Subhas Chandra Bose: Indians celebrate 136th anniversary of freedom fighter's birth

Revolutionary leader known for his leftist-authoritarianism and socialist approaches in striving for independence from British rule

circa 1940:  Indian nationalist leader, Subhas Chandra Bose (1897 - 1945).  (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
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Indians are celebrating the 136th anniversary of the birth of Subhas Chandra Bose, a revolutionary leader and one of the best-known freedom fighters.

Mr Bose was born on January 23, 1887, to a wealthy Bengali family in Cuttack in the eastern state of Odisha.

Popularly called “Netaji” (“the leader”) by his supporters, he was a fierce leader known for his leftist authoritarianism and socialist approaches that he used to strive for independence from British colonial rule.

He popularised the slogan, “You give me blood, I will give you freedom”, fuelling the people of the subcontinent with patriotism.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveils a statue of Subhash Chandra Bose in New Delhi. AP

Prime minister Narendra Modi paid homage to the freedom fighter calling his contribution to the country’s independence struggle “unparalleled”.

“He will be remembered for his fierce resistance to colonial rule. Deeply influenced by his thoughts, we are working to realise his vision for India,” Mr Modi tweeted.

He also virtually inaugurated a model of a proposed memorial dedicated to Mr Bose in the remote Andaman and Nicobar Islands, an archipelago in the Bay of Bengal.

Nationalist movement

Mr Bose studied in Calcutta before moving to England where he studied at Cambridge University and worked for the prestigious administrative service in England. At the age of 24 he returned to India to join the independence movement against the British Raj.

He initially joined the nationalist movement led by Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, who later became India’s first prime minister.

At 42, Mr Bose became the youngest president of the radical wing of the Indian National Congress — the country’s first political party to bring social reforms.

He had unequivocal support in the southern states of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, Bengal and Assam in the east and the northern Punjab and United Provinces. The leader’s charisma and popularity even dwarfed that of Gandhi.

But in 1939, mainly due to his negotiable attitude to non-violence, Mr Bose was ousted from the party.

Subhas Chandra Bose's ties to Nazi Germany and Japan

Believing in the principle that his enemy’s enemy was his friend, Mr Bose made overtures towards Nazi Germany and imperial Japan and landed in Nazi Germany via Kabul and the Soviet Union in 1941.

There he stayed for two years, garnering support for India’s independence. He also met Adolf Hitler a year later.

In Berlin, he founded the Free India Centre with the help of funds from the German authority and created the Indian Legion, comprising 4,500 prisoner of war soldiers who had previously fought for the British in North Africa before being captured by the Axis powers.

He also met long-time friend Emilie Schenkl, an Austrian stenographer, who moved to Berlin and worked as his secretary. The two later married and had a daughter, Anita Bose Pfaff, an economist.

Indian nationalist leader Subhash Chandra Bose and Adolf Hitler, Berlin, Germany, May 1942. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)

In 1943, after realising that Germany could not help the independence fight, Mr Bose became India's first submariner as he left for Japan in a U-boat.

The hazardous voyage took over two months, with Mr Bose surviving on bread that stank of diesel.

In Japan, Rash Behari Bose, an Indian revolutionary, had set up the Indian Independence League with the support of the diaspora living in South-East Asia.

At a meeting in Singapore, Mr Behari handed over control of the organisation to Mr Bose, who renamed it the Indian National Army. It had 45,000 soldiers from various countries in the region, including Indians who were prisoners of war.

Mr Bose believed that with the help of Japan and a revolt inside India, the Indian National Army could end British rule.

The INA inspired millions of Indians and became a symbol of unity and heroism in the country. Women had an active role in the organisation.

Subhas Chandra Bose's death in 1945

On August 18, 1945, Mr Bose died in a plane crash in Japanese-ruled Formosa, now Taiwan.

After his death, many of the remaining soldiers of the INA were taken as prisoners of war by the British.

However, his supporters believed that he survived the crash and went into hiding. Mr Bose’s death remains a mystery eight decades later.

Updated: January 23, 2023, 11:48 AM