Subhas Chandra Bose
by Wong, Heng
Subhas Chandra Bose (b. 23 January 1897, Cuttack, Orissa, India–d. 18 August 1945, off Taipei), was a noted Indian politician in the fight for India’s independence from British rule. He was jailed 11 times in his fight for freedom and was believed to have been killed under suspicious circumstances in an airplane crash off Taipei.1
Bose was the ninth child of a family of 14 and the sixth son of Janakinath Bose, a lawyer of the Kayasth caste. He entered an English School in Cuttack at the age of five and in 1909, was transferred to Ravenshaw Collegiate School.2 He matriculated from Cuttack in 1913 and joined the Presidency College in Calcutta.3 His early influences included his headmaster, Beni Madhav Das, and the teachings of Swami Vivekananda and Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. The latter brought about a spiritual awakening in the 15-year-old Bose.4
At 17, Bose suddenly left his college in Calcutta without a word to his parents and went on a pilgrimage in search of a spiritual guru. After visiting renowned gurus of his day in places such as Rishikesh, Hardwar, Mathura, Brindavan, Varanasi and Gaya, he failed to find a guru whom he could follow and returned to Calcutta utterly disappointed.5 By 1916, the rebellious Bose was expelled from Presidency College and banished from Calcutta University over an incident where students attacked English professor, E. F. Oaten. However, he was accepted in Scottish Church College, Calcutta in 1917, graduating with first class honours in philosophy in 1919.6 He entered Cambridge University on 9 September 1919 to study for the Indian Civil Service Examination, placing fourth after only eight months of study.7 Even so, Bose did not stay long in the civil service, resigning in July 1921 and returning home.8
In India, Bose met with the Indian leaders, Mahatma Gandhi and Chittaranjan Das, and joined the Congress Party.9 Soon after, Bose and Das were arrested on Christmas day in 1921 for successfully organising a boycott against the Prince of Wales’s visit to India, and were sentenced to six months’ imprisonment. Upon his release, Bose busied himself with flood relief work, editorial services for the publication Forward in Calcutta and conducting propaganda for the Swaraj Party.10
In 1924, Bose was appointed Chief Executive Officer of the Calcutta Corporation at the same time when Das was elected Mayor of Calcutta. Bose was again detained in Mandalay, under the new Bengal Ordinance on 24 October 1924. He was released only two-and-a-half years later on the grounds of ill health, as he was suffering from tuberculosis. From 1928 to 1937, he remained in politics, and was arrested twice by British authorities. He was appointed President of the Indian Congress Party in 1938 but resigned on 28 April 1939. Bose was an advocate of armed resistance against British colonialism; he could not come to terms with the ideology of non-violent resistance that Gandhi advocated. Upon his resignation, he formed the All India Forward Bloc on 3 May 1939, a party within Congress, in an attempt to bring together the leftist faction and to fight Gandhism.11 He fought a losing battle against both Gandhi and the Congress party for 20 months until he was removed from the presidency of the Bengal Provincial Congress Committee and banned from holding any elective office for three years. In March 1940, Bose convened an Anti-Compromise Conference at Ramgarh in Bihar under the joint auspices of the Forward Bloc and Kisan Sabha, and by June of that year, was demanding the establishment of a Provisional National Government in India.12
Arrested again on 21 July 1940, Bose this time went on a hunger strike, demanding his release, which came only in December 1940. Despite strict surveillance, Bose managed to escape under the guise of an up-country Muslim gentleman. With the help of the Italian embassy, and travelling under the name of Orlando Mazzota, he reached Germany via Moscow. There he recruited Indian prisoners-of-war in Europe and north Africa to form the Indian Legion (Azad Hind Fauj or Free India Army) to fight for India’s freedom. Inspired by his leadership, his followers in Berlin honoured him with the name Bose Netaji, acknowledging his stature as a leader.13
Bose arrived in Singapore on 2 July 1943 at the invitation of revolutionary freedom fighter Rash Bihari Bose. He was appointed President of the Indian Independence League and took over from Rash Bihari Bose as leader of the Indian Independence League in East Asia.14 On 21 October 1943, Subhas Chandra Bose proclaimed the formation of the Provisional Government of Free India at Cathay Cinema Hall. Two days later, he declared war on Britain and the United States.15 With help from the Japanese, he re-organised and rejuvenated the Azad Hind Fauj (also called the Indian National Army). He lobbied aggressively for funds in Malaya and other parts of Southeast Asia and launched a recruitment drive for the Azad Hind Fauj.16
Tapping into the widespread discontent of Indian army personnel in Malaya, especially over the way British officers had abandoned them during their retreat from Singapore, Bose was able to recruit many British Indian troops to the Azad Hind Fauj.17 On 14 April 1944, he led the Azad Hind Fauj on an offensive against the British in India. Crossing the Burmese border, he planted the Indian National tri-colour flag at Moirang, Manipur. It was a symbol of claiming Indian soil from the British. However, the offensive failed to take Kohima and Imphal and the troops retreated to Burma. The campaign was considered a failure and Bose left for Singapore via Bangkok on 24 April 1944.18
While in Singapore, Bose received the devastating news of the Japanese surrender on 12 August 1945. Since their occupation of Southeast Asia, the Japanese had supported Bose’s fight for an independent India. On 17 August 1945, Bose left Singapore for Bangkok and later Saigon by plane. In Saigon he accepted a seat offered to him in a Japanese bomber. The Japanese promised that they would extend facilities to him to reach the Russian-occupied Manchuria, where Bose hoped to make contact with the Soviets to see if they would support his nationalist movement.19 However, the plane crashed in the vicinity of Taihoku (Taipei) airport at 2 pm on 18 August.20 Bose was badly burned in the crash and subsequently died in a Japanese military hospital in Taipei.21
Bose’s body, and thus his death, was never fully verified. As a result, there has been much controversy over his death over the years, and speculations abound as to whether he was still alive.22 According to the official version, Bose died when his plane crashed in Taipei, based on eye-witness accounts of Abid Hassan, who was with Bose on his flight to Taipei, and by Taneyoshi Yoshimi, the Japanese doctor who attended to Bose after the crash. Yoshimi recalled that Bose was burnt from head to toe when he was admitted to the hospital and passed away later, at 11.50 pm. After Bose’s death, his ashes were brought to Tokyo and placed at the Renkoji temple, where they have rested all these years.23
However, not everyone accepts this account of Bose’s death. Some believe that Bose did not die in the Taipei air crash and that the death report was a subterfuge by Bose, his aides and the Japanese to help him escape safely to Manchuria.24 From there, it was speculated that he made his way to the Soviet Union to seek their support for his nationalist movement against the British, but he was turned down and died in a Soviet gulag.25 Others believe that he returned from Russia to India and lived anonymously as a hermit.26
In response to the controversy over Bose’s death, three separate inquiry commissions were initiated to study what had happened to him. The Shah Nawaz Khan Committee (1956) and the Justice G. D. Khosla Commission (1970–74) both concluded that Bose had died in the air crash in Taipei.27 However, the report by the third inquiry commission, which was set up in 1999 and led by retired Justice M. K. Mukherjee, contradicted the findings of the earlier inquiries. After seven years of investigation, Mukherjee’s report concluded that Bose did not die in the air crash and that the ashes at Renkoji temple were not his, though it did not confirm whether Bose reached Russia or elsewhere thereafter. The commission’s findings were based on reports from Taiwanese authorities that there was no record of any plane crash in Taipei on 18 August 1945 and the fact that the death register of the Taipei municipality around the time of Bose’s plane crash did not have Bose’s name in it.28 The Mukherjee Commission’s findings, however, were rejected by the Indian government.29
Indian National Army Memorial
A memorial for soldiers of the Indian National Army set up by Bose in Singapore was destroyed by the returning British Military in 1945. However, a commemorative icon still stands at the Queen Elizabeth Walk marking the site of this memorial.30
1938: Bose is elected President of the Indian Congress Party and presides over the Haripura Sessions. He is re-elected the next year and presides over the Tripuri Session. He resigns from the presidency on 28 April 1939.
2 Nov 1941: Opens the Free India Centre in Berlin.31
4 Jul 1943: Becomes leader of the Indian Independence League at a formal ceremony in Singapore.
5 Jul 1943: Renames the Indian National Army as Azad Hind Fauj or the Free India Army.32
Wong Heng & Ong Eng Chuan
1. Ayer, S. A. (1997). Story of the I. N. A. New Delhi: National Book Trust. (Call no.: RSING 954.03 AYE)
2. Mehra, P. (1985). A dictionary of modern Indian history, 1707–1947. Delhi, New York: Oxford University Press, p. 103. (Call no.: R 954.030321 MEH)
3. Sopan. (Ed.). (1946). Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: His life and work. Bombay: Azad Bhandar, p. 6. (Call no.: RCLOS 954.03 BOS.S)
4. Ayer, S. A. (1997). Story of the I. N. A. New Delhi: National Book Trust, p. 109. (Call no.: RSING 954.03 AYE)
5. Ayer, S. A. (1997). Story of the I. N. A. New Delhi: National Book Trust, p. 9. (Call no.: RSING 954.03 AYE)
6. Sopan. (Ed.). (1946). Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: His life and work. Bombay: Azad Bhandar, pp. 14–15. (Call no.: RCLOS 954.03 BOS.S)
7. Ayer, S. A. (1997). Story of the I. N. A. New Delhi: National Book Trust, p. 11. (Call no.: RSING 954.03 AYE)
8. Mehra, P. (1985). A dictionary of modern Indian history, 1707–1947. Delhi, New York: Oxford University Press, p. 103. (Call no.: R 954.030321 MEH)
9. Ayer, S. A. (1997). Story of the I. N. A. New Delhi: National Book Trust, p. 12. (Call no.: RSING 954.03 AYE)
10. Sopan. (Ed.). (1946). Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: His life and work. Bombay: Azad Bhandar, pp. 25–26. (Call no.: RCLOS 954.03 BOS.S)
11. Ayer, S. A. (1997). Story of the I. N. A. New Delhi: National Book Trust, pp. 14–18. (Call no.: RSING 954.03 AYE)
12. Mehra, P. (1985). A dictionary of modern Indian history, 1707–1947. Delhi, New York: Oxford University Press, p. 104. (Call no.: R 954.030321 MEH)
13. Ayer, S. A. (1997). Story of the I. N. A. New Delhi: National Book Trust, pp. 18–22. (Call no.: RSING 954.03 AYE)
14. Bayly, C., & Harper, T. (2005). Forgotten armies: The fall of British Asia, 1941–1945. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, p. 321. (Call no.: RSEA 940.5425 BAY)
15. Turnbull, C. M. (1989). A history of Singapore, 1819–1988. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 211. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS])
16. Bayly, C., & Harper, T. (2005). Forgotten armies: The fall of British Asia, 1941–1945. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, p. 323. (Call no.: RSEA 940.5425 BAY)
17. Bayly, C. A., & Harper, T. (2007). Forgotten wars: The end of Britain’s Asian empire. London: Allen Lane, p. 20. (Call no.: RSING 959.053 BAY)
18. Ayer, S. A. (1997). Story of the I. N. A. New Delhi: National Book Trust, pp. 57–72. (Call no.: RSING 954.03 AYE)
19. Ayer, S. A. (1997). Story of the I. N. A. New Delhi: National Book Trust, pp. 74–81. (Call no.: RSING 954.03 AYE)
20. Bhargava, M. (1982). Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose in Southeast Asia and India’s liberation war 1943–45. New Delhi: Viswavidya, p. 168. (Call no.: RSING 954.035 BHA)
21. Bayly, C. A., & Harper, T. (2007). Forgotten wars: The end of Britain’s Asian empire. London: Allen Lane, p. 21. (Call no.: RSING 959.053 BAY)
22. Bayly, C. A., & Harper, T. (2007). Forgotten wars: The end of Britain’s Asian empire. London: Allen Lane, p. 22. (Call no.: RSING 959.053 BAY)
23. Lebra, J. (2007, April 19). Controversy over Bose’s ashes simmer. The Straits Times, p. 27. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Bayly, C. A., & Harper, T. (2007). Forgotten wars: The end of Britain’s Asian empire. London: Allen Lane, p. 83. (Call no.: RSING 959.053 BAY)
24. Paul, A. (2006, January 14). Bose mystery continues. The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Yadav, Y. (2014, December 20). The prisoner of Yakutsk. The New Indian Express. Retrieved 2016, July 27 from New Indian Express website: http://www.newindianexpress.com/magazine/The-Prisoner-of-Yakutsk/2014/12/20/article2579321.ece
26. Saha, A. (2015, April 11). Indian’s greatest suspense: 5 things to know about the Netaji mystery. Hindustan Times. Retrieved 2016, July 27 from Hindustan Times website: http://www.hindustantimes.com/india/india-s-greatest-suspense-5-things-to-know-about-the-netaji-mystery/story-KaKRZgYxRBF4D1kGSOIUyM.html
27. Ayer, S. A. (1997). Story of the I. N. A. New Delhi: National Book Trust, p. 98. (Call no.: RSING 954.03 AYE); De Cruz, G. (1971, October 6). Bose: Yet another futile inquiry. New Nation, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Mitta, M. (2006, May 21). ‘No record of Netaji crash’. The Times of India. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
29. Accept Mukherjee report on Netaji, say Rajya Sabha MPs. (2006, August 25). Hindustan Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
30. National Archives of Singapore. (2003). Historical journey of the Indian National Army. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
31. Indian National Congress. (n.d.). Subhas Chandra Bose. Retrieved 2016, July 27 from Indian National Congress website: http://inc.in/organization/102-Subhash-Chandra-Bose/profile; Joseph, C. (2004, September 19). From bhajis to Blitzkrieg…or how a group of Indian nationalists joined Hitler’s army to fight the British. London (UK): Mail on Sunday. Retrieved from ProQuest via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
32. Ayer, S. A. (1997). Story of the I. N. A. New Delhi: National Book Trust, p. 22. (Call no.: RSING 954.03 AYE)
Gordon, L. A. (1997). Brothers against the Raj: A biography of Sarat and Subhas Chandra Bose. New Delhi: Rupa.
(Call no.: R 954.0350922 GOR)
Gupta, V. P., & Gupta, M. (1998). The quest for freedom: A study of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. New Delhi: Radha.
(Call no.: R 954.0359092 GUP)
Maikap, S. C. (1998). Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and Indian war of independence. Calcutta: Punascha.
(Call no.: R 954.035092 MAI)
Manthanam, S. J. (1998). The mystery of Netaji’s “death”. Thiruvananthapuram: Netaji Study Circle, Kerala.
(Call no.: R 954.035 MAN)
Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: A Malaysian perspective. (1992). Kuala Lumpur: Netaji Centre.
(Call no.: RSING 954.035 NET)
Ruhela, S. P., & Nur Jahan Siddiqui. (1997). Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose: Perennial inspiration to the Indian youth (birth centenary volume 1997). New Delhi: A. P. H. Pub.
(Call no.: R 954.035092 RUH)
Sareen, T. R. (Ed.). (1997). Forgotten images: Reflections and reminiscences of Subhash Chandra Bose. Delhi: S. S. Publishers.
(Call no.: RSING 954.035 FOR)
The information in this article is valid as at 29 July 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
Events>>Historical Periods>>World War II and Japanese Occupation (1939 - 1945)
1942-1945 Japanese occupation
People and communities>>Social groups and communities
Bose, Subhas Chandra, 1897-1945
Singapore--History--Japanese occupation, 1942-1945