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November 16, 2011


These days Bose would likely be regarded as "pragmatic."

Bose no doubt deserves to be dinged for flirting with the Nazis. But it's also true that people in say Britain and France should be much more shamefaced about all that 'we fought for freedom and kicked fritz's ass' stuff when considering their own contemporaneous colonial policies. In particular, Churchill deserves a halo amputation rather more than Bose does. At least Bose didn't actually believe the Nazis were good guys, just useful.

For that matter, if collaborating with totalitarians is sinful, one wonders why this counts against Bose for the Nazis, but not against Churchill or Roosevelt re Stalin. His people did basically do the bulk of the Hitler defeating, right?

That is how his Indian admirers look upon Bose's legacy. Also, it is their widely held belief that if Bose had succeeded, India would not have been partitioned. He united people from all religions under his militant nationalist tent. I had two friends whose fathers fought in Burma as soldiers of the Azad Hind Fauj (the Indian National Army / INA). One was Muslim and the other Sikh. Both were from north India. These two communities would later go on to butcher each other in the mayhem of 1947. But obviously, my friends' fathers both survived. Just before India's independence, the British govt. tried three officers of the INA for treason in a notorious case which outraged even Gandhi's followers. Indian readers would recognize from their names that one was Muslim, one Hindu and the third Sikh. The Muslim officer Shah Nawz Khan was the father of two of my friends. He reconciled with Nehru's non-violent Congress Party after independence and went on to become a minister in Nehru's cabinet. Nehru by the way, defended them in the case. So you see, for most Indians, Bose's dalliance with the Nazis was a matter indeed of pragmatism and hardly anyone held it against him.

It is noteworthy that Bose was a Bengali Hindu but the name of his fighting force as well as their battle song was in Urdu, the lingua franca of north Indian Muslims as well as Hindus. But who knows what actually would have happened if Bose and not Gandhi-Nehru had prevailed. That is counterfactual history, an enterprise I scoff upon.

Prasad's comment crossed mine. He brings up some salient points regarding the hypocrisy of the European Allied forces, particularly the awful Churchill whose attitude towards Indians was hardly different from those of Hitler's regarding the Jews. Eleanor Roosevelt was the only prominent westerner who had the gumption to point this out.

Selective blindness isn't uncommon in humans- whether it comes to identifying perpetrators of horrific acts when they are doing it. (One point made rather effectively in this David Brooks op-ed:, though with respect to the Penn State assaults and the response of McQueary to what he saw.)

Perhaps Bose was too much in the midst of things to be reactive to the horrors being perpetrated by the Nazis to react in what we, with the benefit of hindsight, might think to be a more appropriate response.

For me, it should really justify the means. As long as the journey for that success is with sacrifice but without betrayal and stepping of somebody's right then you can call it success though people have a different meaning for success.

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