Though often ignored by later historians and biographers, Subhas Chandra Bose&’s Irish experiences during his European “exile” between 1933 and 1936 constitute a significant moment in his political career. He visited the most important cities of Europe in these three years, with the British authorities granting him the permission to do so for obtaining medical treatment, while his ulterior motive was to garner opinion for India&’s freedom. The role that Bose played during these years has recently been compared with Eamon de Valera&’s role from 1919-21 in America, although Bose could not claim any recognition for India in the way de Valera had done for what became the Republic of Ireland.
While in Germany, Bose time and again visited the Irish Legation in Berlin for a trip to Ireland. Charles Bewley, the Irish representative in Germany, sent a communication to Ireland on 9 April 1934, stating that he had assured Bose of safe entry into the country. Bewley&’s communication also includes some interesting observations on what Bose thought of Hitler&’s Germany in those days. He wrote, “I mention his (Bose&’s) visit, as his impressions of government circles here are of a certain interest. He states that he finds them strongly pro-English, and inclined to be hostile to India… He also referred to passages in Hitler&’s book in which he pronounced himself opposed to Indian independence. His view is that the racial theory is at present allowed to outweigh all other considerations.” (Cited in Kate O’Malley, Ireland, India and Empire, p 194.) Bewley explained that Bose was a believer in physical force, but it required some propaganda to make the country ready for it.
Bose had, however, been eager to visit Ireland since 1933, as evident from what he had written to Mollie Woods, secretary of the Indian-Irish Independence League that she had co-founded in 1932. Vithalbhai Patel, a Congress leader, with the help of Maud Gonne, Mollie Woods, Charles Despard and other Irish revolutionary and left-wing leaders, had formed the Indian-Irish Independence League, over which Gonne presided. Bose had written to Woods, “I have been longing to visit Ireland for years… In my part of the country (Bengal), recent Irish history is studied closely by freedom loving men and women and several Irish characters are literally worshipped in many a home.” He also wanted to see Gonne, whom Sarat Bose had met in Paris in 1914. He wanted the plan of his visit to be kept secret because if the British government came to know of it they would do everything to scuttle it.
Bose&’s intended visit, however, did not remain a secret. De Valera himself took interest in the matter and instructed that Bose be granted entry, if the Ministry of Justice did not have any legal objection since Bose was a British subject. The Ministry of Justice sent queries to ascertain Bose&’s position in relation to the British authorities. The British Home Department did not elaborate much on Bose&’s past, but stated that “we understand that the Government of India are very anxious that no further endorsements (for visiting European nations) be granted”. (O’Malley, p 97.) There were also efforts by retired Irish officials in British imperial service like Charles Tegart, the notorious Commissioner of Calcutta Police, and JT Donovan, an ICS who had served in Bengal before his recent retirement, to tar Bose as a Communist and thus scuttle his visit. But all these failed, and the Irish Times, the official newspaper, announced on 25 January 1936 that Bose would soon arrive in Dublin where he would try to reorganise the Indo-Irish League and meet other nationalists.
Before Bose arrived in Dublin, on 2 February 1936 he landed in Cork to pay tribute at the grave of Terence MacSwiney, the mayor of Cork who had fasted to death. In Dublin, he was given an official reception by de Valera in the Government Buildings on the evening of 2 February. De Valera had three meetings with Bose and treated him like an envoy of a friendly nation. Nonetheless, he is reported to have cautioned Bose that India could not take on the British in a face-to-face war and also that Bose should not repeat the mistake he himself had made, that is, stay out of the country during a crucial phase of the struggle.
Leonard Gordon, author of Brothers Against the Raj, comments that the meeting with de Valera had a “sobering” effect on Bose and he realised that he could gain little for India from outside (p 304). But such an observation is hardly tenable in view of Bose&’s later activities.
Bose well knew how Irish revolutionaries were deeply in sympathy with the Indian struggle and he believed that he would be able to mobilise support for himself from the Irish leadership. He was given a reception by the Indian-Irish Independence League on 5 February and held meetings with leaders of other organizations. He was allowed to observe the proceedings of the Dail (Irish parliament) from the visitor&’s gallery and received a grand reception at the Shelbourne Hotel, where he addressed, alongside left-wing leaders like Sean Murray and Frank Ryan, a gathering that included guests like Erskine Childers and Sean MacBride, the director of the IRA&’s intelligence wing.
Before he left Dublin after a stay of 10 days, he is reported to have said that in “India I would endeavour to emphasise the great value of political alliance between Indian nationalists and Irish republicans” and that he had found the “Irish people very sympathetic to Indian independence”.
This was a natural response as Bose was intimately aware of and a part of the milieu in which a mental alliance had been growing between Irish and Bengali revolutionaries since the late 1920s. Many Bengali revolutionaries believed that the Irish struggle was a model for Indian independence. There was a deep popular awareness of the events in Ireland and, to say the least, a pamphlet of 1929 even urged Bengali revolutionaries to adopt Patrick Pearse, one of the celebrated martyrs of the Easter Rebellion, as the model of self-sacrifice. One also recalls how famous Bengali revolutionary Jatin Das, imprisoned in Lahore jail, fasted to death in 1929 much like Cork mayor Terence MacSwiney. Nirad C Chaudhuri remarks in his autobiography that MacSwiney was virtually worshipped in Bengal.
That Bose was deeply touched and looked towards Ireland for inspiration is evident from the “Impressions of Ireland” statement he released on reaching Lausanne on 30 March 1936. In that, he is critical of Irish politics while also speaking of his fruitful meetings with several Irish ministers. He was surprised how, despite their internal differences, all Irish political parties were sympathetic to India&’s aspiration and saw his mission as successful propaganda for India&’s freedom. At the personal level, he was also emotionally touched by his Irish visit and wrote to Mollie Woods on 30 March 1936, “I often think of the days I spent in Dublin. It is like a dream and those went so quickly.”
This dream turned into an inspiration for as late as 1943-44 he broadcast messages to Ireland clearly showing the Irish influence on his thoughts. One such message reads, “Of all the freedom movements we Indians have studied closely and from which we have received inspiration, there is perhaps none that can equal the Irish struggle for independence. The Irish nation has had the same oppressors and exploiters as ourselves… There was so much in common between us that it is natural that there should be a deep bond of affinity and comradeship between the Irish nation and ourselves.”
History is witness to how that bond has eroded over the years. The reason for this hiatus had been long anticipated by none other than Bose himself when, towards the end of his “Impressions of Ireland”, he wrote, “There was so much to learn in Ireland… I was surprised that so few of our countrymen who spend years in England ever care to go over to Ireland… (which) is quite a different world from England.”