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     Volume 6 Issue 42 | November 2, 2007 |

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In Retrospect

The Story of an Indian Revolutionary

Rash Behari Bose

Azizul Jalil

Rash Behari Bose

Most people know about Netaji Subhas Bose of the Indian National Army (INA) fame. But not many are fully aware of the fact that Subhas Bose inherited the nuclei of this army and the Indian Independence League in the Far East from another Indian patriot, Rash Behari Bose. When Subhas Chandra came to Japan in 1943 from Germany to fight his war against the British for securing the independence of India with the assistance of the Japanese, he met Rash Behari who had gone to Japan in 1915 for the same purpose. The latter had carried on a campaign for Indian independence with the assistance of the local Indians in Japan, Singapore, Thailand and Burma. It is believed that Sarat Chandra Chattopadhya's novel, Pather Dabi (The Demand of the Road-1926), which had an account of Sabbyasachi, an Indian revolutionary operating in Burma and the Far East, was inspired by the exploits of Rash Behari Bose. The novel was proscribed by the British because of its militant anti-government theme.

From our school days in Calcutta, we heard the name of Rash Behari Bose but not much more. In fact, Rash Behari, born in Hoogly in 1886, was a great revolutionary from his student days in Chandannagore. He was inspired along these lines by the writing of Bankim Chandra and the speeches of Surendranath Banerjee and Swami Vivekananda. He could not complete college education, as he had to take a job, of all places, at the Fort William in Calcutta. Then he worked in the Government Press in Simla, later going to Dehra Dun to work at the Forest Research Institute as a head-clerk.

Rash Behari was implicated in the Alipore Bomb Conspiracy case in 1908, but he was later released. He then planned an attempt on the life of Lord Hardinge, the Viceroy of India. A bomb was hurled at the Viceroy's procession in Delhi's Chandni Chawk on December 23, 1912. Some people were killed and injured, but Hardinge was unhurt. Though some of Rash Behari's accomplices were arrested and hanged, he was able to escape detection because of a clever disguise. The event had a large impact on future anti-British activities in India. Thereafter, Rash Behari started to plan an armed uprising by Indian sepoys in February 1915 in various cantonments in the Punjab. Sepoys were organised and a date was fixed but a sepoy, Kirpal Singh, who was working as a spy, informed the police in advance. The plan failed and many people were arrested. Rash Behari escaped and moved from Punjab to Bengal by adopting many ruses of which he was an expert. A police officer noted that Rash Behari could have been a “great stage actor” instead of a revolutionary if he so desired. He managed to reach Tokyo in June 1915 via Singapore. He had to live incognito for some time as the the Japanese government was in alliance with the British during the time of the first-world war.

Two years ago, when I was doing a bit of research on Subhas Bose, I wrote to the Japanese Cultural Unit in their embassy in Washington to obtain material on Japanese Government's attitude toward Subhas, their assessment of him and INA's contribution to the anti-British war efforts. I thought that after sixty years, surely the documents in the Japanese Government archives would have been declassified. After consulting Tokyo, the Embassy informed me that documents relating to Subhas Bose remained confidential and therefore, were not available to the public. The Embassy, however, volunteered to send me an interesting note on another Bose- Rash Behari Bose. From my recollection of that note, which unfortunately I have misplaced, Rash Behari was an Indian patriot in Tokyo who was pining for his country and remained restless and unhappy all the time. He started working in a Japanese restaurant owned by a man named Kanamuri.

After some time, Rash Behari fell in love with Tosiko, the daughter of the restaurant owner and married her. They had two children a boy, named Masahide and a girl, Tetaku. He lived above the restaurant. He introduced a dish in the menu, which was similar to Indian curry, and named it- 'Kanamurai', after the owner. The restaurant was still there when a friend of mine, Syeduzzaman, visited it about twenty years ago. Rash Behari was suffering from chronic asthma and often remained morose, thinking about the fate of India, to which he could not return due to pending cases against him and his proclivity for organising anti-government movements. Tosiko died in 1928 at a young age. Meanwhile, Rash Behari had become a Japanese citizen. He learned Japanese, took up journalism as a profession and wrote a few books introducing India to Japan.

He travelled widely in East Asia and with the assistance of the Indian community there, campaigned for the independence of India. During the Second World War, he organised two conferences in the first half of 1942 in Tokyo and Bangkok. At the latter place, he formed the Indian Independence League and after a few months, its military arm, the Indian National Army (INA),which was joined by the activist expatriate Indians and prisoners of war of the British Indian Army captured by the Japanese in Malaysia and Singapore. Subhas Bose arrived in Tokyo in May 1943 seeking Japanese government assistance to fight the British and free India. On July 4, 1943, in Singapore's Cathy Theatre Hall Rash Behari, in a magnificent gesture, resigned from the position of president of the Indian Independence League and declared Subhas as its head. Subhas Bose formed the Provisional Government of Free India, became the head of state and assumed the supreme command of the INA, which he later renamed as the Azad Hind Fauz (Army to free India). On that occasion, Subhas acknowledged the contribution of Rash Behari “as the father of the Indian Independence struggle in East Asia” and made him the chief adviser to the provisional government.

Rash Behari Bose died on January 21, 1945, before the end of the second-world war. He was awarded the 'Second Order of the Merit of the Rising Sun' by the Japanese Government. After his death, as a mark of honour, the imperial coach was sent to carry his body. Sadly, he did not live to see the realisation of his life-long dream of a free and independent India. The Republic of India was born on August 15, 1947.

Azizul Jalil writes from Washington.


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