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The misunderstood Netaji: Subhas Chandra Bose hated Nazis, but he loved India’s Independence more

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The more things change, the more they stay the same. For the last so many decades the smart stratagem for all those who cannot stand Bose for whatever reasons has been to make use of a tried and tested method: Club him with the indefensible Nazis.  As Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the momentous announcement, rants against him and Netaji started circulating thick and fast. Joining the canard led by Westerners were several Indians, which was not very surprising. While the Western sensibilities are perfectly understandable in view of the trail of destruction left behind by the Nazis in that part of the world, the Indian attitude has been hypocritical — inspired as it is partly from a tendency among the elite and the well-read in India to view the 1940s from Western glasses.  It’s one thing to pontificate in enlightened gatherings, and quite another to pursue vital national interests. In the summer of 1990 Nelson Mandela was at a public meeting in New York City. The venerable South African leader was bombarded with questions about his proximity to those considered undesirable in the West. One of the mistakes which some political analysts make, Mandela retorted, is to think their enemies should be our enemies. “Our attitude towards any country is determined by the attitude of that country to our struggle. Yasser Arafat, Colonel Gaddafi, Fidel Castro support our struggle to the hilt.”  Back in the 1940s, Subhas Bose was engaged in a life and death struggle over what constituted India’s core national interest: Evicting the foreign occupiers from our soil.  In the pursuit of larger national interest, which overrides all other considerations, nations and their leaders would do all it takes. In 2015, British prime minister David Cameron was egged on in a Channel 4 interview to specify why the UK was helping Saudi Arabia join the Human Rights Council of the United Nations when the latter was “one of the most human rights abusing regimes on earth”. When he couldn’t dodge it any longer, Cameron blurted out: “We receive from them important intelligence and security information that keeps us safe… For me, Britain’s national security and our people’s security comes first.”  It is for the reason of larger national interests that the United States is still a friend of Pakistan, which harboured that country’s enemy No. 1, Osama bin Laden. It was for this very reason that Indira Gandhi shook hands with Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi dictator was regarded in the West as a monster in the league of Hitler, but for India, Saddam was an ally. Iraq did not denounce but supported India’s right to possess nuclear bombs during the Vajpayee days. Saddam was on our side when it came to Kashmir, said former prime minister IK Gujral, a former diplomat. There is a quote attributed to Jawaharlal Nehru. It is about Kashmir. “Democracy and morality can wait. National interest is more important than democracy.”  No one can never ever contemplate placing the UK or the US in the same league as Nazi Germany. It is nonetheless a plain fact of history that Great Britain, for all her goodness, was not willing to free India even as she and the United States waged war against Hitler in the name of liberty. It was not Hitler but the British prime minister during World War II, Winston Churchill, who hated Indians from the core of his heart. His racist rants made even his fellow Britons wince. Never forget that it was Churchill, not Hitler, who caused millions of deaths in India.  Subhas Chandra Bose’s reaching out to Nazi Germany should be viewed against this backdrop. Girija Mookerjee, who was with Bose in Germany between 1941 and 1943, explained that “even Imperial Germany during World War I had taken up the cause of Indian independence and the German Foreign Office had, therefore, a precedent to go by”.  “Men who weighed this question at the German Foreign Office were men of career, who were neither National Socialists nor did they belong to the inner coteries of Hitler… These men, guided by the desire to advance German national interests in India, thought it advisable for political reasons to support the movement sponsored by Netaji in Germany.”  On a personal level, Bose was as humane as any other Cambridge alumni like him. Between 1933 and 1939, for example, he had friends like Kitty and Alex, a Jewish couple in Berlin. After being advised by Bose, the couple went to the US, and from her Massachusetts home in 1965 Kitty Kurti wrote her tribute for Bose in a book titled Subhas Chandra Bose as I Knew Him. She wrote that Bose did not attempt to hide from her his deep contempt for the Nazis. In the same vein, he cited India’s exploitation by British imperialism and explained why he had to do business with the Nazis. “It is dreadful but it must be done. India must gain her independence, cost what it may.”  The standard Western and elitist Indian take on Bose’s outreach to Nazi Germany doesn’t take the idea of “national interest first” into consideration. Some even go to the extent of calling Bose a Nazi collaborator. Come to think of it, Bose never had any clue about the gas chambers. The world discovered the horrors of Holocaust only in 1945. After visiting Auschwitz (former Nazi death camp in Poland) in 2013, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu remarked: “The Allied leaders knew about the Holocaust as it was happening. They understood perfectly what was taking place in the death camps. They were asked to act, they could have acted, and they did not.”  Posted in India  Search Bar  Categories  Asia  Exclusive  India  My Take  N & S America  News Beat             Copyright © idrw.org 2006-2019. All Rights Reserved.Fair Use  idrw.org
A photo of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose in Germany during World War-II



A few weeks ago, when I learned to my utter delight that the demand for a statue of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose in the heart of the national capital had been approved, I knew what the repercussions were going to be like. The more things change, the more they stay the same. For the last so many decades the smart stratagem for all those who cannot stand Bose for whatever reasons has been to make use of a tried and tested method: Club him with the indefensible Nazis.

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the momentous announcement, rants against him and Netaji started circulating thick and fast. Joining the canard led by Westerners were several Indians, which was not very surprising. While the Western sensibilities are perfectly understandable in view of the trail of destruction left behind by the Nazis in that part of the world, the Indian attitude has been hypocritical — inspired as it is partly from a tendency among the elite and the well-read in India to view the 1940s from Western glasses.

It’s one thing to pontificate in enlightened gatherings, and quite another to pursue vital national interests. In the summer of 1990 Nelson Mandela was at a public meeting in New York City. The venerable South African leader was bombarded with questions about his proximity to those considered undesirable in the West. One of the mistakes which some political analysts make, Mandela retorted, is to think their enemies should be our enemies. “Our attitude towards any country is determined by the attitude of that country to our struggle. Yasser Arafat, Colonel Gaddafi, Fidel Castro support our struggle to the hilt.”

Back in the 1940s, Subhas Bose was engaged in a life and death struggle over what constituted India’s core national interest: Evicting the foreign occupiers from our soil.

In the pursuit of larger national interest, which overrides all other considerations, nations and their leaders would do all it takes. In 2015, British prime minister David Cameron was egged on in a Channel 4 interview to specify why the UK was helping Saudi Arabia join the Human Rights Council of the United Nations when the latter was “one of the most human rights abusing regimes on earth”. When he couldn’t dodge it any longer, Cameron blurted out: “We receive from them important intelligence and security information that keeps us safe… For me, Britain’s national security and our people’s security comes first.”

It is for the reason of larger national interests that the United States is still a friend of Pakistan, which harboured that country’s enemy No. 1, Osama bin Laden. It was for this very reason that Indira Gandhi shook hands with Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi dictator was regarded in the West as a monster in the league of Hitler, but for India, Saddam was an ally. Iraq did not denounce but supported India’s right to possess nuclear bombs during the Vajpayee days. Saddam was on our side when it came to Kashmir, said former prime minister IK Gujral, a former diplomat. There is a quote attributed to Jawaharlal Nehru. It is about Kashmir. “Democracy and morality can wait. National interest is more important than democracy.”

No one can never ever contemplate placing the UK or the US in the same league as Nazi Germany. It is nonetheless a plain fact of history that Great Britain, for all her goodness, was not willing to free India even as she and the United States waged war against Hitler in the name of liberty. It was not Hitler but the British prime minister during World War II, Winston Churchill, who hated Indians from the core of his heart. His racist rants made even his fellow Britons wince. Never forget that it was Churchill, not Hitler, who caused millions of deaths in India.

Subhas Chandra Bose’s reaching out to Nazi Germany should be viewed against this backdrop. Girija Mookerjee, who was with Bose in Germany between 1941 and 1943, explained that “even Imperial Germany during World War I had taken up the cause of Indian independence and the German Foreign Office had, therefore, a precedent to go by”.

“Men who weighed this question at the German Foreign Office were men of career, who were neither National Socialists nor did they belong to the inner coteries of Hitler… These men, guided by the desire to advance German national interests in India, thought it advisable for political reasons to support the movement sponsored by Netaji in Germany.”

On a personal level, Bose was as humane as any other Cambridge alumni like him. Between 1933 and 1939, for example, he had friends like Kitty and Alex, a Jewish couple in Berlin. After being advised by Bose, the couple went to the US, and from her Massachusetts home in 1965 Kitty Kurti wrote her tribute for Bose in a book titled Subhas Chandra Bose as I Knew Him. She wrote that Bose did not attempt to hide from her his deep contempt for the Nazis. In the same vein, he cited India’s exploitation by British imperialism and explained why he had to do business with the Nazis. “It is dreadful but it must be done. India must gain her independence, cost what it may.”

The standard Western and elitist Indian take on Bose’s outreach to Nazi Germany doesn’t take the idea of “national interest first” into consideration. Some even go to the extent of calling Bose a Nazi collaborator. Come to think of it, Bose never had any clue about the gas chambers. The world discovered the horrors of Holocaust only in 1945. After visiting Auschwitz (former Nazi death camp in Poland) in 2013, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu remarked: “The Allied leaders knew about the Holocaust as it was happening. They understood perfectly what was taking place in the death camps. They were asked to act, they could have acted, and they did not.”

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