Was Netaji bad

The Indian independence fighter Subhas Chandra Bose sought a pact with the Nazis in the 1940s. The director Shyam Benegal is now making a film about him at the historic location in Berlin

by JAN KUHLMANN

A villa in the Berlin district of Dahlem. In the salon, the film production company Ips has recreated a conference hall of the Foreign Office from 1941: the actor Bernd Uwe Reppenhagen, disguised as Reich Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, approaches the conference table, where the Indian delegation around the Indian politician Subhas Chandra Bose, played by Sachin Shrikant Khedekar , waiting for him. "Heil Hitler," he yells and pulls his right arm up. “Vande Mataram,” shouts Rajit Kewal Kapur in the form of Bose's young assistant and waves his arm in a clumsy imitation of the Hitler salute. The amused blond politician asks: "What does that mean?" The Indian replies: "Heil dem Mutterland!"

"The Nazis worshiped a single person, but Bose and his followers the whole country," says Atul Tiwari, one of the screenwriters of the film "Netaji - The lost hero" about the Indian national hero Subhas Chandra Bose. In this scene it should become clear: Even if Bose came to Germany in 1941 to seek help from the governments of the Third Reich and fascist Italy in the fight against foreign rule by the British, he wanted nothing to do with the ideology of the Nazis.

"Netaji - The lost hero" is the new project of the successful Indian director Shyam Benegal. In July he was filming in Berlin. Bose, whom the Indians call Netaji - "revered leader" - is the third politician in the struggle for independence that Benegal takes on. In a television series he filmed the life of Jawaharlal Nehru ("Bharat Ek Khoj"); later he made a feature film about Mahatma Gandhi's political apprenticeship in South Africa ("Making of the Mahatma").

Bose's biography is made for an adventure film: the escape from British custody in Calcutta halfway around the world to Berlin, the meeting with Adolf Hitler, the trip in a submarine from Kiel to Southeast Asia. Completely surprisingly, Bose turned up at the German embassy in Kabul in February 1941. The Reich Foreign Minister invited him to Berlin in the hope of a willing propaganda figure. But Bose was not so easily harnessed to the cart. Until the spring of 1942 he refused to appear in public because Hitler did not want to recognize India's independence. However, he gladly accepted the offer to provide his compatriots with political statements in the national languages ​​with his own shortwave station “Free India”. The Germans also granted his wish for an army. So Bose became commander of an Indian legion in regimental strength, armed with weapons of the Wehrmacht. He was aware that he was being supported by a criminal regime. In the fight against the British colonial power, every means was right for him.

When he fled to Germany, Bose could not have known that the Legion's way to India would be blocked by the German attack on the Soviet Union. He had expected a Eurasian anti-British power bloc. "Bose's strategic view was correct, but things turned out differently," said Benegal. For the director, the Netaji remains a hero, albeit a tragic one.

Despite Bose's close contacts with the National Socialists, Benegal is convinced: "Bose was neither a Nazi nor a collaborator." spent. The political convictions of Bose and the Nazis were too different. It was only when the Japanese marched on Burma and uprisings broke out in India that Bose appeared in German war propaganda for a few weeks in the hope of being able to influence developments in his homeland. At the same time he was preparing to leave. In February 1943 he boarded a submarine that took him to Southeast Asia, where, with the help of the Japanese, he set up the Indian National Army and led it to India.

Bose's biography is still a political issue in India. For example, the filmmakers left out the hero's death entirely. Many Indians refuse to believe that Bose was killed in a plane crash in Taiwan in 1945. Bose's acquaintance with Benito Mussolini was also left out. "That would have taken us too far from the core of the plot," says Benegal. The audience misses how masterfully Bose was able to play the two dictators against each other. If he didn't get through with the Germans, he tried with the Italians. The Duce even campaigned personally for Bose's concerns with Hitler. Unlike the leader, who saw India in good hands under British rule, Mussolini thought it was only a matter of time before the subcontinent would achieve independence. He therefore specifically sought the proximity of Indian greats. Not only Bose, but also Gandhi and the Nobel Prize for Literature Rabindranath Tagore were his guests.

There is a reason why Bose's life is only now being filmed, while Gandhi's and Nehru's lives have often been seen on screen. In the post-war years, the Congress Party, led by Nehru's descendants Indira and Rajiv Gandhi, claimed the glory of having led the country to independence. However, Bose had pulled out of the ranks of Congress because he believed Gandhi's nonviolence policy was ineffective. "We are now sailing in separate boats," said the Mahatma at the time. Today the Indian government is no longer afraid to honor Bose's part in the struggle for freedom. When Benegal in northeast India staged the battle of Bose's troops against the British in the autumn of this year, the Indian army would leave him 500 soldiers as extras. The film is slated to hit cinemas in India in January next year.