“He was India’s own Che Guevara,” I thought to myself as I stood, transfixed, at the museum exhibits showing Netaji Bose’s unbelievable acts of bravery that took him, between 1941 and 1945, to faraway lands in Europe and Asia in his revolutionary struggle for India’s emancipation.
But I corrected myself the very next moment. “No. it’s more appropriate to say Che Guevara was Latin America’s Subhas Chandra Bose.”
Che has been my hero since my teen years. But this was truly a moment of epiphany.
I was at the Netaji Bose Museum in Kolkata last year at the invitation of Prof Sugata Bose, a renowned Harvard historian and grandson of Netaji Bose’s elder brother Sarat Chandra Bose. It is quite simply the best biographical museum in India, and I could see why.
What Netaji’s Biographical Museum in Kolkata Reveals About Him
Located in his ancestral home on Elgin Street, it has kept the legendary hero’s spirit alive, thanks to the enormous care, commitment and dedication with which all the illustrious members of the Bose family have maintained it. Founded by Dr Sisir Kumar Bose (father of Sugata Bose; Sumantra Bose, a political scientist at the London School of Economics; and Dr Sarmila Bose, an academic at Oxford University), and nurtured for many decades by his wife Krishna Bose, herself a great scholar and parliamentarian (who passed away early last year), this is truly a shrine for patriotic pilgrimage.
What struck me the most in my museum experience was the sheer magnitude of the internationalist effort that Bose added to India’s national liberation movement.
This prompted me to make a mental comparison between Che and Netaji. Comparisons among great historical personalities are undesirable, but sometimes they are instructive. I realised that, on the yardstick of ‘parakram’, Bose stands much taller than Che.
Why Netaji Was A Greater Revolutionary than Che Guevara
This point needs some elaboration. Che is undoubtedly the most popular icon of internationalism worldwide. A young and idealistic Argentina-born doctor, he went to participate in the Cuban Revolution (1959); became a close comrade and friend of Fidel Castro, under whose leadership he served as a minister.
However, not content with the success of the revolution in Cuba, Che wanted to liberate all of Latin America from US-backed dictatorships. The restless revolutionary escaped to the jungles of Bolivia, where he organised a daring armed resistance. Unsurprisingly, he was assassinated by the agents of the CIA in 1967.
Even five decades after his death, Che’s life continues to inspire people around the world who dream of a better world. Here is a banal but telling point — if images on T-shirts worn by youngsters are any indication, no other global leader, not even any movie star or a sports celebrity, comes close to Che’s global popularity.
Bose Garnered Support for India; Showed Solidarity with All of Asia
Sadly, Netaji Bose is not so widely known beyond India, even though his internationalist exploits are far more awe-inspiring than Che’s. He struggled and sacrificed his life not only for India’s liberation, but for the emancipation of all Asian peoples from colonial subjugation.
“Through India’s liberation will Asia and the world move forward towards the larger goal of human emancipation,” he affirmed in his very first radio broadcast from Europe to India in February 1942.
He strove for the establishment of an international order rooted in the universal values of peace, justice, friendship and cooperation.
There is no better way of knowing this than to visit the museum in Kolkata or to read Prof Sugata Bose’s acclaimed biography His Majesty’s Opponent — Subhas Chandra Bose and India’s Struggle against Empire.
Bose travelled to Japan, Malaya, Thailand, Burma, Vietnam and China. Wherever he went, he sought support for India’s freedom struggle, but he also expressed solidarity with the legitimate aspirations of all the people in Asia. Like Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore, he was distressed by the conflict between Japan and China, and hoped that Japan would withdraw her troops from China by means of an “honourable peace”.
(The writer, who served as an aide to India’s former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, is founder of the ‘Forum for a New South Asia – Powered by India-Pakistan-China Cooperation’. He tweets @SudheenKulkarni and welcomes comment at email@example.com. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)