Subhas Chandra Bose: A Legacy of Contradictions

The Bengali leader who fought for India’s independence admired both Nazi Germany and Soviet Communism. Some have tried to erase his story; others have co-opted him.

Kapil Komireddi

May 5, 2022

Subhas Chandra Bose: A Legacy of Contradictions
Subhas Chandra Bose

On January 26, 1943, Berlin’s high society gathered in the grand hall of the Kaiserhoff Hotel, filled with red tulips and white lilacs. The guest list included the likes of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, the prime minister of Iraq, and envoys from Italy and Japan. The hosts were members of the Nationalist Socialist Party, clad in uniforms brandishing the swastika on their breasts. Despite belonging to a regime murderously opposed to miscegenation, party members mixed freely that day with interethnic couples. German radio, broadcasting live from the hotel, told its listeners that Germany was celebrating “the Independence Day of India” — a premature declaration. The gathering, a most curious event in wartime Europe, was the last act of a fruitless fiction that the Nazis and one of its star guests had concocted: that Subhas Chandra Bose was “the great leader of Independent India,” as the broadcast purported.

This association with Nazis tainted Bose during his lifetime, and has haunted his legacy ever since. In the immediate aftermath of India’s independence in 1947, India effectively erased Bose — a storied freedom fighter, a formidable rival of India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, and one of Mahatma Gandhi’s most prominent challengers — from the story of its freedom struggle. Yet, Bose’s story survived because, in spite of its complications and his flaws, he was one of the most remarkable political figures of the 20th century.