In the telling of the Indian subcontinent’s anti-colonial struggle in the twentieth-century against the British Empire – the Raj–the role of Gandhi, his non-violent tactic–Satyagrah –the Indian National Congress and their supposed success against the Raj has dominated the narrative; and still informs perceptions in the subcontinent and beyond.
Revolutionaries and insurrections were ridiculed as inconsequential and misguided ventures, respectively.
The history of the British presence, however, was not one of non-violence; and it was the control of the subcontinent and its resources–including the deployment of a vast mercenary army drawn from a displaced, brutalized peasantry–that propelled London to its position as foremost world power at the centre of the global capitalist-system in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Would such an empire seemingly bow to an opponent professing to employ strict non-violence? Or did such an opponent help keep the real enemies of the Raj at bay?
Historian Ali traces British fears of revolutionaries and their plans; despite public dismissals, in private the Raj was always concerned, casting worldwide surveillance nets and arraying sinister agents and collaborators to monitor revolutionaries–and thwarting their activities where possible.
The only leader of Congress to emerge in the inter-war years who supported the outright and complete overthrow of the Raj by armed insurrection; Bose became an enemy of both the Raj and the Gandhian Congress; characterized as its one “implacable foe” by the Raj, while Gandhi frankly admitted to an Imperial Viceroy, speaking of Bose, that “he is my opponent.”
Insurrection coupled with a distinctive vision for a national revolution in the subcontinent meant that Bose also faced two implacable foes; imperial occupier and domestic enemies.
Ali argues that it was Bose and the revolution he represented that posed the real threat to the Raj and its collaborators in the subcontinent.
Implacable Foes also speaks for the enduring applicability of Bose’s life and message, a generous secularism and forward-thinking progressivism, in the present-day; in a subcontinent still grappling with the poisonous legacies of British imperialism and the spectre of two nuclear-armed states facing off against each other; for the future of amity and equitable relations in South Asia.