Who was A.C.N. Nam­biar? Was he a spy? If so, for whom?

India Today - - LEISURE - —K. Nat­war Singh

Who was A.C.N. Nam­biar, and what did he do? Is he de­serv­ing of so en­gross­ing, stim­u­lat­ing and well-writ­ten a tribute as Vap­pala Balachan­dran’s A Life in Shadow: The Se­cret Story of A.C.N. Nam­biar, A For­got­ten Anti-Colo­nial War­rior?

Balachan­dran re­tired as spe­cial sec­re­tary in the Cabi­net Sec­re­tariat. He got to know Nam­biar dur­ing the fi­nal years of his life, in Geneva, look­ing af­ter and keep­ing him in good cheer. This was not easy, as Nam­biar led a ‘messy’ and dis­or­gan­ised life. This book is a labour of love.

A man whose close friends in­cluded Jawa­har­lal Nehru, Sub­hash Chan­dra Bose, Indira Gandhi and Vi­jaya Lak­shmi Pan­dit must have been en­dowed with rare qualities. Nam­biar spent many years in Hitler’s Ger­many, Mus­solini’s Italy, Hor­thy’s Hun­gary, Pe­tain’s Vichy France and Benes’s Cze­choslo­vakia. He was un­der sur­veil­lance by British in­tel­li­gence for most of his life. He was al­ways broke, al­ways help­ful and had sev­eral mis­tresses.

Bose met Nam­biar in Europe in the mid1930s. As an in­di­ca­tion of the high es­teem he held Nam­biar in, when Bose left Europe—in a Ger­man sub­ma­rine bound for Sin­ga­pore, af­ter two frus­trat­ing years in Ber­lin—he put Nam­biar in charge of the In­dian Le­gion.

An­other anec­dote that un­der­lines the trust be­tween the two men: be­fore Bose left for Sin­ga­pore, he had se­cretly mar­ried Em­i­lie Schenkl, an Aus­trian, in De­cem­ber 1937. Nam­biar was per­haps one of the very few In­di­ans in Europe who was privy to this ma­jor event in Bose’s life. No one in In­dia was aware of the mar­riage.

The Nehrus had met Nam­biar in Europe and re­mained in­ti­mate friends un­til the deaths of Jawa­har­lal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. Af­ter In­de­pen­dence, Nehru had ap­pointed Nam­biar am­bas­sador to West Ger­many and Swe­den.

How­ever, ques­tions re­main. Was Nam­biar a spy? “Dur­ing his Prague years, Nam­biar seems to have with­out his con­scious knowl­edge pro­vided in­tel­li­gence to the British,” says the au­thor.

But was he a spy? If so, for whom? The Rus­sians, the Nazis? The British? Balachan­dran con­cludes that, “There is no ev­i­dence found any­where that Nam­biar was an ac­tive as­set for any agency…. Nam­biar spent his life in the shadow of time.” The book ends with more than a dozen let­ters from Nehru and Indira Gandhi to Nam­biar, which have never be­fore been pub­lished.

When Bose left Europe, he put Nam­biar in charge of the In­dian Le­gion

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