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‘Germany only helped India as much as it suited them’

30 July, 2021 16:57:29

On January 19, 1941, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose escaped British surveillance in Calcutta in disguise, and headed to Kabul, Afghanistan. The adventurous journey to Kabul itself would rival the most thrilling of fictional accounts, but Netaji was only just starting out. Having reached Kabul, he established contact with the German and Italian foreign ministries, beginning a long period of collaboration with the Axis Powers (Germany, Italy, Japan) to overthrow British rule in India by force. This led to the setting up of the Free India Centre and the radio station Azad Hind in Berlin, and the Indian Legion, in which 4,500 Indian volunteers were trained by German experts.

All of this is well documented. What was perhaps not so well publicised is exactly how Netaji went about his task in Europe, and the huge challenges he encountered while trying to gather the resources to take on the mighty British empire. This gap was filled with the publication of ‘Netaji in Europe’ (2012) by Dr Jan Kuhlmann, the first work to provide an insight into Netaji’s activities in Europe, thereby closing an important gap in the biography of one of India’s most notable freedom fighters.

Dr Kuhlmann is a special guest on the eighth edition of ‘The Anita Dialogues’, a series of monthly conversations aired on YouTube with Netaji’s economist daughter Dr Anita Bose Pfaff, who lives in Germany. The conversations are hosted by Sampriti Munich, an organisation of Bengalis in Germany, to mark the 125th year of Netaji’s birth. They will continue until February 2022, and are moderated by Sampriti’s founder and current president, Shaibal Giri.

‘Netaji in Europe’ is actually Kuhlmann’s doctoral thesis on Netaji, into which he had put in a decade of work, and which was originally published in German in 2003. The English version was published in 2012, with a foreword by Dr Pfaff, in which she states, “This book presents the most comprehensive and incisive scholarly analysis of Germany’s and Italy’s policies towards Indian independence during World War II.”

This edition of ‘The Anita Dialogues’ focuses on the context that led up to Kuhlmann’s narrative, and explores why Netaji was prepared to accept the support of a fascist German government for the sake of India’s freedom, operating on the ‘enemy of my enemy’ principle (Britain vs Germany), as Dr Pfaff points out, “even though he was not in favour of racist policies”.

We gain insights into how Netaji discreetly played the Axis leaders off against each other and gained immense public favour through his broadcasts on Azad Hind Radio. Kuhlmann has painstakingly pieced together information from official records, diaries and military archives in Germany, Italy, Britain and India to form a comprehensive narrative of the daily negotiations between Bose, and foreign offices, diplomats and double agents, as well as his frustration with the Nazi bureaucracy. 

Dr Pfaff also busts a popular belief among many Indians that Germany went all out to support India’s freedom struggle, saying that Germany merely helped out only as far as it suited them, and their response to Netaji’s proposals was mostly “lukewarm”, eventually petering out to almost nothing. As she says, “I have often heard statements from people in India saying ‘Oh, Hitler was a great man’, which nobody in Germany today would agree with.”

For many more such insights and analyses, watch this month’s full episode of ‘The Anita Dialogues’.

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