Despite twelve volumes of Collected Works, thirty-odd biographies and innumerable studies and festschrifts, Subhas Chandra Bose remains an enigma. To contemporaries engaged in the struggle for Indian independence in the 1930s he was an inspiration – fearless, intellectually robust and highly articulate. Twice elected president of the Congress Party, Bose represented a radical Bengali alternative to both the non-violent utopianism of Gandhi and the high-minded dithering of Nehru. In the triumvirate of prewar nationalist leaders he alone consistently demanded unconditional independence and cold-shouldered the constitutional consultations and initiatives elicited from the British. Perhaps it helped that he was more often behind bars than not. Detachment from the infighting within the Congress and from its slanging match with the Muslim League only added to his popularity. Clear-sighted and inflexible, he could not be distracted from the fundamental injustice of British rule and the paramount need for every Indian to contest it.
But it was precisely this intransigence that dictated his fateful response to the outbreak of the Second World War. Faced with a choice between passively condoning the deployment of Indian troops by the imperial power or spending the war back behind bars, Bose suddenly vanished in January 1941