TWENTY years ago when I published my biography of Subhas Chandra Bose, he was virtually unknown outside India and in India the interest was almost wholly about whether he was still alive. Indeed, when I first began researching at the National Archives in Delhi in 1977 I was handed a cyclostyled sheet by the archivist about a meeting to be held in Madhya Pradesh which promised news of when Bose, not seen since August 1945, would reappear.

The archivist, who was suspicious of me in any case as I was a journalist and not the sort of academic he normally dealt with, thought I would be more interested in such tabloid tales of why many people were still convinced Bose had not died but would one day return. He was surprised when I told him I was interested in what Bose had done in his life and keen to publish his first full-length biography, using all the available archival material, something that had not been done until that stage.

Later when I met Uttam Chandra Malhotra, who had sheltered Subhas Bose in Kabul as he escaped from India and I told him in 1977 that Subhas Bose would be over 80 or so and, even if he reappeared he would be very old, Malhotra replied, “But he is Krishna. He could live to be 150. He is immortal!”

It reinforced my convictions that I should look for a Subhas Bose who was a great Indian nationalist but not a Krishna, but very much a mortal man with a mortal man’s virtues but failings as well.

More through luck than judgement I had chosen the right time to write about Bose. The effect of the thirty-year rule brought in by Harold Wilson, Britain’s Prime Minister meant documents relating to Bose in the 1940s were being declassified. India had followed the British example, and in the 1970s there were still many people alive who knew Bose and had worked with him.

As it happens within a year of the publication of my book, interest in Bose began to rise in quite a dramatic fashion. I would like to think this was down to my book — in reality it was due to factors beyond my control. Richard Attenborough brought out his film on Gandhi and then Granada serialised Paul Scott’s Raj novels under the title Jewel in the Crown. The novels dealing with the last years of British rule in India made reference to Bose and his Indian National Army. Granada felt its viewers would be puzzled by references to Bose and his army and, before the Jewel in the Crown series began, they aired a documentary to introduce British viewers to Bose. A rather nice lady, having read my book, duly came to see me and picked my brains over lunch at an Italian restaurant in Islington.

In the two decades since, the Subhas Bose industry has mushroomed. There have been two more television documentaries in the UK about him and now Shyam Benegal has made a film about him whose title the Last Hero is not all that far removed from the title I gave the first edition of the book The Lost Hero.

Meanwhile the Netaji Research Bhavan, which when my book went to press had published three volumes of Bose’s Collected Works, has published nine more volumes. They bring to light much new material not previously known such as the intimate letters between Bose and his wife Emilie.

Major Iwaichi Fujiwara, the idealist Japanese intelligence officer who was the father of the first Indian National Army, published his memoirs a few years after my book came out and this was followed by others who has first hand knowledge of Bose and his life and times. Also the British government, which twenty years ago was in the middle of publishing the Transfer of Power Papers, has completed this mammoth task.

Milan Hauner, whose epic study of the Axis strategy during the Second World War I had consulted as an unpublished manuscript, has since published it and it remains the last word on the Axis view of the Indian freedom movement.

Then a decade after my book others, both Indian and foreign, mainly Americans, have published their books on various aspects of Bose, all of which would have made my taking another, look at my book desirable.

However, what has made it essential is the release of hitherto, classified material on Bose in the last few years. Most valuable are the files of the Indian Political Intelligence, the Raj’s MI5; whose classified papers were released just as India was celebrating its fiftieth year of freedom. I have been the first author to examine the IPI’s Bose files in detail and they throw new and fascinating light on the Raj’s allegation that he was a revolutionary and leader of the Indian terrorist movement. They also demonstrate how much the Raj feared him. They shadowed Bose right from the start of his political career to his end. Indeed it is the refusal of the British to release a letter from these files which has much exercised the latest judicial enquiry into Bose’s death.

In addition to this there has been release of other classified documents by the Public Record Office in London relating to Bose and the Second World War, in particular, the confession to the Raj’s police by people like Bhagat Ram Talwar and other Bose associates. They throw a most vivid light on the war years and require us to revise our accepted version of that period. We can no longer accept the self serving memoir of Talwar and we have fascinating details of how the British through their war-time intelligence at Bletchley followed Subhas Bose’s epic journey via submarine from Germany to Japan and even considered picking him up.

Finally, a few documents have begun to emerge from the Soviet archives which are tantalising and indicate the intricate web between the British, the Russians and the Axis powers during the Second World War. The result has been that I have added three more chapters and considerably revised some other chapters. This new material does not change our view of Bose but they considerably add to our picture of the man and his times. Bose emerges as an even more substantial figure and we know a lot more about the political and revolutionary activities both before and during the Second World War than we did: when I published my book back in 1982.

This has also made me give my book a new title: Raj, Spies, Rebellion, The Life and Times of Subhas Chandra Bose. In focusing more on his time we learn how remarkable a man Subhas Bose was and how much he affected the times he lived in.

I came to write about Subhas Bose in the first place due to a drink one early evening in the autumn of 1976 with William Miller, quite the most remarkable publisher I have ever met. I told him the Bose story in a Goodge Street pub, he was fascinated and it led to his giving me a book contract. For this edition I have incurred many more debts.

It has meant I have renewed my links with Milan Hauner and, cannot thank him enough for his insights and the kindness with which he has shared them with me. I have also been privileged to know Hugh Toye, who must have the greatest treasure trove of material relating to Bose and the Second World War, in his Wheatley home. Toye, an incredible British intelligence officer, never met Bose but interrogated the members of the INA and Hugh has been kind enough to say publicly that he thinks my biography on Bose is the best. That shows the great generosity of his spirit and his unfailing courtesy to my many demands on his time and his absolute mastery of facts and details, even at the age of 87, demonstrate what a remarkable man he is. As a young boy in Bombay I read his Springing Tiger, his study of Bose’s war-time activities, and I hope his revised edition will soon be published.

Although I am not related to Subhas Bose, my family comes from east Bengal, his from west, I grew up in Bombay, a midnight’s child, very aware of him. My father was in business with his youngest brother Sailesh, his wife remains my mother’s best friend and their son was at college with me. So I was always aware of the Bose lore. It was through them that I first met Anita Bose, Subhas’s daughter, who came to our Bombay house when she visited India in 1961. In the course of the research for this edition I have renewed my acquaintance and also met her husband Martin, both of whom have been very helpful.

I am as ever grateful to archivists and librarians all over the world for, once again, helping me find material. I can never forget the kindness of my uncle Dhiren, whose MP’s flat in Delhi proved such a home away from home when I did my research there.

I am grateful to Philip Knightley, not only for writing the foreword to this edition, but introducing me to Susan and Colin Chapman, who were brave enough to take on the book. Ashok Kumar’s encouragement and advice was always a spur and Daljit Sebhai was ever helpful.

Diane Clarkson found a way of getting my first edition, which was originally printed in the days before computers, scanned, Nicky Braganza and Alyson Hazelwood were extremely helpful and my brother-in-law Tapan enterprisingly found material which shed new light on Bose. Above all I owe a debt I cannot repay to my wife Caroline who has had to revise all her ideas of Raj history to come to terms with Subhas Bose. The fact that she has managed it with such good humour is a testimony both to her ability to assimilate new information and her intrinsic grasp of diverse subjects.

Mihir Bose’s revised, expanded edition of the life of Subhas Chandra Bose called Raj, Spies, Rebellion: the Life and Times of Subhas Chandra Bose is published by Grice Chapman in the UK in September 2004

© Mihir Bose


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