Recollections and reflections

Reminiscences, Rafi Ahmad Kidwai

I first came in contact with Subhas Bose in 1923 at Delhi when the Congress was divided into two groups over the question of what was known as 'Council Entry.'...Subhas Babu, as the favourite lieutenant of Deshabandhu, was playing a prominent part in the controversy. more>>

My Uncle Subhas Chandra Bose


Amiya Nath Bose

Son of Netaji's elder brother Sarat Chandra Bose, Amiya Nath Bose, an advocate like his father, had been an MP, Ambassador and was actively associated with the Indian National Army. In late 1930s he spent considerable time with his exiled uncle in Europe

In December 1937 my uncle Subhas Chandra Bose went to Badgastein, a hill station in Austria. He went there for rest and recreation. I was then studying at Cambridge University. He asked me to come to Badgastein and I arrived there a few days before the 25th December 1937 which happens to be the Christmas Day. At that time number of other persons were also in Badgastein — Fraulin Emile Shenkl, Frau H. Fülöp-Müller, Mr A C N. Nambiar, Dr. & Mrs. Ricter, Head of one of the important Italian Insurance Companies. During his few days in Badgastein he wrote his unfinished autobiography which is called 'An Indian Pilgrim'. He intended to visit London before returning to India. Therefore, I left a few days before his arrival in London to make the necessary arrangements. Mr Krishna Menon who was then the Secretary of India League wanted to take full charge of my uncle's different meetings in London — which I resisted and did it successfully.

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Among other programmes, my uncle met the Indian residents in London who organised a tea party for him where he met almost all the Indian residents in London including Rajani Palme Dutt. Among other public engagements, he addressed a public meeting at Caxton Hall in London, where Mr Arthur Greenwood of the Labour Party presided. In this public meeting he made it quite clear that for independence, India did not depend on the support of the Labour Party. He of course knew that the Conservative Party was against Indian independence. But he also felt and said so openly in the public meeting that he did not have much faith in the sincerity of the Labour Party as well. He said this was at a meeting where large number of Labour M.P.'s were present. One of the most important meetings that he had in London was with President De Valera. It was arranged before he left for England that he would go to Ireland to meet De Valera. But President De Valera arrived in London to negotiate with the British Government about the use of Irish ports when my uncle was in London and was staying at Piccadilly Hotel on the Piccadilly Street. My uncle had an appointment with Sir Stafford Cripps for dinner and he left message that as soon as I could arrange for a meeting with De Valera I should ring him up at the residence of Sir Stafford Cripps and he would come straight from there to Piccadilly Hotel to meet De Valera. But inspite of my efforts the telephone number of Sir Stafford Cripps was not disclosed to President De Valera. My uncle returned to a place called Artillery Mansion, where he was staying, at about 11 o' clock. I left a message there. I went to Piccadilly Hotel at about 8 p.m. President De Valera was kind enough to call me up to his room and I spent nearly four hours with him. He invited me to join him for dinner. He told me about the experience of the Irish revolutionary struggle and his participation in the Easter Rebellion in 1916 and how he was not hanged because he happened to be at that time an American citizen. President De Valera also informed me that Madam Gonne Macbride's husband John Macbride was executed in connection with Easter Rebellion of 1916. I may go back a little in 1914 when my father was returning from London after qualifying from Bar with his friend Mr K. P. Khaitan, a revolutionary friend of theirs - a Bengali gentleman - took both of them to see Madam Gonne Macbride. K. P. Khaitan had recorded that when Madam Gonne Macbride met my father she remarked oneday you will be one of the leaders of Indian Freedom Movement. Mr K. P. Khaitan in one of his memorable speeches has recorded this incident. At about midnight Subhas arrived at Piccadilly Hotel and I was then asked to go down and to wait in the lounge. They spoke for about 4 hours, till 4 a.m. I was not present and I do not know what happened between them during those hours. At 4 o' clock we went back to Artillery Mansion, my uncle packed up his baggage and left for India.

When my uncle was in Badgastein he told Nambiar to make arrangements with Mussolini so that he could meet Mussolini on his way back to India. I have now in my possession a letter dated 16th January 1938 written by Mr ACN. Nambiar to Mr Rapicavoli, a secret agent of Mussolini, informing my uncle's itinerary from London to India. Mrs. Rapicavoli has sent me the original letter of Mr ACN. Nambiar written to Mr Rapicavoli. It is clear that my uncle was in Rome in the 20th of January 1938 where he secretly met Mussolini before his return to India to preside over the Indian National Congress. I might just add here that when the meeting in Caxton Hall was proceeding a telegram arrived from Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru informing my uncle that he had been elected unanimously President of the Haripura Congress, I did not come back to India. My uncle was quite pleased when the telegram was received and it was announced at that public meeting that he had been elected as the President of the Indian National Congress but he was not all that excited, that one would expect. He was pleased but he knew that he was going to face a very difficult task.

The other important meeting that my uncle attended was the one held at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, shortly known as Charter House. He addressed the Charter House in January 1938.(1) In the Charter House he met many others like Lord Halifax, a number of other important officials, and persons who had served in India. This meeting was presided over by the Director of the Charter House Prof Arnold Toynbee. Another long meeting that my uncle had in England was with Bertrand Russell. Mr Russell was living near Oxford. After other engagements we arrived at his house — it was around midnight. Mr Russell spoke for almost rest of the night, both on Hitler as well as Stalin. According to Mr Russell, he had met Stalin when he went on Labour Delegation to the Soviet Union in 1924. He said that he had not met Hitler, but he thought Stalin was much more cruel person than even Hitler. Of course that was his personal view. But somehow or other I felt that Bertrand Russell's attack on Stalin did not have that impact on my uncle, which he hoped it would have. In retrospect, I feel my uncle's assessment of Stalin was not always correct, because as later events prove, Stalin was equally cruel and very vindictive person like Hitler. Uncle returned to India and presided over the Haripura Congress.

He used to write to me regularly, I have maintained almost all his letters. Though my letters to him are not available any more. I kept him informed about the developments in England. There is one other incident which I should mention. Before I left for England in March 1937, my uncle was then in detention in Medical College Hospital. At that time interviews could be conducted rather freely without the presence of Police Officer. He wanted to convey a message to my father Sarat Chandra Bose. He asked me to tell my father 'I might stand in election.' Preparations for election had already started both on the part of Congress, the other Muslim Parties as well as the Muslim League. My uncle wanted to convey this message to my father that he is sure that Congress will accept offices under The Government of India Act and he wanted to convey it to father who was then a member of the Congress Working Committee that coalition ministries should be set up all over India including states where Muslim League wins majority of Muslim seats. Coalition ministries should be set up so that Hindu-Muslim unity can be cemented. He was really following the tradition of Chittaranjan Das. He felt that if the Muslim Leaguers are taken into Cabinet the possibility of any disruption or disintegration of India or partition of India could be prevented. I carried the message to my father. My father, in the Working Committee, pressed for coalition ministries not only in Bengal and Sindh but also in provinces where Muslim League had won majority of Muslim seats. But father's proposals were rejected by the Congress Working Committee including Gandhi, and ultimately lead to partition resolutions in 1940.

My uncle wrote a letter to me during my final year in Cambridge (1939). I did not want to come to India at that time because my preparation for the final examination would be hampered, but my uncle pressed that I should come to India and on my way go to Vienna and to meet Frau Heddy Fülöp-Müller. I had met Frau Heddy Fülöp-Müller number of times since 1937. Frau Heddy Fülöp-Miller was the wife of famous author René Fülöp-Müller, whose book 'The Mind and Face of Bolshevism', 'Lenin and Gandhi' had tremendous circulation in Europe but unfortunately René Fülöp-Müller left Hollywood with an young actress and Frau Heddy was alone when I met him. Frau Heddy had very good contacts with the Nazi Party, and I knew that she knew Ribentrop very well. So when my uncle wrote to me, he made it quite clear that I should make it a point to meet and stay with Frau Heddy Fülöp-Müller during my stay for 3 or 4 days at Vienna. I did the same thing. In June 1939 I was going to take the Italian boat from Venice. So I stopped in Vienna for 3 days. Frau Heddy realised the importance of my meeting and she took me to a person called Professor Dr. Stigler — a founder member of the Austrian Nazi Party. In my presence Prof. Stigler telephoned Berlin and told the Berlin authorities that a nephew of Subhas Chandra Bose would like to speak with the representative of the German Government. It was arranged that in two days time the Chairman of the German Export Council would invite me at dinner at the Imperial Hotel in Vienna. When I I met him, he conveyed to me that a war was more than likely in Europe in 1939. I then realised why my uncle insisted that I should meet Frau Heddy and get this information from the Chairman of German Export Council before I returned to India.

I arrived in Calcutta in June 1939, after the Tripuri Congress, and uncle’s resignation from the Presidentship of the Congress. By then he had also formed the All India Forward Bloc and Left Consolidation Committee. I was co-opted as a member Working Committee of the All India Forward Bloc to enable me to attend the meeting of the Left Consolidation Committee. The Left Consolidation Committee included the CPI (normally Mr Dange or Mr Joshi or Soli Batliwalla used to attend the Committee meetings) - MN Roy, Moniben Kara and Mr Yagnik attended on behalf of the Royists, Jaya Prakash Narayan, Achyut Patawardhan and Yusuf Meherally attended on behalf of the Congress Socialist Party, Swami Sahajananda Saraswati and Dhanraj Sharma used to attend the LCC meetings on behalf of the All India Kishan Sabha. On some meetings even Mr NG Ranga attended on behalf of the Kishan Sabha. On the 3rd of September 1939, my uncle was addressing a public meeting in Madras. Somebody informed him that a war had started in Europe and standing in that public meeting he announced, it appeared in all the newspapers — that this was the supreme opportunity when India must strike for India's freedom. He came to Calcutta and started making preparation. His first effort was to go out of India. He went to Bombay, because he already had contacts with Mussolini. By putting on beard and other things he went to meet Italian Consulate in Bombay. The whole purpose was that he would take a boat across the territorial water and would be picked up by Italian boat. It will be remembered Italy was not war-minded. But the condition put was not acceptable to my uncle. The Italian Government informed me that the persons who would drive the boat and would take my uncle beyond the territorial waters of India would have to be shot before uncle is put up. My uncle was not willing to accept that condition and therefore his journey to Europe on that route was abandoned.

Towards the end of September 1939 when the war was going on for some time, my uncle told me that he wanted to write a letter to Soviet Government asking them to attack India from the North-West Frontier and with the revolutionary forces inside India he would be able to organise an armed revolutionary struggle. An attack on the British Indian army was necessary because inspite of efforts revolutionaries did succeed much in infiltrating in the British Indian Army. Though the Forward Bloc had numerous contacts in the Police and in the Civil Service, it had not been able to gain much entry into the Army. I travelled with him to Bombay for the Left Consolidation Committee meeting. He said that he would write a letter to the Soviet Government asking them to attack from the North-West Frontier, and in that connection he would negotiate with the Politburo of the Communist Party of India. The negotiations with the Politburo were carried on behalf of my uncle by Soli Batliwalla when ultimately they agreed to give me the contacts with KGB both in Rome as well as in England so that I could hand over the message of my uncle to the KGB. But they also asked me to carry a letter from the CPl to the CPGB which according to me should be handed over to Mr Rajani Palme Dutt whom I know very well. I had to agree to that but I insisted that I should see what is written in that letter. After I went through their letter to the CPGB, it was clear to me that CPl was not an independent party but was being dictated by the CPGB. The CPl had no direct representation in the commintern and its representation was only through CPGB. Question arose how I should carry these two messages. After going through different possibilities uncle told me I should have the courage to carry both the letters in my pocket and if I am lucky I might be able to go through. I told him if I am caught I am bound to be hanged and he too will be hanged. But my uncle told me that he will gladly take that risk. I must say that in those days I was able to do it, but I do not think I would be able to perform that task now. He told me that he will tell my father about the mission which was entrusted to me, but not my mother. If anything goes wrong or anything happens to me he himself will inform my mother as to why I have been put to this difficulty.

My uncle was in Bombay towards the end of October 1939. We travelled by train from Bombay to Poona. In Poona my father, my mother and other brothers and sisters saw me off. I travelled by the Tata Aircraft from Poona to Karachi - that was the only way of reaching Karachi in those days. I spent a night in Karachi and the next day I got into a British Airway seaplane. We first stopped at the port of Basra wherein we spent the night. In those days the sea plane could not travel during night. My uncle said that if I happen to land in Rome and if I get an opportunity I should somehow get out of the plane and try with the assistance of Mussolini to proceed to Moscow. But the plane did not touch Rome. The next stop was in the Island of Corfu in Greece and the next stop was at the port of Bordeaux in France. After arriving in Bordeaux I realised that France was completely shattered. There was hardly any discipline in Bordeaux. The hotel was empty, and we had to make our own omlet. There was complete chaos in France. However, from Bordeaux the plane arrived at the port of Poole in England in the morning at about 12 o'clock. I was met by a member of the New Scotland Yard who addressed me, in a chaste Bengali, আমিয়বাবু,খবর কি (What's up, Amiya babu)? I was quite nervous and these words put such a fear in my mind that even in the end of October 1939 I perspired so much that my shirt became wet. Any how he said, please come with me, and I was cross examined and interrogated nearly four hours. He took away all my books, he searched my shoes whether I was carrying any message, he took away the shaving stick, but finally he never searched my pocket. I left Poole by train for London. Two-days after my arrival in London I handed over the CPI's message to Rajani Palme Dutt and he told me, because I had the password, to go to a Hotel named Bristol where a KGB agent will come and pick up the message of uncle. I went to that hotel and at the appointed hour there was a knock in my room. A gentleman came in, asked for the message and I handed over uncle’s message to him, which I hope reached Moscow. But it is evident it did not have the desired effect. I now know why that did not have the deserved effect. Because William Shirer's Book "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" makes it clear that Molotov's visit to Berlin after the non-aggression pact had not been successful and the relation between Germany and Soviet Union had already become strained.

In 1939 I had no other task except to sit for my examination in Cambridge and I also passed the Bar Examination in June 1941. Some time in 1941 a message came through the German Military Intelligence. It was quite clear - 'Try to reach Ireland if possible, your affectionately Ranga Kakababu.’ I was such watched person it was not possible, for me to leave England and reach Ireland. Because uncle indicated in the message that arrangements had been made with President De Valera that a German submarine would pick me up from Ireland, take me to Germany. That plan did not succeed, because I was not able to reach Ireland.

The only other message I received from my uncle was in March 1944. The message was 'Do not leave London before you hear from me again. Rangakakababu.' Rangakakababu was the word which was most important for me. That is how I used to address him. These messages were being pushed into my room by persons unknown to me. But it was quite clear that these messages were being relayed from the German Military Intelligence. I do not have any doubt of the genuineness of these messages because no other person used these expressions 'Rangakakababu' or "My dear Ami'. Those were the key words which made clear to me, that they were messages from my uncle. One was from Germany and the other from East Asia, relayed through the German Military Intelligence. Of course I came to know that in March 1944 Indian National Army was able to enter India. Ultimately defeat came and I was given passage to return to India in November 1944. When I received the message from my uncle in March 1944 I was reminded of a story which was often discussed between Rangakakababu and myself. We used to discuss the story when Lenin established his Soviet Republic.

I have no doubt that if uncle could somehow have entered Bengal, he would have been able to run the whole of Bengal without any difficulty with his followers in Bengal in the revolutionary movement. I was expecting to arouse myself as the Ambassador of the Provisional Government of Free India in England. These were the dreams I dreamt, of course that never came true. In November 1944 when Germany was finally defeated I was allowed to return to India.

Note

1. I was also present when Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru addressed the Charter House in May 1937. In 1939 Bhulabhai Desai addressed the Charter House and disclosed that Congress was willing to accept the federal part of the Government of India Act. That was really the beginning of the conflict which led to the conflict at the election of Tripuri Congress. Mr Sundar Kabadi, a journalist, was responsible for disclosing these facts to Indian Press.

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