Days after the surrender of Japan in World War II and the plane crash that purportedly killed Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Jawaharlal Nehru rejected a suggestion that the iconic freedom fighter should be treated as a war criminal.
Nehru made the remarks during an interview with the press in Delhi on August 29, 1945 in response to a question from an American journalist on whether Bose should be dealt with as a war criminal. The interview was widely reported by leading Indian dailies, including the Hindustan Times.
“I resent the suggestion that Subhas Bose should be dealt with as a war criminal. Were he – in the event of his still being alive – to be tried as a war criminal, I would wish all persons considered war criminals to be brought to trial so that facts might come out,” Nehru said.
The remarks, part of the “Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Volume 14” published by the Nehru Memorial Library, assume significance in light of a controversy caused by a fake letter circulated on social media just before the government declassified 100 secret files on Bose last week.
The letter, described as fake by several Nehru experts and historians, made it appear as if Nehru had referred to Bose as a “war criminal” while writing to British Prime Minister Clement Attlee in 1945.
Netaji, who has been in the limelight again because of the intense interest in the declassified files, was purportedly killed in a plane crash in Formosa (now Taiwan) on August 18, 1945. Though some of his relatives dismissed this theory, Bose’s daughter recently told Hindustan Times that she believed he died in the crash.
Bose and Nehru were both leaders of the Indian National Congress but had a falling out after Netaji called for complete ‘Swaraj’ (self-governance) and even the use of force to drive out the British in the late 1930s.
Despite their differences, Nehru insisted during the interview that even if Bose were to be tried as a war criminal, the trial should not be handled by judges from Western countries alone.
“It should not be a trial by British and American judges alone. There should be Indian judges also. It should be an impartial trial conduct-ed against an Indian background. And in my list there will be many high officials sitting in Delhi who are bigger war criminals than Subhas Bose. That list will be very different,” he said.
Nehru also listed the reasons why he believed Bose had not done anything wrong by leading the Indian National Army in the fight against the British.
“I have known Subhas for over 20 years. He was once President of the Congress. A most unusual thing happened and an ex-President of the Congress was turned out of the organisation. That was before the war. He also formed a party against the Congress. Then came the war. He escaped from India, went to Germany and then to Japan. So far as I know, the Indian National Army had already been formed even before Bose went to Japan. I do not find anything unusual for a supposed legal government to levy taxes,” Nehru said in response to the American journalist’s question about Bose’s men killing “many Americans” and extorting money from the “poor in Burma and Malaya”.
He added: “As for extortion there has been enough in India. Free gifts were collected for war funds and millions had been extorted. Three million people had died of starvation in Bengal.”
Nehru, however, questioned Bose’s decision to ally with the Axis powers, Germany and Japan, to fight the British.
“As for Bose, I have never doubted his passion for freedom. Bose had no love for the Japanese but he was foolish to imagine that he could further Indian independence by allying himself with the Japanese and Germans who were not only aggressive powers, but dangerous powers,” he said.