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Remembering Netaji

How Netaji celebrated India’s Independence Day on January 26 in 1942 and 1943

More than 600 people were invited to the January 26, 1943, function at Berlin

Somen Sengupta | Published 27.01.24, 06:06 PM
Subhash Chandra Bose in Germany, 1941

Subhash Chandra Bose in Germany, 1941

After his heroic escape from Calcutta which the world first came to know on January 26, 1941, Subhas Chandra Bose finally arrived in Berlin in April 1941 via Kabul and Moscow. He was on his final tryst with destiny to win his country’s freedom at any cost and with anyone.

After arriving in Germany, very soon Bose realised that his dream of invading India with an Indian army backed with German military power and money was shattered.


On July 22, 1941, Germany attacked Russia in the name of Operation Barbarossa. This move of Hitler overnight ended Bose’s plan to invade India through Russia and Afghanistan.

Bose in Germany from 1941 to 1943

Bose in Germany from 1941 to 1943

He very soon realised that Hitler was in no way serious about him and India’s independence though Bose was given a diplomatic life in Germany.

Hitler finally met Bose on May 29, 1942, when the war was turned on to the Allied side. Hitler clearly told Bose to check his luck with Japan because an Asian country is better to be a friend for India in joint military action. Bose finally left Germany for Japan in February 1942.

In his long defunct period in Germany from April 1941 to February 1943, Bose did not remain inactive. He formed a small army named Indian Legion and also founded many vital things for an independent India.

The word ‘Jai Hind’ was born as a common greeting word between two Indians.

Tagore’s Jana Gana Mana was finalised as India’s National Anthem. It was first played in Hamburg on September 11, 1942, at the inauguration of Deutsch – Indische- Gesellschaft by a German orchestra after Bose’s speech.

Flag of the Free India Legion and (right) an Azad Hind pin

Flag of the Free India Legion and (right) an Azad Hind pin

Azad Hind Radio, a shortwave German transmitter propaganda radio station was opened for 230 minutes of daily programmes conducted in English, Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Tamil, Telugu, Pashto and Farsi. Netaji delivered many speeches from Azad Hind Radio and that created havoc in India as well. Seeing Bose delivering so strong speeches against Britain, Joseph Goebbels, the famous companion of Hitler, expressed satisfaction.

On November 2, 1941, Zentrale Freies Indien, popularly known as Free India Centre, was opened at a place named Lichtensteinallee from where Indians started doing non-stop propaganda for their freedom from British rule.

Finally, he gained the title ‘Netaji’ from his co-workers, hardly knowing that one day this title will give him an immortal status in the history of the Indian freedom struggle.

Netaji planned to celebrate January 26 every year in a grand manner to make the world understand India’s aspiration of complete independence from Great Britain.

The date — January 26 — was always celebrated as Independence Day from 1930.

Bose, then mayor of Calcutta, on the streets to celebrate India’s Independence Day on January 26, 1931

Bose, then mayor of Calcutta, on the streets to celebrate India’s Independence Day on January 26, 1931

ABP Archives

Subhas Chandra Bose had an experience of being brutally handled by British Mounted Police near the Calcutta Corporation building on January 26, 1931, while being Calcutta mayor, was peacefully leading a procession on the street to celebrate Independence Day. He was very badly handled by police along with many were physically beaten.

The country witnessed it with shock that the city mayor was physically abused by the British police for walking in an Independence Day procession.

It was such a disturbing issue that an inquiry committee of 12 members was formed by the CMC to investigate the case. Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy was one of the members of the committee. Assembly members also wrote a letter to the Viceroy of India, describing the barbaric conduct of police on Subhas Bose. Calcutta observed a strike in protest of the assault and arrest of the city’s mayor.

On January 26, 1942, Netaji and his team organised a gala get-together of all local Indians such as students, businessmen, traders, professionals etc with many German nationals. It was held at Hotel Kaiserhof and a big surprise was waiting for all invited guests.

It was in this gala party, Subhas Chandra Bose, who travelled from Kabul to Berlin under a fake name and fake passport and in the incognito of an Italian name, Orlando Mazzotta, openly revealed to local Indians and indirectly to the rest of the world about his real name. It created a mayhem of joy among local Indians.

In this celebration, ACN Nambiar and Girija Mookerjee joined with a plethora of German businessmen, journalists, government officials, diplomats etc.

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose

More than 600 people were invited to the January 26, 1943, function at Berlin.

The Independence Day celebration of 1943 was a gala one though by that time, it was all clear that Bose would now leave Germany and try his luck with Japan in Asia. However, the plan was kept very secret. Except for his wife and very few officials, his voyage in a submarine from Europe to Asia was under cover even a few weeks before it.

A Radio Berlin commentator’s description helps to get vivid details of the day.

As per his commentary, a grand hall was decorated with red tulips and white lilacs. There was a grand assembly of local Indians, many hundreds from all walks of lives, including students and businessmen, in very large numbers. Apart from that huge numbers of Germans, Italians and Japanese were also present. Netaji was able to make the day so important and big that royal guests such as Iraqi politician Rashid Ali el Gaylani and grand mufti of Jerusalem paid their visit to the function. Many hundred European representatives were invited by the Central Committee of Independent India. Many officers of foreign offices, officers of the Wehrmacht and members of ruling National Socialist Party also came to celebrate the Independence Day of India.

Netaji, wearing a black sherwani, was welcomed amid thunderous applause and cheers. The event was directly broadcast by Berlin Radio and the commentator before the start of the event read out the Independence pledge of the Indian National Congress. “Now, here is Subhas Bose speaking to you” – the German commentator signed off, and radio listeners heard the magical voice of Bose who spoke in German, a language he was fluent for many years. The same speech in English by Netaji was also transmitted after this.

This was one of the last public speeches of Netaji in Germany, which was delivered in German but he agreed to read the complete speech in English immediately after that. The speech known as ‘India’s Day of Independence’, is considered one of the best inspirational speeches Bose ever delivered in his life.

Netaji started saying that on this day, January 26, Indians in every part of the world assemble to observe their independence day. He said on this day they gather together under their national flag for the purpose of reaffirming their undying faith in independence and their unshakable determination to carry on the national struggle till victory is achieved. He also said that on this day in India the tricolour flag is hoisted in every home , procession are taken out everywhere and meetings and demonstrations are held all over the country where the independence manifesto is read and solemnly adopted.

The Calcutta Municipal Gazette publishes the formation of enquiry committee on the police attack on Bose

The Calcutta Municipal Gazette publishes the formation of enquiry committee on the police attack on Bose

Photo courtesy: Somen Sengupta

He mentioned that the armed forces of the British Crown often overpower peaceful processions in India. Bose highlighted the incident of 1931, when he was brutally handled by British police on the street of Calcutta, India’s largest city of which he was mayor. Bose considered himself lucky over those “who had to face the bayonet and rifle shot”.

He swiftly moved his speech into describing ruthless British oppression by bayonet, tear gas, machine guns and police baton on common people in India “simply because the Indian National Congress had the audacity to demand freedom and democracy for the Indian people”.

Bose talked about the long British rule in India since 1858 and the way they ruled Indians after the failed Great Revolution in 1857. Here, Bose pointed out the terrible suppression of British rule both economical and disbarment. Netaji avowed this confidence that if prior to this period India could live and prosper for thousands of years without the help of Britain. Netaji's booming extreme confidence went on saying “she can do the same in future when she is free once again”.

This was such a motivational speech of Netaji that the hall was loudly cheered at every single line. He was in an upbeat mood to say that in the Great Revolution in 1857, Hindus and Muslims had fought side by side against the British and it was under the flag of Bahadur Shah, a Muslim that India’s First War of Independence had been fought.

It is interesting that by saying The Great Mutiny of 1857 as India’s First War of Independence, Bose acknowledged Savarkar’s thought on the same subject because it was Savarkar who first called it so.

Netaji then gave a brief description of events like the British created caste issue in 1918 and the 1935 Government of India Act by which limited power was given to Indians to rule. He mentioned the pernicious plan of British by injecting the idea of Pakistan which as per him put in that speech as “emanated from the fertile brain of a Britisher”.

Bose cracked the British propaganda and went on saying that it is a British propaganda that most of the Muslims in India are not with India’s national struggle. He took the name of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, who is president of the Indian National Congress and a Muslim.

The best and most recollectable sentence from Bose’s heart came thereafter when he said that ‘British imperialism and Indian nationalism cannot exist simultaneously. The one must die if the other has to live and since Indian nationalism will live British imperialism must die…….”.

Such simple yet power-packed words flamed up the imagination of Indians and foreign delegates simultaneously in the audience and the hall was in pieces with the sound of people.

Surprisingly, after this, Bose paid rich tribute to the contribution of Gandhi with whom he parted in 1939 and quit the Congress presidency. Netaji gratefully mentioned that after the first world, Gandhi overtook India’s freedom struggle and he in the last 22 years, has built a strong organisation in India. Hailing Gandhi as ‘Mahatma’, Bose said: Mahatmaji’s leadership demonstrated that it is possible to paralyse the administration with the weapon of passive resistance. Having said that all about Gandhi’s passive resistance Bose clarified that it cannot overthrow or expel a foreign power. It is physical force that is needed to throw a power like the British Crown.

Netaji made it clear that all of his activities abroad have the full support of his countrymen and he will fight till last. He showed no cavalry to say that a free India will contribute largely to the culture and civilisation of the world and a free India will bring an end to British imperialism which is responsible for enslavement, impoverishment and exploitation of a large section of the human race.

Bashing the obnoxious imperialistic saga of Great Britain, Bose cemented his position as one of the biggest challengers to the British Crown.

He sounded like a statesman when he said that in the struggle which is for India a life or death is also a struggle of vindication of justice and truth. The last sentence of this great independence speech was “there will be but one end, our victory and our freedom”.

Radio Berlin was agog with this rich and power packed speech which motivated every single person to fight for their independence.

As per historian Leonard A Gordon the entire speech and the program was pre-recorded. If that is correct then the vivid description of the event given by German radio commentators can also be a doctored one.

Netaji who was then no way in a comfortable position in Germany and was not very sure how Japan would receive and help him to invade India with an army showed no sign of frustration at any point of this great speech.

Rather his inflammatory oratory skill uplifted the motivation of all members of Free India Society and Indian Legion.

Such an extraordinary leader Netaji was.

Reference books

1. Testament of Subhas Bose – Being a complete & authentic record of Netaji’s broadcast speeches , press statements etc: 1942 to 1945 – Edited by Sujit Roy

2. The Calcutta Municipal Gazette – Subhas Chandra Bose Birth Centenary Number

3. Netaji- Living Dangerously by Kingshuk Nag

4. Brothers Against the Raj by Leonard Gordon

5. Netaji in Europe by Jan Kuhlmann

6. Desh – January 17, 2022

7. Netaji – Pictorial Biography

Last updated on 27.01.24, 06:21 PM

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