power. Indeed, Bose was aware of the use of the atomic bomb. He noted that while Japan had surrendered, India would not, and that the struggle for Indian independence—which fueled his very soul—would continue.
Yes, there are facts aplenty in this book, and wonderful quotations from Bose that bring him to life. But it is the many different interpretations of Bose that make this book fascinating reading. The title for my essay, “Enigmatic Icon,” is not original with me. It comes from a passage in Sukalpa Bahattacharjee’s essay titled “Netaji in Our Times: Weaving Fragments of a Great Life.” Bahattacharjee’s phrase “enigmatic icon” is amplified, it seems to me, by an image of Bose in the essay by Ajit Mukherjee and Pranamita Pati that’s titled “Subhas Chandra Bose: A Visionary Spiritualist.” Mukherjee and Pati write that, “Subhas Bose remains a hard nut to crack.” Indeed, enigmatic icons like Bose are always hard nuts to crack” because they have so many different sides.
The thirty-three contributors to this volume call Bose all sort of names: a “nationalist hero,” “the true architect of modern India, a “military general,” “a visionary,” “a statesman,” “a politician,” “a trade union leader,” “a seer,” “a great orator,” “a radical thinker” and “a guru.” No doubt, he was all of those things and more.
If I were to write a biography of Bose I might have the word “love” or “lover” in the title. I would begin the book with the quotation from Bose that’s included in the aforementioned essay in which the authors call him a “Visionary Spiritualist.” The quotation is from “My Faith, Philosophical” in which Bose wrote, “The essential nature of reality is LOVE.” For emphasis he capitalized the word love. He added that, “LOVE is the essence of the Universe and the essential principle of human life.”
Bose used the word “LOVE,” I think, in much the same way that Che Guevara did when he said that, "The true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.” Che added, “It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality."
Bose also used the word love in much the same way that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. used it when he talked about the “Beloved Community.” Reading the essays, interviews and poems and the short play in this book makes it clear that Bose loved the Indian people and that he loved life itself. The essay “Emilie Schenkl: In Letter and Spirit” by Sunita Rani Ghosh makes it clear that Bose also loved his Austrian wife who gave birth to their child and who loved him deeply and passionately and that she supported him in the struggle for Indian independence.
Sunita Rani Ghosh quotes a letter from Bose to Emilie in which he called himself “a wandering bird that comes from afar, remains for a while and then flies away to its distant home.” Bose saw his fugitive nature clearly. Moreover, if he was a nationalist, a trade union leader and a military general, he was also a poet who used poetical language like “wandering bird” and “iceberg,” another image he used to describe himself. The iceberg melted in the love that Emilie offered him.
Before I go on, I think that it’s essential to say that I am writing this review essay in my home in Santa Rosa, California on April 10, 2017. It’s only three days after my return from a two-week sojourn in India when I met some of the contributors to this volume including Dev Vrat Sharma, who showed me great kindness in Jaipur, and Monali Bhattacharya who greeted me when I arrived at Jaypee Institute of Information Technology in Noida and who made sure that I had food to eat and a place to sleep.
I would not be writing this essay now in the way that I am writing it if I had not been to India. Indeed, this essay is written from the perspective of a traveler who crossed boundaries and who saw India for the first time in his life. Having been in India, albeit only for two weeks and in only a small part of the country, I think I understand India far more than before I went to India. I also see and appreciate Bose in his many-sidedness, as a nationalist and as an anti-imperialist who recognized that World War II provided a critical moment to drive a stake into the heart of the British Empire and who also saw that it might be necessary to form tactical alliances with Germany and Japan. Let’s remember that Stalin and Hitler had a non-aggression pact and that Irish nationalists thought along lines similar to Bose.
I am also reminded at this moment of Bernadette Devlin, the Irish revolutionary who served as a Member of Parliament from 1969 to 1974 and who said famously of the British “kick them when they’re down.” Like Devlin, and like Che Guevara and Nelson Mandela, Bose knew that revolutions often demand not only love but also armed struggle. Indeed, the American abolitionist and ex-slave Frederick Douglass noted, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
As this book shows, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose belongs in the same company with Douglass, Mandela, Guevera and Devlin—and with Gandhi and Nehru who were among my boyhood heroes. For decades the West has represented the Indian independence movement as non-violent and as pacifist. Now, with this book it will no longer be as easy for the West to ignore Bose and to turn a blind eye on the army of Indian soldiers that he helped to create.
Bose’s life was also a series of adventures. All the way through this book I could see it transformed in a movie with drama and conflict and love and tragedy. It’s too bad, and so sad that Bose died at that critical moment in human history at the birth of the nuclear age. Still, this book brings him to life. The editors and the contributors are to be congratulated for producing a fascinating study in the representation of an Indian hero too often ignored and forgotten. And may I please end this review/ essay with a sobering fact that’s included in this book—namely that the British authorities imprisoned Bose eleven times. The odds seemed to be against him. The world appeared to be hostile to him and his cause and yet he did the right thing for the brief time—just 48 years—that he was on the face of the earth.
When the Special Number was launched in March 2017 in Agra, Subhas Chandra Bose’s grand-nephew Sugata Bose graced the event with his presence. The Gardiner Professor of Oceanic History and Affairs at Harvard University and a Member of Parliament in the current Lok Sabha, Sugata Bose is an internationally renowned scholar and a living embodiment of his grant-uncle’s legacy. Nibir K. Ghosh’s lively, informative interview with Sugata appears near the front of the Special Number. Sugata offers a slew of important replies to Ghosh’s questions. He observes, for example, that Netaji (the Hindi word for “Respected Leader) was motivated by love and that if he hated, it “was reserved for the oppressive British rule, not the British, and he advocated the friendliest relations with the British people once freedom was won.”
Sugata also says that Netaji “genuinely admired Gandhi” and that there was no final parting of the ways between the Mahatma and his grand-uncle. I also found it significant that Sugata noted that Bose “criticized Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union” and that he, Sugata, admires Hugh Toye’s study of Bose titled, The Springing Tiger. “Considering that it was written by a British intelligence officer who had fought against Netaji and interrogated INA prisoners, the book was remarkable for its broad-minded and balanced approach.” Now there’s a fascinating human element in the story.
If Ghosh’s interview with Sugata Bosh sends readers to The Springing Tiger that’s not a bad thing. Then, too, if it inspires a young scholar or two to dig into the historical record and write a full, complete biography of Netaji that’s all to the good. The Special Issue can only generate more discussion and debate about a man no longer lost in the folds of history. Thanks to Nibir K. Ghosh and the whole team, Netaji Lives!
  • Jonah Raskin, a frequent contributor to Re-Markings, is the author of 14 books, including literary criticism, reporting, memoir, and biography. He has taught journalism, media law and the theory of communication at Sonoma State University, U.S.A. During the height of the cultural revolution of the 1970s, he served as the Minister of Education of the Yippies (the Youth International Party), and maintained close connections with the Black Panthers, the White Panthers, the Weatherpeople, and with radical groups in France, England and Mexico.
Love’s Labour Gained
Ramesh Chandra Shah
It’s “Love’s Labour” literally, this issue of Re-Markings devoted to Subhas Chandra Bose, Immortal legend of India’s freedom struggle. And, it has borne fruit. For decades Netaji has been consigned to oblivion by our political, academic and cultural seats of power. Reasons for such a collective amnesia of conspiracy of silence are obvious as well as not so obvious. But these facts of reality have, I think, been illuminated for the first time from so many angles and perspectives through a journal which is hardly expected to undertake a stupendous and out of its way task, because of its literary character and orientation. But, paradoxically, now this accomplished event seems to me to acquire and reinforce a strange sense of long-delayed justice and inevitability. Yes, it’s a very complex scenario and history as well as politics (in their set grooves) seem to be of little help in enabling you to crystallize in your anguished mind and sensitivity a substantially, essentially and factually true image of Bose – redeemed from all misunderstandings, distortions and irrelevant accidents. How does one come to terms with such a heroic figure emotionally and intellectually? All times, these present times as well as those bygone times, seem to be utterly out of joint. Who can set them right? Dr. Ghosh’s initiative in this Special Number on Bose has demonstrated the relevance of this question, and to a great extent, has done the job.
We writers in particular – who are innately accused, doomed to comprehend everything through our sensibility rather than pure logic or ideological orientations  (side-taking) – how are we to make  sense and substance of events and phenomena so remote and so tangled or confused? Especially me, who happens to have been nurtured on the example and precepts of heroes like historic figures as Gandhi and Aurobindo – poles apart politically and temperamentally and yet so inseparably related, relevant, and vital to and dependent upon the self-image of our country – our India and our Indian identity, am I any better equipped to know who I am at 80, than I was at 18? How does such a man do justice to such a trio – so inextricably blended together in his imagination – in his idea of India and the uniquely beautiful and meaningful Indian (Hindu) way of walking upon this earth?
I thank Dr. Sisir Kumar Bose – for his “Editorial Note” to Netaji and India's Freedom, published in this issue – for arousing in me an exact image of that emotion, that actual feeling of the “revolutionary situation, without parallel in the history of the Indian struggle and pregnant with immense possibilities including a forcible seizure of power, was obtaining in India in 1945-46 as a direct outcome of Subhas Chandra Bose's activities during the war.” Dr. Bose has given us a feel of how “Subhas Chandra Bose provided to his countrymen in 1945-46, in absentia and as a direct outcome of his wartime activities, a most wonderful opportunity to realise in full the aims of India's national struggle as proclaimed since the Lahore session of the Indian National Congress in 1929.” He rightly adds, “The man who commanded Indian history in 1945-46 paid the price of failing to arrive when independence came to the divided subcontinent in 1947.” I appreciate his realistic appraisal of the votaries of a strange and spurious new Bose cult joined by frustrated and defeated politicians.
I must make a special mention of Sunita Rani Ghosh’s essay entitled “Emilie Schenkl: In Letter and Spirit” that highlights a relatively less known chapter in Netaji’s otherwise tumultuous life. It was nothing short of a revelation for me to be acquainted with the rare and exemplary personality of Emilie Schenkl who, despite hailing from an alien culture, states Sunita Rani, “remained very steadfast in her love for Subhas, the love that asked no question, the love that stood the test in allowing him the freedom to offer upon the altar of his nation the dearest and the best.”
Though every piece in this precious collection is a must read for anyone interested in the legendary hero, the two interviews published in the volume are bound to be of special significance. In his conversation with Nibir K. Ghosh, Sugata Bose – the grand-nephew of Subhas Chandra Bose, Harvard Historian and Lok Sabha M.P. – illuminates various dimensions of the personality and contribution of Netaji to the Indian Freedom struggle. His statement, “No one spoke truth to power as Bose did….Bose’s life was an example of tyag or renunciation of power and privilege,” rekindled in me memories of the popular image of Bose that we had in those old days. Mrs. Zeenat Ahmed’s interview (conducted by Tara Sami Dutt and Zara Urouj) reminded me of the film, Rome: An Open Space, wherein a terrible portrait of what the brave intellectuals were made to face at the trial. Well, the Britishers were not equivalent to Nazis and Fascists but “they did everything to break their spirits.” Her plaint, “It is the younger generation who need to bring his name back into prominence,” is something we truly need to ponder on to create an India that Bose dreamt of.
To conclude, I am optimistic in sharing my hope that this Re-Markings’ Special Number, Bose: Immortal Legend of India’s Freedom, will take its rightful place among the most valuable works on the life and times of Subhas Chandra Bose.
·         Padmashree Dr. Ramesh Chandra Shah is an eminent Hindi writer. Besides 11 acclaimed novels, his publications include several collections of Short Stories, Poems, Essays and Plays. He has recently been honoured with the Sahitya Akademi Award for his novel Vinayak.
Subhas Chandra Bose: A Legend of
India’s Freedom and Idea of India
Abdul Shaban
To overcome the contemporary emerging challenges to India’s diversity, plurality and nationalism, it is important that Netaji’s ideas and visions get rediscovered and celebrated.
In a span of two years or so, India in 1940s lost two of its rebellious sons. These were Subhas Chandra Bose, popularly known as ‘Netaji’ and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who is lovingly called ‘Bapuji’. The former was lost fighting the British colonialism on India while the latter was killed by a Hindu fanatic while fighting for ‘plural’ India and Hindu-Muslim unity. Both of these leaders differed in their approaches to make India free but the aim was to have free and independent India and to secure its people social justice, equality and development. Whereas Bapuji rebelled through old methods of mobilising people and adopted ‘ahimsa’ against the most powerful colonial and military power of the time, Netaji rebelled from Gandhi’s Ahimsa and allied and negotiated with Axis Powers of the time to forcefully decolonise India from the British. Despite enormous differences in their approaches to make India free, there were some interesting commonalities between them and most important was that they believed in social and ethnic plurality of India and if any of them could have succeeded in securing Independence the way they wanted, the partition of the country could have been avoided.
It is an irony that where Bapuji could get his recognition and received meaningful State and social attentions, which he deserves, Netaji largely got forgotten and today mainly gets portrayed as only regional and ethnic icon, mainly that of Bengal and Bengalis. To overcome the contemporary emerging challenges to India’s diversity, plurality and nationalism, it is important that Netaji’s ideas and policy get rediscovered and celebrated. This can be done not only thorough available documents and evidence, but also through compiling people’s memories and oral narratives about him.
A small, but a meaningful, attempt in this direction has been made by the Special Number of English literary journal Re-Markings (Vol.16, No.1, 2017) launched at Agra by Professor Sugata Bose, grandnephew of Netaji, on 18th March 2017. For many of us it was a rare occasion where people from different religious groups presented their claims to Netaji as their own and in whose dreams they also could locate and imagine their own futures and idea of Independent India. 
Twenty nine scholarly contributions have been published in this special issue of Re-Markings These papers have closely examined life and the contributions of Netaji from various perspectives. While releasing the special number of the journal Sugata Bose, Professor of Oceanic History, Harvard University, U.S.A., remarked, “The refusal to compromise with injustice and wrong was one of the most appealing features in Bose's character. His life was an example of tyag or renunciation of power and privilege. Though Netaji has been neglected in official histories and textbooks, he looms large in popular memory, not just in Bengal, but throughout the subcontinent.” A detailed interview of Mrs. Zeenat Ahmad, wife and companion to Colonel Mahboob Ahmad of Indian National Army (INA), by Tara Sami and Zara Urouj, has been published in this issue. Zeenat Ahamd says, “Bose lost his life for the country and he is not given the recognition he deserves.... We desperately need someone like him, someone who is not self-seeking but can put the country before himself. The idea of being an Indian is dying out”(48). In his paper, Shanker A. Dutt argues, “Subhash Chandra Bose is no exception to the idiosyncrasies of the writing and the writing-into-silence of History…. Remembrance would be meaningful if we understand Bose, the human person, engaging in dialogue with his life, convictions, his writings and his idea of India” (102-110).
In his paper, Abdul Shaban argues that had Subhas Chandra Bose been alive, the partition of the country could have been averted.... He was capable and had all the potential of changing the destiny of the subcontinent and take humanity in this region to a different direction and a brighter common future (78). In a similar vein, N.S. Tasneem argues, “India attained freedom … after the country had been partitioned in a ruthless manner. But it was not freedom of the land that had been envisioned by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose” (100). Bose’s representation of Hindu-Muslim unity and women’s empowerment are examined by Mohammad Asim Siddiqui and Sanjukta Sattar, respectively. Siddiqui argues that Netaji “was very clear about the question of Hindu-Muslim unity. His Azad Hind Fauj was remarkable for drawing soldiers from different sections and different communities” (132), while Sanjukta Sattar argues, “Netaji firmly believed that no country can develop without women's participation and their emancipation and strongly advocated gender equality” (180).
Examining Netaji’s personal life (and charms he could create) through the letters he wrote to his German wife, Emilie Schenkl, Sunita Rani says,“…let us remember with pride and fondness how Emilie Schenkl, a non-Hindu woman from an alien clime and culture could so selflessly devote and dedicate herself, like the legendary Indian women of bygone ages, to her first and only love” (151). And this defines the other side of Subhas’s personality who could connect with his intimates so closely. Shrikant Singh, in his paper on “People who influenced Subhas Chnadra Bose,” argues that even Rabindranath Tagore praised Netaji’s dedication and attachment to the national cause and devoted his song "Ekala Chalo Re" to Bose. This also speaks volumes of the love and reverence Tagore had for Bose.
In sum, papers in the volume make important contribution to the already existing literature on Netaji’s life, his personality, and his vision for India. They convey that we need to celebrate his ideas and his vision, and this need is felt all the more in the current changing political context.
·         Dr. Abdul Shaban is Professor in the School of Development Studies at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai and Deputy Director, Tuljapur Campus. He is author of Mumbai: Political Economy of Crime and Space (2010); Editor of Lives of Muslims in India: Politics, Exclusion and Violence (2012) and Muslims in Urban India: Development and Exclusion (2013).

© Nibir K. Ghosh

Friday, 8 September 2017

Conversation with Sugata Bose for Bose: Immortal Legend of India's Freedom - Re-Markings Special Number

Professor Sugata Bose at the Launch of Special Re-Markings Number
Bose: Immortal Legend of India's Freedom - Contemporary Critical Orientations at
Agra Club, Agra on 18 March 2017
“A Brighter Future is India’s Destiny”:
A Conversation with Sugata Bose

Nibir K. Ghosh*

Professor Sugata Bose, the grand-nephew of Subhas Chandra Bose, is Gardiner Professor of Oceanic History and Affairs at Harvard University, U.S.A., and Member of Parliament in the current Lok Sabha. A Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge (1983), his field of specialization is Modern South Asian and Indian Ocean history. A recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship, his publications include Peasant Labour and Colonial Capital; A Hundred Horizons: the Indian Ocean in the Age of Global Empire; Modern South Asia: History, Culture, Political Economy; Nationalism, Democracy and Development; Credit, Markets and the Agrarian Economy of Colonial India; and South Asia and World Capitalism. His most recent book is His Majesty's Opponent: Subhas Chandra Bose and India's Struggle against Empire (2011). An eloquent orator, he has been invited for lectures and talks in various countries: Austria, Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, Canada, China, Germany, France, Italy, Kuwait, Japan, Malaysia, Netherland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Portugal, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Switzerland, Thailand, UAE, U.K. and U.S.A. In this conversation with Nibir K. Ghosh, Professor Sugata Bose offers useful insights into the many dimensions of the life and work of the legendary hero, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.
Nibir: As an eminent international historian of Harvard fame, how does it feel to be so closely connected to the hallowed personality of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose who is undoubtedly one of the greatest revolutionaries of the Indian Freedom struggle?
Sugata: Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose used to say that his family and country were coterminous. My parents taught me since childhood not to claim any special relationship with the great revolutionary based on an accident of birth. I am proud, of course, to belong to the country that produced Subhas Chandra Bose. When my father Sisir Kumar Bose received popular adulation and heard the slogan “Bose khandan zindabad” on his release from prison in September 1945, his father Sarat Chandra Bose told him to remember that this was nothing but Subhas’s “reflected glory.” For Sisir, Netaji was his leader rather than his uncle.
Nibir: You, along with your revered father, Dr. Sisir Kumar Bose, have contributed immensely in bringing into limelight the life, work, speeches, letters and writings of Netaji through the Netaji Research Bureau. What motivated you into undertaking such a challenging enterprise?
Sugata: The credit for preserving and presenting Netaji’s book of life to the world belongs entirely to my father Dr. Sisir Kumar Bose who was ably helped by my mother Krishna Bose and a small band of dedicated workers. My father was convinced that the best traditions of the freedom struggle had to be bequeathed to future generations. He collected letters, documents, speeches, photographs, audio recordings and film footage connected with Netaji from all over the world and disseminated them to the wider public. Since I grew up in tandem with the Netaji Research Bureau he founded in 1957 (I was born in 1956), I helped out in this ambitious project in small ways. I had the good fortune of meeting the noble men and women who had fought for India’s independence under Netaji’s leadership and was inspired by the saga of their suffering and sacrifice. Their story had to be recorded and told. I began to take a more active role once my father’s health began to fail since Netaji’s work had to go on.
Nibir: In a talk delivered at the 5th International Netaji Seminar at Calcutta in January 1985, Peter Fay wondered: “What is the British perception of Netaji and the I.N.A.?” Fay answered the question himself: “Cloudy, I would suggest. Inverted which is a variety of being wrong. Finally, and most obviously, incomplete. It is an incompleteness that comes in part from just refusing to look. Do you know what happened to Netaji in British publications during the war? He disappeared.” In the light of this statement, how would you evaluate Hugh Toye’s The Springing Tiger, the first known assessment of Netaji by a Britisher?
Sugata: I hold a high opinion of Hugh Toye’s biography The Springing Tiger. Considering that it was written by a British intelligence officer who had fought against Netaji and interrogated INA prisoners, the book was remarkable for its broad-minded and balanced approach. Toye made some errors of fact and judgment. For example, he did not have access to records that would later show Netaji had sharply criticized Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union. My father helped him with source materials in the early days of the Netaji Research Bureau and was even criticized in certain Indian circles for helping a British author. After my father’s death Hugh Toye wrote to my mother from Oxford on January 27, 2001, “I no longer take a daily paper, so that it was only the other day that I heard of the departure of your husband, a brave boy who became a great man. He was always very kind – unexpectedly kind – to me.” My father was always willing to help and make the NRB archives available to bonafide researchers. As Leonard Gordon mentions in the preface to his Brothers against the Raj, he never told historians what to write and respected their freedom of expression even if they were critical of the leader he himself adored. I fondly remember Peter Fay whom you quote. His book The Forgotten Army is elegantly written and is one of the finest contributions to scholarship on the Second World War. He was an eloquent speaker and gave a terrific interview for my film Rebels against the Raj, which was telecast on PBS in the late 1980s.
Nibir:  In his Foreword to Toye’s The Springing Tiger, Philip Mason writes: “There are elements repellant in Bose’s character—his arrogance and refusal to compromise….Power corrupted him; he grew more intolerant, more certain. But no one can doubt the stature of the man, his intellectual scope and the passion with which he held his convictions.” From the dual perspective of a historian as well as a kin of Netaji, what are your views on the picture of Netaji as portrayed by Mason?
Sugata: From the singular perspective of a historian (I take no view of Netaji as a family member) I am somewhat amused by Mason’s portrayal, which is quite typical of the old hands of the British raj whose condemnation was often leavened by a grudging admiration for a formidable opponent. The refusal to compromise with injustice and wrong was one of the most appealing features in Bose’s character. I am puzzled by Mason’s conception of power. No one spoke truth to power as Bose did. Bose’s life was an example of tyag or renunciation of power and privilege.
Nibir: How would you react to the opinion of Nirad C. Chaudhari on Subhas Chandra Bose that it was not his love of India but only intense hatred of the British that drove him through most of his life?
Sugata: Nirad C. Chaudhuri was a highly opinionated man who was mistaken in this opinion. It was not just Subhas’s love of India, but love as an essential element, that defined him. As he wrote in his unfinished autobiography, “I see all around me the play of love; I perceive within me the same instinct; I feel that I must love in order to fulfill myself and I need love as the basic principle on which to reconstruct life.” His hatred was reserved for oppressive British rule, not the British, and he advocated the friendliest relations with the British people once freedom was won.
Nibir: If there was an attempt by British historians and scholars to relegate Netaji to the margins of the then contemporary history, does it not seem strange that outside Bengal, the portrayal of Netaji’s role in the Freedom Struggle by Indian historians has not been much different? What causes would you attribute to such neglect of Netaji?
Sugata: Netaji has been neglected only in official histories and textbooks and by court historians in post-independence India. There is a certain price to be paid for being the alter-ego to those wielding state power. He looms large in popular memory, not just in Bengal, but throughout the subcontinent. In fact, I think he is more revered in Punjab and Tamil Nadu and by freedom-loving peoples in many peripheral regions of India than in Bengal. He need not be part of the official canon. I would much rather see him as a subject of independent scholarship in the future.
Nibir: The confrontation that Subhas Bose had with Professor E.F. Oaten at Presidency college, Calcutta led to his expulsion. In An Indian Pilgrim you have included the Poem “Subhas Chandra Bose” penned by Oaten in 1947, decades after the episode. What is your take on the poem especially with regard to Subhas?
Sugata: Oaten's poem is a very interesting one on the audacity and courage of Subhas Chandra Bose's challenge to the British Empire and strikes a note of mourning for the untimely stilling of his patriot heart. It is not by any means a eulogy, but conveys a sense of understanding, reconciliation and respect. My parents had a pleasant meeting with Professor and Mrs Oaten at their country home in 1971 and my father invited him to the First International Netaji Seminar held in January 1973. Professor Oaten could not travel because of poor health but sent a paper titled "The Bengal Student as I knew Him," which was read in absentia and then published in the proceedings Netaji and India's Freedom. My father believed Oaten's perspective should be recorded in the interest of history.
Nibir: In what way did the role and function of Netaji Research Bureau, established in 1957 in Calcutta, contribute to the correction of distorted or incomplete perspectives about the legendary leader?
Sugata: Netaji Research Bureau played a signal role in lighting a flame in 1957 that illuminated the multiple facets of Netaji’s life and work in the decades to come in the midst of complete official apathy. Instead of carping and complaining about governmental neglect, Sisir Kumar Bose set out to do the work that needed to be accomplished against stiff odds. In the process, Netaji Research Bureau was also able to show that the life was more fascinating and salient than the legend. Fringe groups styling themselves as devotees contributed to distorted perspectives on Netaji, just as officialdom could be blamed for incomplete ones. Sisir Kumar Bose lamented the emergence of “a strange and spurious Bose cult.” “Persistent rumors about Bose being alive and flights of fantasy in regard to his whereabouts,” he wrote in the introduction to the proceedings of an outstanding International Netaji Seminar in 1973 (published as Netaji and India’s Freedom in 1975), “prevented the development of a sober, scientific, historical appraisal of India’s only soldier-statesman of modern times.” The “spurious Bose cult” that he deplored is still doing the rounds. If Netaji gets once more shrouded in meaningless mystery, India will be in danger of losing sight of the life and work of a man who was much more than a mythical hero. There is much to learn from Netaji’s book of life in the present and the future.
Nibir: You have mentioned in your Preface to His Majesty’s Opponent that you were initially hesitant in writing a definitive biography of Subhas Chandra Bose. What was the cause of your hesitation? Also, as the grand-nephew of the gigantic historical figure, did you at any time, during the writing of the book, feel the tension of balancing personal relationship and history?
Sugata: I was hesitant because of the family relationship and I was clear that I wanted to write as a historian. Ultimately, I could see that if I had a bias it was likely to be shared by countless people in the subcontinent. Also, I felt the knowledge I had garnered by being associated with NRB and as joint editor of Netaji’s Collected Works had to be put to good use. It takes almost a lifetime of research to write a good book about Netaji. I wrote mine at a time when I felt I had the requisite critical distance and could place Netaji’s life in the context of modern global history.
Nibir: You have quoted a statement by Mahatma Gandhi in His Majesty’s Opponent wherein the Mahatma shows his admiration for Netaji in the context of the INA: “The lesson that Netaji and his army brings to us is one of self-sacrifice, unity—irrespective of class and community—and discipline.” Notwithstanding Netaji’s profound personal admiration and respect for Gandhi, he is candid enough to confess in The Indian Struggle 1920-34: “The leader of the Congress is Mahatma Gandhi–who is the virtual dictator. The Working Committee since 1929 has been elected according to his dictation and no one can find place on that committee who is not thoroughly submissive to him and his policy.” Do you think such an impression could have been instrumental in the ultimate parting of ways between Netaji and the Mahatma?
Sugata: I think Subhas was occasionally too blunt and tactlessly candid in his criticisms of Mahatma Gandhi in the 1920s and 1930s. He was honest in expressing his views to a fault, but he also genuinely admired Gandhi. There was no “ultimate” parting of the ways between Netaji and the Mahatma. They fell out in 1939 over the correct strategy to follow in winning freedom, but came closer in the aims and ideology from 1942 onwards. Gandhi recognized and respected Netaji’s greatest achievement in uniting all the religious communities of India.
Nibir: Netaji had inspired millions of Indians based in different parts of the world with his slogan, “Dilli Chalo!” Had he been present when the national flag was unfurled from the ramparts of the Red Fort in Delhi on 15th August 1947, do you think India’s “tryst with destiny” may have been different?
Sugata: This question is about a big “if” of history. I think Netaji and the Mahatma working together may have been able to avert the tragedy of partition. Subhas Chandra Bose would certainly have worked towards an equitable sharing of power among India’s diverse religious and linguistic groups in a federal India. He would also have been more energetic in removing the scourge of poverty, illiteracy and disease in our country.
Nibir: As a historian, what are your perceptions of Netaji’s “discovery of India” with Jawahar Lal Nehru’s Discovery of India?
Sugata: Netaji’s discovery of India took place as a teenager doing social work among the poor and destitute well before his first trip to Europe. Jawaharlal Nehru found himself among the kisans of UP in his early thirties during the non-cooperation movement, having already spent his formative years in Harrow and Cambridge. Both were cosmopolitan figures, but Bose’s cosmopolitanism was more rooted than Nehru’s.
Nibir: From the exalted academic position of Gardiner Professor of Oceanic History and Affairs at Harvard University, what inspired you to take the plunge into active Indian politics? How do you come to terms with factors like the criminalization of politics which is so common in the Indian context?

Sugata: My primary identity is that of an historian, scholar and teacher. I am simply helping out in the political sphere at a critical historical moment in Indian politics. I felt there needed to be an alternative to the forces of religious majoritarianism and unbridled capitalism that seem poised to overwhelm Indian democracy. I was very reluctant to take the plunge into politics precisely because of the criminalization you refer to. But then, if there is any hope of cleansing Indian politics, we need good people from different walks of life to take active part in democratic political processes.
Nibir: As a Member of Parliament of the world’s largest democracy, what is your vision of India? How do you manage to cope with the challenges of caste, marginalization, communalism and rampant corruption so common to Indian polity?
Sugata: My vision is that of an egalitarian and federal India where historically marginalized people are fully empowered as equal citizens. I cope with the challenges by keep warning my countrymen not to confuse religious majoritarianism with democracy, and uniformity with unity. We need to reclaim patriotism from the chauvinists, religion from the religious bigots, and politics from the corrupt.
Nibir: In one of your recent eloquent speeches in the Lok Sabha, you remarked “I am a nationalist. I believe in a kind of nationalism that instills a feeling of selfless service in our people and inspires their creative efforts.” What is your own agenda for instilling in citizens the idea and practice of selfless service?
Sugata: Even when I speak in Parliament, I see myself as a teacher lecturing in a massive online course on political ethics. Having been a teacher in universities for three and a half decades, I think I communicate quite well with the 18 to 25-year old age group. I hope to persuade this younger generation of the virtue of seva and that they can achieve a sense of deep fulfillment in living for others less fortunate than themselves.
Nibir: “How many selfless sons of the Mother are prepared, in this selfish age, to completely give up their personal interests and take the plunge for the Mother?” This is a question which Subhas asked his mother when he was barely fifteen. Musing over this question a little over a century later, is it possible to respond with any kind of optimism? What, according to you, can be done to attract contemporary Indian youth to the legacy of love and passion for the motherland left behind by the Netaji?
Sugata: Optimism is a pragmatic necessity. In the letters that Subhas wrote as a fifteen-year old to his mother and brother Sarat he described darkness, despair and decline engulfing India. Yet he found refuge in Tennyson-like optimism. “A brighter future is India’s destiny,” he wrote to Sarat. “The day may be far off – but it must come.” I would urge contemporary youth never to lose faith in India’s destiny. However, they should avoid the snare of narrow nationalism. True love for the motherland can only bloom in the garden of a larger humanity.
*Nibir K. Ghosh is Chief Editor, Re-Markings

Monday, 29 May 2017

Bose - Immortal Legend of India's Freedom: Contemporary Critical Orientations

Re-Markings Special Number January 2017

Netaji Trail: The Bose Particle

Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy
Subhash Chandra Bose travelled from Calcutta to Peshawar as an insurance agent called Mohammed Ziauddin. As Khan Mohammed Ziauddin Khan, a mute tribal Pathan, he travelled on foot and by mule to Kabul. In the guise of a radio telegraphist and an Italian count Orlando Mazzotta, he reached Germany, met Hitler and eventually took a submarine halfway around the world to Japan to raise an army in the hope of liberating India from the yoke of British rule. There are many heroes who fought for India’s independence, but few as enigmatic as Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. We retrace his incredible journey from Kolkata to Kabul, Berlin to Burma and across the Far East – Japan, Vietnam, Singapore, Taiwan and North East India to the Andaman & Nicobar Islands....
As a young radical returning from Cambridge to Calcutta, Bose quit the Indian Civil Service in 1921 and rose to the post of president of the Indian National Congress by 1938. In 1939, he showed up on a stretcher and despite being unwell, defeated Mahatma Gandhi’s candidate Pattabi Sitaramayya. Differences with Gandhiji on his revolutionary ideals led to Bose being ousted from the Congress. After a hunger strike led to his release from prison, he was put under house arrest by the British.
With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Bose saw it as an opportune moment to wrest freedom from the British. Indian support to the colonial cause during World War I in the hope of getting independence had yielded nothing except Jallianwala Bagh and the Rowlatt Act. The time had come for more direct action and Bose could go to any length to see India free – even shake hands with the devil if he had to. He believed in the maxim, “An enemy of an enemy is a friend of mine” and sought help of the Axis powers Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan to oust the British.
Accompanied by his nephew Sisir, Bose escaped British surveillance on 19 January 1941 in a car that is now on display at his home in Kolkata’s Lala Lajpat Rai Sarani. Run as a memorial and research center, Netaji Bhavan also houses relics of Bose’s footprints. He crossed the Indian subcontinent from east to west, reaching Peshawar and Kabul. British presence in the area made him travel under disguise as he finally reached Germany on April 1941, where the leadership seemed sympathetic to the cause of India’s independence. In November 1941, with German funds, a Free India Centre was set up in Berlin, and soon Bose was broadcasting every night on Free India Radio.
A 3,000-strong Free India Legion, comprising Indians captured by Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps was formed to aid in a possible future German land offensive of India. Few know that the title “Netaji” was given to Bose in Germany by Indian soldiers of the Indische Legion in 1942. The title was used by the German and Indian officials in the Special Bureau for India in Berlin, before it gained popularity in India.
Meanwhile, the Japanese occupied Singapore and by January 1942, Rangoon was the next to fall. On 23 March 1942, Japanese troops landed in Port Blair and captured it without firing a single shot. By spring, changing German priorities and Japanese victories in the Far East made Bose think of moving to southeast Asia. Bose met Hitler only once in late May 1942 and the Fuhrer arranged for Bose to be transported by submarine. On 8 February 1943, Netaji boarded the German submarine U-180 from Kiel and travelled around the Cape of Good Hope to the southeast of Madagascar, where he was transferred to the Japanese submarine I-29. This was the only civilian transfer between two submarines of two different navies during World War II. Bose finally disembarked at Sabang in Japanese-held Sumatra in May 1943.
If the term “Netaji” was coined in Germany, equally surprising is the fact that the Indian National Army (INA) was the brainchild of Japan! Japanese major and chief of intelligence Iwaichi Fujiwara met Pritam Singh Dhillon, president of the Bangkok chapter of the Indian Independence League, and recruited Mohan Singh, a captured British Indian army captain to raise an army that would fight alongside the Japanese. It had the blessings of Rash Behari Bose, head of the Indian Independence League. The first army was formed in December 1941 and the name INA was mutually chosen in January 1942. In February, from a total of 40,000 Indian personnel in Singapore, about 30,000 joined the INA, of which nearly 7,000 later fought Allied forces in the Burma Campaign and at Kohima and Imphal.
However, disagreements led to the first INA being disbanded by December 1942. Mohan Singh believed that the Japanese High Command was using the INA as a pawn and propaganda tool. He was taken into custody and the troops returned to the prisoner-of-war camp. However, with the arrival of Subhash Chandra Bose in 1943, the idea of an independence army was revived. In May, Bose travelled via Penang and Saigon to Tokyo, where he attended the Diet, met reporters and gave speeches addressing overseas Indians that were broadcast on Tokyo Radio. By July, Bose was in Singapore and it was with equal excitement that we arrived there on the INA trail.
As we drove past Dhobie Ghaut, the guide pointed out Cathay Cinema (earlier, the Greater East Asia Theatre), where the India Independence League’s Assembly of Representatives met on a drizzly morning of 4th July. To a resounding applause, Rash Behari Bose handed over the reins of the organization to Subhash Chandra Bose. Over the next few days, soldiers of the INA lined up in the padang (ground) opposite the Singapore Municipal Office for inspection and new recruits eagerly joined the ranks.
With Japanese support, Bose revamped the Indian National Army (INA), composed of Indian soldiers of the British Indian army captured in the Battle of Singapore. Bose received massive support among the expatriate Indian population in south-east Asia as many Indian civilians from Malaya and Singapore enlisted. Those who could not, made financial contributions. The INA also had a separate women's unit – the first of its kind in Asia. The Rani of Jhansi Regiment was headed by Capt. Lakshmi Swaminathan, a doctor from Chennai.
The India Heritage Centre in Little India has a small section dedicated to the Indian freedom movement. A bust of Subhash Chandra Bose stands in front of a wallpaper made of INA postage stamps. The INA troops were under the aegis of the Provisional Government of Free India (Azad Hind) formed in October 1943, which had its own currency, postage stamps, court and civil code, and was recognized by nine Axis states. An INA uniform was on display while letters, cheque donations and photographs lined the wall. A magazine cover showed Captain Lakshmi in military attire.
The Provisional Government, presided by Supreme commander Bose, was formed in the Japanese-occupied Andaman and Nicobar Islands. On 30th December 1943 Netaji hoisted the Indian tricolor in British-free Indian territory for the first time at Ross Island. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands were renamed Shaheed Dweep (Martyr Island) and Swaraj Dweep (Self-Rule Island). As head of the government, Bose stayed in the British High commissioner’s house and a memorial commemorating his visit was erected near present day Netaji stadium in Port Blair.
We followed the Bose trail past World War II bunkers dotting the island to Cellular Jail. When Netaji visited the infamous prison, he was welcomed by Admiral Ishikawa, who deliberately kept him away from incarcerated Indians and stories of Japanese torture. Like Singapore, the three year Japanese occupation of the Andamans was a dark chapter in history with innocent islanders tortured mercilessly on charges of espionage, often executed or imprisoned. Like the Changi prison, the Cellular Jail too bears testimony to the bravery of those fighting for freedom.
In early 1944, the INA marched through Kohima Pass and the national flag was hoisted in the Indian mainland for the first time at Moirang in Manipur on April 6, 1944. Kohima was strategically located on the lone road connecting the British supply depot at Dimapur (40 miles northwest) to Imphal (80 miles south). As part of Japan’s Operation U-Go, three columns aimed to cut off the Kohima-Imphal Road and surround Kohima. Between April and June 1944, Kohima witnessed the bloodiest and grittiest fighting seen in World War II.
The Battle for Kohima was fought in two phases: the 13-day siege from 4 April and clearing Japanese forces from mid-April to 22 June to reopen the Kohima-Imphal road. Both sides suffered high casualties. Grenades were lobbed at point blank range across the tennis court in “unending snowball fights” as soldiers dug holes to burrow or tunnel forward using plates, mugs, bayonets or anything they could lay their hands on. The carefully tended tombstones in the grassy clearing with pretty flower beds seemed a far cry from the bloodbath of World War II. The original Deputy Commissioner’s (DC) Bungalow was destroyed in the fighting and the historic tennis court could be distinguished only by the white concrete lines denoting the boundaries.
The 161st Indian Infantry Brigade’s stand at Kohima blunted the Japanese attack. With the opening of the Dimapur-Kohima road, the 2nd Division and troops from XXXIII Corps supported the counterattack in early May. General Sato, Commander of the 31st Division, ordered Japanese withdrawal, signaling the biggest Japanese defeat in history. British and Indian troops from Kohima and Imphal met at Milestone 110 on 22 June, formally ending the siege. The fierce hand-to-hand combat in the Battle of Kohima was a defining moment in the Burma Campaign and halted Japan’s foray into India. Near the entrance of Kohima War Memorial, the Kohima Epitaph bears the immortal words: “When you go home, tell them of us and say; For your tomorrow, we gave our today.
Despite the reverses on the battlefield, Bose travelled across Penang, Rangoon and Saigon, mobilizing support among Indian expatriates to fight the British Raj. He had great drive and charisma and he coined popular Indian slogans such as “Jai Hind”, “Chalo Dilli” and “Give me blood and I shall give you freedom”, which he said in a motivational speech at a rally in Burma on 4 July, 1944.
By 1945, almost half the Japanese forces and the INA contingent were killed. A vast number of INA troops were captured, defected or fell into British hands during the Burma campaign by March end. By the time Rangoon fell in May 1945, the INA was driven down the Malay Peninsula and disintegrated although some activities continued until Singapore was recaptured by the British. On 8 July, in Singapore’s Esplanade Park, Bose laid the foundation stone for a hastily-built memorial dedicated to the unknown fallen soldiers of the Indian National Army. On it were inscribed the proud motto of the INA – Etihaad (Unity), Etmad (Faith), Kurbani (Sacrifice).
Instead of surrendering with his forces or with the Japanese, Bose chose to escape to Manchuria in the Soviet Union, which he felt was turning anti-British. Taking off from Taihoku airport at Formosa in Taiwan, his overloaded plane crashed and he died from third degree burns in a military hospital nearby on 18 August, 1945. However, Bose was known for his miraculous escapes and dramatic appearances in the past. From eluding house arrest in Calcutta and his escape to Afghanistan and Europe under various aliases to his submarine journey from Germany to Singapore; his past exploits fuelled the myth of his future return.
To the Japanese, he was no less than an Indian samurai. Some believed he had become a sanyasi (holy man) called Gumnami Baba. According to various stories, he was seen as a recluse in the Naga hills or on an abandoned island, was a member of a Mongolian trade delegation in Peking, was hibernating in Russia or in a gulag (prison) and was spotted in the Chinese Army. Most believed he was preparing for his final march on Delhi and would reveal himself when the time was right. There were several Bose sightings, one even claiming he met Bose “in a third-class compartment of the Bombay Express on a Thursday.”
Though INA’s military achievements were limited and the British Raj was never seriously threatened by it, the psychological impact was immense. Indian troops fought on both sides at the Battle for Kohima –  Jats, Rajputs, Sikhs, Marathas and Gurkhas under the Allied forces versus soldiers of Bose’s Azad Hind Fauj. Had the eastern offensive through Burma and North East by Japan been coordinated with the German advance through Egypt, Iran and Iraq, a war on two frontiers would have stretched the British forces. A Japanese-INA victory and unfurling of the Indian flag could have prompted the Indian sepoy to switch loyalties. Even in defeat, the INA managed to ignite a revolt within the British Indian army.
Several former personnel of the British Indian Army, captured fighting in INA ranks or working in support of the INA’s subversive activities, were court-martialed. The British charged 300 INA officers with treason and the first joint trial of Shah Nawaz Khan, Prem Sahgal and Gurubaksh Singh Dhillon took place at Red Fort in Delhi. All three were sentenced to deportation for life. The INA trials led to huge public outcry and became a rallying point. It was the last major campaign where the Congress and the Muslim League aligned together. Immense public pressure, widespread opposition and demonstrations eventually led to the release of all three defendants.
Besides the protests of non-cooperation and non-violence, there was a spate of mutinies as support within the British Indian Army wavered. During the trials, mutiny broke out across the Royal Indian Navy from Karachi to Bombay and Vizag to Calcutta. In Madras and Pune, British garrisons faced revolts within the ranks of the British Indian Army as NCOs started ignoring orders from British superiors. Another mutiny took place at Jabalpur during the last week of February 1946.
There were several factors that guided British prime minister Clement Attlee to relinquish the Raj in India, but the most important reason was the INA activities of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, which weakened the Indian Army – the very foundation of the British Empire in India. The Royal Indian Navy Mutiny made the British realize that the Indian armed forces could no longer be trusted to prop up the Raj.
When Singapore was recaptured in 1945, Lord Mountbatten, Head of Southeast Asia Command, ordered the INA War Memorial to be blown to bits. It was partly an act of vengeance for the pain the allies suffered in Imphal and Burma as well as an attempt to stamp out proof of INA’s existence. After the war, fearing mass revolts and uprisings across its empire, the British Government forbade the BBC from broadcasting the epic tale of the INA. In 1995, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, the National Heritage Board of Singapore marked the spot of the original INA memorial as one of the eleven World War II historic site markers.
As we walked down Esplanade Park in Singapore, we struggled to find vestiges of the INA Memorial. The Cenotaph of the British Indian Army stood tall in honour of “Our Glorious Dead” of the two World Wars. Further down, a Chinese memorial commemorated Singapore war hero and resistance fighter Lim Bo Seng. Yet, there was no sign of INA – just a few stone slabs with peepholes. Often relegated as a footnote in history and denied the importance in the story of India’s freedom movement, was a memorial too much to ask? A local passing by noticed our perplexed look and kindly explained, “There was a signboard, but they’ve recently removed it for renovation.” We breathed a sigh of relief. Mountbatten may have demolished the original memorial, but the spirit of Bose and the INA live on...
Back home in India, the stories surrounding Netaji had always been shadowed by mystery and controversy for decades. Imagine, it was only on 14th October 2015 that the Government of India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that it would declassify the famous “Netaji Papers”. Two months later, the whole country watched the broadcast of the event when the first lot of 33 declassified files were handed over by the PMO’s office to the National Archives of India. It was an emotional moment for several members of Netaji’s family and his admirers as the gesture promised to fill the many gaps and loopholes in tracing the legacy of Subhash Chandra Bose. Subsequently, 150 declassified files of the 250 files are now in public domain. Time and again, Netaji has reminded us how he would remain a statesman the world cannot ignore or bury in the dusty pages of history. 

Anurag Mallick and Priya Ganapathy, Travel writing duo and media professionals, are regular contributors to leading magazines and newspapers. They have authored several books for national and international publications and run Red Scarab, a Bangalore-based travel & media outfit specialising in communication solutions for the travel and hospitality industry. They undertook a transcontinental journey in the footsteps of one of India’s most daring freedom fighters for this Special Re-Markings’ Number. Catch their stories on

 Copyright Nibir K Ghosh 2017
For copy of the Special Number please contact

Response from Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy:
ast year, out of the blue, Prof Nibir Ghosh from Agra University contacted us saying he was so impressed by our war story on Kohima War Cemetery, he wanted us to write an article on the travels of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose for an international biannual journal. Little did we know it will take the form of a book! Here are pics from the launch of Re-Markings, special issue on Subhash Chandra Bose, launched in Agra by Prof Sugata Bose. Couldn't attend the event, but felt happy to be in the company of professors and academicians in this collection of 'Contemporary Critical Orientations.' ...
Felt honoured that we were invited to contribute an article for 'Bose: Immortal Legend of India's Freedom', a special issue of Re:Markings, an international biannual journal. Pics from the book launch in Agra.