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Subhas Chandra Bose, Indian Wartime Leader in Germany during the War Years 1941-43
Subhas Bose is a man who is greatly loved by the Indian people. He was an intellectual of the highest order. He had joined the Congress party with a view to fighting for Indian independence. Bose had earlier resigned a prestigious job in the Indian Civil Service (ICS) to join the movement of Gandhi. However while in the Congress party he realized that Gandhi could not dislodge British rule by his non-violent and pacifist approach. He propagated the view that a more militant approach was needed to throw the British out.
These views brought him into direct confrontation with Gandhi and Bose was made to feel like an outcast. However he had popular support and in the 1938 session of the Congress party, he contested against the nominee of Gandhi for the post of party president. Gandhi made it clear that a defeat of his candidate Pattibiraman was his defeat.
The results shocked Gandhi as Bose won by a huge majority and became Congress party President. Gandhi and other Congress leaders like Nehru and Patel sided against Bose and declared “non-cooperation" with Bose.Gandhi refused to speak to Bose, as he felt humiliated.
An angry Bose resigned from the Congress party. Outside he formed his own group called the Forward Bloc. His speeches urging a revolt against British rule led to his arrest in 1939. He was interred in his house in Calcutta.
Bose made a daring plan to escape from Calcutta and in 1940 he escaped in disguise. He traveled to Lahore and on to the North West frontier and reached Kabul. Some agents from Russia met him there and helped him move to Russia. He reached Moscow, but there is no record he had any meeting with Stalin. The Russian Government which at that time was an ally of Germany allowed him to go to Berlin. He traveled by train to Germany and reached Berlin in April 1941.
Bose Meets Hitler and Organization of India League
Bose was initially given a low key welcome in Berlin. He was put up in a comfortable hotel with a telephone. Initially, he had access only to senior officials of the foreign ministry, but he did meet Von Ribbentrop and asked that a government in exile be set up and it is recognized by Germany. Ribbentrop was cool to this proposal, but the Germans gave a free hand to Bose and started giving him a monthly allowance of 12,000 Reich marks for his personal expenses, as well as a loan of ten million Reich marks to set up the " India Centre" in Berlin.
Bose also attended many meetings in the foreign ministry and was allowed a great deal of freedom. His request for a meeting with Hitler was not accepted immediately and he was asked to submit a proposal as to how he could help in the 'liberation" of India.
Bose duly submitted his proposal that included talking to Indian POWs in Italy, who had been captured in the desert campaign in North Africa. Bose made contact with the POW camps and talked to the POW to join the India legion with a view to liberating India.
He had lukewarm support from the POWs and only about 3500 opted to join the India league. However over a period of time this number swelled to 35000. Bose planned to use these troops to free India.
In the meantime on 22nd June Hitler invaded Russia. Bose was against the Russian invasion and warned Ribbentrop about it. He wanted the British Empire to be defeated first and then Russia be sorted out. But some plans of the Germans leaked to him and he learnt that Hitler had an ambitious plan to overrun Russia and then enter India from Afghanistan. It was a hair brained scheme and bound to fail.
After a year Bose finally had a 45 minute meeting with Hitler in May 1942. Hitler was in an expansive mood as he thought he had won the war. He was also well briefed about the situation in India. From all accounts this meeting was a one way monologue by Hitler in which he spelt out his plans. He promised that Bose would be included when German troops set foot in India.
Bose was extremely dissatisfied by this meeting and one wonders what he thought after meeting Hitler.
The Last Year of Bose in Germany
Bose while in Germany fell in love with a German girl named Emilie Schenki. He had one daughter from her. Bose took her for a holiday when he learned of the Russian invasion. He had already expressed his opposition to this, but he could do nothing. For the next one year, he used all his energy in organizing the India league. The league soldiers had to take an oath of loyalty to Hitler and Bose.
The India league was well treated and armed by the Germans and their religious susceptibilities were taken care off and beef and pork were not included in their rations. However as the campaign in Russia got bogged down, Hitler lost interest in an Indian invasion.
At that time th Japanese had struck across South East Asia and Bose thought it better to go and join the Japanese as he would be closer to home and could organize the battle better along with the Japanese. In April 1943 after secret communications between Tokyo and Berlin, it was decided to shift Bose to the Far East and Japan.
In May 1943 Bose left Germany in a German U boat for a voyage across the Atlantic and Cape of Good Hope to Japan. He left behind his daughter and wife and never met them again.
In retrospect the 2 years Bose spent in Germany did not yield what he expected after 1942, the Germans were on the defensive. Bose failed at that time to make a significant impact on Indian politics and Gandhi ruled the roost. The Indian public had however romantic notions of Bose as a man who achieved a lot. In practical terms, his sojourn in Germany was a failure