Decoding the legacy and complex politics of Subhas Chandra Bose   

On the eve of his 126th birth anniversary on January 23, we read a host of books and biographies which try to understand the fiery nationalist and enigma that was Netaji through his political, social and moral commitments 

Updated - January 18, 2023 05:35 pm IST

Published - January 18, 2023 08:30 am IST

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose reviewing his INA troops in Singapore in 1943.

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose reviewing his INA troops in Singapore in 1943. | Photo Credit: THEHINDU ARCHIVES

There is an element of intrigue that trails Subhas Chandra Bose’s persona, his life, disappearance and death. He was a dynamic personality of India’s freedom movement who inspired hundreds of Indians to join the struggle.

Books on Bose offer an insight into his beliefs and motivation. Not many definitive biographies of Bose have been written by Indian historians, and the most authentic narratives are from his family members and those who have had personal experiences of him, being associated with his Azad Hind Fauj.

Scholar and politician Krishna Bose, who is the wife of Bose’s nephew, Sisir Bose, travelled the world to piece his life from childhood to death. A compilation of her findings, written in Bengali over six decades, has been edited and translated by her son Sumantra Bose. Published last August, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s Life, Politics and Struggle profiles Bose, and includes 95 images and letters from family albums and the Netaji Research Bureau archives.

Battlefields and favourite cities

Over the years, Krishna Bose researched and visited the Manipur battlefields where the Indian National Army (INA) waged its valiant war, the Andamans where Bose raised the national tricolour; Singapore, where the INA took shape; Vienna and Prague, his favourite European cities; and Taipei, where his life was said to have been tragically cut short. She met Bose’s contemporaries; the women who fought in the Rani of Jhansi Regiment; Basanti Debi, the “formidable widow” of Netaji’s political guru Chittaranjan Das; spouse Emilie Schenkl; and leading soldiers of the Azad Hind movement. They all shared vital memories giving details about Netaji’s life.

In His Majesty’s Opponent: Subhas Chandra Bose and India’s Struggle Against Empire (2011), Sugata Bose, son of Krishna and Sisir Bose, analyses Bose’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. He documents Bose’s thoughts during his imprisonment and travels, and his struggle to unite the religious, linguistic and economic diversities of India into a single independent nation.

Sisir Bose, who is Bose’s elder brother Sarat Kumar Bose’s son, also wrote a concise biography Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose that was published during the centenary celebrations of the Indian National Congress. Simple and lucidly written, it focusses on the charismatic leader’s life in the background of the freedom struggle.

Similarly, Subhas Chandra Bose: The Springing Tiger by Hugh Toye is a comprehensive and valuable history of the leader. It talks about how the INA was established with captured British-Indian soldiers during WWII; and it is a significant study in Anglo-Indian relations over a vital period, and of the new brand of leaders in Asia. The story of Bose’s life has an enduring interest, and Toye makes his protagonist come alive in all his idealism, fiery nationalism and political astuteness, giving a peek into its implications and providing context.

A brilliant biography of Bose and his elder brother Sarat Chandra Bose, Brothers Against the Raj (1990) is by American historian, Leonard A. Gordon of Harvard University. Packed with information with over 150 interviews with the Bose brothers’ political contemporaries and family members and hundreds of unpublished letters, it brings to life two important leaders in Indian history, recounting their story in the context of the turbulent times of international relations and the complex politics of India and Bengal during their time.

Splintered politics

There are several books based on what is widely known about Bose — when he resigned from the Indian Civil Service to join the freedom movement, threw a challenge to the Congress leadership and took up an extremist stance against the British, evaded the intelligence network to travel to Europe and Southeast Asia, formed two governments and raised two armies, all in a span of two decades. But Chandrachur Ghose throws new light on Bose’s political activities surrounding revolutionary groups in Bengal, Punjab, Maharashtra and the United Provinces.

In a critical biography, Bose: The Untold History Of An Inconvenient Nationalist (2022), Ghose talks about Bose’s efforts to bridge the increasing communal divide and his influence among the splintered political landscape; his outlook towards women; his plunge into spirituality; and penchant for covert operations. He talks about one of the most sensitive issues — a fiercely patriotic Bose aligning with the Axis camp.

The War Diary of Asha-san by Lt. Bharati Asha Sahay Choudhry and Patriot: The Unique Indian Leader by Lt. Manwati Arya, I.N.A, show another side of Bose, as a leader who practised impartiality and secularism and why people cutting across caste, creed and religion were willing to join his fight. Even Gandhi who once considered Bose “rebellious” later said, as Sugata Bose writes in His Majesty’s Opponent, “Netaji’s name is one to conjure with. His patriotism is second to none.”

On February 12, 1946, Gandhi wrote in Harijan: “The lesson that Netaji and his army brings to us is one of self-sacrifice, unity — irrespective of class and community — and discipline.” Bose’s followers still wonder how he would have shaped India’s future through his political, social and moral commitments.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.