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1945: Indian freedom fighter Subhas Chandra Bose dies in Taiwan

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Subhas Chandra Bose, a revered Indian fighter for independence from the British Empire, died in a tragic aviation accident on August 18th, 1945 in Taipei, then known as Taihoku, capital of Japanese Taiwan. He actually survived the crash, but succumbed to severe burns on the same evening.

Bose was born on January 23rd, 1897 into a wealthy advocate family in Cuttack, the former capital of Orissa division in the Bengal province, and now the second largest city in the Eastern India state of Odisha.

The ninth in a family of 14 children and a brilliant student, he received a Western education at various Christian schools in his home town. In 1918, Bose graduated from the University of Calcutta with a BA in philosophy.

He passed the very demanding Indian Civil Service examination in 1920 in England, though he resigned from his post in April 1921 due to his growing opposition to British imperialism and returned to India.

He joined the failed Noncooperation Movement organized by Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) in 1920/22 to achieve self-government. Bose was arrested for the first time on Christmas Day 1921 for organizing a boycott against a visit to India by then Prince of Wales (the future controversial king Edward VIII), who encountered empty streets in Bombay. Following a six months’ imprisonment, he began to work as a journalist in Calcutta, where he got involved in local politics.

Elected president of the All India Youth Congress and secretary of the Bengal State Congress in 1923, for suspected illegal activities Bose was deported to Burma, where he contracted tuberculosis.

At this return in 1927, he was elected president of the Bengal Congress and, together with Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964), who would become the first Prime Minister of India, general secretary of the Indian National Congress (INC), one of the nation’s two major political parties.

His close association with the Bengal Volunteers Corps, an anti-British underground group functional from 1928 to 1947, landed Bose in prison again, where he was elected mayor of Calcutta for a year.

Rearrested several times for his suspected role in violent acts, Bose was allowed to travel to Europe after being released for ill health. In Vienna he wrote the first part of The Indian Struggle (1920–1934), published in London in 1935.

He sneaked back into India illegally in December 1934. Later, the colonial government seized the original manuscript of the book and banned it on the grounds that it encouraged unrest, if not terrorism.

Bose, increasingly critical of Gandhi’s conservative economic thought and less confrontational position towards liberation, in 1938 became president of the INC. Expelled from his leadership position due to this antagonism in 1939, he immediately founded the All India Forward Bloc (AIFB), a left-wing nationalist political party which still exists today.

The national planning committee he had formed formulated a policy of broad industrialization in opposition to Gandhi’s approach, which favored the use of local resources, like cotton manufacturing.

Incarcerated again in July 1940, Bose expressed his determination to fast to death, which frightened the British into releasing him. Disguised as a Pashtun, he escaped from Calcutta on January 26, 1941 with the help of the Abwehr, the German military intelligence service. Via Afghanistan and the Soviet Union, he reached Germany on April 3rd, 1941.

In Berlin, he managed to establish a Free India Centre and the Azad Hind Radio station, whose nightly broadcast began on January 7th, 1942. The program included news bulletins transmitted in Bengali, English, Gujarati, Hindi, Marathi, Pashto, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu.

On February 28th, 1942 Bose solemnly stated: “Standing at one of the crossroads of world history, I solemnly declare on behalf of all freedom-loving Indians in India and abroad, that we shall continue to fight British imperialism till India is once again the mistress of her own destiny”, clearly challenging his homeland’s colonial rulers.

Bose also created the Free India Legion, consisting of some 3000 soldiers, mostly out of Indian prisoners of war who had previously fought for the British in the North African Campaign. Its members swore allegiance both to Adolf Hitler and Bose himself, vowing to fight a common enemy.

A left-wing admirer of Russia, Bose was shocked when Germany invaded the Soviet Union on June 22nd, 1941. As the German army’s advance soon stalled, he realized that it would be in no position to offer much help in driving the British from India.

A disappointing meeting with Hitler on May 29th, 1942 made him look for assistance in the Far East. Bose left Germany on February 9th, 1943 on board U-180. Southeast of Madagascar, he was transferred to Japanese submarine I-29 for the rest of the journey to Japan.

He left behind his former Viennese secretary and companion, Emilie Schenkl (1910 -1996), who had openly lived with in his Berlin residence. Their only daughter Anita Bose Pfaff (born 1942) would later teach as a Professor of Economics at the University of Augsburg.

After a short stop in Japanese-occupied Singapore, Bose and his close aide Abid Hasan Safrani (1911-1984) disembarked in Sumatra, reaching Tokyo on May 11th 1943 to seek an alliance against the unloved British.

There he reorganized the Azad Hind Fauj or Indian National Army (INA), formed with freed Indian soldiers and ethnic Indians from British Malaya, Singapore and other parts of Southeast Asia. Thanks to his dedication and charisma, it reached a force of about 50,000 man.

The INA as the armed instrument of the Indian Independence League created in late March 1942 was originally a concept of Major Iwaichi Fujiwara (1908-1986) and anti-British activist Rash Behari Bose (1886-1945), who had lived in Japan since 1915. In June Subhas Chandra Bose had been invited to join the League and take its command as its president, which he did after his arrival in Nippon.

With generous Japanese monetary, political, diplomatic and military assistance, Bose on October 21st, 1943 proclaimed the formation of the Provisional Government of Free India in Singapore, where he also declared war on Great Britain and the United States two days later.

On April 14th, 1944, the Azad Hind Fauj crossed the joined border with Burma, planting its flag on the Indian mainland for the first time at Moirang, in the princely state of Manipur. As the offensive failed, the troops retreated back into Burmese territory with the Japanese.

At the beginning of 1945, due to crushing Allied superiority, the INA began to disintegrate. Most of the survivors laid down their arms in Rangoon and Singapore, where Bose heard of Japan’s unconditional surrender on August 15th, 1945.

Suddenly without support, he left on August 17th via Bangkok and Saigon on a Japanese aircraft. From Taipei he planned to continue to Manchuria in northern China, which had just been occupied by the Russians. Due to ideological affinity and a shared dislike for the British, he hoped to interest the Soviets in his nationalist movement.

Unfortunately, he finally run out of luck in Taiwan. His ashes were taken to Tokyo and buried in the compound of the Renkō-ji Buddhist temple. His remains still rest there, though there are plans to bring them home.

Bose served India the best way he could, siding with the allies he found at the time. Due to his complex personality, he was deeply impressed by the methodical approach and steadfast discipline of the British, but couldn’t bear their rule any longer.

Although many ordinary Indians admire him, their government hesitated long before honoring him. In December 2018, three of the Andaman Islands were finally named after him and his ideas.

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