A 28-ft black granite statue of Subhas Chandra Bose was unveiled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at India Gate on Thursday (September 8) evening. The statue is placed under the Grand Canopy of the monument and has been inaugurated along with the Kartavya Path, formerly known as Rajpath.
Bose’s early life
Born to an upper-class Bengali family in 1897 in Cuttack, Subhas Chandra Bose was the ninth child of Janakinath and Prabhavati Bose. A well-known lawyer, Janakinath sent his sons to an English-medium school where Bengali was not taught, so that they could learn perfect English which he considered essential for assimilating into English society. Prabhavati, on the other hand, was a devout Hindu and observed Bengali Hindu customs and pujas which all her children had to attend.
In 1909, Subhas Chandra Bose moved to Ravenshaw Collegiate School, where he completed his secondary education. Here, he was taught Bengali and Sanskrit, as well as the Vedas and Upanishads. While he continued his European education throughout his life, he became less drawn to Anglicized ways than his family members during his schooling, and according to historian Leonard Gordon, “began to make his own synthesis of the cultures of the West and India”.
Influenced by the teachings of Ramakrishna and his disciple Swami Vivekananda, as well as the themes of Bengali novelist Bankim Chandra Chatterjee in his novel Ananda Math, Gordon notes that Subhas found what he was looking for: “his Motherland’s freedom and revival” (in Brothers Against the Raj: A Biography of Indian Nationalist Leaders Sarat and Subhas Chandra Bose).
After school, he entered the Presidency College in Calcutta in 1913, where he studied philosophy. His earliest battle with British authority occurred while he was a student, against Professor of History E F Oaten, who had once in class spoken about England’s civilizing mission in India.
The students felt insulted by his remarks and their anger later boiled over after a run-in with the teacher, leading him to be beaten with sandals by Bose and his friends. Expelled for his actions, he resumed his studies at the Scottish Church College in Calcutta.
Bose’s Disagreements with Gandhi
Afterwards, Bose went to Cambridge University to prepare for the Indian Civil Services (ICS) exam in 1920. But later, determined to join the struggle for India’s freedom, he abandoned the project and resigned from the ICS to join the Mahatma Gandhi-led national movement.
After reaching Bombay, now Mumbai, in 1921, he obtained an audience with Gandhi to get a better understanding of his plan of action. While he had great respect for the Mahatma, Bose left the meeting dissatisfied with the answers he received.
About the ideological divide between the two leaders, historian Satadru Sen notes that while “Gandhi was willing to wait a long time for Independence, Bose wanted immediate action, if not immediate results. Gandhi was anti-materialistic and hostile to modern technology, Bose saw technology and mass production as essential to survival and dignity. Gandhi wanted a decentralized society and disliked the modern state; Bose wanted a strong central government and saw the modern state as the only solution to India’s problems. And finally, Bose did not share Gandhi’s dedication to non-violence.”
Despite tensions between the two, Bose was well aware of the significance of a leader like Gandhi. Bose was the first to call him the “father of the nation” during an address from the Azad Hind Radio from Singapore in July 1944.
The rift within the Congress
Over the next two decades, Bose devoted his life to the nationalist movement, gaining considerable political influence and becoming one of the most powerful leaders in the Congress party.
In 1938, he was elected Congress president in the Haripura session, where he tried to push for swaraj as a “National Demand” and opposed the idea of an Indian federation under British rule. He stood for re-election in 1939 and defeated Dr Pattabhi Sitaramayya, the Gandhi-backed candidate. Sekhar Bandhopadhyay notes that Gandhi took this as a “personal defeat” and 12 of the 15 members of the Working Committee resigned from their roles (in Plassey to Partition: A History of Modern India). These included Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel and Rajendra Prasad.
Bose tried to set up another working committee, but after being unable to do so, was forced to resign and was replaced by Prasad. Within a week, he proposed the creation of the “Forward Bloc” within the Congress Party, in order to bring the radical-left elements of the party together. According to historian Sugata Bose, his political aim was to convert the majority of the Congress members towards his radical point of view and provide the Indian people with an alternative leadership that was based on an “uncompromising anti-imperialism in the current phase of Indian politics and undiluted socialism once freedom was achieved” (His Majesty’s Opponent: Subhas Chandra Bose and India’s Struggle Against Empire).
A dramatic escape
Bose was arrested in 1940 before he could launch a campaign to remove the monument dedicated to the victims of the Black Hole of Calcutta, an incident when a number of European soldiers died while imprisoned in 1756.
After going on a hunger strike, he was released from jail in December. Historian Ishita Banerjee-Dube writes that he soon began his escape from India, travelling by road, rail, air and foot in various disguises to avoid British surveillance. He entered Soviet-controlled Kabul via the northwest of India and finally reached Nazi Germany, where he remained for two years. He was provided assistance to defeat the British, and Bose was allowed to start the Azad Hind Radio and was provided with a few thousand Indian prisoners of war captured by Germany (from A History of Modern India).
Bose soon turned his focus to South East Asia, specifically Singapore, a British stronghold that had been taken over by Japan, which according to Ishita Banerjee-Dube had shown increased interest in Indian independence from the British. However, leaving Europe at the peak of World War II was no easy task. In February 1943, he left Germany with his aide Abid Hasan in a submarine and travelled down the Atlantic Ocean, crossing the Cape of Good Hope in Africa before entering the Indian Ocean past Madagascar. Here, Bose and Hasan were taken on a small rubber boat provided by the Japanese, before taking them to Sumatra and finally arriving in Tokyo by air, marking the end of a gruelling and dangerous 90-day journey.
The INA and World War II
The Indian National Army was formed in 1942, consisting of thousands of Indian prisoners of war captured by the Japanese, and supported by Japanese troops.
After his arrival in Singapore, Bose announced the formation of the provisional government of the Azad Hind in October 1943. Sugata Bose notes that the headquarters of the provisional government was moved to Rangoon in January 1944, and after fighting at the Arakan Front, the INA crossed the Indo-Burma border and marched towards Imphal and Kohima in March.
The Chalo Delhi campaign ended at Imphal however, as the British and British Indian armies, along with American air support were able to defeat the Japanese forces and the INA and push them out of Kohima as well.
In April-May 1945, Bose, along with the INA soldiers as well as women he had recruited for the Rani of Jhansi regiment was forced to retreat on foot to Thailand, while facing incessant enemy fire. After the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, the war came to an end.
After the Japanese surrendered on August 16, Bose left South East Asia on a Japanese plane and headed toward China. The plane, however, crashed, leaving Bose badly burned, but still alive, according to historian Satadru Sen.