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Politics, Propaganda & An Icon

Subhas Chandra Bose (January 23, 1897 – August 18, 1945), popularly known as Netaji, was an Indian Nationalist whose defiant patriotism made him a hero in India. However, his attempts during World War II to rid India of British Rule with the help of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan left a troubled legacy. While staying in Europe in the 1930s, Bose repeatedly criticised the Nazi Racism in public speeches. He also advised his Czech-Jewish friend Kitty Kurti to move to the US with her family. The details of this incident are there in ‘Subhash Chandra Bose as I Knew Him‘ (1966), authored by Kitty. The question, which has recently arisen, is: How can a left-wing Democrat’s chief of staff wear a T-shirt with an image of an ‘Associate of the Nazis’? Dr Sugata Bose (b. September 7, 1956) – the grandnephew of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and an Indian Historian-turned-Politician who has taught in various US Universities since the mid-1980s – has made an attempt to answer this question.

Subhas Chandra Bose

Talking to the Indian Media in the second week of October 2021, Dr Bose said that considering Netaji as a Nazi Associate was part of the propaganda of the World War II. He stressed that because the US was an ally of the British Empire (during World War II) against which Netaji declared a war, he was repeatedly portrayed as an Associate of the Nazis at that period of time in order to tarnish his image. In addition, one should keep in mind that Netaji was forced to take shelter in Europe from 1933 to 1936. Before returning home, he wrote a letter to Dr Franz Thierfelder, the General Secretary of the Munich-based Deutsche Academy, in which he described the new German Nationalism as Narrow, Selfish and Arrogant.

Dr Sugata Bose

Now, the question may arise as to why a Leftist, Socialist and critic of Fascism, like Netaji, went to Germany and Italy during World War II? Dr Bose explained that his grandfather had participated in the Indian War of Independence for two decades (1921-41), and experienced how people spontaneously responded to Mohandas Karamchand ‘Mahatma’ Gandhi‘s (October 2, 1869 – January 30, 1948) call. However, the Colonial British rulers were able to successfully isolate the Indian Army from the War of Independence. Netaji thought that reaching out to the Indian Army during the chaotic situation would bring their allegiance from the British Emperor to India. Hence, he contacted countries that were fighting against Britain. Also, there was a huge number of Indian Prisoners of War (POWs) in those countries. So, the British Imperialist Power never forgave him. When Germany invaded the erstwhile Soviet Union, Netaji sent a letter to then-German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop (April 30, 1893 – October 16, 1946), mentioning that if the German Army came to India, they would be considered as enemy. He also made it clear on various radio broadcasts that there was no change in his views on Socialism and Economy since he left India.

Gandhi (L) with Bose

Dr Bose is of the opinion that there are two types of opinion about Netaji in the US. The opinion of the Educated Elite Class is different from that of the common people. The educated people, especially university students and their teachers, are familiar with Netaji, his ideology and activities. Dr Bose claimed that his 2011 publication ‘His Majesty’s Opponent’ was praised by many, and he did not forget to mention that several American scholars had written about Netaji in the past. The Columbia University Press published Leonard A Gordon‘s ‘Brothers Against the Raj‘ in 1990. Professor Gordon, living in New York, is Jewish by faith, although an author’s personal identity is not important for readers. In addition, Peter Ward Fay (December 3, 1924 – January 18, 2004) and US Historian Joyce Lebra (December 21, 1925 – October 10, 2021) made significant contributions to the study on Netaji and the Indian National Army.

Also, there is a huge population in the US who are not interested in knowing anything other than their own country! According to Dr Bose, their rate of ignorance is quite high. However, it is not ignorance alone that has triggered the recent controversy, he said. Former President Donald Trump and his supporters are attacking the four newly-elected members of the US Congress by stating that they should return to their respective countries, although they are American citizens and three amongst them were born in the US. One of them is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Saikat Chakrabarti, the Chief of Staff to US Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez, appeared in a video for ‘Now This News’ in December 2018, wearing a T-shirt with an image of Netaji. Later, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency published an article, describing Netaji as an “Indian nationalist who collaborated with the Nazis”. For some American right-wingers, Chakrabarti’s T-shirt was a handy stick with which to attack Ocasio-Cortez. According to Dr Bose, the real irony is that one could find neo-Nazis among Trump supporters. He claimed that he had seen many Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) wearing such T-shirts with Netaji’s portraits at various cultural events in the US. Dr Bose urged the young Indians living in the US to be honest with their conscience and intellect.

Saikat Chakrabarti

Meanwhile, Dr Bose admitted that he had no idea about the official position of Israel regarding Netaji. Most of the Israeli Historians, who worked on Netaji, evaluated him positively, he stressed. Dr Bose opined that the local politics in New York triggered the controversy, as the politicians would have to take care of the interests of various groups at local levels. Furthermore, Ocasio-Cortez is the elected representative from New York. So, it could also be a well-planned attempt to tarnish her image.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Dr Bose believes that the Colonial British Administration was responsible for the death of 3.5 million Indians during the 1943 famine in Bengal, just as the Nazis were responsible for the death of six million Jewish people during World War II. It was a Silent Genocide, stressed the Professor of History at Harvard University. The Global Community is well aware of Nazi Racism, but the then Prime Minister of Britain, Sir Winston Churchill (November 30, 1874 – January 24, 1965), too, had a racist mentality. The US formed an alliance with Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union during World War II, although there was no similarity in the ideologies of the two parties. Similarly, Netaji, as a citizen of British India, did not make any mistake by allying himself with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy to end the British Rule in India, argued Dr Bose.

Bose (Centre) & Adolf Hitler in Berlin

Today, many of the younger generation in South Asia are curious about Netaji’s life and activities. However, it is important for them to know about his place in World History in order to understand Netaji in a proper manner, said Dr Bose. At the same time, continuous scientific research is required on Netaji’s contribution to India’s War of Independence, he told the Press.

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