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The Raj, the Reich, and the Good Fight
05 April 2012, 19h30 EDT (GMT-4)

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During my recent trip to Delhi to ride for Canada at the 2012 Asian Tent Pegging Championships, I visited the Red Fort Complex, the old seat of the Mogul Emperors and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A chance encounter with a memorial to the Indian National Army led me to reflect on the radically different paths taken by India's independence movement, which forms the subject of my Insight broadcast essay for TVOntario's The Agenda. The broadcast is available via streaming video through my YouTube Channel and via podcast through iTunes, as well as directly above. My original text is below.

* * *

Nothing corrupts the soul more than the certainty of personal virtue. The challenge to anyone who wishes to change the world for the better is not simply following the brazen call of duty, but also being restrained by the whispered voice of humility.

I reflected on this recently, as I travelled through India and travelled back through my family’s history.

By the Second World War, my family line had splintered. The senior branch remained in India, while my great-grandfather’s junior branch had been sold into indentured servitude in the West Indies. Though separated by vast gulfs in distance and circumstances, they remained united by the dream of a free India. But they were starkly divided on how this could be achieved.

My branch supported Mahatma Gandhi, and held to the philosophy of Satyagraha: non-violent civil resistance to the colonial occupation, in the belief that truth is ultimately irresistible. Our senior branch supported Subhash Chandra Bose, and was convinced that only revolution can displace dictatorship, that the price of freedom must be paid in blood.

Today, the fate of the Gandhists has passed into historical lore. They pressed on with the campaign of civil resistance, despite hundreds of thousands of their members being arrested and thousands more simply being shot in the streets by the British Raj. In doing so, they set an example of idealism and heroic self-sacrifice that has awed generations since.

The path of the Boseites is less widely known. Bose escaped to Berlin, where he raised a force of some ten thousand Indians, to fight alongside the Germans in Europe as part of the SS. Travelling next by U-boat to Tokyo, he raised an army of another forty thousand Indians, to fight alongside the Japanese in South-East Asia.

The Boseites hoped that as part of the Axis, the Indian National Army would expel the British military from India and defeat the British Empire’s ability to colonise or occupy other countries. Despite the Nazi atrocities, the men and women of the Indian National Army remained loyal to Hitler, Hirohito, and the Axis to the very end of the war.

Gandhi and Bose and the members of my family who stood with them were brothers in the hunger for justice, and both included members who were willing to die for freedom rather than live as slaves. But one group was so blinded by passion for its cause, that it was willing to join hands with regimes whose very names have become by-words for evil in almost every spoken language on the planet.

They beguiled themselves into believing that their country could be set free through the victory of those who would turn the whole world into a prison. They sullied their cause not by seeking to do what was wrong, but by making a deal with the devil in their ambitions to achieve what was right.

Wandering through Delhi, I was taken aback to see a small memorial to the Indian National Army’s fallen warriors, peeping out amidst the tall grass. It was a quiet, unintentional reminder to me that the path from hero to villain can be nothing more than hubris, and that no cause is so great that it should be pursued without humility.


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