Bose and INA’s contibution

As a fiercely secular leftist Bose’s legacy is appropriated by the Hindu right wing propaganda, we examine some of the popular misconceptions and the historical facts about the INA role during Burma campaign; and the circumstances that  played a role in Indian independence.

Nestled in a quiet one way street in the upmarket Suginami Ward of Tokyo, a small, well-preserved temple appears out of place at first glance. Dating from 1594, this two-storey wooden building with a sloping roof offers an oasis of tranquillity amidst the surrounding modern high rise buildings of the big bustling metropolis. For the last 70 years, every year, on 18th of August, priest Kyozen Mochizuki, has led the prayers to pay homage to the bespectacled man  of monastic appearance whose bust adorns the small courtyard, and whose mortal remains supposedly lie in a miniature golden pagoda inside.

This is Renkoji Temple.

The bespectacled man in the bust is Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose – a man who has assumed a mythical legend-like status, whose mysterious disappearance has spawned many a conspiracy theory, whose contribution to the freedom struggle has become a matter of intense debate, and whose legacy is now being eagerly claimed by parties of both left and right in India.

Early years

Netaji’s stint with Congress is discussed in more detail in the article “Bose in Congress“. He showed his taste for grandeur and also a degree of bravery and impetuousness in taking on the might of the right wing of the Congress.

As early as 1930 — in his inaugural speech as mayor of Calcutta — the fervent young Bose first expressed his support for a fusion of socialism and fascism:[9]

“… I would say we have here in this policy and program a synthesis of what modern Europe calls Socialism and Fascism. We have here the justice, the equality, the love, which is the basis of Socialism, and combined with that we have the efficiency and the discipline of Fascism as it stands in Europe today.”

Bose had contracted Tuberculosis during his imprisonment in Mandalay during 1924-27. He was released on health grounds, and sent to a sanatorium at Bhowali in UP. As his condition worsened, the British offered to release him, provided he proceeded straight to Europe. [10]

It was during this forced stay in Vienna during 1933-36, that Bose employed Emilie Schenkl as his stenographer while working on his book, The Indian Struggle. They are said to have married in 1937.

In 1934 Bose made the first of several visits to Fascist Italy and found both the regime and its leader very agreeable. After The Indian Struggle appeared in print in 1935, Bose made a special stop in Rome personally to present a copy to Mussolini.

Bose tried to create contacts with Soviet Union, but was denied a Visa. He also tried to meet Hitler, who had made some disparaging remarks about the Indians in his book, Mein Kampf. He had some conversations with Dr. Pruefer, Joint Secretary at the Foreign Office, and some other 1officials. They eventually asked Bose to get in touch with Dr. Franz Thierfelder who was at that time Director of the German Academy in Munich. While there was little practical outcome out of the meetings, they kept in touch. So disillusioned did Bose become of the racial intolerance shown towards Indians, that in one of his letters to Dr Thierfelder  dated March 25, 1936 he wrote:

“When I first visited Germany in 1933, I had hopes that the new German nation, which had risen to a consciousness of its national strength and self-respect, would instinctively feel a deep sympathy for other nations struggling in the same direction. Today I regret that I have to return to India with the conviction that the new nationalism of Germany is not only narrow and selfish but arrogant.”

Bose returned to India, and became the Congress President for two consecutive terms, once with Gandhiji’s blessings, once without them. Few months after his resignation from the second term in 1939, a momentous event shook the world. Germany invaded Poland, and the World War II started.

Events During WW-II

In Germany

During the war, the Nazi regime found many willing collaborators throughout the world who sought to advance their own political goals and extend Axis influence. A host of exiled political leaders—such as Syrian guerrilla rebel Fawzi al-Qawuqji, former Iraqi prime minister Rashid ‘Ali al-Kailani, and former Mufti of Jerusalem Hajj Amin al-Husayni—escaped to Berlin, where they broadcast appeals to their home countries in order to foment unrest, sabotage, and insurrection against the Allies.

After escaping from India in January 1941, via Afghanistan, Netaji first went to Moscow, and sought Stalin’s help. However, he found the Soviets’ response disappointing and was rapidly passed over to the German Ambassador in Moscow, Friedrich Werner von der Schulenburg. He was taken to Berlin in April 1941, were he was to receive a more favourable hearing from the Third Reich.

Fascist, white-supremacist Germany might appear an unusual magnet for the left-leaning Indian leader, but for Bose, the struggle for an independent India outweighed all other ideological considerations. Indeed, he believed that Nazi Germany’s war with Britain made the Reich a natural ally of India’s.

Also factoring into Bose’s decision to seek support from the Reich was a motive frequently downplayed by his modern admirers — his attraction to Hitler’s brand of dictatorship.

Admiring the Fuhrer’s cult of personality and the fanatical discipline he imposed on his subjects, Bose envisaged a similar role for himself in a post-colonial India. For example, in late 1944 in a speech to students at Tokyo University, he asserted that

“India must have a political system of an authoritarian character. . . our philosophy should be a synthesis between National Socialism and Communism.”

National Socialism is better known by its shorter form, Nazism.

In Berlin, he formed Indian Legion with about 2,600 Indian Prisoners of War (PoW), out of the 15,000 Indian soldiers captured by the Germans in the war in North Africa. The initial plan was to mount an attack by 2000 soldiers from Afghanistan.

Its members swore the following allegiance to Hitler and Bose:

“I swear by God this holy oath that I will obey the leader of the German race and state, Adolf Hitler, as the commander of the German armed forces in the fight for India, whose leader is Subhas Chandra Bose”.

Emile also joined Bose during his stay in Berlin. The couple had a daughter, Amita who was born on 29th Nov 1942. The name registered by the German authorities was Anita.[2]

In spite of Bose’s respect for Hitler, the longer he remained in Germany the more frustrated he became. His plans to liberate India depended on German forces defeating the Red Army and opening a land route from Germany via Afghanistan to India.

In February 1943, with the Germans in retreat in Russia after losing the battle of Stalingrad, Bose bid farewell to Emile and his 2 month old daughter Anita, and travelled in a German U-boat to the east of Madagascar, where he transferred into a Japanese submarine that would take him to Tokyo. Bose will never see his wife and daughter again.

Japan’s expansion in Asia

Imperial Japan was a colonial power like any other European one, but it usually tried to portray its occupation of a territory as a “liberation”. After the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931, Japanese militarists moved to create a Japanese-aligned puppet state. To create an air of legitimacy, the last Emperor of China, Puyi, was invited to come with his followers and act as the head of state for Manchuria. Similarly, they had installed puppet states in Philippines, Cambodia, Indochine and a few other places.

As the massacres in Nanking, and Manila showed, the Japanese were no liberators, and could even be equally, if not more, ruthless as the European colonial powers. In fact, it was after the massacre of over 200,000 civilians in Nanking during Dec 1937, that Chinese sought help from the Indian National Congress. Bose was the INC president during the time, and sent Dr Kotnis to China. He remarked, [3]

With all our admiration for Japan, where such admiration is due, our whole heart goes out to China in her hour of trial.

By the summer of 1942 Japan controlled most of South-East Asia, and all of coastal China. The Chinese led by Chiang Kai Shek had been pushed inland. They were still fighting the Japanese with the help from the allies, which was now being channelled via Burma Road joining Kumming in Southern China to the port of Rangoon in Burma.

Burma Campaign – I (Jun 1942 – Sep 1943)

Japanese military objectives in Burma were the capture of Rangoon, the capital and principal seaport. This would close the overland supply line to China and provide a strategic bulwark to defend Japanese gains in British Malaya and the Dutch East Indies.

The Japanese had assisted formation of the Burma Independence Army, and trained the Thirty Comrades. The Burmese hoped to gain support of the Japanese in expelling the British, so that Burma could become independent from the British rule.

In 1942, during World War II, Japan invaded Burma and nominally declared Burma independent as the State of Burma on 1 August 1943. It was during fighting the advancing Japanese in Burma in 1942, that a young 28 year old Captain Sam Manekshaw of the Indian Army would receive his war medal.

By 1943, at its peak, Japan controlled much of South-East Asia, and had also disrupted the land supply route to the western parts of China, held by the Chinese nationalists.

It was towards the end of this phase of Burma campaign, with Japanese Army knocking at the doors of eastern India, that Netaji became involved with the Indian National Army (INA), an army of Indian PoWs that had been raised an year before.

Formation of INA

Throughout the early 20th century, Imperial Japan had built up covert operations with patronage for revolutionaries across Asia. Among these were Rash Behari Bose, who after participating in a failed 1912 attempt to assassinate Britain’s Viceroy of India, Lord Hardinge, had escaped to Japan in June 1915, married the daughter of a prominent Japanese restaurant owner, and become a Japanese citizen.

The Indian National Army (INA) was the brainchild of Japanese Major Iwaichi Fujiwara. As the  head of the Military Intelligence in the region, Fujiwara saw himself as having a role similar to that of “Lawrence of Arabia” of South-East Asia. He made contacts with the Islamists in Aceh to fight the Dutch with aid from Japan and some Sultans of Malaya to support the Japanese advance.

Even before the declaration of war by Japan, Fujiwara had already contacted Giani Pritam Singh Dhillon and reached an agreement of collaboration on 4th Dec 1941. Dhillon had been associated with the Ghadar Party during the first world war. Living in exile, he was the president of the Bangkok chapter of the Indian Independence League.

A few days later, Captain Mohan Siṅgh, a straggler from the 14 Punjab Regiment overrun by the invaders in western Malayan peninsula, contacted them in Alor Setar. He surrendered on the following day and was asked by the Japanese to restore order in the town. All Indian PoWs were put under his charge.

When Singapore was captured by the Japanese on 15 February 1942, there were 45,000 Indian PoWs. Mohan Siṅgh asked for volunteers who would form the INA.

Indian Independence League was formed by Rash Behari Bose. He arranged two conferences of Indians in the East during this period. The Tokyo Conference, 28-30 March 1942, besides establishing the Indian Independence League, resolved to form an Indian National Army. The Bangkok Conference, 15-23 June 1942, formally inaugurated the Indian Independence League adopting the Congress tricolour as its flag. One of the 35 resolutions passed by it invited Subhas Chandra Bose to East Asia. Through another resolution Captain Mohan Siṅgh was promoted to be a General, appointed commander-in-chief of the INA.

The first INA was however disbanded in December 1942 after disagreements between the Hikari Kikan, the Japanese liaison office responsible for Japanese relations with INA, and Mohan Singh, who came to believe that the Japanese High Command was using the INA as a mere pawn and propaganda tool.

The crisis came on 8 December 1942 when the Japanese arrested Colonel Niranjan Singh Gill branding him to be a British agent, without informing General Mohan Singh, whose protest was ignored and who was not even allowed to see Colonel Gill. On 29 December 1942, General Mohan Singh was removed from his command and was taken into custody by the Japanese military police. The INA was disarmed, and the troops returned to the prisoner-of-war camp.

Rash Behari Bose was roped in by the Japanese, but he lacked the charisma. In July 1943, at a meeting in Singapore, he handed over control of the organisation to Subhas Chandra Bose. In his speech on this occasion, Netaji was confident of the victory of the Axis powers, and also very supportive and trustful towards the Japanese

General Tojo has silenced British statesmen by promising to give complete independence to Burma and the Philippines during the current year. The friendly attitude of Japan towards Burma and the Philippines is the best proof of her sincerity,honesty and truthfulness

Greater East Asia Conference in November 1943, Participants Left to right: Ba Maw, Zhang Jinghui, Wang Jingwei, Hideki Tōjō, Wan Waithayakon, José P. Laurel, Subhas Chandra Bose

Japanese Occupation of Andamans

With the fall of Rangoon in 1942, the Japanese also took control of the Andaman Islands in March 1942.

In Dec 1943, the political control of the islands was theoretically passed on to the Azad Hind government. Bose visited Port Blair to raise the tricolour flag. During this, his only visit to the Andamans, he was kept carefully screened from the local population by the Japanese authorities.

Bose appointed General A. D. Loganathan as the governor of the islands, but a Japanese admiral was the de facto ruler, and Loganathan had limited involvement with the administration of the territory. During his interrogation after the war Loganathan admitted that he only had control over the islands’ vestigial education department, as the Japanese had retained control over the police force, and in protest he had refused to accept responsibility for any other areas of Government. [7]

He was powerless to prevent the worst Japanese atrocity of the occupation, the Homfreyganj massacre of the 30th January 1944, where 44 Indian civilians were shot by the Japanese on suspicion of spying.

Burma Campaign – II (Sep 1943-Aug 1945)

In Dec 1942, with the supply lines from Rangoon to Kumming in China cut, the allies started sending aerial supplies to Chinese Nationalists from Airports in Eastern Assam, and also started building an alternate supply route to the Burma Road, called the Ledo Road. This started from Ledo in Assam, and joined the old Burma road near the Chinese border.

In March 1943, the Japanese army launched their first attack on mainland Indian soil, in the form of Battle of Imphal. This was soon followed by the Battle of Kohima. Some INA divisions were involved in both operations.

400px-Cbi-ledo-road2

At this point its worth stopping and watching this map for a minute.

Why should INA try to advance to the difficult hilly terrain of Manipur and Nagaland?

Why did the Japanese/INA not attack Chittagong, and progress via the plains of Bengal instead? Bengal had been a hotbed of revolutionaries who admired an armed rebellion against the British. Chittagong itself had been the scene of an attempt to capture the armoury merely a decade ago. Bose had been a very popular leader in Bengal, and his presence there could have electrified the population, might have led to some revolt, which is what Bose wanted.

The primary military objective of Imperial Japan was to stop the supply lines to China. So, they preferred attacking Imphal and Kohima, which were closer to the Assamese town of Ledo, an important hub of these supply lines. The Japanese Army in Burma consisted of about 320,000 soldiers, INA merely consisted of 20,000 soldiers at this time. It was clear whose objective dominated the planning, and who was the senior partner, running the show.

Joyce Lebra, in his authoritative book [5] on the relationship between INA and Japan, also confirm this.

bose-kikan2

The battles of Kohima and Imphal are often referred to as the “Stalingrad of the East“. They were the turning point for the Japanese occupation of South East Asia. Until Iwo Jima, the defeat was the largest one till that date in Japanese history. Japanese had suffered 55,000 casualties, including 13,500 dead. As in Stalingrad, the decisive factor was the lack of supplies, and the adverse weather. The Japanese troops had gone in with just 3 weeks of supplies, and were soon starving. During the monsoon, disease rapidly spread among them. Soon, they had to retreat, and were chased deep into Burma.

Just like in Manchuria previously, a puppet government led by Ba Maw had been installed in Burma. However, it soon became apparent that the Japanese had no intention of giving independence to Burma, and by 1944, Aung San, the war minister of Ba Maw government, formed the Anti-Fascist Organisation, which joined the allies in fight against the Japanese. William Slim, the Commander of the British Army leading the Burma campaign, remarked,

It was not long before Aung San found that what he meant by independence had little relation to what the Japanese were prepared to give – that he had exchanged an old master for an infinitely more tyrannical new one. As one of his leading followers once said to me, “If the British sucked our blood, the Japanese ground our bones!”

Situation had become hopeless for INA soldiers defending Irawaddy river and other parts of Burma, and many surrendered to allies. By 2nd of May 1945, the same day Nazi Germany surrendered after the fall of Berlin, allied forces, primarily made up of the British Indian Army, had recaptured Rangoon, where Bose and INA Government had been based.

Nearly 6,000 troops of the surviving units of the INA surrendered as Rangoon fell. Bose had escaped to Bangkok 10 days before the fall of Rangoon, along with a few female soldiers of Rani Jhansi regiment, and his trusted aide Aiyer. By this time, Japanese funding has dried up, and Azad Hind Government was in a precarious state. A few days after the Japanese surrender, Netaji allegedly died in a plane crash. There is a speculation that during the last days of the WW-II, the Japanese were trying to negotiate an alliance with Stalin’s USSR, and Bose was a player in this.

So what exactly was Netaji Hoping for?

Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose was an extremely intelligent person, who had studied in Cambridge, and was ranked 4th in the Civil Services Exam. The books written by him suggest he had a good understanding of history and philosophy.

He could not have been oblivious to how the Japanese had formed puppet regimes in Asia (Manchuria, Burma, Phillipines), and the atrocities that were committed by them in these countries. He must also have been aware of how Loganathan’s functioning was restricted in Andamans, where an INA government was supposedly in place, and yet the Japanese army opened fire at people suspected of being spies. He was already having some issues with the Hikari Kitan during the Burma campaign. He must have been aware of the tripartite agreement between axis powers, that had divided the world into areas of influence – 70 Degrees East Longitude, passing through today’s Pakistan, roughly dividing the boundary between Japanese and German areas. In this Fascist world order, India was envisaged to be a Japanese colony.

By early 1941, when he escaped out of India, many of the horrors of the massacres perpetrated by the axis powers were already common knowledge. So, why seek help from these axis powers, knowing fully well what could lie in store should India achieve Independence with help from another colonial power, which was possibly even worse than the previous one? Why would any Indian patriot help the Japanese army conquer India, knowing how its soldiers had raped over 200,000 women throughout the territories they occupied in Asia?

An Indian Legion force of 2,000 or an INA of 40,000 was clearly insufficient to defeat the vast colonial forces at Britain’s disposal, and then, keep at bay, any other power like Japan or Germany.

It was a very risky (some would say foolhardy, or brave) strategy- a gamble, and it failed.

Only plausible rational explanation is that Netaji was convinced that as soon as INA reaches India, there would be a mass uprising in India, and also a revolt in the Indian Army, which mostly comprised of Indians, with under 10% English. In this scenario of mass defections to INA, it would have become a tough force to reckon with, and arguably, could have even held up against the Japanese.

This, and only this, scenario made the whole gambit a feasible one. The Japanese founder of the INA, Iwaichi Fujiwara himself confirms this. [4]

Bose hoped that the Indian soldiers in the British Indian army would desert in large numbers and join the INA.

Did this happen? No. To the dismay of him and the INA troops, no such reaction occurred. In fact, there were some INA troops who were reported to have defected back to the British Indian Army, something which made the Japanese mistrust them even more.

INA/Japanese kept fighting in Imphal and Kohima against the Indian army for 4 months during Mar-Jul 1944. Azad Hind Radio was broadcasting Netaji’s speeches to people in India regularly, but sadly for him, he failed to generate mass unrest when he needed it the most.

Why Did INA Fail?

Militarily, INA failed to achieve its declared objectives. As noted above, it was a rather small and ill equipped force. The only hope for Bose was for INA entry to trigger a rebellion in India, which did not happen due to many factors

  • Choice of the Japanese command, against Netaji’s own wishes, because of their own strategic goals in Burma, to attack the supply lines from Assam instead of Chittagong in Bengal first.
  •  More crucially, there was no political movement to create such an unrest or rebellion in India.

At the time, the congress of was the only party with a country wide reach. The prominent Congress leaders, and much of its cadres were imprisoned following the Quit India movement of 1942. This crippled the Congress, and prevented them from organising any popular political movement – Like they were able to do during the INA trials.

Other major political parties, such as Hindu Mahasabha and Muslim League, had boycotted Quit India, and their leaders were free. However, these parties had actively been supporting the British war efforts. In many of his speeches during the time, Savarkar urged Hindus of Assam and Bengal to join the British Indian Army in large numbers. [8]

“Japan’s entry into the war has exposed us directly and immediately to the attack by Britain’s enemies. Consequently, whether we like it or not, we shall have to defend our own hearth and home against the ravages of the war and this can only be done by intensifying the government’s war effort to defend India. Hindu Mahasabhaits must, therefore, rouse Hindus especially in the provinces of Bengal and Assam as effectively as possible to enter the military forces of all arms without losing a single minute.”

In one of his address to Indians via the Azad Hind Radio during this period, Netaji even referred to this, and made what looks like a veiled threat to Muslim League and Hindu Mahasabha, who had been actively supporting the British during this period.

I would request Mr Jinnah, Mr Savarkar, and all those leaders who still think of a compromise with the British, to realise once for all that in the world of tomorrow there will be no British Empire. All those individuals, groups or parties who now participate in the fight for freedom will have an honoured place in the India of tomorrow.

The supporters of British Imperialism will naturally become non-entities in a free India. I will appeal earnestly to all parties and groups to consider this and to think in terms of nationalism and anti-imperialism, and to come forward and join the epic struggle that is going on now.

Postwar Events

Attlee’s Labour party wins in the UK

Churchill, who had led Britain very ably during WW-II, was fiercely opposed to Indian Independence. Elections were held in Britain in July 1945, just two months after German surrender, and while Japan was still fighting. Everyone expected Churchill’s conservative party to win easily on the wave of “nationalism”, as is often the case with elections soon after wars.

However, the result was an unexpected landslide victory for Clement Attlee‘s Labour Party.

Labour party in general, and Attlee in particular had been sympathetic to India’s independence from a long time back. Attlee was a member of the Simon commission, and had put in a dissenting note, and had proposed Dominion status for India way back in 1930.

Self-Rule for India was the declared policy of Attlee’s Labour party. Labour party manifesto for 1945 had a single reference to India, specifically stating that labour party will seek self-rule for India. In his speech at the Party’s Blackpool Conference on 23rd May, 1945, Attlee, Premier of Labour Party, clearly said that they would strive earnestly to enable India to get full self-government.

These were no empty promises. Apart from India, Attlee’s government – the first majority Labour one in the UK, also relinquished control of colonies in Jordan, Palestine, Burma, Ceylon and Egypt. It was his government that transformed UK from an imperial security state to a welfare state.

Labour party, or Clement Attlee, were not altruistic saints who were supporting India’s self rule or decolonisation just because it was in India’s interest. They were supporting it as they believed it was in UK’s interest to stop being an outward looking imperial power, and focus on creating a welfare state internally. For instance, it was this labour Government that started the National Health Service (NHS) in UK, offering free and universal healthcare to everyone in the country.

For the first time, in 1945, we had a majority government in UK, whose interests were not totally misaligned with Indian interests. From the UK parliament website:

“In 1945, Prime Minister Clement Attlee made a policy announcement which was intended to lead to an early realisation of full self-government for India and the road to independence gathered pace.”

From mid 1945, discussion was no longer about “If” India will become Independent, but about “How” and “When”.

UK had become nearly bankrupt after the end of WW-II. As soon as Attlee assumed office, he was given a memo by the noted economist JM Keynes. This advised Attlee to pull out as much overseas troops from colonies as possible, to not only save cost , but also help boost production in the industry that was crippled by labour shortages, amongst other things. UK had a huge wartime debt to pay back and a massive trade deficit. When the wartime lend-lease support from the US stopped in Aug 1945, UK had to get emergency loans from US and Canada. In exchange, it was made to commit for a switch to a freely floating currency by July 1947. This would create a supremacy for US dollar, and put UK under even bigger financial stress.

A time-bomb was ticking for Attlee, who in the midst of all this, still also wanted to implement his sweeping but expensive welfare reforms, with housing and free healthcare for all.

On 28 January 1946 Viceroy of India Lord Wavell announced to the Central Legislative Assembly that he would establish a new Executive Council composed of main political parties and also set up a Constitution-making Body as soon as possible.

On 19 February 1946 Attlee announced in the Commons that a three-man “Cabinet Mission” would be send to New Delhi to seek to resolve India’s constitutional problems. The Mission’s brief, as announced by Attlee at the House of Commons on 19 February 1946, was to

“try to find agreement on principles and procedures which could lead to the setting up of the machinery by which the Indians themselves could establish the constitution of an independent India.”

On 9 Feb 1946, Jinnah had already written to Cripps, a member of the Cabinet mission, even before its formal announcement in the Parliament.

Initially, the date for withdrawal from India was July 1948, however, the severe winter of 1946-47 ground much of coal mining in Britain to a halt, and economy suffered another huge jolt. Attlee used this as a perfect opportunity to push his decolonisation agenda, with withdrawals from Burma, Palestine, Greece announced and independence of India expedited, and brought forward by one year.

INA Trials

The INA soldiers who had surrendered or were captured, were sent to several camps within India. In Nov, 1945, out of the 20,000 former INA personnel, 16,000 had been recovered, of whom 11,300 had been interrogated, of which 2565 had been classified as ‘black’, 5091 as grey, and 3644 as white. Whites—those who had joined in order to desert or sabotage the INA—would be reinstated without loss of seniority. Greys—those who had been misled, misguided, or had yielded to pressure—were to be dismissed as ‘service no longer required.’ Blacks were ‘those whose conduct [had merited] trial for criminal offence or those whose release would be dangerous.’ (From – Annexure I on Indian Military Offenders to a memorandum by the Secretary of State on 20 Oct. 1945)

Shah Nawaz Khan, Gurbakhsh Singh Dhillon and Prem K. Sehgal were, as a test case, put on trial in open court in the Red Fort at Delhi. They were charged with sedition (section 121 IPC).

Congress leaders were out of the jails by now, and appropriated the INA Trials for its political advantage. [1] The Hindustan Times paper, seen to be sympathetic to Congress at the time, became the most vocal critic of the trials. Sarat Chandra Bose and Nehru organised some of the biggest rallies in support of INA men. This aroused India-wide sympathy for them. The active support for the INA by the Congress also promoted its secular image. Of the three prisoners under trial at the first court martial, Shah Nawaz was a Muslim, Sahgal – a Hindu, and Dhillon – a Sikh.

The trial began on 5 November 1945. Congress formed a defence committee of Eminent lawyers and public men such as Tej Bahadur Sapru, Bhulabhai Desai and Jawaharlal Nehru, who defended the accused in court. The court on 31 December 1945 sentenced all the three to transportation for life. The ‘patriotic motives’ of the INA soldiers had actually been conceded by the court. 

‘There is, however a good deal of evidence to the effect that what the accused did was done by them not with any mercenary motive, but because of what the accused ‘bona fide’ considered to be a patriotic motive, by a sense, whether wise or misguided, of doing service to the country.’

The government, however, yielded to the outburst of popular sympathy and the British commander-in-chief, Sir Claude Auchinleck, the Commander- in- Chief, quashed the sentence on review. On 4 January 1946 Dhillon, Sahgal and Shah Nawaz were released from the Red Fort. Nehru, as one of the lawyers of the defence team commented: 

‘But the triumph, was that of the Indian people as a whole, civil and military, who had pronounced judgement already and their verdict was too powerful to be ignored.’

How Congress used these trials is corroborated by The New York Times, which reported on February 8, 1946.

“Indian nationalists are working day and night to build up Bose as the ‘George Washington’ of India’ This is particularly true of the revolutionary element in the Congress party, which spares no efforts to eulogize Bose, create a ‘Bose legend’ and wrap his sayings and beliefs in sanctity.”

Naval Mutiny

Based at Bombay, HMIS Talwar was the signal-training establishment of the Royal Indian Navy.  The Naval mutiny (which started as a general strike against pay and conditions) started on 18 Feb 1946 on HMIS Talwar. It was a reaction to the treatment meted out to ratings in general and the lack of service facilities and poor food in particular. The sailors were that evening alleged to have been served sub-standard food. Only 17 ratings took the meal, the rest of the contingent went ashore to eat in an open act of defiance, and began to chant, “No food, no work”.. A naval central strike committee (NCSC) was formed on 19 February 1946, led by MS Khan and Madan Singh. By the morning of February 20, the strike had spread to Calcutta, Karachi, Madras, Jamnagar, Vishakapatnam, Cochin and other navy stations. [6]

As the Strike Committee asked for guidance, both Sardar Patel and Jinnah advised them to surrender, and assured them that there will be no victimization. Attlee had already announced the Cabinet mission plan for transfer of power to India, and Indian leaders were conscious about ensuring discipline in the armed forces.

On February 23, at 6 am, all ships surrendered.

So, we observe that:

  • There is no clear causal connection of the Strike to INA trials. When the Strike occurred, the INA trials had already finished, and the sentences had already been quashed more than a month ago. Were the ratings been genuinely emboldened by the trials? –  We do not know for sure, but we do know that their act of defiance did not come at the time when the INA trials were going on.
  • The immediate cause of the Strike is reported to be the poor conditions, notably poor food.
  • The striking sailors saught the guidance of the mainstream party leaders and surrendered within 5 days.

Did India get independence due to the INA Trials & Naval Mutiny?

Many opponents of Gandhiji, often make a claim that despite the military failure, the 12,000 odd INA soldiers, via the trials in late 1945, played an instrumental role in forcing the British to leave India. The claim also links the Naval Mutiny directly to the INA trials.

The source of this is a claim always invariably goes back to claims made by a single individual in a single letter. [8]

Chief Justice PB Chakraborty of Calcutta High Court, who had also served as the acting Governor of West Bengal in India, during 1956, wrote a letter to Prof. Dr. RC Majumdar the author of A History of Bengal. In this letter, cited by countless anti-Gandhi, anti-Nehru, anti-Congress posts on the internet these days, Justice Chakraborty is claimed to have written:

“When I was the acting Governor, Lord Attlee, who had given us independence by withdrawing the British rule from India, spent two days in the Governor’s palace at Calcutta during his tour of India. At that time I had a prolonged discussion with him regarding the real factors that had led the British to quit India. My direct question to him was that since Gandhi’s “Quit India” movement had tapered off quite some time ago and in 1947 no such new compelling situation had arisen that would necessitate a hasty British departure, why did they have to leave?

 

In his reply Attlee cited several reasons, the principal among them being the erosion of loyalty to the British Crown among the Indian army and navy personnel as a result of the military activities of Netaji. Toward the end of our discussion I asked Atlee what was the extent of Gandhi’s influence upon the British decision to quit India. Hearing this question, Atlee’s lips became twisted in a sarcastic smile as he slowly chewed out the word, “m-i-n-i-m-a-l!”

Let us ascertain the basics first.

  • Firstly, the letter addresses Attlee’s title incorrectly, Attlee was knighted, but was an Earl, instead of a Lord in 1955-56.
  • As per the list of Governors of West Bengal, there was a gap after Harendra Coomar Mookerjee’s death on 7 August 1956, and Padmaja Naidu’s tenure starting 3 November 1956. PB Chakraborty was indeed the Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court during 1952-58. The Raj Bhavan of Calcutta, does not record acting governors in its list – It would be slightly strange for an “acting governor” of less than 3 months to have actually bothered to move into Raj Bhavan.
  • It is also established that Attlee indeed travelled to India during Oct 1956, and after spending 5 days in Madras, visited Calcutta, where he met Nehru at the Raj Bhavan.

The former British Premier, Earl Attlee, met Prime Minister Nehru at the Raj Bhavan in Calcutta on October 22 and had an informal discussion with him for about half an hour. Earlier, he called on the Chief Minister, Dr. B.C. Roy.

Now, before we take this story as a historical fact, it is important to ask ourselves some questions

  • These alleged remarks made by Attlee are very strong and extraordinary claims. It therefore is noteworthy, that nowhere else in all his speeches and writings in his entire life, till his death in 1967, did Attlee utter any words to this effect anywhere, apart from this claimed conversation with Mr Chakraborty, a Bengali Judge of Calcutta High Court.
  • This letter was written on 30 March 1976, nine years after Attlee’s death and when Majumdar himself was 88 years old (he died at 92). The facsimile of the letter was published in the appendix of Majumdar’s autobiographical book in Bengali Jibaner Smritideep (“The light of my life’s memories”) published in 1978.
  • This was such a bombshell story, why did Mr. Chakraborty wait 20 years to tell it?
  • Even RC Majumdar, a renowned historian, but a fierce critic of Gandhiji, waited for two years, and only used this remark in just one place, in a non-academic work, amongst all of his published books, papers and interviews.

The other circumstantial and chronological evidence also does not support this assertion.

  • There was little erosion of loyalty in Indian Army during the world war itself. Indian Army led the allied assault on Kohima and Imphal, fought the Japanese/INA, forced them to retreat to Rangoon and eventually even recaptured much of Burma.
  • Attlee’s election manifesto, his pre-election speech from May 1945 had promised self-rule to India before the INA trials of Dec 1945.
  • Wavell and Attlee had already made announcements to start the transfer of power process before the Naval Mutiny started. The Cabinet mission was announced to UK Parliament on Feb 19, before the Naval Mutiny had spread to other cities. Also, the naval mutiny was largely controlled within a period of 5 days.

Attlee, in his tribute to Mahatma Gandhi had publicly noted

For a quarter of a century this one man has been the major factor in every consideration of the Indian problem. He had become the expression of the aspirations of the Indian people for independence.

We already know that Attlee supported decolonisation, and independence of India. At best, perhaps the events such as INA trials, and naval mutiny helped bring forward the date, and hastened the withdrawal.  Although, domestic situation in Britain appears to be a bigger factor, as seen by Attlee’s announcements of withdrawal from other places. But,  even if we were to agree to a causal connection between the reaction to INA trials and Indian independence, one has to ask if the public reaction would have been possible without the congress leaders and their organisational machinery backing it. If yes, it should have been possible to generate the same unrest, as Netaji was hoping for, when INA forces reached Kohima and Imphal in 1944, and Azad Hind Radio was able to broadcast speeches of Netaji. The Azad Hind Radio and Netaji were both missing in Dec 1945 and Feb 1946, when this surge of nationalism occurred in India.

Epilogue

Many facets of Bose’s personality come before us in this article

  • a selfless patriot, who abandoned a comfortable life in Civil Services to join the freedom struggle.
  • a fearless, and arguably slightly tactless, secular leftist leader who challenged the right wing of the Congress as president, but was outmanoeuvred by them.
  • an impatient, impetuous and pragmatic politician, who was willing to shake hands with the likes of Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini or Tojo on the grounds of realpolitik.
  • a conflicted individual who had criticised the Japanese atrocities in China in 1937, but appeared to justify the Japanese occupation of Asia in his later speeches, and allowed himself to become a tool for Japanese propaganda.
  • an authoritarian leader who admired fascism, and liked grandeur.
  • a husband and a father who kept his marriage and the birth of his daughter, a secret from his own family.

Most of us Indians have a romanticised view of Netaji and the exploits of INA. But, when we examine the historical facts dispassionately, we realise that INA was a rather small and ill-equipped army that failed in its military objectives. It had become a Japanese propaganda tool, like their puppet regimes elsewhere in Asia. Bose’s political views and the alliances he made with Nazi and other militarist regimes at war with Britain remain controversial. Whether his strategy hastened Britain’s departure from India is debatable, since by the end of World War II they were ready to “quit India” anyway.

Garlanding Bose’s statue today, glorifying his contribution is one matter. But, when it really mattered, when his army was at fighting on the hills of Imphal and Kohima, when he needed Indians to rebel, as a nation to support him, we showed him our backs.

The prominent Congress leaders were imprisoned following the Quit India movement of 1942, but some parties, such as Hindu Mahasabha and Muslim League, had boycotted Quit India, and their leaders were free. Instead of mobilizing support for INA, they were supporting the British Indian army. The People who backed the British war efforts, and urged Indians to fight, are amongst those trying to lay claim to Netaji’s legacy.

As the Gandhian way gets discredited in a modern India that falls for jingoistic nationalism, and seeks masculine heroes for itself, we could do well to reflect on the observations of an incredibly perceptive young Bhagat Singh, who had called Bose an emotional Bengali:

Perhaps Subhas can today only feed the heart, but provide no intellectual nourishment. The youth of Punjab need intellectual nourishment badly and they can get it only from Nehru.

There are a lot of conspiracy theories about Bose’s disappearance. Back at Renkoji temple, Kyozen Mochizuki, is still happy to look after the ashes in his temple. “Bose died over 60 years ago and people are still saying his ashes here are fake. It’s unbelievable.”

No Government of India has tried to get a DNA test on the mortal remains, and put an end to all the speculation and conspiracy theories about his disappearance. The uncertainty is useful to spread speculative propaganda against adversaries, release files about him with much fanfare for electoral gains. Maybe, as a society we just don’t want to face the truths about Bose, and want to keep the myths and conspiracies alive.

References

1.
Alpes MJ. The Congress and the INA Trials, 1945-50: A Contest over the Perception of “Nationalist” Politics [Internet]. Studies in History. SAGE Publications; 2007. p. 135–58. doi:10.1177/025764300602300104
2.
Bose M. The Bose Brothers and Indian Independence, An Insider’s Account,. Sage; 2016.
3.
Bose SK, Bose S, editors. The Essential Writings of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Delhi: Oxford University Press; 1997.
4.
Fujiwara I. My Memories of the INA and Netaji(),. Oracle. 1995;17(4):5–8.
5.
Lebra JC. The Indian National Army and Japan. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies; 2008.
6.
Mitra A. Freedom on the Waves: The Indian Naval Mutiny, 70 Years Later [Internet]. thewire.in. 2016. Available from: http://thewire.in/21951/freedom-on-the-waves-the-indian-naval-mutiny-70-years-later/
7.
Murthy RVR. Andaman and Nicobar Islands : A Saga of Freedom Struggle. Kalpaz; 2011.
8.
Savarkar V. Samagra Savarkar Wangmaya: Hindu Rashtra Darshan. Savar: Maharashtra Prantik Hindusabha; 1963.
9.
Shaikh Mohammed Uzair. Subhash Chandra Bose: Patron of nationalism or admirer of fascism? [Internet]. india.com. 2016. Available from: http://www.india.com/news/india/subhash-chandra-bose-patron-of-nationalism-or-admirer-of-fascism-884775/
10.
Werth A, Bose SK, editors. A Beacon Across Asia: A Biography of Subhas Chandra Bose. Orient Longman; 1973.
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4 comments

  • Sunil Thapliyal

    You are also a believer in Lord McCaulay’s BRITISH Cristian psychological domination of by declaring All millions of FREEDOM FIGHTERS of India between 1857 (Bahadur Shah Zafar, Laxmibai, Tatya Tope, Wazid Ali Shah etc) to 1945 (Bose, Lala HARDAYAL, AZAD, Ashfaqullah, Bismil, Bhagat Singh, Durga Bhabhi, Birsa Munda etc etc) as Terrorists forever,
    ………. while taking No Action on Pakistani Terrorists like HIJACKER Masud Azhar, Dawood, Hafiz Saeed openly advocating TERRORISM, running Terrorists Camps in Muzaffarabad under direct Watch of UN Observers camping in Muzaffarabad since 1948 ????????

    • saafbaat editor

      There is no attempt to “declare freedom fighters as terrorist” as you allege.

      If you dispute any claim made in the article, please do so, and our author can look into it.

      The author has written this article after a detailed research into the material that he has quoted.

  • Really excellent post, I certainly adore this website, keep on it.

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