New look at Netaji
Madhusree Chatterjee

The latest biography analyses Netaji's life, legacy and ascent to the peak of nationalist policies

Netaji reviews the Rani of Jhansi regiment
Netaji reviews the Rani of Jhansi regiment with Lakshmi Swaminathan
in Singapore in 1943

Subhas Chandra Bose has always been regarded as a great popular hero, but official recognition of his stature as an iconic freedom fighter was somewhat muted during the primeministership of his rival, Jawaharlal Nehru, until 1964, says Netaji's grand-nephew Sugata Bose, a professor of history at Harvard University.

"Nehru's daughter Indira Gandhi admired Netaji (as Subhas Chandra Bose is known popularly in India) for his courage and vision. Yet, the Indian National Congress to which he had twice been elected as president, truly acknowledged him as one of his own in the 1990s, when under Narasimha Rao, it ceased to be under dynastic control," Bose says in His Majesty's Opponent: Subhas Chandra Bose and India's Struggle Against the Empire, a new biography of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.

A young Subhas Chandra Bose after his father's death in Kolkata in 1934
A young Subhas Chandra Bose after his father's death in Kolkata in 1934

Writer Sugata Bose is the grandson of Netaji's older brother, Sarat Chandra Bose.

The book, published by Penguin-India last week, analyses Netaji's life, legacy and his ascent to the peak of nationalist policies. Using unpublished family archives, it not only puts together his thoughts but also explores the profundity of the struggle, his vision for his army the INA and his outlook on the world.

Rare photographs from the family album throw light on the gritty life of one of the country's greatest patriots.

Biographer Bose says, "Having become an icon among icons of the freedom struggle, Netaji has been subject to political appropriation - especially on the eve of elections".

"The Hindu Right-wing lauds his military heroism, ignoring his deep commitment to Hindu-Muslim unity and the rights of religious minorities. The Communists, who were his harshest Indian critics, have changed their minds since the late 1970s. Every January 23, they garland his statue and express remorse for the great blunder that they have made in their assessment of the leader," the writer says in his book.

Whenever justice is threatened, wherever freedom is menaced, Netaji is invoked, the writer says. "His life's adventures followed itineraries far beyond the nation's frontiers. He played a dramatic role - against tremendous odds on the global stage. It is by this magnitude of his conception of a world free from imperial domination of colonial rule that his place in history must be assigned," Bose says.

The Bose family in Cuttack in 1905. Subhas Chandra Bose is on the extreme right
The Bose family in Cuttack in 1905. Subhas Chandra Bose is on the extreme right

"In this mortal world, everything perishes and will perish," Subhas Chandra Bose had written in 1940, "but ideas, ideals and dreams do not". The revolutionary believed that "no idea has ever fulfilled itself in this world except through an ordeal of suffering and sacrifice."

The biography reveals the romantic man behind the fatigues.

According to close friends and political associates, Subhas Chandra Bose was a "one-idea man; singly for the independence of India". But the only departure was his love for Emilie Schenkl, an Austrian woman.

"He was deeply in love with her, you see. In fact, it was an enormous intense one. This love blossomed during 1935 in Vienna and in the mountain retreats of Austria and Czechoslovakia. The hills and valleys of Karlsbad, Hofgastein and Badgastein were the only witnesses to this romantic side of Subhas's life a side that remained hidden from public view," remembers close friend and political associate A.C.N. Nambiar, whom Sugato Bose quotes in the book.

Bose found solace in Emilie Schenkl's company while he was recuperating from a gall-bladder surgery in Vienna though he did not find enough time to devote to her.

Emilie fought her own battles.

In late August 1945, Emilie was sitting in the kitchen of her Vienna home with her mother and sister. While rolling some wool into balls, she was as usual listening to the evening news on the radio. Suddenly, the newsreader announced that the Indian "quisling" Subhas Chandra Bose had been killed in an air crash at Taihoku Valley in Taipei, Bose says in his book.

She slowly got up and walked to the bedroom where her little daughter Anita was asleep. She knelt beside the bed, recalling many years later, "And I wept". IANS





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