Subhas Chandra Bose has been the victim of far too many hagiographies and undoubtedly the biggest taboo, when it comes to Netaji scholarship, has been his dealings with Nazi Germany. In this path-breaking book, World War 2 German foreign policy historian Romain Hayes provides a detailed yet remarkably readable study of this aspect of the Indian nationalist's political life.
Throughout the 1930s, Bose had reached out to the Fascist and Nazi regimes in Italy and Germany, even meeting Nazi party officials in secret in Bombay in 1938 when he was Congress president. Hayes charts this 'enemy of an enemy is an ally' strategy of Bose's to his admiration of Nazi victories during the war against imperialist Britain, thereby making him perceive Germany, Italy and Japan as India's natural allies.
Hayes points to early German reticence to meet Bose, partly because Hitler was still looking at a rapprochement with Britain. He also charts the mutual admiration formed between Mussolini and Bose (who thought that the former would be a conduit to firming up an alliance with Germany). Here, as throughout the book, Hayes provides important context. Hitler and Bose were ideologically unappealing to each other Bose attempting throughout his life to have Hitler's racist references to Indians excised from Mein Kampf.
Hayes also points out that Bose was not alone in admiring Mussolini, Gandhi too having been impressed by Il Duce's "care of the poor, his opposition to super-urbanisation, his efforts to bring about coordination between capital and labour".
But more than simply charting Bose's attempts to forge a strategic alliance with Germany, Hayes provides insights into the leader's understanding of geo-political realpolitik for the singular purpose of ousting British imperialism from India. We are provided details of Bose's meetings with the Nazi leadership, Hitler's wild vacillation regarding the German 'Declaration on India' and the consideration of an Indian government-in-exile in Berlin. And, of course, Bose's single meeting with Hitler in May 1942, where the Indian leader addressed the German as an "old revolutionary" while remaining a sceptic of Hitler's denouncement of the Soviet Union (even as he wasn't averse to the German leader's comment about Nehru's overt friendliness with the Russians). Rather cryptically, Hitler advised Bose to quickly reach an agreement with the Japanese to avoid "psychological mistakes".
Bose in Nazi Germany is a fascinating documentary on an important part of Netaji's anti-British strategy that has, till now, remained under a boulder for most people. Of particular interest is Bose's meeting with German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, who, more than anyone else, seemed to push for the Germany-Italy-Japan Tripartite Declaration on India in 1942 that declared that "it will not be the victory of British imperialism that will bring true freedom to the Indian people but solely the victory of the Tripartite Powers".
It's another matter that history rolled out another pair of dice for both India and Herr Bose.