I recently got into a bit of a family debate about Subhas Chandra Bose. I am not a scholar of Indian history.
And I am not attempting to engage in any kind of historical revisionism on this subject, although it may reasonably seem revisionist, given the present received wisdom, at least from what I read of it among the tributes. But I felt the need to put pen to paper amid what seems to me as undue reverence towards a figure of an independence struggle who actually could have brought disaster on his people.
I do not for a second doubt that British rule in India was brutal, genocidal, racist and needed to be ended, as it did everywhere it was present. As also in particularly violent examples, like Kenya. Most colonial rule was by its nature as such; France, Spain – each power eventually thrown out of continents where they had murdered and pillaged for the enrichment of their own elites. I also do not doubt that revolutions and direct action have been the means necessary to end these colonial atrocities: e.g., Fidel Castro, Nelson Mandela.
But think again of the facts. Mr Chandra Bose went to Germany in 1941. The story of the escape via Afghanistan and the Soviet Union should, to be sure, be made into a film at some point, but that is beside the point. He was an educated man, and having met the Nazi leadership, could have been in no doubt about the nature of Hitler’s regime.
So let’s have a bit of a dystopian twist on all this: say Nazi Germany wins World War II. A band of Indian soldiers fighting in Europe, committing war crimes along the way, assist in this. They are eventually disposed of by the victorious regime and no more is heard of them, because their skin is inconveniently brown. Meanwhile they, the Nazis, who consider the peoples of India to be non-Aryan, inferior races, colonise them and impose a totalitarian rule upon them. A puppet regime, which takes power in 1945, sees Indians fight against it in a just but brutal guerrilla war, which takes decades and hundreds of thousand of deaths to resolve. Independence is achieved in 1970.
These views may be shot down in flames. But I cannot see any justification for the veneration of this man who, with an extrapolation of his actions, could be seen to be complicit by association in the Jewish holocaust, and could have been the head of a puppet Nazi regime which may have perpetuated the colonialism over his people under a different yoke for decades after. In my view, India is far better off with how things transpired in reality, rather than had Chandra Bose’s plans come to fruition.
Castro said in the summing up of his trial in 1953: “I do not fear prison, as I do not fear the fury of the miserable tyrant who took the lives of 70 of my comrades. Condemn me. History will absolve me.”
If you want your heroes misguided, and like ones that would have done anything to achieve their goals including getting into bed with the Nazis, then that is fine. But I doubt that history will absolve Subhas Chandra Bose.
Sheffield – UK
* Published in print edition on 30 January 2014