Monday, September 19, 2011

Subash Chandra Bose: His Majesty's Opponent by Sugata Bose

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

Subash Chandra Bose is a tragic figure in Indian history and an enigmatic personality in Indian historiography. Jawaharlal Nehru, his rival and a self-appointed heir of Gandhi declared with joyful glee that Bose had died in a plane crash near Taiwan and thereby ignited a controversy which is still reverberating. Nehru relief at the untimely demise of Subash Chandra Bose was transparently clear and I dare say that Nehru was the real beneficiary of the death of Subash Chandra Bose. The plane crash removed from the scene a very powerful and charismatic figure from the landscape of Indian politics. And the quick elimination of Gandhiji meant that in the post Independence era, Nehru was virtually without a rival. Even Sardar Patel was constantly humiliated by Nehru in the years following Independence, that he died a broken man, his dreams shattered by the barrage of humiliation inflicted by the first Prime Minister. Incidentally, on the day Gandhi met his untimely death he was scheduled to meet Nehru and talk to him about the impending resignation of Sardar Patel from the cabinet.

The political life of Subash Candra Bose is fascinating and the eminent historian Dr Sugata Bose has done a splendid job in contextualizing the career of Bose within the framework of the national movement. Jawarharlal Nehru being a rumbustious factional leader had created a pro-left faction within the Congress party. While public ally deferring to Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru astutely created a ginger group consisting of left wing ideologues like Kriplani and Jayaprakas Narayan and this left oriented faction was being pitted against the nationalist such as Bose. One outcome of this strategy was the marinalization of Subash Chanra Bose within the Congress Party and even when Bose won the election to the Presidency of the AICC, the Nehruvian faction prevailed upon Gandhi to disown Bose. The rest as they say is history.

Bose's decision to leave India and seek the assistance of Japan and Germany still remains a controversial issue in Indian historiography. The pro-Nehru bran of state sponsored historians like Bipan Chandra and the like hint that Subash Chandra Bose was a proto fascist and expalin the alliance with Germany in terms of an inherent anti-democratic streak in the personality of Bose. What they deliberately ignore, and this point is well argued in Sugata Bose's recent book, is that factional in-fighting within the Congress aided and promoted by Jawarhar Lal Nehru had made the exit of Bose from the Congress inevitable.

Sugata Bose has quite rightly pointed out that Bose did not envisage a long term alliance with Germany as he was fully aware of the implications of German Nazi ideology. In fact Germany hardly gave any help to Bose except arranging his transport via submarine to Japan. However, SubashhCharda Bose's alliance with Imperial Japan did result in untold suffering when war crimes were comitted by the Japanese forces on the Islands. Subash Chandra Bose being the head of the Interim Government cannot be absolved from the blame for the massacres in Port Blair. Sugata Bose unfortunately does not deal with this painful chapter.

The book under review is very good and scholarly and deserves to be read by all serious student sof modern Indian history.

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