Saturday, January 21, 2012

The book, “His Majesty’s Opponent”

By Tom Wright

A new biography of Indian nationalist hero Subhas Chandra Bose could help resuscitate the leader’s troubled reputation outside of India.
Courtesy Harvard University Press
A new biography of Subhas Chandra Bose could help resuscitate the leader’s troubled reputation outside India.
Mr. Bose sided with Imperial Japan and the Nazis during World War Two in a move of realpolitik aimed at securing backing for his Indian National Army and its war for an independent India.
Long a member of the pantheon of Indian nationalist heroes, Mr. Bose is held in mild contempt in the West for his dalliance with totalitarian powers. In Japan, he is still hugely admired, and his ashes are believed to be housed in Tokyo’s Renjoki temple.
Harvard professor Sugata Bose, who is the grandson of the nationalist leader’s brother, sets out to correct this one-sided view.
The book, “His Majesty’s Opponent,” aims to be the definitive biography of a man who, as the author writes, devoted “his life to ensuring the sun did finally set on the British Empire.”
Mr. Bose’s life is an action-packed thriller tailor-made for biographical treatment. The author has purposely aimed the book at a global audience who might know Indian independence icons like Jawaharlal Nehru, the nation’s first prime minister or Mahatma Gandhi but not be acquainted with a man whom Indians know as “Netaji,” or Respected Leader.
Mr. Bose, the Harvard professor, wrote the book at Netaji’s old family house on Elgin Street in Kolkata.
The home is now a museum to Mr. Bose, which charts his life. Parked outside is the car in which he escaped British house arrest in 1941, the beginning of an odyssey which would take him all over the world.
Mr. Bose was born at the close of the 19th Century in Orissa but grew up in Kolkata. Twice elected president of the Indian National Congress in 1938 and 1939, he later clashed with Gandhi because, unlike the Mahatma, he backed violent efforts to oust the British from India.
After fleeing house arrest he found his way to Moscow and then Berlin, where he met Hitler and married a Austrian woman.
He travelled by German and Japanese submarines to Singapore, where on Oct. 21, 1943, he proclaimed the formation of the Provisional Government of Azad Hind (“Free India”).
Ultimately, the army he raised — made up largely of Indian soldiers in the British army who had been captured by the Japanese — was unsuccessful. They were beaten in Manipur by British and American forces, and had to retreat.
Mr. Bose died in a plane crash in Taiwan, never living to see an independent India (There are some who dispute this and his death is shrouded in mystery.)
But his legacy was long lasting. His actions helped to spark naval rebellions against the British in Mumbai and Karachi in the aftermath of the war. The threat of armed rebellion surely pushed the British to draw the curtain on their Indian empire more quickly than they otherwise would have.
Mr. Bose also was the first to call Gandhi, with whom he had many disagreements, the “Father of the Nation.” And he coined the phrase “Jai Hind,” (“Long Live India”) now so popular in everyday Indian speech.
You can follow Mr. Wright on Twitter @TomWrightAsia.

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose dedicated his life to the struggle to liberate his people from British rule. In pursuit of that goal he raised and led the Indian National Army against Allied Forces during World War II. This was a man whose patriotism was, as Mahatma Gandhi declared, second to none; nonetheless aspects of his life and death continue to be controversial both in India and abroad even today.

In this definitive biography, Professor Sugata Bose analyzes Netaji’s life and legacy, tracing the intellectual impact of his years in Calcutta and Cambridge, the ideas and relationships that influenced him during his time in exile, and his ascent to the peak of nationalist politics. Using previously unpublished family archives, this account not only documents Subhas Bose’s thoughts during his imprisonment and travels, but also illuminates the profundity of his struggle to unite the diversities of India—religious, economic, linguistic—into a single independent nation.

His Majesty’s Opponent is a magisterial study of a life larger than its legend. Both intimate and global in significance, it is the portrait of a man, whose public and private life encapsulated the contradictions of world history in the first half of the twentieth century.

About the Author
Sugata Bose is the Gardiner Professor of History at Harvard University.

Bose, who is Netaji’s brother Sarat Chandra Bose’s grandson, is joint editor with Dr Sisir Kumar Bose of the Collected Works of Netaji published by the Netaji Research Bureau and joint editor with Krishna Bose of Purabi: the East in its Feminine Gender. He has translated into English all the songs Tagore composed on his overseas voyages and recorded them on four CDs titled Visva Yatri Rabindranath.

Sugata Bose’s many books include Peasant Labour and Colonial Capital, Modern South Asia: History, Culture, Political Economy with Ayesha Jalal and A Hundred Horizons: the Indian Ocean in the Age of Global Empire.

Midhun Jose's review
Nov 29, 11

5 of 5 stars
Read in November, 2011

This book is about the greatest warrior India has ever produced- Subhas Chandra Bose. He is not only a brave military hero, but also a great politician, a good visionary, a brilliant philosopher and moreover he was very humane as a person. He, probably, was more respectable and more efficient than Gandhi as a leader of Indian Freedom Struggle. He lived and died for Mother India. The political, social, economical and cultural history of India would be totally different for better if he had enough support from within the country, especially from the Indian National Congress, as much as he got from outside India, and if a tragic airplane crash on 18th August of 1945 had not cause the end of that life immortal.

Tariq Mahmood's review
Aug 30, 11

5 of 5 stars
Read from August 27 to 30, 2011

Great book on Netaji. It was my first book on the great leader and left a strong impression on me. Netaji could have altered history if his INA had prevailed against the British Indian Army. The book is a must read for all readers of Indian independence movement.

Ankur Dular's review
Jul 26, 11

4 of 5 stars

Great read, inspirational, uncovered layers of misinformation Indian Government has sort of propagated about him. Thoroughly detailed and crisp.

Manish's review
Sep 09, 11

4 of 5 stars
Read in September, 2011

Felt ashamed of myself while reading this book, for not having known enough of Netaji all these years. A Masters in Philosophy from Cambridge, quitting the Civil Services at the age of 24, languishing in a prison in Mandalay during his late 20s, edifying Gandhiji only to see him play politics to pull him down, falling in love in Europe, looking after Kamala Nehru during her convalescence, forming the Forward Bloc, daring escape from House arrest in Kolkata to Europe through Kabul, meeting the Fuehrer & Mussolini, birth of a daughter, travel to South East Asia in a submarine, formation of the Azad Hind Fauj, defeat in the North East, retreat to Singapore, the decision to move to Russia and finally the fiery end in a Japanese hospital in Taipei. All for the love of seeing a 'Free' India. I knew nothing of most of this. Ashamed! 

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