Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Iain Dale is wrong about Subhas Chandra Bose

Iain Dale is a prominent right-of-centre British political blogger whose musings I generally respect.

But he is wrong to condemn Labour MP Virendra Sharma purely for praising Subhas Chandra Bose, the leader of the Indian National Army, which fought alongside the Japanese and against the British in the Second World War.

Bose's legacy is clearly problematic but it is unfair to compare him to Nazi collaborators in Europe. He was an Indian nationalist at a time when his country remained under the colonial yoke of the British, not an anti-semitic, power-hungry Frenchman or Lithuanian desperate to jump into bed with Hitler and his murderous cohorts.

Bose's decision to join up with the Japanese appears to have been largely a pragmatic (if ultimately unsuccessful) one based on his estimation of the quickest path to independence for India.

Upon learning of Bose's death, Gandhi said that he was "undoubtedly a patriot, though misguided".

Iain serves up terms like "treachery" and "disgrace" but I think he would do well to get a more nuanced understanding of the INA and Bose (rather than just citing Wikipedia) before making such sweeping judgements.

Remember that many British officers and other officials abandoned the sinking ship that was colonial Malaya and Singapore as the Japanese advanced down the peninsula.

What loyalty did poorly-paid colonial troops who were the subject of institutional and personal racism of the most unpleasant kind owe to their colonial masters who had fled and left them at the mercy of the Japanese?

Many Indians held Bose and the INA in extremely high regard and the mass movement that coalesced around opposition to the post-war trials of INA officers undoubtedly helped to precipitate the British departure from India.

It is worth noting that even in Singapore, where the majority Chinese population suffered brutal treatment and massacres aplenty at the hands of the Japanese, there is a memorial to the dead of the INA in the old colonial centre of town.

History can be a powerful political tool but I feel that Iain does himself no favours by trying to generate Daily Mail-esque moral outrage over such a complex issue.


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  2. "Remember that many British officers and other officials abandoned the sinking ship that was colonial Malaya and Singapore as the Japanese advanced down the peninsula."

    And what number of sources is that bland statement based on? Withdrawing while fighting numerous rear-guard actions is somewhat different to "abandoning".

  3. On further reflection, your use of the word "abandoning" really is more scurrilous than I thought. Thousands of British and Empire troops died in the "abandoning" of Malaya, and unless you have some special insight into the campaign to suggest otherwise, a fair proportion of these would have been the "British officers" you slur.

  4. Well, first of all the British abandoned their status as the government of Malaya by surrendering to the Japanese.

    The Indian soldiers were told by the their British officers to work with the Japanese just as they had obeyed their British overlords.

    Secondly, several thousand British staff officers and colonial officials were evacuated by ship before the fall of Singapore. Hardly any Indians (or for that matter Chinese or Malays) were offered the same escape.

    Clearly many British soldiers died trying to defend Malaya - my point is not to belittle their sacrifice.

    I'm merely trying to explain why the Indian troops left in Malaya had few reasons to remian "loyal" to the British and why the INA needs to be understood rather than just dismissed as a quisling army.

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