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     Volume 4 Issue 17 | October 15, 2004 |

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In Retrospect

Subhash Chandra Bose
and the INA

M. Azizul Jalil

Subhash Chandra Bose (popularly known as Netaji) was a romantic figure and a great nationalist hero of our generation. In 1942 Subhash Bose formed the Indian National Army (INA) in the far-east -- the Japanese occupied areas, and he was its supreme commander until his death in 1945. It was a controversial decision on his part.

The German and Japanese powers (known as the axis) were regarded by many as fascist, expansionist and authoritarian. The atrocities committed, particularly by the Japanese army, defied the rules of war and the Geneva Convention. Subhash Bose, frustrated by the week-kneed policy of the Congress and in an act of desperation had concluded that "my enemy's enemy is my friend". He may have sincerely believed that the Japanese would be helpful in gaining India's freedom!

In 1945 the Japanese lost the war and surrendered. INA members were then arrested by the victorious British. The vast majority of them were released. However, to demonstrate that defection and mutiny would not go unpunished a few senior officers were tried by the British in the Red Fort in Delhi.

In Calcutta, when I was a school student in class eight, we joined the strikes and protests against first of these trials; Captain Rashid Ali was tried first after whom that day was called "Rashid Ali Dibash". Wearing a barrister's gown after many years, Jinnah and Nehru defended Captain Rashid Ali, Major Shahnawaj and Captain Dhillon. I remember going on strike and then in procession from our school to the Wellington Square in Calcutta to join a large meeting presided over by Dr. A.M. Malek, then vice-president of the All India Trade Union Congress. It was addressed, amongst others, by Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy, a famous physician of his time.

There I also saw another famous and often controversial personality -- V. K. Krishna Menon, president of the India League in the UK, who spoke with a rolled umbrella in hand. From the meeting area, we heard sounds of gun shots and soon learnt that police had fired on a group trying to come to the meeting through the Dharamtola Street killing two people including a woman. The names of Calcutta Police Commissioner Hardwick and his deputy Doha (later the Inspector-General of Police in East Pakistan) come to my mind in this connection. The protests against the trials spread all over India and finally resulted in the dismissal of the INA officers from the British Indian army. Since they had voluntarily left that army years ago to join the liberation forces (INA), it was not a big loss for them.

Subhash Bose was born in 1897. He was a brilliant student of the Calcutta Presidency College where he earned a first class undergraduate degree in philosophy. He then went to Cambridge and finished his Tripos in two years instead of three. At his father's insistence he joined the Indian Civil service (ICS) after successfully taking the examination from the UK. As an ICS officer, he joined the Calcutta City Corporation as its secretary at the request of Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das, then the Mayor of Calcutta. After some time he resigned from the ICS in order to join the Congress. Though a very eligible young man, he chose to remain a bachelor and devote himself wholeheartedly to politics and India's independence. He was twice elected as the President of the Indian National Congress.

As narrated by Nirad C. Chaudhury (then secretary to Sarat Bose, a senior Congress leader and elder brother of Subhash) in one of his books, Gandhi was unhappy about the defeat of his nominee Pattavi Sitaramaiya in 1939, for the post of congress president in a close contest with Bose, who was elected for the second time. He also disliked Bose's martial appearance on that occasion in full khaki uniform on a horseback to inspect the uniformed congress volunteer guards.

Subhash Bose had to resign before completing the second term due to serious differences of opinion with and the machinations of the right wing sympathisers of the Congress, including Gandhi. He formed a new progressive party called the Forward block. In view of his persistent and fiery opposition to British rule, he was then arrested (for the eleventh time in his political life) by the British. Bose went on hunger-strike jail; the British had to free him and place him under house arrest in Elgin Road in Bhowanipur (near the Bengal Tennis Club) in 1941. From there he vanished one night that year only to surface after some time in Austria.

While a student in the MA class in Dhaka University in early 1954, I visited Calcutta along with a few friends. We made it a point to visit Subhash Bose's house, by then a museum, and saw in a third floor bedroom his clothes and personal articles kept in the exact way he had left them on the day of his departure. Apparently, his police guards thought he was sleeping in bed (which he had arranged to look that way) but he had already slipped away. Bose went to Austria (by land route via Kabul) where he lived for a short time and married an Austrian woman. Later he went to Berlin to seek German assistance to secure India's Independence.

After waiting uncertainly for a number of days, Shubash Bose secured an interview with Hitler through the German Foreign Minister Ribbentrop. I have read in one of Bose's biographies that Hitler was not sympathetic, in fact he told Bose that the British rule of India had a beneficial and modernising influence on the country and its inward looking society. Hitler had particularly mentioned that the caste system was India's handicap. Hitler praised the construction by the British of the infrastructure in India, particularly the railways, which unified the country and increased trade and commerce. Frustrated, Subhash Bose went to Japan in 1941with German assistance -- he reportedly was transferred from a German to a Japanese submarine in high (and rough) seas near Madagascar (now Zanzibar) in the Indian Ocean under the most dangerous conditions. He reached Tokyo and received Japanese support to form the INA.

In 1942-43, we were temporarily in Jalpaiguri -- in my Grandfather's house -- due to Japanese air attacks on Calcutta and the resultant panic. We used to secertly hear Subhash Bose's patriotic and emotional speeches in Hindi starting with "Bhaiyon aur Baheno -- Jai Hind". His was a call to arms to drive out the British from India. The programme, beamed over the Azad Hind Radio from Japan and later Burma, would always end with the INA's marching song "Chalo chalo Dilli chalo, aghey kadam barahe ja, khushi ka geet gaye ja".

Many years later, I was fortunate to meet two senior members of the INA, Brigadier Raja Habibur Rehman, who was the chief of staff of Subhash Bose and Colonel Imtiaz Kayani, whom Bose had reportedly selected as INA chief in case of his death. They were senior colleagues of mine while I was serving as a Deputy Secretary in the President's Secretariat (1967- 69) in Rawalpindi. Older than me, both used to treat me quite affectionately. Their past association with the INA and reverence for Bose had not gone very well with the vast majority of the Pakistani elite and army officers. They were drawn to me because of my interest in the INA and their role in it. This allowed them to open up to me with their personal stories and frustrations.

Rehman was then the Political Agent in Gilgit. He had several times invited me to visit him in remote Gilgit and see the spectacular sights there. The once weekly PIA flight through the high mountainous area was particularly risky (one of our CSP colleagues died at that time in an air crash in this route) and for other personal reasons, I was unable to go. Whenever he was in Pindi, he would visit me, once in my house in the Satellite Town. He was a good person, but according to General Ayub Khan, who was his minister for a little while, Rehman "was his own boss and unable to work under anybody".

Kayani was a joint secretary in the Cabinet Division sitting in the same building as I. Subhash Bose had recruited these officers along with many other officers and soldiers from the British Indian personnel captured by the Japanese during the battle with the British in Malaysia and Burma. Most of them joined for patriotic reasons to free India. INA members got many privileges from the Japanese e.g. food, clothing, medical treatment and of course military supplies and training.

Habibur Rehman was accompanying Netaji Subhash Bose on his last journey in a Japanese military aircraft from Taipei in Formosa (now Taiwan) to Tokyo. As narrated to me by Rehman, Subhash Bose was going to Tokyo to make a final appeal to Tojo, the Japanese prime minister for more resources for the INA to continue to fight effectively to free India. In fact, in the Burma front inadequately trained and equipped INA troops were put in forward positions by the Japanese command and suffered defeats and terrible losses. However, it was Bose's belief till the very end that if somehow the INA with Japanese assistance could penetrate into India, common people and the students in India with whom he was immensely popular would rise up all over India in massive rebellion against the British.

However, I personally believe that Subhash Bose's expectation that the Japanese at that late stage would or could provide increased assistance to him was unrealistic. Also, there were a lot of people, particularly the British educated congress leaders, the Indian elite and intellectuals who favoured democracy and open society of the allied powers (led by the British and Americans) and not the authoritarian and fascist model of the Japanese and Germans.

I received a first hand account of the sad end of Subhash Bose from Habibur Rehman who was by his side during Netaji's last few days. The small plane in which Bose was seated in the front and Rehman in the back seat crashed and caught fire on the runway while taking off. Rehman did not allege that the Japanese had sabotaged the plane though I have a suspicion that it was possible. Bose had fallen from favour and military and food supplies to the INA at the time were being drastically reduced by the Japanese who were themselves suffering shortages and losing the war. Also, the Japanese did not have confidence anymore in the INA as a credible fighting force against the British.

Habibur Rehman and Subhash Bose were injured and severely burnt. They were treated in the Japanese Army Field Hospital in Taipei. Even though Bose had third degree burns on seventy percent of his body and in terrible pain, he fondly enquired from Habibur Rehman (who had lesser injuries) lying by his side about the latter's condition by saying 'Raja Sahab, apko zaida chot to nahi lagi'? (trust that you were not hurt too badly?). Brig Rehman had many nice things to say about Bose's charming manners, leadership qualities, deep patriotism and non-communal approach in which he was uncompromising. Bose died of his injuries in the hospital, and was cremated in Taipei. It was Brig Rehman who, after his recovery, carried Bose's ashes to Tokyo where it was kept for many years in a Buddhist temple until brought back after many years to India under Indian public pressure.

Colonel Kayani, who used to be called 'tiger kayani' in the INA was equally complimentary about Bose. According to Kayani's personal experience during the difficult period of war and privation, Subhash Bose treated Hindus and Muslims the same way. It was Kayani's belief that if Bose returned to India after the war, he would have peacefully and fairly settled the Hindu-Muslim issue and there would not have been any need for the partition of India.

Soon after the independence of Pakistan and India in 1947, Rehman and Kayani were mobilised by the Pakistani authorities to lead tribal militia and other irregular forces to go into Kashmir at the time of the Maharaja Hari Singh's unilateral accession to India. Rehman and Kayani were then given senior civil positions in the Government. Interestingly, their INA colleague Major Shahnawaj had joined the Indian Army and fought on the Indian side in Kashmir, later rising to the rank of a Brigadier. That was the beginning of the Kashmir conflict, which unfortunately continues till today and threatens war between India and Pakistan from time to time.

The author, a former CSP officer and a retired member of the World Bank Staff, writes from Washington.

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