Monday, 8 August 2011



He was above the regional, communal, caste-based politics. From Peshawar to Kanyakumari, from Shilong to Bombay, he was revered as a fearless, uncompromising national leader whose sole aim was to see India free from the British. Subhash Chandra Bose or Netaji, as he is still popularly referred to, the arch enemy of the British, therefore evokes much enthusiasm even today when India seems to be far removed from the ideals of those heady days of freedom struggle. And people, who are attuned to India’s history, keep wondering, almost like a sigh, what if Netaji had been there to lead India after Independence. Noted historian Sugata Bose doesn’t try to answer this hypothetical question in his recent book, His Majesty’s Opponent: Subhash Chandra Bose and India’s Struggle Against Empire. Rather, the book aims to be a definitive biography of the leader.

Utilising a vast range of resources, including those from the Bose family archives, the author has charted the leader’s life from his birth to his final days. One gets a comprehensive account of how a boy from Cuttack in Orissa evolved to become a nationalist individual, leader of the Indian National Congress and later the leader of Indian National Army that fought pitched battles against the British in Asia. Known and unknown facts, and Netaji’s political views unravel seamlessly as the book deals with the history of India’s freedom struggle. Naturally, all the leading characters of that phase make regular appearances across the pages. The book portrays them as neutrally as possible, though it is common knowledge that some of the Congress leaders did their best to stifle Netaji’s efforts to fight the British. The author, therefore, has remained objective as a historian by presenting the established facts and allowing the readers to decide whether Netaji was wronged by the Indian National Congress under Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi for whom Netaji had immense respect till the end.

Netaji’s life, especially the way he outsmarted the British to flee from India in 1941, and travelled across British India, Afghanistan and Russia to reach Germany, has been the stuff of a legend. His three-month-long voyage in German and then Japanese submarines from Europe to Asia was equally thrilling. The author could have added touches of drama while telling them, but creditably he doesn’t. Rather, he has stuck to the facts and moved on to dispassionately analyse Netaji’s views and his tough dealings with Nazi Germany under Hitler, Fascist Italy under Mussolini and the Japanese led by General Hideki Tojo. The Communists in India, who considered British as their friend, and were quick to malign Netaji as a betrayer, may do well to know how Netaji had massive contempt for the Nazis and considered Hitler as “baddha pagal” or raving mad. Yet, he took the help of Germans to counter the British Empire. With his prescience, Netaji understood the need to adhere to the old adage: ‘Enemy’s enemy is my friend.’ This book explains all that unambiguously.

An interesting part of Netaji’s life was his love affair with Emilie Schenkl whom he later married. The author has banked on the letters and telegrams exchanged between the two, besides the family photographs. All of that offers us a rare glimpse of the personal life of Netaji. His affectionate self, his love for travelling, nature, art and other finer aspects of life come to the fore. At the same time, we get to read how his sense of duty towards India and the cause of freedom kept Netaji away from his beloved and his only child, Anita. It makes for a poignant reading and you are bound to be touched.

This being a biography of a revered leader, the temptation of eulogising him was far greater for the author who is Netaji’s grandnephew. But this book doesn’t become a hagiography by any means. Lucidly written, this is a simple story of the man who championed the cause of a united, rejuvenated India that’s free from the shackles of poverty, discriminations, communal ideas and regressive customs. It becomes the story of an ideal India that honest Indians still dream of.

His Majesty’s Opponent
Sugata Bose
Publisher: Penguin-Allen Lane
Pages: 388
Price: Indian Rs 699