Harvard, £25.95, 382pp. £23.36 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

His Majesty's Opponent, By Sugata Bose

Subhas Chandra Bose (1897-1945) – affectionately known as Netaji, "the revered leader" of India's struggle against the British Raj - was an unusual His Majesty's Opponent. He came from a middle-class, affluent Bengali family. Unlike the Gurkhas or the Panjabis, the colonial government regarded the Bengalis as a "non-martial race".

He studied at Cambridge, passed the bureaucratic Indian Civil Service examination with good results, admired the openness of English society and later married a Western woman. And yet he was the staunchest firebrand of all Indian nationalists. Early in his political career, he successfully campaigned to remove Lord Curzon's offensive "Black Hole" memorial of 1901 from a prime spot in Kolkata.

The account of Bose's adventurous escape from house arrest and constant surveillance in Kolkata to Nazi Germany would humble Osama Bin Laden's ingenuity. His accidental death in a plane crash in Taipei finally turned Bose into a legendary hero.

I grew up in Kolkata with the stories of his derring-do in my school history primer. His garlanded moon-faced portrait hung at a prominent place in our home among other Bengali worthies. Later, I read about his disagreements with Gandhi and Nehru and his association with Hitler and Mussolini during the Second World War, and felt uncomfortable with his politics - though I knew of Rabindranath Tagore's endorsement of Bose as a prospective political leader of India in 1939.

At the height of Nazism in Europe, he absconded to Germany and lived with his German wife-to-be, enjoying the privileges of an expatriate diplomat and political ally. Even the Führer had to address him as "Your Excellency" and allowed him the facilities for regular broadcasts into India.

Though Bose's first communiqué from Germany after his departure created a stir when he announced that the Germans were going to defeat the British and that India was about to win her freedom, his words had little impact. By then, Mahatma Gandhi had already launched his "Quit India" movement with mass support.

Undeterred, Bose began creating an Indian Legion from about 3000 Indian soldiers of the British Army captured by the Italians as POWs. In spite of the soldiers' pledge of loyalty to the colonial army, Bose managed to persuade them to join him by speaking individually and promising appropriate rank, salary, benefits and, of course, certain victory. He had an excellent gift of speech. Strategically, Bose expected that when the German army, approaching from the southern USSR and the Middle East reached India with newly-converted Indian soldiers in the frontline, the colonial army would be hesitant to attack them. Even if they did, the Indians would protest at the massacre of Indian soldiers.

In theory it was a win-win scenario, but actually Bose's masterplan ended in disaster. Germany's defeat at El Alamein in 1942 halted Hitler's progress and the Indian Legion's leadership and morale collapsed. Ultimately, Bose's men were absorbed into the retreating German army; some joined the French resistance, others deserted.

After Japan's victory at Pearl Harbor, thousands of Indian soldiers in the Allied forces fell into Japanese hands. Once again Bose began to organise an Indian unit to attack British India from Japanese-occupied territory at the India-Burma border. Hitler helped to transport him secretly in a German submarine to the coast of Mozambique, where he boarded another submarine bound for south-east Asia.

The Japanese prime-minister Tojo welcomed Bose and regarded him as the Indian head of state in exile. Without any qualms about Japanese war atrocities, Bose was comfortable with his reception. He then took charge of a pre-existing Indian National Army (INA) with integrated regiments of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs; more significantly, he established a female brigade – the Rani Jhansi Bahini – celebrating the rebel queen who fought the British in 1857.

He formed a provisional government of Azad Hind in Singapore during October 1943, collected tax, enforced laws, recruited soldiers and acquired a personal motorcade, aircraft and honour guards He also designed the tricolor Indian national flag of saffron, white and green horizontal stripes with a leaping tiger, reminiscent of Tipu Sultan's mechanical toy. Though Bose's INA once reached a peak strength of 50,000, his flawed logistics and an untimely monsoon caused them a heavy defeat at Imphal.

Bose boarded a Japanese bomber in Saigon on his way to China, once again preparing to attack British India from a Russian territory. The plane crashed in Taipei, fatally injuring him. He died in a Japanese military hospital on 18 August 1945.

This competent biography by Bose's great-nephew, a historian, is the best work to date to clarify some of his paradoxes. With unpublished material from family archives and public records, Sugata Bose supplies a fuller back-story of Netaji's predicaments. The book has illuminated my understanding of a controversial and charismatic Indian militarist who remains inspirational to many in India, despite his questionable status in the global politics of the period.

Krishna Dutta's 'Calcutta: a cultural and literary history' is published by Signal

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Strictly Come Dancing 2014 contestants and their professional dance partners open the twelfth run of the celebrity ballroom contest

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin teaches Clara to shoot an arrow
doctor who
Arts and Entertainment
Queen Christina left the judges baffled with her audition
X Factor
Arts and Entertainment
The Vienna State Opera
opera
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'
musicLilly Wood and Robin Schulz bag number one single
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week
    The fall of Rome? Cash-strapped Italy accused of selling its soul to the highest bidder

    The fall of Rome?

    Italy's fears that corporate-sponsored restoration projects will lead to the Disneyfication of its cultural heritage
    Glasgow girl made good

    Glasgow girl made good

    Kelly Macdonald was a waitress when she made Trainspotting. Now she’s taking Manhattan
    Sequins ahoy as Strictly Come Dancing takes to the floor once more

    Sequins ahoy as Strictly takes to the floor once more

    Judy Murray, Frankie Bridge and co paired with dance partners
    Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

    Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

    Alexander Wang pumps it up at New York Fashion Week
    The landscape of my imagination

    The landscape of my imagination

    Author Kate Mosse on the place that taught her to tell stories
    Ashya King: We need to stop being cowardly about death

    We need to stop being cowardly about death

    Ashya King's story has made us confront the idea of terminal illness, in an age when we've lost the ability to discuss how we face our final days
    They talk the talk, but do our leaders have the stomach to face up to the Russians?

    They talk the talk, but do our leaders have the stomach to face up to the Russians?

    Nato has a commitment to defend the Baltic states, unlike Ukraine. But those in charge seem less than committed, says Rupert Cornwell
    Heaven on wheels: Meet the skateboarding padre

    Heaven on wheels: Meet the skateboarding padre

    Skateboards are no longer just for kids, the oldies are getting in on the act too
    Can breakdance divert the young men of Tunisia from the killing fields of Iraq and Syria?

    Can breakdance save the Arab Spring generation?

    Sarfraz Manzoor gets down with the B-boys (and girls) of north Africa
    Face of an angel, but has Cara Delevingne the talent to act?

    Face of an angel, but has Cara Delevingne the talent to act?

    A film based on the Meredith Kercher murder is a challenging first role for the supermodel