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In Session: Japan as a Site for Discourses on Religion and Modernity
2: A Bengali Revolutionary in Imperial Japan: Rash Behari Bose and Asian Modernities
Friday, March 26, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States
This paper is an attempt at an intellectual biography of Rash Behari Bose (1886-1945). An Indian Bengali anti-colonial revolutionary, Bose escaped colonial India for Japan in 1915, after attempting to assassinate the British viceroy of India in 1912. Settling in Japan, Bose received support from a range of Pan-Asianist Japanese intellectual and political figures, and continued to comment on Indian and global political affairs. Starting in the 1920s, Bose organized support from Japan for India’s anti-colonial movement, culminating, with the support of the Imperial Japanese Army, in the creation of the Indian National Army in Southeast Asia during World War II. By placing Bose’s ideas and worldview in the contexts of the political and intellectual currents of the late nineteenth and early twentieth-century colonial Bengal, as well as interwar Japan, this paper argue that Bose’s anti-colonial nationalism in British India and his support for the Japanese imperial state were interlinked because his basic ideological underpinning was a skepticism of Western liberalism coupled with an aspiration for a non-Western modernity. For Bose, Japan provided a valuable model for an Asian inflected modernity, which other countries in Asia could aspire towards. At a time when “Asia” is back in focus as a mode of inquiry and a point of reference in politics, Rash Behari Bose, who articulated an anti-colonial nationalist perspective but also became an apologist for the Japanese Empire, reminds us of the ideological potency of an imaginary of a shared civilization and spirituality that nevertheless served imperialist objectives.