Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose
& India's Independence
'Unity (Ittefaq), Faith (Etmad) and Sacrifice (Kurbani)'
is our duty to pay for our liberty with our own blood. The freedom that we
shall win through our sacrifice and exertions, we shall be able to preserve
with our own strength.... Freedom is not
given, it is taken.. One individual may die for
an idea; but that idea
will, after his death, incarnate itself in a thousand lives. That is how the
wheel of evolution moves on and the ideas and dreams
of one nation are bequeathed to the next......'
Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose'
Chandra Bose's life was a beacon to me, lighting up the path I should
follow. His disciplined life and his total commitment and dedication to
the cause of his country's freedom deeply impressed me and served as my
Pirabakaran, 'How I Became a Freedom Fighter', April 1994
Born 23 January 1897 - Presumed Dead on 18
1. To Delhi!
to Delhi! Netaji's Speech to the Indian National Army, Singapore, July
people who thought at one time that the Empire on which the sun did not
set was an everlasting empire. No such thought ever troubled me. History
had taught me that every empire has its inevitable decline and collapse.
Moreover I had seen with my own eyes, cities and fortresses that were
once the bulwarks but which became the graveyards of by-gone empires.
Standing today on the graveyard of the British empire, even a child is
convinced that the almighty British empire is already a thing of the
past. For the present, I can offer you nothing
except hunger, thirst, privation, forced marches and death. But if you
follow me in life and in death..... I shall lead you to victory and
2. Excerpts from Mihir
Bose's enthralling "The Lost Hero : a Biography of Subhas Bose"
3. Subhas Chandra
Bose, the Indian National Army, and the War of India's Liberation -
Ranjan Borra, Journal of Historical Review, no. 3, 4 (Winter 1982)
"..Apart from revisionist historians, it
was none other than Lord Clement Atlee himself, the British Prime
Minister responsible for conceding independence to India, who gave a
shattering blow to the myth sought to be perpetuated by court
historians, that Gandhi and his movement had led the country to
Subhas Chandra Bose and
the Transfer of Power from Britain to India in 'The Freedom Struggle
and the Dravidian Movement' -
P.Ramamurti, Orient Longman, 1987
Indian National Army Memorial at the Esplanade, Singapore - Unity
(Ittefaq), Faith (Etmad) and Sacrifice (Kurbani)
6. Aurobindo, Chitranjan Das &
Subhas Chandra Bose - Excerpt from 'The Relevance Of Aurobindo: Early
Political Life & Teachings' - Nadesan
நேதாஜி சுபாஸ் சந்திரபோஸ்- சில தகவல்கள்!
- Sanmugam Sabesan, 23 October 2006
To Delhi! to Delhi!
- Speech at a military review of the Indian National Army, 5 July 1943
Soldiers of India's Army of Liberation!
Today is the proudest day of my life. Today it has pleased Providence to
give me the unique privilege and honour of announcing to the whole world
that India's Army of Liberation has come into being. This army has now been
drawn up in military formation on the battlefield of Singapore, which was
once the bulwark of the British Empire.
This is not only the Army that will emancipate India from the British yoke,
it is also the Army that will hereafter create the future national army of
Free India. Every Indian must feel proud that this Army, his own Army, has
been organized entirely under Indian leadership and that when the historic
moment arrives, under Indian leadership it will go to battle.
There are people who thought at one time that the Empire on which the sun
did not set was an everlasting empire. No such thought ever troubled me.
History had taught me that every empire has its inevitable decline and
collapse. Moreover I had seen with my own eyes, cities and fortresses that
were once the bulwarks but which became the graveyards of by-gone empires.
Standing today on the graveyard of the British empire, even a child is
convinced that the all mighty British empire is already a thing of the past.
When France declared war on Germany in 1939 and the campaign began, there
was but one cry which rose from the lips of German soldiers--"To Paris, To
Paris !" When the Brave soldiers of Nippon set out on their march in
December 1941 there was but one cry which rose from their lips-"To
Singapore. to Singapore !" Comrades ! Soldiers ! Let your battle-cry
be-"To-Delhi To Delhi ! " How many of us will individually survive this war
of freedom, I do not know. But I do know this, that we shall ultimately win
and our task will not end until our surviving heroes hold the victory parade
on another graveyard of the British empire, the Lal Kila or Red Fortress of
Throughout my public career, I have always felt that though India is
otherwise ripe for independence in every way, she has lacked one thing,
namely an army of liberation. George Washington of America could fight and
win freedom, because he had his army. Garibaldi could liberate Italy,
because he had his armed volunteers behind him. It is your privilege and
honour to be the first to come forward and organize India's national army.
By doing so, you have removed the last obstacle in our path to freedom. Be
happy and proud that you are the pioneers, the vanguard, in such a noble
Let me remind you that you have a two-fold task to perform. With the force
of arms and at the cost of your blood you will have to win liberty. Then,
when India is free, you will have to organize the permanent army of Free
India, whose task it will be to preserve our liberty for all time. We must
build up our national defence on such an unshakable foundation that never
again in our history shall we lose our freedom.
As soldiers, you will always have to cherish and live up to the three-ideals
of faithfulness, duty and sacrifice. Soldiers who always remain faithful to
their nation, who are always prepared to sacrifice their lives, are
invincible. If you, too, want to be invincible, engrave these three ideals
in the innermost core of your hearts.
A true soldier needs both military and spiritual training. You must, all of
you, so train yourselves and your comrades that every soldier will have
unbounded confidence in himself, will be conscious of being immensely
superior to the enemy, will be fearless of death, and will have sufficient
initiative to act on his own in any critical situation should the need
arise. During the course of the present war, you have seen with your own
eyes what wonders scientific training, coupled with courage, fearlessness
and dynamism, can achieve. Learn all that you can from this example, and
build up for Mother India an absolutely first-class modern army.
To those of you who are officers, I should like to say that your
responsibility is a heavy one. Though the responsibility of an officer in
every army in this world is indeed great, it is far greater in your case.
Because of our political enslavement, we have no tradition like that of
Mukden, Port Arthur or Sedan to inspire us. We have to unlearn some of the
things that the British taught us and we have to learn much that they did
not teach. Nevertheless. I am confident that you will rise to the occasion
and fulfil the task that your countrymen have thrown on your brave soldiers.
Remember always that officers can make or unmake an army. Remember, too,
that the British have suffered defeats on so many fronts largely because of
worthless officers. And remember also that out of your ranks will be born
the future General Staff of the Army of Free India.
To all of you I should like to say that in the course of this war you will
have to acquire the experience and achieve the success which alone can build
up a national tradition for our Army. An army that has no tradition of
courage, fearlessness and invincibility cannot hold its own in a struggle
with a powerful enemy.
Comrades ! You have voluntarily accepted a mission that is the noblest that
the human mind can conceive of. For the fulfilment of such a mission no
sacrifice is too great, not even the sacrifice of one's life. You are today
the custodians of India's national honour and the embodiment of India's
hopes and aspirations. So conduct yourself that your countrymen may bless
you and posterity may be proud of you.
I have said that today is the proudest day of my life. For an enslaved
people, there can be no greater pride, no higher honour, than to be the
first soldier in the army of liberation. But this honour carries with it a
corresponding responsibility and I am deeply conscious of it. I assure you
that I shall be with you in darkness and in sunshine, in sorrow and in joy,
in suffering and in victory. For the present, I can offer you nothing except
hunger, thirst, privation, forced marches and death. But if you follow me in
life and in death, as I am confident you will, I shall lead you to victory
and freedom. It does not matter who among us will live to see India free. It
is enough that India shall be free and that we shall give our all to make
her free. May God now bless our Army and grant us victory in the coming
Inquilab Zindabad ! Azad Hind Zindabad !
Excerpts from Mihir Bose's
lost hero : a biography of Subhas Bose " published by
Quartet Press, 1982 (ISBN 0-7043-2301-X)
The Alternative Hero of the
India's Struggle for Freedom
The Decision to try
The Trial & the
Revolutionary Response of the Indian People
British commute sentence
to avoid mutiny in the British Indian Army
I.N.A. accused released &
welcomed as heroes
quick to understand implications & negotiate 'independence'
Had Bose returned to
development that Bose sought has never materialised
The story of Indian independence is well known. Even its heroes are
established � Mohandas Gandhi, the saintly demagogue, and Jawaharlal Nehru, his
rationalist, Fabian acolyte. A national-liberation movement that relied not on
guns and bullets but on non-violent love and inner strength; a method used to
such effect that even as the conqueror struggled against it he came to admire
Lately, too, another hero has emerged to make the legend complete: Louis
Francis Albert Victor Nicholas Mountbatten, Admiral of the Fleet, Earl of Burma.
He arrives in India as Viceroy in March 1947; he produces a plan for partition
of India that politicians who have spent their lives opposing the very idea
instantly accept. By August 1947 India is free; and when, two weeks after
Independence Day, Nehru and Patel urgently summon him with the confession that
they don't know enough about administration, he goes on to save the newly
In the face of such compelling myths, history must come a poor, unwanted
second. Yet the history of India's struggle for freedom was not quite that
simple. A frail old vegetarian, a Fabian socialist and a dashing young royal did
not between themselves produce the India that emerged on 15 August 1947. The
story is altogether more complicated, and even more romantic. There were other
men and women, as well as deeper interactions of political, social and economic
movements. Prominent among these men was one who opposed Gandhi, was a bitter
rival of Nehru and waged war against Mountbatten. This is his story, and that of
the alternative, violent, revolutionary struggle for Indian independence � one
that often paralleled the non-violent one and occasionally threatened to
The man, of course, was Subhas Chandra Bose. Today in India he is deified.
His name is given to parks, roads, buildings, sports stadiums, artificial lakes;
his statues stand in place of those of discarded British heroes and his
photograph adorns thousands of calendars and millions of pan (betel-nut) shops.
It is always the same picture � Bose in military uniform exhorting his
countrymen forward to one last glorious struggle: the final answer to the
British calumny that Indians could not fight.
Bose is important on many counts. He was in some ways the most Indian of the
great nationalist leaders: religious, full of Indian mysticism and devoted to
the ancient Indian loyalties of the land, the river, the soil. Yet, curiously,
he was also very Western. As a student in Calcutta and London he had imbibed
deeply the Western tradition of rationalism. Hegel's thesis�antithesis�synthesis
was a constant source of reference, Bergson's elan vital was always a prod for
endeavour; and, in the traditions of Western secularism, religion for him was a
private, personal thing: a little prayer corner in his room � very often the
prison cell; a well-thumbed Gita (the Hindu Bible); a few quiet hours in a
reformist Hindu mission.
His mysticism was confined to his letters and discussions with his friend,
confessor and companion Dilip Roy. These are at times difficult to understand
and even more difficult to interpret in Western terms. Bose in public life,
however, was always clear and practical � perhaps, at times, obsessively so.
Gandhi shrouded his politics in concepts and myths that even the most devout
Hindu found difficult to follow, while Nehru's political utterances were hedged
with his own doubts and personal vacillation. In an age overflowing with
consensus politicians, Bose should have been hailed as the outstanding example
of the politician with convictions. A man who preferred his deeply felt
nationalism to the easy, luxurious life of an Indian civil servant; a
revolutionary who genuinely sought a radical transformation of Indian society.
Yet these are the very qualities condemned both by the Indians who fought him
and by the Raj he fought.
For the post-Raj Indian Establishment, Bose is inconvenient since he will not
allow their story of Gandhi working the magic of non-violence to come to its
triumphant conclusion. This view is best expressed by Kripalani, the last of the
major Gandhians still alive: Satyagraha [non-violent protest] was Gandhiji's
unique concept and he alone knew how to use it. Whenever he challenged the
British Government we followed � Bose was just one of the people in the
[Congress] Working Committee.' Some of the anti-Gandhi nationalists are happy to
seize and enlarge on the consequences of Bose's actions; to acknowledge the man
himself would raise too many questions.
For the Raj and its followers, Bose is simply the ultimate pariah: `repellent
character', 'arrogant', 'narrow nationalist', 'renegade', `traitor', 'dictator'
� the hate list is almost infinite. Even those prepared to come to terms with
his personality and achievement seem to fall back exhausted in a conclusive,
pitiful parable of the Occidental failing to understand a scrutable Oriental.
His Bengali origins have possibly heightened this distaste. Bengal was the
first province to fall to the British, the Bengalis the first to realise the
usefulness of adapting to their new rulers. Yet, in both rulers and the ruled,
this resulted only in hate and scorn. The early British scorned the Bengalis for
the ease with which they had allowed Clive and his East India Company men to
conquer them, the later imperial Raj ridiculed their efforts to imbibe English
culture and education. In the eighteenth century Luke Scrafton could write of
the Bengalis as a 'slightly made people' with 'dejected minds' that 'fall an
easy prey to every invader': by the time Kipling arrived the Bengali babu
proudly flaunting his 'B.A. failed', and claiming acquaintance with Shakespeare,
was a finely honed figure of Raj fun. No other great empire � not the Roman, or
even the Russian � has been so horrified at the thought of cultural
Malcolm Muggeridge has suggested that Arabs have always had a great appeal
for a certain type of upper-class Englishman; partly, perhaps, because they are
given to sodomy � a favourite pursuit at English boarding-schools � but in any
case because they have a seeming simplicity of character and directness of
manner which, in the days of the British Raj and the Palestine Mandate,
contrasted agreeably with the deviousness of the Indian Hindus and the Israeli
Jews. Even allowing for Muggeridge's characteristic reference to sodomy, a
certain latent anti-semitism did co-exist with promotion of Muslims and virulent
Quite soon after the Raj had been established, Indians were divided between,
on the one hand, the ugly, deceitful Bengalis who, finding the Raj's liberal
education inadequate, created the first nationalist movement; and, on the other,
the good Indians: the tall, upright, uncomplicated, martial races of the north,
who were credited with manliness and a certain Indian version of
public-schoolboy comradeship and trust. Some of this reflected the fact that the
north Indians had given the British a tough time as they tried to conquer India.
Conveniently, they were also conservative � even obscurantist � and hostile
to progressive Western ideas. This suited the Raj's purpose admirably.
Certainly, this 'two - Indias' theory was very much a part of the currency of
abuse the Raj would increasingly hurl against the nationalists: the nationalists
were only an alien-educated elite who did not understand their own countrymen;
the Raj and its officials were the true heirs to the Moghul Empire (and other
Indian empires) and best understood the oppressed millions of Indians. Bose, as
part of a new generation of Indians who challenged this remarkable
interpretation of history, could not but be an object of special hatred.
V. S . Naipaul has written that the Raj was 'an expression of the English
involvement with themselves rather than this with the country they ruled':
pointing not to the good or evil of British rule in India but to its failure.
Various writers have sought to explain this failure between two peoples of
tragically dissimilar temperaments: perhaps most perceptively � certainly most
entertainingly � Nirad Chaudhuri, in many ways the most original writer on the
Raj. It can also be seen as a story of unrequited love, as in the case of Lord
Curzon. Today, liberal-humanist Indians reaching beyond the debates of the
imperial age recognise that he was the last of the truly great Viceroys. In the
early part of this century Curzon's decision to partition Bengal sparked the
first nationalist agitation in India. But, when he punished a British regiment
for beating a native cook to death, almost the entire British community in India
turned against him: Curzon had violated the fundamental law of the British in
India that in any dispute with the Indians, the British must always stay
together even if it meant shielding a murderer.
A personal factor also worked against Bose: the lack of worthwhile contacts
between Bose and the emerging British establishments. Unlike Gandhi, he did not
become a cult figure with a certain Quaker�Theosophical crowd; unlike Nehru, he
did not balance Shirley Williams on his knee while discussing the international
position of socialists. Apart from a few years at Cambridge and a very brief
visit during 1937, the strenuous efforts of the India Office kept him out of
Britain. Thus almost all Bose's significant European contacts were with the
continentals: Austrians, Germans, Italians. And this only served to confirm the
Raj image ofhim as the `ugly Indian'.
A proper study of Bose's revolutionary ethos and the movement he represented,
of course, poses a threat to cosy post-imperial assumptions about the decline of
the Empire. In this entertaining but essentially ahistorical view, facts have
not so much been suppressed � they have been footnoted and ignored. However much
Indians do to come to terms with their awful history, the Raj's historians have
retreated to a world of fantasy where the far-sighted British statesmen are
always shown to be one jump ahead of the latest native move. If there was
violence � as there was in Ireland, Kenya, Israel, Cyprus and India � it was all
the fault of irresponsible demagogues unable to appreciate the finer points of
British statesmanship. The French may have faltered in Algeria, the Americans in
Vietnam, but not the British. Bose, 'implacable foe of British rule in India',
as the India Office secret note on Bose circulated to British embassies in
Europe would put it, challenges this carefully constructed myth � a myth that
found wings thus:
On this 15th August 1947 we British . . . bowed our heads in the temple
of Rimmon to the treacherous gods of Nationalism and created yet two more
intensely national States to flutter the peace of the world � we who serve
the cause of Peace, the cause which we know can only be served by breaking
down the ancient tribal barriers that keep man from man and set jealous men
at each other's throats. Through our weakness we have probably wrought ill
for the future . . . we were as wrong in principle to create them as we are
now to act as midwife at the birth of yet a new nation, a new form of
unrest, the nation of the Jews, a fosterchild which we shall be loth to
These words, written on Independence Day by Sir Francis Tuker, GOC Eastern
Command during the critical period 1946-7 were in part a reflection of the
tremendous rage and frustration that Indian Independence produced. Tuker's
memoirs are filled with unrelenting bitterness and an almost personal distaste
for the Hindus that is quite remarkable. (It mirrored the widespread grief that
Indian Independence produced among the British in India.) Even Field-Marshal
Claude Auchinleck, Commander-in-Chief in India at that time, was to confess some
years before his death that in 1947 he felt near to 'mutiny' and in 'total
despair' at the thought of leaving India. The thoughts of lesser officials as
they faced up to a life in post-Raj Britain also make sad and at times
disturbing reading. Yet to try and explain imperial rule in terms of
international peace and goodwill, as Tuker sought to do, represents an
extraordinary inversion: the final contradiction of the British imperial ethos.
The British conceded the right of subject countries to nationalism but set an
impossible condition: they could not organise against the British. The dichotomy
was well expressed by H.R. James, Principal of Calcutta's Presidency College
while Bose was a student there (and a man who plays a crucial part in the early
story of Subhas). 'One thing that patriotism in Bengal should not do', he warned
some students once, 'is to direct the national spirit into an attitude of
hostility to British rule. There would be something I should call patricidal in
such an attitude.' This attitude remains the most sophisticated and remarkable
cover-up for occupation by an alien, superior power. It allowed Linlithgow to
mourn the death of a prominent Indian collaborator as the loss of a man of 'wide
citizenship', and enabled Lord Lytton in Pundits and Elephants � a memoir of his
years as Governor of Bengal � to praise S.N. Mullick for his sacrifice in
choosing the 'hard road' of collaboration, with its high salary and all the
privileges of office.
In the thirty years since the end of the Raj the James�Lytton doctrine has
been re-incarnated into the wider historical lie that there was nothing for the
Indians to fight about. The imperial myth can be traced back to the heyday of
the Empire. In 1862, Lord Acton in his Essay on Nationality was convinced that,
if nationalism and socialism were allowed to go on unchecked, their course would
be `marked with material as well as moral ruin, in order that a new invention
(the nation state) may prevail over the works of God.' For Acton the empires of
Great Britain and Austria�Hungary were the peaks of civilised progress,
accommodating inferior races who could be 'raised by living in political union
with races intellectually superior.' Nation-states were too diffuse; they could
spread the evils of egalitarianism.
This ahistorical reconstruction of imperialism can accommodate Gandhi � after
all, he sought to change human beings, to move them with love and kindness. It
is useless against the clear, rationally expressed nationalism of Bose. But
because Bose has been such a beleaguered figure � both with the Congress Raj and
the real Raj �his supporters have, perhaps understandably, gone to the other
extreme in magnifying his virtues and completely obscuring his faults.
Hero-worship is a natural enough thing and critical acceptance of a leader is
rare, yet it is interesting and at times amusing to read accounts given by
Bose's supporters: whole events that tend to throw a dubious light on him are
completely omitted. The result is copious but poor biography.
For the outstanding point about Bose was that, though as a nationalist he was
in many ways far ahead of his time, he could not always over-ride the
limitations of nationalism. He could argue brilliantly and with great emotional
fervour that Indians should become 'freedom mad'. But he was often slow to
recognise � and at times failed to recognise at all � that freedom could only be
a means to an end, not an end in itself. His celebrated eclecticism and his
constant search for the enemies of Britain, without always checking their
credentials, led him to strange pathways and even, at times, dead ends. Not all
the ills of India were traceable to the Raj. Bose rejected Marx's penetrating
observation that the Raj was an unwitting 'tool of history'. While its very
administration was a weapon of oppression, it would also help break open the
hermetically sealed Asian village communities; by the time the Raj was over
these immemorial village societies could no longer be outside history but would
be very much a part of it.
True, Bose could argue that the very nature of the Raj prevented any radical
re-structuring of India. But before the great revolt of 1857 there had been
reforms � however limited. The sheer funk the revolt produced among the British
in India evaporated this evangelical fervour and the sunburnt sahibs soon became
the highest Indian caste. This, in turn, allowed the Indian to retreat into a
comforting world of fantasy where they could happily conjure up reassuring
images of fictitious pre-British greatness.
It is, of course, an old charge against Indians � in fact against all
nationalists: their willingness and ability to mix fact with fantasy. This, for
a biographer of Bose, presents particular problems. For many of Bose's
uncritical supporters the most pressing question is not what Bose said or did,
but whether he is still alive. More than thirty-five years after his death,
millions of Indians refuse to believe that he died in the plane that crashed in
Taiwan on 18 August 1945, three days after Japan's surrender � or that he is
dead at all.
No single aspect of Bose's life has been so meticulously investigated as his
death, and each investigator has dwelt deeply and lovingly on various
inconsistencies. This has resulted in two government commissions of enquiry, a
copious flow of distorted, poorly researched books speculating on his
whereabouts, and periodic demands that the Indian government summon the
intelligence chiefs and secret files of all the major powers � the U.S.A., the
U.S.S.R. , China, France and Britain � finally to ascertain what exactly
happened to Bose. It has also led to other strange things.
Since 1962 Uttam Chand Malhotra, who sheltered Bose in Kabul as he fled India
in 1941, has been perfecting an organisation to welcome him on his return.
Malhotra had expected Bose to return in 1962, and on 23 January 1975 he was
convinced that his hero had at last come home. This is from the Indian Express
of 24 January 1975:
NETAJI RETURN HOAX: CULPRITS BEATEN UP Kanpur, January 23.
Four persons were rescued from an incensed mob and arrested here today
after the much heralded reappearance of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose on his
79th birthday turned out to be a hoax.
About one Lakh [100,0001 people had gathered at Phoolbagh following the
announcement that `Tulsibaba of Mathia' would appear there at 5 p.m. and
reveal himself to be Netaji.
The announcement had been made by 'All India Adhyalmik Subhas Kranti
Bahimi', 'Jai Gurudev Prachanak Sangh' and Mr. Uttam Chand Malhotra said to
be a one-time associate ofNetaji.
But at the appointed hour, Mr. Malhotra and Tulsibaba were seen driving
away from Phoolbagh in a car. This set off a stampede. Thousands surged
forward and beat up authors of the hoax on the dais on which Tulsibaba was
Police moved in and arrested four of the organisers. But the crowd
snatched away the President of the Subhas Bahimi, Hiralal Dixit, and started
beating him with shoes and other objects. He was again rescued by the police
and taken away in an unconscious state�UNI.
When I asked Malhotra what good Bose's return to India would do now in view
of the fact that he would be well over eighty (the conversation took place in
October, 1977), he replied, 'But he is Krishna (a Hindu god). He could live to
be a hundred and fifty. He is immortal.'
This biography is based on the belief� reached after examining all the
published and otherwise available evidence � that Subhas Chandra Bose died in
Taioku Hospital on the night of 18 August 1945, his body a horribly burnt mass
of flesh but his spirit still full of the fire that had been his life.
`Tell my countrymen I fought for India's freedom with my last breath. India
will be free, and before long.'
Let us now turn to Cuttack and the closing years of the nineteenth century to
see how it all began.
time has come when I can openly tell the whole world, including our enemies, as
to how it is proposed to bring about national liberation. Indians outside India,
particularly Indians in East Asia, are going to organise a fighting force which
will be powerful enough to attack the British Army in India. When we do so, a
revolution will break out, not only among the civil population at home, but
also among the Indian Army
which is now standing under the British flag. When the British government is
thus attacked from both sides - from inside India and from outside - it
will collapse, and the Indian people will then regain their liberty. According
to my plan, it is not even necessary to bother about the attitude of the Axis
powers towards India. If Indians outside and inside India will do their duty, it
is possible for the Indian people to throw the British out of India and liberate
388 millions of their countrymen." -
Speech by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose at a mass rally,
Singapore, 9 July 1943
Hero of the India's Struggle for Freedom....
It is 23 January 1981, and crowds all over India are celebrating
the birthday of Subhas Bose. Politicians who have never known
him, and many who fought him when he was alive, garland his
statues, invoke his name and urge their audiences to follow his
example. More than thirty years after his death Bose has become
a myth: the alternative hero of the Indian struggle for freedom.
And the banners at these meetings tell their own story. 'Subhas
Bose 1897-1981'. Subhas Bose is not dead. One day he will return
and rescue India.
The legends and the myths have been a long time in the
making, and they express a deeper Indian unease: had he lived
and returned to India after the war, he would have shaped a
country far more successful than the one wrought by his rivals
and successors: an India united, strong and fearless. Bose
became a legend in his own lifetime, but his transformation into
a myth fit to rank with ancient Hindu classics came after his
death, through forces he had himself tried to harness for his
cause. They were catalysed through the British decision
to hold a symbolic trial of certain I.N.A. men in the Red Fort
Decision to try the I.N.A....
The end of the war saw the I.N.A. (Indian National Army)
scattered all over east Asia and in deep depression. As its
personnel were finally shipped back to India they found the
country ignorant of their existence and firmly under British
control. 'Not a dog barked as they flew us back,' was how one
officer recalled the journey home.
But within days of Japan's defeat the British had begun to
think about the I.N.A. problem. London had left it for Delhi to
decide, but Delhi was deeply divided and had yet to be convinced
that Bose was in fact dead. On 24 August, the day the Japanese
government announced the death, Wavell recorded in his diary:
'I wonder if the
Japanese announcement of Subhas Chandra Bose's death in an
air-crash is true, I suspect it very much, it is just what
would be given out if he meant to go underground.'
He asked his Home Member, Sir R. F. Mudie, to prepare a note
for the trial of Bose and the I.N.A.
Mudie could find nothing even in the extended definition of
'war criminal' that could be said to include Bose. His advisers
were deeply worried about the consequences of a trial and the
Home Department note he sent to Wavell acknowledged the
difficulties of handling Bose. British interrogation of the
I.N.A. and the other Indians in east Asia had established that,
contrary to their own propaganda, Bose was regarded not as a
puppet of the Japanese but as a great hero. He had dealt with
the Japanese as an equal and had succeeded in creating India's
first national army. Then there was his undoubted prestige and
status in India, particularly in Bengal, where he 'ranks little,
if anything, below Gandhi as an all-India figure'.
After listing the various measures that could be taken to
deal with Bose, the report went on to discuss their drawbacks.
Public pressure would not allow him to be hanged in India; the
Burma government was unlikely to want to try him there; trials
in Singapore or elsewhere would create just as many problems. A
quick military execution was a solution, but that could hardly
be defended, and the military might read it as a subterfuge to
avoid the independence issue which would figure in a civil
trial. Imprisoning him would only lead to agitation for his
release. The report concluded:
"In many ways the easiest course would be to leave him
where he is and not ask for his release. He might, of
course, in certain circumstances be welcomed by the
Russians. This course would raise fewest immediate political
difficulties but the security authorities consider that in
certain circumstances his presence in Russia would be so
dangerous as to rule it out altogether."
After several investigations, the British had concluded by
March 1946 that Bose might still be alive; but there was not
much else they could do about it. The 25,000 I.N.A. prisoners
being repatriated to India presented very different problems.
Senior British Army commanders were convinced that the I.N.A.
were traitors, and that, if the integrity and the discipline of
the British Indian Army were to be maintained, they should be
severely punished. Some would have preferred kangaroo courts and
But the higher echelons of the Raj were not entirely
convinced that this was the right policy; in any case, it was
not possible to execute 25,000 men secretly. A few were
executed, but for the great majority a more selective policy was
implemented. They were classified into �whites� - those who had
joined the I.N.A. with the intention of re-joining the British;
�greys' - those who had been misled by Bose and the Japanese;
and 'blacks'- those who had fervently believed in the cause. The
whites were to be restored to their former positions in the
army, the greys were to be tried, dismissed and released; only
the blacks were to bear the full brunt of British revenge. They
were beyond redemption, and Auchinleck was convinced that when
their full story emerged the Indian public would be horrified.
The I.N.A. was already housed in camps set up in Delhi's lied
Fort, and this, it was decided, would be an excellent place for
a trial. The Fort was ideally situated for press and media
coverage. On 5 November 1945 the trial of Shah Nawaz Khan, Prem
Kumar Salgal and Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon began. Dhillon was
charged with murder, Shah Nawaz and Sahgal with abetting murder.
All three were charged with 'waging war against His Majesty the
King Emperor of India'. The trials lasted till 31 December, and
proved to be a sensation - though not in the way Claude
Trial & the Revolutionary
Response of the Indian People....
The war had not brought Indian independence any nearer, and
the British mistook the political quiet for approval. But almost
nine months after the end of the war, when the British in Delhi
held their victory celebrations, the Indians went wild with
fury: the old Delhi town hall was partly gutted, Indians dressed
in European clothes were attacked, parading troops were booed
and the police had to open fire in order to restore order.
The I.N.A. and Bose had created a
potentially revolutionary situation: one on which the political parties were
eager to build for their own ends - none more so than the Congress.
The Congress had suffered a double defeat during the war: it
had gained little through either negotiations or mass struggle,
and now it was a case of 'the Congress proposes, the Muslim
League disposes�. In these circumstances the Congress soon
realised the potential of the fervour behind the I.N.A., and it
quickly adopted resolutions both approving of their actions and
pledging itself to defend them at the trial.
A party dedicated to non-violence was at last
beginning to realise the usefulness of violence.
Even Jinnah urged the government to treat the I.N.A.
prisoners with 'leniency'. By now the Indian press - freed from
wartime censorship - was full of stories and legends of the
I.N.A. and Bose. 'Jai Hind' had replaced all other greetings
between Indians, and Bose's photographs - invariably in I.N.A.
uniform - now graced a million pan shops.
The defence was led by Bhulabhai Desai, who in the past had
been a bitter critic of Bose. By the time of his death, a few
months after the trial, he was as great a champion of Netaji as
any. The trial became, as Nehru said, a dramatic version of that
old contest, England versus India: the legal niceties vanished
and even the personalities of defendants were obscured. For
Indians it was not only illegal but a slur on Indian
nationalism; the victors were disposing of the vanquished in the
very place where the latter had planned to hold their victory
Besides, the three accused Shah Nawaz was a Muslim, Sahgal a
Hindu and Dhillon a Sikh -represented all the major communities
of India. Auchinleck may have hoped that would stress the
communal nature of Indian politics - always Britain's strongest
point; but for Indians it demonstrated that the I.N.A. was
indeed a national army that Bose had indeed succeeded in getting
Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs to unite for a common cause.
to avoid mutiny in the British Indian Army
The defence based its
argument on the host of precedents, old and new, which supported
the right of subject countries to fight for their freedom.
But, for all Desai's eloquence, as far as the court-martial was
concerned he was arguing a lost cause- one they were incapable
of appreciating, let alone accepting. The predictable verdict
was that all three of officers were guilty of waging war against
the King. Dhillon and Salgal were acquitted of the charge of
murder and abetment of murder; Shah Nawaz was found guilty of
abetting murder. All three were sentenced to transportation for
life, cashiering and forfeiture of arrears of pay and
However, the British military authorities had become
painfully aware of the consequences of the trial. Even before it
had opened, I. N. A . days had been organised in various parts
of the country. The day the proceedings got under way the police
had to open fire on a protesting crowd at Madura in south India.
Then, as the trial proceeded, the Red Fort itself was
besieged; more than a hundred were killed or injured by police
firing. Between 21 and 26 November Calcutta was strike-bound. In
a rare gesture of communal amity, Hindus and Muslims - their
trucks flying both Congress and Muslim League flags�jointly took
over the city, attacking American and British military
establishments and shouting the slogans of freedom and
nationalism coined by Bose. Some forty-nine military vehicles
were destroyed and ninety-seven damaged, and about 200 military
personnel injured: thirty-two Indians lost their lives and 200
were wounded. The violence soon spread along the Gangetic plain
to Patna, Allahabad and Benares, and eventually places as far
apart as Karachi and Bombay were affected.
Claude Auchinleck was no longer the confident
Commander-in-Chief who had ordered the trial, and even as it was
proceeding he wrote to the Viceroy expressing his doubts:
"I know from my long experience of Indian troops how hard
it is even for the best and most sympathetic British officer
to gauge the inner feelings of the Indian soldier, and
history supports me in this view. I do not think any senior
British officer today knows what is the real feeling among
the Indian ranks regarding the 'INA'. I myself feel, from my
own instinct largely, but also from the information I have
had from various sources, that there is a growing feeling of
sympathy for the 'INA' and an increasing tendency to
disregard the brutalities committed by some of its members
as well as the forswearing by all of them of their original
allegiance. It is impossible to apply our standards of
ethics to this problem or to shape our policy as we would,
had the 'I N A' been of our own race.
Not wishing to be caught napping again, Auchinleck set up a
special organisation in his military headquarters 'to find out
the real feelings of Indian ranks on this subject'. He also
decided that no more I.N.A. personnel would be tried on the
major charge of waging war against the King, and that only those
who had committed 'acts of gross brutality' would be brought
before the courts -at most between twenty and fifty men. Later
Mason, joint secretary in the War Department of the government
of India, declared that the I. N. A. 's 'patriotic motive would
be taken at its face value and its members would be treated as
though prisoners of war'.
A week before the trial ended the Viceroy empowered
Auchinleck to commute sentences of death or transportation for
life, and when, as required, Auchinleck came to confirm the
sentences of the three men, he only agreed to the verdict of
cashiering and forfeiture of pay: the transportation decision
was quashed and, taking into account 'the prevailing
circumstances', the men were set free.
released & welcomed as heroes
Shah Nawaz, Sahgal and Dhillon were welcomed like the heroes
of a conquering army and their tales were carried back to the
remotest villages of India to be told, retold and eventually
mythologised. For a time the I.N.A. seemed to have become India-
in his weekly Harijan column, he invariably referred to Bose as
'Netaji', and conceded that
'the hypnotism of the INA has cast its spell upon us.
Netaji's name is one to conjure with. His patriotism is
second to none (I use the present tense intentionally). His
bravery shines through all his actions.'
He, too, believed Netaji was alive.
The British, however, continued with the selective trials,
and on 4 February 1946 Captain Abdul Rashid was sentenced to
seven years, imprisonment for certain acts of brutality. Rashid
was a Muslim, and now the Muslim League came into the picture.
For four days between 11 and 14 February the streets of Calcutta
Bombay and Delhi witnessed unique political demonstrations in
which Hindus and Muslims forgot their differences and came
together to fight the I.N.A.'s battles. Four days of strict
martial law were required to bring Calcutta back to normal; by
then nearly fifty were dead and over five hundred injured.
In January, too, some 5,200 Royal Indian Air Force personnel
had gone on strike to protest over their conditions and as an
expression of sympathy for the I.N.A. cause. And on 18 February
a revolt began on HMS Talwar, a training ship of the Indian navy
moored off Bombay. By nightfall on the 20th virtually the whole
of the Royal Indian Navy was in open rebellion: seventy eight
ships in the various ports of India�Bombay, Karachi, Madras,
Vizagapatanan, Calcutta and Cochin, and even in the Andamans -
and nearly all the shore establishments had hauled down the
Union Jack. Only ten ships and two shore establishments still
remained with the British.
Other units of the armed forces were quickly affected.
Between 22 and 25 February the R. I. A. F. in Bombay and Madras
went on strike and on the 27th Indian soldiers in Jabalpur
followed. In Bombay and Karachi, the main naval centres, ratings
were able to generate impressive mass support.
In Karachi gun battles had ensued which continued for two
days before heavy British reinforcements finally defeated the
men. In Bombay there had been what even the British owned Times
of India was forced to call 'mass uprising . . . in sympathy
with the naval mutiny . . . unparalleled in the city�s history'.
The communists and the Congress Left had called for sympathy
strikes and over 600,000 workers from the textile mills of
Bombay had responded. For almost three days they had fought
running, unequal battles with British troops in the streets and
lanes of Bombay.
The British had tanks and machine-guns, the workers had
improvised weapons and even at times stones from dug-up roads.
But for a few days some of Bombay's teeming working class slums
had become 'no-go areas', and the British had had to call in
white troops to quell the uprising. In the end 270 had died and
1,300 had been injured (the government's official figures were
lower: 187 and 1,002).
Attlee quick to understand implications & negotiate
Undoubtedly a revolutionary situation had been created. But
now, suddenly, the ratings found there were no leaders. They
knew their navy but they had been horribly wrong about the
Indian political parties. The naval ratings had virtually given
the politicians a whole unit of the British Indian armed forces;
they had even started calling it the Indian National Navy. For
the politicians, however, this was too alarming a prospect.
Jinnah advised the men to go back and assured them that, if
they did so, he would use constitutional means to remedy their
complaints of bad food and service conditions. The Congress
leaders were plainly frightened by the prospect of leading a
revolution; Nehru came to Bombay and deplored the revolt. And as
the ratings wondered what might have happened if there had been
a leader prepared to lead them - Bose perhaps - the British
re-took their ships.
But if the Indian politicians had no use for
revolutionary situations, the Labour government had been
quick to understand the implications.
On 4 December 1945 Herbert Morrison announced in the House of
Commons that a ten-member parliamentary delegation would visit
India to study the situation. The five-week visit took place in
January and February 1946 and by the end of it nearly all the
visiting MPs were convinced that India was in a dangerous state.
The February disturbances convinced Attlee that the imperial
tide had at last ebbed.
India could be held by force of arms for a few years
more, but the cost for a Britain devastated by war would be too
The British government announced in February 1946 that a
Cabinet mission of three ministers would visit India. That
mission, in fact, failed in its purpose, the situation required
another intervention by Attlee; it was his speech in the House
of Commons on 20 February 1947- when he pledged the British
government to transfer power to Indian hands, if necessary as
two separate nations, 'not later than June 1948' - that finally
led to the emergence of the two nations of India and Pakistan on
15 August 1947.
That such a situation existed in 1945 owed a great deal to
Subhas Bose. He did not precisely visualise the extent of the
post war turmoil; his wildest dreams could not have matched the
fervour the I.N.A. trials produced. But he had told his men in
Burma to fraternise with the Indians in the British Indian Army,
and till the end he was confident that if Indians kept up their
resolve, Britain -in an increasingly hostile post-war world -
would have to concede independence.
True, his army did not parade as victors in the
Red Fort; but their trial as vanquished had proved that his
belief in a revolutionary consciousness that was grounded in
a deeper understanding of the Indian people than his enemies
credited him with, or even his most fervent friends believed
The vision had been genuine: he just did not have the means,
while alive, to translate it into a reality. Even Dilip, so
sceptical of worldly struggles, recognised that the romance of
Subhas' army had finally breached the dyke that separated
Indians from the other army maintained to enslave them.
Through 1946 and 1947, as Indian leaders bartered with the
British and among themselves to produce a divided India, they
appeared to be constantly looking over their shoulders to
reassure themselves that Bose's ghost was not like Hamlet's
father, turning into flesh and blood. The years of struggle had
wearied them, they did not have the stomach for another fight
and they were relieved to get what crumbs they could from the
imperial table. When the Congress finally accepted the partition
plan Nehru had only this consolation to offer for the sudden
abandonment of a lifetime's principles:
"But of one thing I am convinced, that ultimately there
will be a united and strong India. We have often to go
through the valley of the shadow before we reach the sunlit
It was poor comfort for the holocaust that partition
produced, and even today, for many Indians, the sunlit
mountain-tops are still obscured by the shadows.
returned to India....
Had Bose returned to India after the war he might well have
prevented the tragedy. He was not a tired politician ready to
accept office under any terms. Although his uncompromising
hostility to Jinnah and Pakistan might have led to a civil war,
the cost of that could not have been greater than the senseless
waste of partition.
Certainly Bose's often repeated warning that the Congress
would pay dearly for the acceptance of 'office mentality' was
historically acute. It came when in the late thirties the
Congress was struggling to cope with the consequences of the
1935 Government of India Act, and the blandishments it offered.
In the 1936 elections, the Congress reaped the rewards of nearly
two decades of unceasing mass struggle against the British and
totally vanquished the Muslim League.
But by 1945, after a decade of negotiations and some
power-sharing with the British, the Congress was reduced to the
level of the Muslim League; just another group, albeit powerful,
seeking the rewards of office. And by placing such faith in the
negotiating chamber the Congress had played into the hands of
Jinnah, the master lawyer and negotiator. As Bose had foreseen,
the Congress had thrown away the trump card of its power - mass
struggle - for the dubious delights of the round table.
But could Indians have lived with Bose? An extreme man, he
produced extreme reactions: total adulation or permanent
rejection. Certainly the India of Bose would have been very
different from the India of Nehru. Bose had often said that
India needed at least twenty years of iron dictatorial rule, and
he would most certainly have rejected the type of parliamentary
democracy that has developed. This opens up the whole question
of whether it is better for people to have food or to have
freedom to change their political rulers every five years. The
argument can never be resolved - though, given the recent
adulation of the West for China, some of the oldest democracies
in the world seem to think food is more important.
Surely Bose's rule would have degenerated into autocracy,
like that of Mrs Gandhi between 1975 and 1977? Though the
analogy.is not quite accurate (Mrs Gandhi's rule degenerated
long before the events of June 1975), for conclusive evidence
Bose's critics point to his behaviour in Germany and with the
Japanese during the war. In a climate that brooked no dissent
and where the leader was always right, he too came to believe
that he could do no wrong.
Part of the possible reason for this change of
personality - if there was a change - may lie in the fact
that at that stage, particularly in south-east Asia, he
found himself a king without any worthwhile courtiers. The
people who surrounded him there were political innocents,
thrust into the wider world by events beyond their control:
they could only applaud, never interject. Bose was, as the
official Japanese history puts it, 'a bright morning star
amidst them'. There is also evidence to suggest that Subhas
Bose was not quite the dictator a simple reading of his
speeches makes him out to be.
No doubt there was an authoritarian streak in him, but his
actions often belied his dictatorial postures. in 1939, as
Congress president, he behaved - against Gandhi's wishes - less
like an autocrat and more like a negotiator who had won one
round and expected to reap some benefit from it. Throughout his
political career he was always loyal to colleagues even at the
risk of damaging his own chances: hardly the mark of a man of
Almost alone among Indian leaders, Bose offered solutions
that were both visionary and practical. Nehru's socialism may
have been more rounded; rigorously logical and free of Bose's
celebrated eclecticism. But its strain of romanticism divorced
it from the realities of India, and the Nehru years resulted,
almost inevitably, in a country with the most progressive
socialist legislation outside the Soviet bloc which happily
allowed the most unbridled capitalism to grow and flourish on a
feudal structure that had changed little, if at all, since the
British days. The cynicism this produced has bitten so deep that
every government since has had to struggle against it and no
combination in Indian politics looks likely to counteract the
years of wasted opportunities and lost hopes.
This may seem hard, given the undoubted economic progress
India has made in the last thirty years. When the British left,
India had little or no industrial capacity; now she is the tenth
industrial power in the world, exporting machinery to the West
and capable of producing her own nuclear weapons. But the rapid
industrialisation has been uneven and ill-directed, with the
beneficiaries limited to a small, if growing, sector of the
Bose had the capacity to inspire total love and dedication,
and produce gold from dross. He was hated by many, but those he
'touched' loved him with an almost overpowering sense of
completeness. And this, combined with his rigorous,
matter-of-fact manner and an instinctive feel for ancient Indian
loyalties, might well have produced the revolution that India
needed - and still lacks.
that Bose sought has never materialised...
Like Turkey's Kemal Ataturk - a man he admired - Bose might
well have produced a nation at once new, yet full of old
virtues. This is best illustrated in his approach to women: he
was not one for making strident feminist statements but, even on
that submarine bringing him from Germany to Japan, he was busily
telling Abid Hasan of the need to get Indian women to join the
I.N.A., and how they would have to abandon their beloved sarees
in order to do so. In south Asia he did get many immigrant women
to join the I.N.A. - demonstrating that Indian feminism could be
happily blended with the exigency of war.
The ideological development that Bose sought has never
materialised. Like all national-liberation movements, the
independent Congress was a coalition: of business seeking to
oust British capital, of rural kulaks confident that native
rulers would do more for them than alien ones, of various
interest groups and of socialists aware that the Congress was
the only party capable of furthering their ideas. Gandhi did
suggest that the Congress should disband after independence, but
this was clearly impossible: self-interest, if nothing else,
ruled it out. Today almost all the major political groups in
India- communists, socialists, free-enterprise capitalists,
Gandhian socialists - trace their ancestry to the Congress: only
the right-wing Hindu Jan Sangh can claim a different parentage.
The absence of ideological development has meant the
politics of banter, with interest groups perpetually feuding
amongst themselves, extraordinary alliances - as between
Marxists and religious obscurantists - and, above all,
comical political defections. Once, in a northern state, a
single individual's change of support from Congress to
opposition parties led to the fall of two state governments
in a single day.
The most valid criticism of Bose is related to the nature of
the nationalist movement itself. For Bose's faults - and there
were many - were inevitable in a nationalist fighting a
colonial-imperial power that both fanned nationalism, and denied
it legitimate expression. The Raj, as Marx penetratingly
observed, did unwittingly bring modern ideas into India - but
the nationalist reaction it produced in India was distorted by
the British presence.
Pre-British India was seen as a land of milk and honey in
which there had been no problems, no caste system and no
evils, only Indian harmony and peace. And it is a
measure of the failure of Indian nationalism that what in
most countries would be dismissed as delicious nonsense is
still taken seriously.
Today P.N. Oak, ADC to Major-General Bhonsle of the I.N.A.,
can claim respectable reviews in Indian papers by writing books
asserting that 5,000 years ago India had an empire which
included Britain. If the world has not appreciated this, it is,
argues Oak, because the relevant chapters of world history have
been 'lost'. Bose was aware of India's ills, but he often came
close to endorsing the delicious nonsense of pre-British bliss,
if only for rhetorical purposes.
Though he bravely maintained his independence from both the
Germans and the Japanese - no mean feat - he deliberately
avoided the wider implications of their awful philosophies.
However, his argument that foreign help was required in order to
drive the British out was justified by the events of 1945-6, and
been the bedrock of nearly all successful national-liberation
movements since the war. In this, at least, Bose was
probably far ahead of his time. In our age, when a
national-liberation movement's accepting foreign help from all
and sundry is a common fact of life, the idea may seem of no
great significance. In the early forties, for a subject
non-white race even to think of any such thing was revolutionary
....'It is our duty,' Bose told his I.N.A., 'to
pay for our liberty with our own blood. The freedom that we
shall win through our sacrifice and exertions, we shall be
able to preserve with our own strength.' ....."
"..Apart from revisionist historians, it
was none other than Lord Clement Atlee himself, the British Prime
Minister responsible for conceding independence to India, who gave a
shattering blow to the myth sought to be perpetuated by court
historians, that Gandhi and his movement had led the country to
freedom...The Battles for India's freedom were also being fought against
Britain, though indirectly, by Hitler in Europe and Japan in Asia. "
"The arrival of Subhas Chandra Bose in Germany in 1941 (during the turbulent
period of World War II) and his anti-British activities in that country in
co-operation with the German government, culminated in the formation of an
This marks perhaps the most significant event in the annals of India's fight
for independence. This event not only can be regarded as a historical link-up
with what Bose himself chose to describe as "The Great Revolution of 1857," and
which (in his words) "has been incorrectly called by English historians 'the
Sepoy Mutiny,' but which is regarded by the Indian people as the First War of
It also represents the historical fact that, by that time persuasive methods
conducted through a non-violent struggle under the leadership of Gandhi, had
failed. An armed assault on the citadel of the British Empire in India was the
only alternative left to deliver the country from bondage.
While other leaders of the Indian National Congress fell short of realizing
this fact and thus betrayed a lack of pragmatic approach to the turn of world
events that provided India with a golden opportunity to strike at the British by
a force of arms, Bose rose to the needs of the hour and was quick to seize that
While Bose's compatriots in India remained totally wedded to an ideological
creed (non-violence), which at that time could only serve the British and
postpone the advent of independence, and while their ideological interpretations
of the new revolutionary regimes in Europe-again largely influenced by British
propaganda-prevented them from even harboring any thought of seeking their
alliance and co-operation in the struggle against a common enemy, Subhas Chandra
Bose alone had the courage to take the great plunge, thus risking his own life
and reputation, solely in the interest and cause of his country. In January
1941, while under both house arrest, and strict British surveillance, he
After an arduous trek through the rugged terrains of several countries, with
an Italian passport under the assumed name of Orlando Mazzota - (in which he was
aided by underground revolutionaries and foreign diplomatic agents) -- Bose
appeared in Berlin, via Moscow, on 28 March 1941.
Bose was welcome in Germany, although the news of his arrival there was kept
a secret for some time for political reasons. The German Foreign Office, which
was assigned the primary responsibility of dealing with Bose and taking care of
him, had been well informed of the background and political status of the Indian
leader through its pre-war Consulate-General at Calcutta and also by its
representative in Kabul.
Bose himself, naturally some what impatient for getting into action soon
after his arrival in Berlin, submitted a memorandum to the German government on
9 April 1941 which outlined a plan for co-operation between the Axis powers and
Among other things, it called for the setting up of a "Free India Government"
in Europe, preferably in Berlin; establishment of a Free India broadcasting
station calling upon the Indian people to assert their independence and rise up
in revolt against the British authorities; underground work in Afghanistan
(Kabul) involving independent tribal territories lying between Afghanistan and
India and within India itself for fostering and aiding the revolution; provision
of finances by Germany in the form of a loan to the Free India
government-in-exile; and deployment of German military contingents to smash the
British army in India.
In a supplementary memorandum bearing the same date, Bose requested that an
early pronouncement be made regarding the freedom of India and the Arab
It is significant to note that the memorandum did not mention the need for
formation of an Indian legion. Evidently the idea of recruiting the Indian
prisoners of war for the purpose of establishing a nucleus of an Indian national
army did not occur to him during his early days in Berlin.
At that time the German government was in the process of formulating its own
plan for dealing with Subhas Chandra Bose in the best possible manner.
The Foreign Office felt itself inadequate to discharge this awesome
responsibility without referring the whole matter to Hitler. While this issue
was being considered at the highest level of the government, Bose's own requests
as set forth in the submitted memorandum, made it far too complicated and
involved to be resolved at an early date.
There was a long wait for Bose, during which period he often tended to become
frustrated. Nevertheless, through several sympathetic officers of the Foreign
Office, he continued to press his requests and put forth new ideas.
Finally, after months of waiting and many moments of disappointment often
bordering on despair for Bose, Germany agreed to give him unconditional and
The two immediate results of this decision were the establishment of a Free
India Center and inauguration of a Free India Radio, both beginning their
operations in November 1941.
These two organizations played vital and significant roles in projecting
Bose's increasing activities in Germany, but a detailed account of their
operation lies outside the purview of this paper. It should suffice to say that
the German government put at Bose's disposal adequate funds to run these two
organizations, and he was allowed complete freedom to run them the way he liked
at his own discretion.
In its first official meeting on 2 November 1941, the Free India Center
adopted four historical resolutions that would serve as guidelines for the
entire movement in subsequent months and years in Europe and Asia.
First, Jai Hind or Victory to India, would be the official form of
salutation; secondly, Nobel laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore's famous patriotic
song Jana Gana Mona was to be the national anthem for the free India Bose was
fighting for; thirdly, in a multi-lingual state like India, the most
widely-spoken language, Hindustani, was to be the national language; and
fourthly, Subhas Chandra Bose would hereafter be known and addressed as Netaji,
the Indian equivalent of the "leader" or the "F�hrer."
In November 1941, Azad Hind Radio (or the Free India Radio) opened its
program with an announcing speech by Netaji himself, which, in fact, was a
disclosure of his identity that had been kept officially secret for so long. The
radio programs were broadcast in several Indian languages on a regular basis.
During this long period of "hibernation," the period between Netaji's arrival
in Berlin and the beginning of operations of the two organizations, it can be
reasonably assumed that the idea of forming an Indian legion that could be
developed into an Indian Army of Liberation in the West, crossed Bose's mind.
He might even have discussed this matter with his colleagues-the Indian
compatriots in Germany who had joined him-as to how best to implement the idea.
However, as mentioned earlier, his first memorandum submitted to the German
Government did not include any such plan. According to N.G. Ganpuley, who was
his associate in Berlin,
Netaji himself, when he left India, could not have, by any stretch of
imagination, thought of forming a national army unit outside the country,
and therefore he had no definite plans chalked out for its realization. Even
while in Berlin, he could not think of it during the first few months of his
When and how, therefore, did he come to conceive such a plan? Mr. Ganpuley
relates an interesting episode in this regard. To quote again from his book:
It was all due to a brain wave of Netaji which started working by a
simple incident. He read one day about some half a dozen Indian
prisoners-of-war who were brought to Berlin by the Radio Department to
listen to the BBC and other stations which sent out their programmes in
Hindustani. He saw them there going about, not as free Indians, but as
prisoners-of-war. They were brought to the Radio Office every day to listen
to and translate the Hindustani programmes, and were sent back to their
quarters escorted by a sentry ... After he had a talk with them about war,
about their captivity and their present life, his active mind started
working... He pondered over it for some time and decided to form a small
national military unit ... No sooner was this decision taken by him ... he
started negotiating with that section of the German Foreign Office with
which he was in constant touch. He put before them his plans for training
Indian youths from the prisoners' camps for a national militia.
Although somewhat skeptical and hesitant at the beginning, the German
response to the plans was encouraging. It was a time psychologically well-chosen
The allied forces had been defeated on the Continent, and the Wehrmacht was
marching ahead successfully in the Soviet Union. It was also a historical
coincidence that a large number of British Indian prisoners-ofwar, captured
during Rommel's blitzkrieg in North Africa, lay in German hands.
Netaji's first idea was to form small parachute parties to spread propaganda
in, and transmit intelligence from, the North-West Frontier in India. The
reaction of some selected prisoners who were brought to Berlin from the camp of
Lamsdorf in Germany and Cyrenaica was so encouraging that he asked for all
Indian prisoners held in North Africa to be brought over to Germany at once.
The Germans complied with this request, and the prisoners began to be
concentrated at Annaburg camp near Dresden. The recruitment efforts, however, at
the onset met with some opposition from the prisoners, who evidently had
misgivings about Netaji's intentions and motivations. In this regard Hugh Toye
When Bose himself visited the camp in December there was still marked
hostility. His speech was interrupted, and much of what he had to say went
unheard. But private interviews were more encouraging; the men's questions
showed interest-what rank would they receive? What credit would be given for
Indian Army seniority? How would the Legionary stand in relation to the
German soldier? Bose refused to bargain, and some who might have been
influential recruits were turned away. On the other hand, many of the men
paid him homage as a distinguished Indian, several professed themselves
ready to join the Legion unconditionally.
Netaji sought and got agreement from the Germans that the Wehrmacht would
train the Indians in the strictest military discipline, and they were to be
trained in all branches of infantry in using weapons and motorized units the
same way a German formation is trained; the Indian legionaries were not to be
mixed up with any of the German formations; that they were not to be sent to any
front other than in India for fighting against the British, but would be allowed
to fight in self defense at any other place if surprised by any enemy formation;
that in all other respects the Legion members would enjoy the same facilities
and amenities regarding pay, clothing, food, leave, etc., as a German unit.
By December 1941 all arrangements were complete and the next important task
was to persuade men to come forward and form the nucleus. It appeared that the
POWs needed to be convinced that there were civilian Indian youth as well,
studying, well placed in life and responsible to their families at home, who
were ready to give up everything to join the Legion.
Ten of the forty young Indians then residing in Berlin, came forward. They
were quickly joined by five POWs who were already in Berlin in connection with
the German radio propaganda, and the first group of fifteen people was thus
On 25 December 1941 a meeting of Indian residents in Berlin was called in the
office of the Free India Center, to give a send-off to the first fifteen who
were to leave the following day for Frankenburg, the first training camp and
headquarters for the Legion. The brief ceremony was simple and solemn. Netaji
blessed the Legion, the first of its kind in the history of the struggle for
Indian independence. He christened it Azad Hind Fauj (Indian National Army). The
Indian Army of Liberation in the West thus had a humble and modest birth.
The strength of the Legion grew steadily, as the task of recruitment
continued unabated. Once trained to a certain level and discipline, the members
of the first batch were assigned the additional responsibility of visiting the
Annaberg camp and aiding in the recruitment process. While the Legion was sent
to Frankenburg in Saxony, another group was taken to Meseritz in Brandenburg to
be trained in tactical warfare. Abid Hasan and N.G. Swamy, the two original
recruiters whom Netaji had sent to the Annaberg camp in 1941, had become
de-facto foundermembers of the Legion at Frankenburg and the irregular Company
at Meseritz respectively.
At Meseritz, the Indians were placed under the command of Hauptmarm Harbig,
whose first object was to make them forget that they had been prisoners. There
were Tajiks, Uzbeks and Persians as well under training for operational roles
similar to that envisaged for the Indians.
In due course the trainees went on to tactical operational training, such as
wireless operating, demolitions and riding, and also undertook special mountain
and parachute courses. According to Toye, "Morale, discipline and Indo-German
relations were excellent, the German officers first-rate."
Netaji visited the camps from time to time and watched progress of the
trainees. Since he himself was inclined toward military training and discipline,
he followed the German training methods with great interest. It is understood
that while in Germany Netaji himself underwent the rigors of such training,
although authoritative documents on this subject are yet to be located by this
While in India, he was a member of the University Training Corps at school
and commanded the volunteers at an annual session of the Indian National
Congress, but he never had a formal military education prior to his arrival in
Germany in 1941. As Joyce Lebra writes: "Though Bose was without any previous
military experience, he got his training and discipline German-style, along with
the soldiers of the Indian Legion." 7
To him, formation of a legion was more positive, more nationalistic and more
gratifying than mere radio propaganda. Unlike his ex-compatriots in the Indian
National Congress, including Gandhi, Nehru and Patel, he would rather seek
confrontation with the British-with an army-than to work out a compromise with
them on a conference table, on the issue of India's freedom.
A firm believer in discipline and organization, nothing perhaps could be more
satisfying to him than to see his men being trained by the German Command, with
officers of the highest calibre. In four months, the number of trainees rose to
three hundred. In another six months a further three hundred were added. By
December 1942, exactly a year after the recruitment of the Legion was
inaugurated, it attained the strength of four battalions. At the beginning of
1943 the Legion would be 2000 strong, well on its way up to the culminating
point of 3500 men. But let us step back to early 1942, almost a year after
Netaji's arrival in Berlin.
After the inauguration of the Free India Center, Free India Radio, and the
sending of the first fifteen legionaries to the Frankenburg training camp,
Netaji's activities in Germany began in full swing. His presence in Germany was
not yet officially admitted-he was still being referred to as Signor Orlando
Mazzota or His Excellency Mazzota-but he began to be known to more and more
people in Berlin. Josef Goebbels wrote in his diary on 1 March:
We have succeeded in prevailing upon the Indian nationalist leader, Bose,
to issue an imposing declaration of war against England. It will be
published most prominently in the German press and commented upon. In that
way we shall now begin our official fight on behalf of India, even though we
don't as yet admit it openly.
On 14 March, he remarked of Bose, "He is an excellent worker." The fall of
Singapore was a signal for Netaji to broadcast his first official speech over
the Free India Radio, repeating his vow to fight British imperialism until the
end. This he followed with a declaration of war against England, although at
that stage such a pronouncement could only be symbolic. Netaji had not yet
obtained an Axis declaration in support of the freedom of India that he pressed
for in the supplement of his first memorandum to the German government. That
government was of the opinion that the time was not ripe yet for such a
declaration and unless a pronouncement of this nature could be supported by
military action, it would not be of much value.
Meanwhile, Japan proposed a tripartite declaration on India. Encouraged by
this, Bose met Mussolini in Rome on 5 May, and persuaded him to obtain such a
declaration in favor of Indian independence. Mussolini telegraphed the Germans,
proposing proceeding at once with the declaration. To back his new proposal
Mussolini told the Germans that he had urged Bose to set up a
"counter-government" and to appear more conspicuously. The German reaction,
which still remained guarded, is recorded by Dr. Goebbels in his diary on 11
We don't like this idea very much, since we do not think the time has yet
come for such a political manoeuvre. It does appear though that the Japanese
are very eager for some such step. However, emigre governments must not live
too long in a vacuum. Unless they have some actuality to support them, they
only exist in the realm of theory.
Netaji apparently was of the opinion that a tripartite declaration on Indian
independence, followed up by a government-in-exile, would give some credibility
to his declaration of war on England, push over the brink the imminent
revolution in India, and legitimize the Indian legion. However, Hitler held a
different view. During an interview at the F�hrer's field headquarters on 29
May, he told Netaii that a well-equipped army of a few thousand could control
millions of unarmed revolutionaries, and there could be no political change in
India until an external power knocked at her door. Germany could not yet do
To convince Netaji, he took him to a wall map, pointed to the German
positions in Russia and to India. The immense distances were yet to be bridged
before such a declaration could be made. The world would consider it premature,
even coming from him, at this stage. Hitler was perhaps being realistic, but
nevertheless it must have come as some sort of disappointment for Netaji.
In July 1942, the Germans suggested that a contingent of the Irregular
Company be sent for front-line propaganda against Indian troops at El Alamein;
but Rommel, who did not like battlefields turned into proving grounds for
Foreign Office ideas, opposed the move. However, at the Lehrregiment manoeuvers
in September, and on field exercises in October, the Indian performance won high
By January 1943, it was realized that maintenance of the irregulars as a
separate entity was not of much practical use, and the ninety Indian men,
(excepting four under N.G. Swamy who were being trained for work within Indiaj
were absorbed into the Legion. Since the supply of recruits from the Annaburg
camp was fast being depleted, it was decided to hasten the shipment of prisoners
of war from Italy.
According to an agreement between Italy and Germany, all Indian POWs were to
be sent directly to Germany without being held in Italian camps. But, in the
meanwhile, an unforseen impediment stood in the way. A long-time Indian resident
in Rome, Iqbal Shedai, formed an Indian unit under the Italians, and began
broadcasting from Rome with the aid of a few Indian prisoners.
It is understood that he had conferred with Netaji a few times, but obviously
had no intention of co-operating with him. From radio broadcasting, he advanced
into forming an Indian military unit, although it was in clear violation of the
Italo-German agreement. The unit was named the Centro Militare India, but
existed only from April to November 1942.
During its brief period of existence, however, Shedai succeeded in diverting
several hundred volunteers to Italian camps, who would normally have gone to
Germany. In November the unit was three hundred and fifty strong, having been
trained by Italian officers. On 9 November, after the Allied landing in North
Africa, it was learnt that the men were being sent to fight in Libya, contrary
to Shedai's promises. When they refused to go and mutinied, Shedai refused to
intervene. Consequently, the Centro Militare India was disbanded. It was never
revived, and thus a barrier that stood in Netaji's way toward recruitment was
In August 1942, the Legion was moved to Koenigsbrueck, a large military
training center in Saxony. This had been a regular training ground for the
German infantry and motorized units for decades. Here the first contingents
paraded before Netaji's eyes in October, and the growth was rapid. However, the
rapid expansion of the Legion also posed the problem of finances.
Hitherto, payment to soldiers was being made from the monthly grants to the
Free India Center and its office. As the number of Legionaries grew, that source
became insufficient. For this problem there could be but one solution: direct
payment to the Legion b~ the Germans.
This would mean hereafter that the Legionaries would receive promotions and
precedence as soldiers of national socialist Germany, and would become, in fact,
a regiment of the German army, while retaining its separate name and
distinction. This was agreed upon between Netaji and the German government,
necessitating the taking of a formal oath of loyalty to Adolph Hitler on the
part of the Legionaries. Describing the ceremony, Hugh Toye writes:
Five hundred Legionaries were assembled. Their German commander,
Lieutenant-Colonel Krappe, addressed them, and the oath was administered by
German officers to six men at a time. All was done with solemnity, the
soldiers touching their officer's sword as they spoke the German words: 'I
swear by God this holy oath, that I will obey the leader of the German State
and people, Adolph Hitler, as commander of the German Armed Forces, in the
fight for freedom of India, in which fight the leader is Subhas Chandra
Bose, and that as a brave soldier, I am willing to lay down my life for this
oath.' Bose presented to the Legion its standard, a tricolor in the green,
white and saffron of the Indian National Congress, superimposed with the
figure of a springing tiger in place of the Congress spinning wheel. "Our
names," he said, "will be written in gold letters in the history of free
India; every martyr in this holy war will have a monument there." It was a
brave, colorful show, and for Bose, a moment of pride and emotion. "I shall
lead the army," he said, "when we march to India together." The Legionaries
looked well in their new uniforms, the silken banner gleaming in their
midst; their drill did them credit.
What was Netaji's plan for leading this army to India? When the Germans
launched out beyond Stalingrad into Central Asia, the Indian irregulars, trained
at Messeritz, would accompany their Tajik and Uzbek counterparts along with the
After Uzbekistan and Afghanistan were reached the Indian Company would leap
ahead of the German advance to disrupt the British-Indian defenses in
northwestern India. Netaji spoke of dropping parachute brigades, calling on the
Indian peasantry to assist them. Through radio he issued warnings to British
Indian soldiers and police to the effect that unless they assisted the
liberation forces they would one day have to answer to the free Indian
government for their criminal support of the British.
The effect of the Indian army of liberation marching into India along with
the German forces would be such that the entire British Indian Army morale would
collapse, coinciding with a revolutionary uprising against the British. The
Legion would then be the nucleus of an expanding army of free India.
Netaji's plan, largely dependent on German Military successes in the Soviet
Union, undoubtedly had a setback when the Wehrmacht was halted at Stalingrad.
After the German retreat from that city, the plan for marching into India from
the West had to be abandoned. The tide of war was turning swiftly, calling for
devising new strategies on the part of Netaji.
While the German army's second thrust into Russia encountered an unexpected
counter-offensive at Stalingrad and thus was forced to turn back, in another
part of the world the forces of another Axis partner were forging ahead, nearer
and nearer to India.
Japan was achieving spectacular successes in the Far East and was ready to
welcome Netaji as the leader of millions of Indians who lived in the countries
of East and Southeast Asia. To Netaji, the Japanese attitude was extremely
encouraging. Tolo, the Prime Minister, had issued statements in the Diet about
Indian freedom early in 1942, and by March there was a Japanese proposal for a
tripartite declaration on India.
A small band of Indian National Army legionaires had already been in
existence in the Southeast under Japanese patronage, although a few of its
leaders, including Mohan Singh, had fallen out with the Japanese. Netaji would
have no difficulty in reorganizing and expanding this organization.
He would get the active support of millions of overseas Indians, and the many
thousands of British Indian prisoners-of-war would provide him a greater
opportunity for recruitment, and for thus organizing a formidable army of
liberation that could immediately be deployed in forward positions as the
Imperial Japanese Army kept on advancing through the steaming jungles of the
Malayan peninsula and Burma. During his meeting with Hitler on 29 May, the
F�hrer had also suggested that in view of the prevalent world situation, Netaji
should shift the center of his activities from Germany to the Far East.
Netaji could look back at his two years work in Germany with a sense of pride
and accomplishment. Broadcasting, publications and propaganda were all extended.
Azad Hind Radio had extended programs in several languages, and reports
indicated that they were being listened to with interest in target areas; Azad
Hind, a bilingual journal, was being published regularly.
There were other papers for the Legion besides; the Free India Center had
attained an acknowledged status in Germany. It was treated as a foreign mission,
entitling its members to a higher scale of rations, and exemption from some of
the Aliens' regulations. Netaji himself was given a good villa, a car and
special rations for entertainment purposes. His personal allowance amounted to
about eight hundred pounds a month.
The monthly grant for the Free India Center rose from 1,200 pounds in 1941 to
3,200 pounds in 1944. All these Netaji stipulated as a loan from the German
government, to be returned after India gained independence with the Axis
assistance. However, the turn of events now demanded his presence in a different
What would happen to the Legion in Netaji's absence? It was now 3,500 strong,
well trained and equipped, ready for action. Netaii consulted with his aides in
Berlin. A.C.N. Nambiar, an Indian journalist who had been in Europe for some
eighteen years prior to Netaji's arrival in Germany, was his right-hand man.
While preparing for his journey to the Asian theater-of-war, Netaji passed on to
Nambiar his policy and instructions. As Hugh Toye writes:
There were plans for new branches of the Free India Center, for
broadcasting, for Indians to study German police methods, and for the
training of Indian seamen and airmen. As for the legion, it must be used
actively as soon as possible, the German officers and NCOs must be quickly
replaced by Indians, there must be no communalism. Legionaries were to be
trained on all the most modern German equipment, including heavy artillery
and tanks; Bose would send further instructions as opportunity offered.
A few words must be added regarding the Indo-German cooperation and
comradeship during the critical days of World War II when the Legion was formed.
None could describe it better than Adalbert Seifriz, who was a German Officer in
the training camp of the Legionaries. He writes,
Agreeing to the proposal of Bose was a magnificient concession and
consideration shown to the great personality of Bose by the German
Government in those critical times when all German efforts were concentrated
on the war ... The mutual understanding and respect between Indians and
Germans and the increasing contact between them in the interest of the
common task made it possible for the Indian Legion to sustain and keep up
discipline right up to the German capitulation in 1945. During the period of
training and even afterwards the comradeship between Indians and Germans
could not be destroyed ... A meeting with Subhas Bose was a special event
for the German training staff.-We spent many evenings with him, discussing
the future of India. He lives in the minds of the training staff members as
an idealistic and fighting personality, never sparing himself in the service
of his people and his country ... The most rewarding fact was the real
comradeship which grew between Indians and Germans, which proved true in
dangerous hours, and exists still today in numerous cases. The Indian Legion
was a precious instrument in strengthening and consolidating Indo-German
A report of Hitler's visit to the Indian Legion headquarters in Dresden was
given by Shantaram Vishnu Samanta (one of the Legionaries) during a press
interview in India, after his release from an internment camp. According to his
statement, Hitler addressed the soldiers of the Legion after Netaji had left for
East Asia. He spoke in German and his speech was translated into Hindustani by
an interpreter. He said:
You are fortunate having been born in a country of glorious cultural
traditions and a colossal manpower. I am impressed by the burning passion
with which you and your Netaji seek to liberate your country from foreign
domination. Your Netaji's status is even greater than mine. While I am the
leader of eighty million Germans, he is the leader of 400 million Indians.
In all respects he is a greater leader and a greater general than myself. I
salute him, and Germany salutes him. It is the duty of all Indians to accept
him as their f�hrer and obey him implicitly. I have no doubt that if you do
this, his guidance will lead India very soon to freedom.
A statement by another soldier of the Indian Legion, who remains anonymous,
has a somewhat different version. It stated that both Netaji and Hitler took a
joint salute of the Indian Legion and a German infantry. In addition to comments
cited earlier, Hitler was reported to have made these remarks as well:
German civilians, soldiers and free Indians! I take this opportunity to
welcome your acting F�hrer, Herr Subhas Chandra Bose. He has come here to
guide all those free Indians who love their country and are determined to
free it from foreign yoke. It is too much for me to dare to give you any
instructions or advice because you are sons of a free country, and you would
naturally like to obey implicitly the accredited leader of your own land.
However, reports of Hitler's visit and address to the Indian Legionaries are
not confirmed from any other source.
Netaji would be leaving Germany on 8 February 1943. On 26 January,
"Independence Day for India," there was a great party in Berlin where hundreds
of guests drank his health. On 28 January, which was set aside for observance as
the "Legion Day" in honor of the Indian Legion, he addressed the Legion for the
last time. It is believed that his departure was kept secret from his army.
So, there were no visible emotions among the men; no gesture of a farewell.
The impression Netaji was leaving at the Free India Center, was that he was
going on a prolonged tour. So there were no signs of any anxiety. Except for a
few top-ranking German officers and his closest aides, hardly anybody was aware
that within a week-and-a-half he would be embarking on the most perilous journey
ever undertaken by man; a submarine voyage through mine-infested waters to the
other side of the world. In his absence, Nambiar settled down in his job as his
successor and soon gained respect of the Legionaries.
Two months after Netaii's departure, as a result of discussion between the
German Army Command and the Free India Center, it was decided to transfer the
Legion from Koenigsbrueck to a coastal region in Holland, to involve it in a
practical coastal defense training. It was also in accordance with Netaji's
Wishes. He had often expressed a desire to give his troops, whenever possible,
some training in coastal defense.
After the first battalion was given a hearty send-off, an untoward incident
happened within the legion; two companies of the second battalion refused to
move. It was soon found out that there were three main reasons for staging this
Some Legionaries were unhappy that they were not promoted, but their names
had to be put on the waiting list; some simply did not want to leave
Koenigsbrueck; some were influenced by a rumor that Netaji had abandoned them
and had gone off leaving them entirely in German hands, who were now going to
use them in the Western Front, instead of sending them to the East to fight for
However, the rebellion was soon quelled after a team of NCOs visited the
officials of the Free India Center in Berlin and obtained clarification
regarding the rebel Legionaries' grievances.
The team went back to the camp and assured the men that they were not being
sent to fight a war but were there purely for practical training purposes
according to Netaji's wishes; that the promotions were not being passed up, they
would follow in due course; and that Netaji had not abandoned them, and they
would be informed about his whereabouts and plans as soon as possible. In
pursuance of military discipline, the ringleaders of this act of insubordination
were sent to prison camps for a specified period.
The Legion was stationed in the coastal areas of Holland for five months.
Afterwards, there was a decision to move it to the coastal area of Bordeaux in
France from the mouth of the Girond, opposite the fortification of Foyan to the
Bay of Arcachon.
The Legion was taking charge here. The stay in France was utilized to give
the Legionaries a thorough training in the weaponry required for the defense of
the Atlantic Wall. In the spring of 1944, the first batch of twelve Indians were
promoted to officers. Field Marshal Rommel, who took charge of the Atlantic
Wall, once visited the area where the Indian contingent was located. Ganpulay
... after having seen the work carried out by the Indians,, he exclaimed:
"I am pleasantly surprised to find that in spite of very little training in
coastal defense, the work done here is fairly satisfactory." While
departing, he said to the Indian soldiers: "I am glad to see you have done
good work; I wish you and your leader all the good luck!"
In the spring of 1944, one company of the Legion was sent to North Italy at
the request of some officers who were seeking an opportunity to confront the
British forces. After the Normandy invasion by the Allied forces in June 1944,
the military situation in Europe began to deteriorate. It eventually became so
critical that the German High Command decided to order the Indian Legion to
return to Germany.
So after about ten months of stay in the coastal region of Lacanau in France,
the Indian Legion started its road back. It is to be understood at this point
that with the landing of the Allied troops in France and their gradual advance
through the French countryside, the French Maquis (underground) guerrillas had
become very active, and along with the German troops they made the Legionaries
as well the target of their attacks.
After travelling a certain distance, the first battalion of the Legion was
temporarily located in the area of Mansle near Poitiers, while the second and
the third battalion were stationed in Angouleme and Poitiers respectively. After
a rest for ten days in this region, during which period they had to ward off
sporadic attacks by the French underground, the Legionaries took to the road
once again. In this long march back to Germany, the Legion demonstrated
exemplary courage and fortitude, and underwent rigors and hardships of
battlefield with equanimity.
At this time, British propaganda was directed to these men which was full of
empty promises; some material was dropped from the air, while agents infiltrated
into the ranks to persuade the men to desert. The propaganda promised the
would-be deserters reinstatement in the British Indian army with full
retroactive pay and pension, but the British hypocrisy was once again manifest
in the fact that a few of the soldiers who had fallen victim to this bait were
shot later by the French publicly in a market place in Poitiers without any
trial, along with some German prisoners-of-war.
In following the saga of the Indian Army of Liberation in the West, one has
to remember that its fate was indissolubly linked with that of the Axis powers
in Europe, especially Germany. The overpowering of the new revolutionary regimes
of Europe by forces representing an alliance of capitalism and Marxism was an
international tragedy which engulfed the Indian Legion in Europe as well.
During its retreat into Germany, it encountered the enemy forces on several
occasions and fought rearguard action with British and French forces, displaying
exemplary bravery. The German military training had converted the regiment not
only into a highly disciplined body, but a hard-core fighting unit as well.
It is indeed a historical irony that this superb force could not be utilized
for the purpose and way its creator and leader, Subhas Chandra Bose, had dreamt
of. Nevertheless, the 950th Indian Regiment, as the Legion was officially
designated, left its footprints in the battlefields of France and Germany, as
their many other gallant comrades of the German Army.
In the fall of 1944 until Christmas, the Indian Legion spent its time in the
quiet villages of southern Germany. Between Christmas and the New Year 1945, the
unit was ordered to move into the military camp at the garrison town of Heuberg.
In the spring of 1945 the Allied forces crossed the Rhine. The Russians entered
the East German provinces murdering and plundering cities, townships and
villages. Heavy bomber formations began destroying German cities.
Transport systems became completely disorganized and paralyzed. The end was
near, and there was no point in remaining in the barracks. The Legion,
therefore, left its winter quarters at Heuberg in March 1945, and headed for the
Alpine passes. By that time all communications with the Free India Center in
Berlin had been cut off. The Legion commanders took decisions independently.
The Legion had already reached the Alpine regions east of Bodensee. However,
with the surrender of the German forces on 7 May, all hopes also ended for the
Free India Army. While attempting to cross over to Switzerland, the legionaries
were overwhelmed by American and French units and were made prisoners. Those who
fell into the hands of the French had to suffer very cruel treatment. Several
were shot, while others died in prison camps in miserable conditions. The rest
were eventually handed over to the British.
Although thus swept into the maelstrom of the Axis disintegration in Europe,
Netaji's army of liberation in the west had carved for itself a niche in
history; for, indeed, it was a nucleus which would eventually precipitate a much
larger fighting force elsewhere.
Inspired by its leader, that force would march into India to set in motion a
process that would eventually deliver the country from an alien bondage. One,
therefore, must not regard the saga of the Indian National Army in Europe as an
isolated event that ended tragically.
While its dream of crossing the Caucasus along with its allies, the German
Armed Forces, and entering India from the Northwest, did not materialize in
reality, its extension and successor, India's army of liberation in the east,
did enter the country from the opposite direction, thus fulfilling the cherished
dream of Netaji and his soldiers. Not only that, as we shall see subsequently,
but that army made the mightiest contribution toward finally ending an
imperialist rule in India.
During his interview with Netaji, Hitler had suggested to him that since it
would take at least another one or two years before Germany could gain direct
influence in India, and while Japan's influence, in view of its spectacular
successes in Southeast Asia, could come in a few months, Bose should negotiate
with the Japanese.
The F�hrer warned Bose against an air journey which could compel him to a
forced landing in British territory. He thought Bose was too important a
personality to let his life be endangered by such an experiment. Hitler
suggested that he could place a German submarine at his disposal which would
take him to Bangkok on a journey around the Cape of Good Hope.
However, despite Hitler's suggestions, it is believed that the German Foreign
Office showed some reluctance in the matter of Netaji's leaving Germany and
going to Japan. Col. Yamamoto Bin, Japanese military attache in Berlin (and a
good personal friend of Netaji) along with the Japanese ambassador
Lieutenant-General Oshima Hiroshi, had met Netaji as early as October 1941 when
the latter expressed hopes for enlisting Japanese aid in his plan for wresting
Indian independence. This was the beginning of a series of such meetings.
After the entry of Japan in World War II in December, Netaji was more eager
to go as soon as possible to East Asia and fight beside Japan for India's
liberation. He reportedly urged Oshima to use his good offices to secure his
passage to Asia. It was about at this point that both Oshima and Yamamoto
encountered a feeling of reluctance in the matter on the part of the German
They had the feeling that Germany was not to willing to let Japan lead India
to independence. Bose was already a useful ally as an Indian patriot, and his
propaganda broadcasts were effective in both India and Britain. The Indian
Legion was already having a psychological impact in India and worrying the
Allies. For these reasons, "they were guarding Bose like a tiger cub."
In the meantime, Ambassador Oshima had also met with Hitler and explained
Bose's plan to him. According to Japanese records,
The F�hrer readily agreed with Oshima that it was better for Bose to
shift his activities to Southeast Asia now that his country's (Japan's)
armies had overrun the area. The second problem was whether Bose would get
enough support in Tokyo for his activities. On this, Oshima had contacted
Tokyo many times but had not received any firm answer. Finally, Tokyo
replied to Oshima that in principle it had no objection to Bose's visit to
Japan. The third problem was to provide Bose with a safe means of transport
to Japan. Communication between Germany and Japan was impossible during
those days. Passage by boat was ruled out; and it was decided to use a plane
belonging to the Lufthansa Company to airlift Bose from Germany to Japan via
the Soviet Union. Tojo (Japanese Prime Minister) objected to this on the
grounds that this would amount to a breach of trust with the Soviet Union.
An attempt was made by both Yamamoto and Bose to get an Italian plane, but
this also did not work. Finally the choice fell on a submarine. Germany
agreed to carry Bose up to a certain unknown point in the east and asked
that a Japanese submarine be pressed into service thence forward. After a
series of exchanges with his government, Oshima finally obtained Tokyo's
approval of the plan and communicated it to Bose.
Alexander Werth writes:
An interesting anecdote related to this historic journey may perhaps be
mentioned here. Shortly before Bose's departure the Japanese Naval Command
raised objections because of an internal Japanese regulation not permitting
civilians to travel on a warship in wartime. When Adam von Trott (of the
German Foreign Office) received this message by cable from the German
Ambassador in Tokyo, he sent the following reply: "Subhas Chandra Bose is by
no means a private person, but Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Liberation
Army." Thus the bureaucratic interference was overcome.
On 8 February 1943, accompanied by Keppler, Nambiar and Werth, Netaji arrived
at the port of Kiel where a German submarine under the command of Werner
Musenberg was waiting for him. His would-be sole companion on this perilous
voyage, Abid Hasan had travelled separately to Kiel in a special compartment
without knowing his destination. Only after commencement of the journey was he
to be informed of the itinerary. Netaji was leaving behind his chosen 3,500
soldiers of the Indian Legion, the 950th regiment of the German Army, specially
trained and equipped for the task of liberating an India held in bondage by the
British. We have already followed the history and fate of the Legion. Now let us
turn to the East.
Indian National Army of Liberation in the East
On 15 February 1942, Singapore fell to the Japanese army advancing southward
from the Malayan peninsula. Two days later, in an impressive ceremony held at
Farrar Park in the heart of the town, Indian troops were handed over to the
Japanese as prisoners-of-war by their commanding officer, Colonel Hunt.
Major Fujiwara took them over on behalf of the victorious Japanese, and then
announced that he was handing them over to Captain Mohan Singh of the Indian
contingents, who should be obeyed by them as their Supreme Commander. Mohan
Singh then spoke to the Indian POWs, expressing his intention of raising an
Indian national army out of them to fight for India's freedom.
He held a preliminary discussion with some prominent Indians in Malay and
Burma in a meeting in Singapore on 9 and 10 March, which was attended by
Rashbehari Bose, a veteran Indian revolutionary exile living in Japan for the
last quarter of a century. Bose then called a conference in Tokyo, which was
held 28-30 March.
The delegates representing several East and Southeast Asian countries present
at the conference, decided to form the Indian Independence League to organize an
Indian independence movement in East Asia. Bose was recognized as head of the
The conference further resolved that "militay action against the British in
India will be taken only by the INA and under Indian command, together with such
military, naval and air cooperation and assistance as may be requested from the
Japanese by the Council of Action" and further, "after the liberation of India,
the framing of the future constitution of India will be left entirely to the
representatives of the people of India."
On 15 June 1942, a conference opened in Bangkok with over a hundred delegates
of the IIL attending from all over Asia. By the close of the nine-day conference
a resolution was unanimously adopted setting forth the policies of the
independence movement in East Asia. The III, was proclaimed the organization to
work for India's freedom; the Indian National Army was declared the military arm
of the movement with Mohan Singh as the Commander-in-chief and Rashbehari Bose
was elected president of the Council of Action.
It was further decided that Singapore would be the headquarters of the IIL.
Netaji had stated in a message to the conference that his personal experience
had convinced him that Japan, Italy and Germany were sworn enemies of British
imperialism; yet, independence could come only through the efforts of Indians
themselves. India's freedom would mean the rout of British imperialism. The
Indian National Army was officially inaugurated in September 1942.
Unfortunately, at this point a distrust began to grow within the Indian group
against Rashbehari Bose's leadership. Some thought that having been long
associated with Japan, he gave precedence to the Japanese interests over Indian
interests. According to Japanese records:
Some even thought that he was just the protege of the Japanese, and that
the latter was exploiting Indians for their own ends. Such resentment
finally resulted in a revolt of a group of leaders headed by Captain Mohan
Singh within the INA in November 1942. As a consequence, Mohan Singh and his
associate, Colonel Gill were both arrested by the Japanese and the Indian
Army was disbanded. However, in 1943 a new Indian Army was organized, put
under the command of Lt. Col. Bhonsle, who held this post until the final
dissolution of the army. 
Describing the revived INA. Joyce Lebra writes:
On 15 February 1943, the INA was reorganized and former ranks and badges
revived. The Director of the Military Bureau, Lieutenant-Colonel Bhonsle,
was clearly placed under the authority of the III. to avoid any repetition
of IIIANA rivalry. Under Bhonsle was Lt. Col. Shah Nawaz Khan as Chief of
General Staff-, Major P.K. Sahgal as Military Secretary; Major Habibur
Rahman as commandant of the Officers' Training School; and Lt. Col. A.C.
Chatterji, and later Major A.D. Jahangir, as head of enlightenment and
culture. Apart from this policy-forming body was the Army itself, under the
command of Lt. Col. M.Z. Kiani. This was the organization which held the INA
together until the arrival of Subhas Chandra Bose from Berlin, six months
In February, the Japanese military officer Iwakuro had called a meeting of
about three hundred officers of the INA at Bidadri camp in Singapore and spoke
to them about the advisability of joining the army, but with no effect.
According to Ghosh, "Later on, in a 'Heart to heart talk' with some officers, it
emerged that a large number of officers and men would be willing to continue in
the INA on the express condition that Netaji would be coming to Singapore."
The story of Netaji's exploits in Germany and the history of the Indian
Legion was known to Indian revolutionaries of the IIL in East Asia for some time
now, and they awaited his arrival eagerly. As the first INA wavered, faltered
and was finally disbanded, and as its successor merely continued to exist, the
need for Netaji's leadership began to be felt more keenly. Mohan Singh had
mentioned his name to General Fujiwara as early as 1941. In all conferences the
need of his guidance had been emphasized by the delegates.
While Netaji and Abid Hasan continued to push toward the East making a wide
sweep out into the Atlantic, by pre-arrangement, a Japanese submarine left
Penang Island on 20 April for the tip of Africa, under strict orders not to
attack or risk detection. The two submarines had a rendevous four hundred miles
south-southwest of Madagascar on 26 April. After sighting each other and
confirming their identity, the submarines waited for a day for the sea to become
Then on 28 April, in what was known to be the only known
submarine-to-submarine transfer of passengers (in the annals of World War II) in
an area dominated by the enemy's air and naval strength, Netaji and Abid Hasan
were transhipped into the Japanese submarine via a rubber raft. Travelling
across the ocean, the Japanese 1-29 reached Sabang on 6 May, 1943. It was an
isolated offshore islet north of Sumatra.
There, Netaji was welcomed by Colonel Yamamoto, who was the head of the
Hikari Kikan, the Japanese-Indian liaison group. From Sabang, Netaji and
Yamamoto left for Tokyo by plane, stopping en route at Penang, Manila, Saigon
The plane landed in Tokyo on 16 May. All throughout his submarine voyage from
Germany and for about a month after his arrival in Tokyo, Netaji's identity and
presence was kept a secret. He was supposed to be a Japanese VIP named Matsuda.
Although he remained incognito during the first few weeks in Japan, Netaji
did not waste any time by just waiting. From 17 May onwards, he met Japanese
Army and Navy Chiefs-of-Staff, Navy Minister and Foreign Minister in rapid
succession. However, he had to wait for nearly three weeks before Japanese
PrimeMinister Tojo granted him an interview.
But Tojo was so impressed with Netaji's personality that he offered to meet
him again after four days. Two days later, on 16 June, Netaji was invited to
visit the Diet (the Japanese Parliament) where Tojo surprised him with his
historic declaration on India:
We are indignant about the fact that India is still under the ruthless
suppression of Britain and are in full sympathy with her desperate struggle
for independence. We are determined to extend every possible assistance to
the cause of India's independence. It is our belief that the day is not far
off when India will enjoy freedom and prosperity after winning
It was not until 18 June that Tokyo Radio announced Netaji's arrival. The
news was reported in the Tokyo press the following day. At this announcement,
the atmosphere was electrified overnight. The Axis press and radio stressed the
significance of the event.
The INA and the Indian independence movement suddenly assumed far greater
importance in the eyes of all. On 19 June, Netaji held a press conference. This
was followed by two broadcasts to publicize further his presence in East Asia,
and during the course of these he unfolded his plan of action.
As Ghosh describes, Bose's plan stood for the co-ordination of the
nationalist forces within India and abroad to make it a gigantic movement
powerful enough to overthrow the British rulers of India. The assumption on
which Bose seemed to have based his grand scheme was that the internal
conditions in India were ripe for a revolt. The no-cooperation movement must
turn into an active revolt.
And to quote Netaji's own words during the press conference: "Civil
disobedience must develop into armed struggle. And only when the Indian people
have received the baptism of fire on a large scale would they be qualified to
achieve freedom." Netaji then embarked upon a series of meetings, press
conferences. radio broadcasts and lectures in order to explain his immediate
task to the people concerned, and the world.
Accompanied by Rashbehari Bose, Netaji arrived at Singapore from Tokyo on 27
June. He was given a tumultuous welcome by the resident Indians and was
profusely 'garlanded' wherever he went. His speeches kept the listeners
spellbound. By now, a legend had grown around him, and its magic infected his
audiences. Addressing representatives of the Indian communities in East Asia on
4 July he said:
Not content with a civil disobedience campaign, Indian people are now
morally prepared to employ other means for achieving their liberation. The
time has therefore come to pass on to the next stage of our campaign. All
organizations whether inside India or outside, must now transform themselves
into a disciplined fighting organization under one leadership. The aim and
purpose of this organization should be to take up arms against British
imperialism when the time is ripe and signal is given.
At a public meeting where Netaji spoke these words, Rashbehari Bose formally
handed over to Subhas Chandra Bose the leadership of the III, and command of the
INA. The hall was packed to capacity. In his last speech as leader of the
movement Rashbehari Bose said:
Friends! This is one of the happiest moments in my life. I have brought
you one of the most outstanding personalities of our great Motherland to
participate in our campaign. In your presence today, I resign my office as
president of the Indian Independence League in East Asia. From now on,
Subhas Chandra Bose is your president, your leader in the fight for India's
independence, and I am confident that under his leadership, you will march
on to battle and to victory.
In that meeting Netaji announced his plan to organize a Provisional
Government of Free India.
It will be the task of this provisional government to lead the Indian
Revolution to its successful conclusion ... The Provisional Government will
have to prepare the Indian people, inside and outside India, for an armed
struggle which will be the culmination of all our national efforts since
1883. We have a grim fight ahead of us. In this final march to freedom, you
will have to face danger, thirst, privation, forced marches-and death. Only
when you pass this test will freedom be yours.
The next day, on 5 July, Netaji took over the command of the Indian National
Army, now christened Azad Hind Fauj (Free India Army). Tojo arrived from Manila
in time to review the parade of troops standing alongside with Bose. Addressing
the soldiers, Netaji said:
Throughout my pubic career, I have always felt that, though India is
otherwise ripe for independence in every way, she has lacked one thing,
namely, an army of liberation. George Washington of America could fight and
win freedom, because he had his army. Garibaldi could liberate Italy because
he had his armed volunteers behind him. It is your privilege and honor to be
the first to come forward and organize India's national army.
By doing so you have removed the last obstacle in our path to freedom...
When France declared war on Germany in 1939 and the campaign began, there
was but one cry which rose from the lips of German soldiers- "To Paris! To
Paris!" When the brave soldiers of Nippon set out on their march in December
1941, there was but one cry which rose from their lips-"To Singapore! To
Singapore!" Comrades! My soldiers! Let your battle-cry be-"To Delhi! To
How many of us will individually survive this war of freedom, I do not
know. But I do know this, that we shall ultimately win and our task will not
end until our surviving heroes hold the victory parade on another graveyard
of the British Empire-Lal Kila or the Red Fortress of ancient Delhi.
On 27 July, Netaji left Singapore for a 17-day,tour of the East Asian and
Southeast Asian countries. The prime objective of this tour was to enlist moral
and monetary support for his movement from other countries, as well as the
resident Indian communities. He was given a rousing reception in Rangoon, where
he attended the Burmese independence on 1 August; from Rangoon Netaji went to
Bangkok and met Thai Prime Minister Pilbulsongram.
He won the moral support of Thailand and tumultuous ovation from the Indian
community. He then flew to Saigon and addressed Indians there. Returning to
Singapore for a brief rest, he flew to Penang to address a rally of 15,000
Indians. Everywhere, he held his audience spellbound for hours with his superb
oratory, and at the conclusion of his speech the people raced to reach the
platform and pile up all they had before him-a total of two million dollars.
This scene was repeated over and over in towns and cities all over Southeast
Asia, when Netaji stood before thousands of people like a prophet, addressing
them for the cause of India's freedom. Merchants, traders, businessmen and women
came forward everywhere and donated their wealth and ornaments in abundance, to
enable their leader to fulfill his mission. In his plan for total mobilization,
Netaji had outlined a grandiose scheme for an army of three million men.
However, the immediate target was set at 50,000. The Major part of this number
would be from the Indian POWs and the rest from civilian volunteers.
According to Bose's plan there would be three divisions from thirty thousand
regulars and another unit of twenty thousand mainly from civilian volunteers.
The Japanese authorities informea Netaji at that time that it could provide arms
for thirty thousand men only. However, by 1945, it was authoritatively known
that the actual strength of the INA rose to not less than 45,000 men.
After completing the task of reorganizing the Indian Independence League and
launching preparations for revolutionizing the army, and after conducting a
successful campaign to mobilize the support of the Indian communities throughout
Southeast Asia-a phase which lasted from July to OctoberNetaji turned toward
formation of the Provisional Government of Azad Hind (Free India).
This had to be done before the army could be sent for action in the
battlefield. This government was officially proclaimed in Singapore at a mass
rally on 21 October 1943 where Netaji was unanimously elected as the Head of the
State and The Supreme Commander of the Indian National Army. While taking the
oath he said:
In the name of God, I take this sacred oath that to liberate India and
the three hundred eighty million of my countrymen, L Subhas Chandra Bose,
will continue the sacred war of freedom till the last breath of my life. I
shall remain always a servant of India, and to look after the welfare of
three hundred eighty million of Indian brothers and sisters shall be for me
my highest duty. Even after winning freedom, I will always be prepared to
shed even the last drop of my blood for the preservation of India's
The Provisional Government of Free India had five Ministers with Netaji as
the Head of the State, Prime Minister and Minister for War and advisers
representing the Indian communities in East Asia.
The first momentous decision which the new government took was its
declaration of war on Britain and the United States, which was decided on the
night of 22-23 October. Toye writes: "The Cabinet had not been unanimous about
the inclusion of the U.S.A. Bose had shown impatience and displeasure- there was
never any question then or later of his absolute authority: the Cabinet had no
responsibility and could only tender advice.,,32
Recognition of the Provisional Government came quickly from nine
countries-the Axis powers and their allies. They were: Japan, Burma, Croatia,
Germany, the Philippines, Nanking China, Manchuto, Italy and Siam (Thailand),
but for some unknown reasons, Vichy France withheld its recognition. The
Japanese Army promised all-out support for the provisional government.
Toward the end of October, Netaji flew to Tokyo again to meet Tojo and to
attend the greater East Asia Conference. Since India technically did not fall
within this sphere, he attended as an observer. He made an impressive speech at
the conference, stressing the creation of a new Asia where all vestiges of
colonialism and imperialism would be eliminated.
The Japanese navy had captured the Andaman and Nicober islands in the Bay of
Bengal during the early months of war. As a result of Netaji's requests, Prime
Minister Tojo announced at the conference that Japan had decided to place the
two islands under the jurisdiction of the Provisional Government of Free India,
thereby giving it its first sovereignty over a territory.
The ceremonial transfer took place in December, and Netaji named
Lieutenant-Colonel Loganathan, an officer in the Medical Services, as the chief
commissioner in charge of the civil administration of the islands. Soon
thereafter, preparations began for sending the army to the front and moving the
provisional government headquarters to Rangoon, in Burma. In the meantime,
Netaji announced the formation of a women's brigade within the INA, and named it
"Rani of Jhansi Regiment," after the celebrated queen of Jhansi, Laxmibai, who
had led her soldiers against the British in an uprising during the First War of
Independence in 1857.
Coincidentially, another Laxmi, Lieutenant-Col. Laxmi, was placed in charge
of this regiment by Netaji. In November it was agreed between Netaji and the
Japanese militay headquarters, that the INA first division and the civil and
military headquarters would move to Burma in January 1944.
The Imphal Campaign
The Imphal Campaign, including the battle of Kohima -- the first major town
to be captured by the INA inside India -- will perhaps go down as one of the
most daring and disastrous campaigns in the annals of world military history.
General Mutaguchi, commander of the Japanese forces in North Burma since 1943,
had been convinced that Imphal should be attacked.
The objects of such an offensive were to forestall any invasion of Burma in
1944 and to establish the Japanese defenses on the frontier mountains. The idea
would be first to overwhelm the British in Arakan, involving all their reserves
in battle for Chittagong and the gateway to eastern Bengal.
Then, by April, Kohima and Imphal could be conquered at leisure, without
danger of their being reinforced. The monsoon, beginning in May, would postpone
operations, and after the rains were over, in the absence of a new British
defense posture east of the river Brahmaputra, the entire Assam and East Bengal
would lie open to the Indian National Army and the Japanese.
Imphal, the capital of the state of Manipur, lay on a flat, nearly treeless
plateau just inside the Indian border. Its elevation was about 3,000 feet,
surrounded on all sides by impassable mountains.
The mountain range in the east with 2,000-4,000 foot peaks above the plateau
stretches some five hundred miles. To the West and South are the Chin hills of
the Arakan range, a formidable stretch of inhospitable terrain.
The jungle surrounding this basin is hostile to human habitation. The
northern access to the plain from India and Assam lay through Dimapur and the
steep Kohima Road. From Dimapur, a single track railway swept through Assam and
Bengal and was an important military objective to both armies.
For the INA the importance of the Imphal campaign was that it was the only
major battle in which it would participate with the object of achieving freedom
for India. As Salto and Hayashida writes:
The Imphal Operation was the final offensive of the East Asia War,
mounted by three Burma-based Japanese divisions, and one INA division. The
campaign lasted from 15 March to 9 July 1944. The operation has often been
compared to the operation Wacht am Rhein or the Battle of the Bulge, which
was the final all-out drive launched by Germany towards Ardennes on the
Western Front, from December 1944 to January 1945. Both operations al most
succeeded and both are termed "gambles" by historians today. If the German
push towards Ardennes was Wacht am Rhein, the Japanese-Indian thrust against
Imphal might be called "Wacht am Chindwin" although the official Japanese
code-name for the action was most prosaic: Operation "U".
River Chindwin lay across the Indo-Burmese border, and its crossing from the
east by an army would signal an invasion of India.
Execution orders for Operation U became operative on 7 January 1944,
coinciding with completion of the shifting of the Provisional Government
headquarters in Rangoon. In the evening of the same day, Lt. General Masakazy
Kawabe, commanding the overall Burma headquarters, held a welcome party in honor
of Netaji and his staff officers.
Netaji spoke, and concluded his speech with these words. "My only prayer to
the Almighty at this moment is that we may be given the earliest opportunity to
pay for our freedom with our own blood.',34 One INA Division, named after Netaji
as Subhas Regiment, was readied for action at the front with the Japanese. Toye
... He spent the whole days... with the Subhas Regiment, reviewing,
watching it at exercises and on parade, talking to its officers, exerting
his magic on it in a way that he had not attempted before. These were his
comrades, the men by whose means he would uphold the rights and honour of
India. Everything depended on their achievement in battle; they must absorb
all his feelings of confidence, feel the whole of his personal force. On 3
February he bade them farewell: "Blood is calling for blood. Arise! We have
no time to lose. Take up your arms. There in front of you is the road. our
pioneers have built. We shall march along that road. We shall carve our way
through enemy's ranks, or, if God wills, we shall die a martyr's death. And
in our last sleep we shall kiss the road which will bring our Army to Delhi.
The road to Delhi is the road to Freedom. On to Delhi!"
Mutaguchi set 15 March as the D-day for the beginning of the Imphal campaign.
The deployment of well over 120,000 troops along the Chindwin river, a front of
some 200 kilometers, went on smoothly and undetected by British spies planted in
the area. In the meantime, Netaji received some good news. The Arakan offensive,
launched on 4 February, had cut off the 7th Indian Division of the British Army
in Mayu valley.
Contributing to this success was the reconnaissance and subversion of an
Indian outpost position by Major Misra, the INA Commander in Arakan. At the same
time, he received messages from the underground network working inside India
under his direction, whose selected trained spies had been sent by submarine.
On D-day, Mutaguchi assembled the war correspondents at his headquarters in
central Burma and declared: "I am firmly convinced that my three divisions will
reduce Imphal in one month. In order that they can march fast, they carry the
lightest possible equipment and food enough for three weeks. Ali, they will get
everything from the British supplies and dumps. Boys! See you again in Imphal at
the celebration of the Emperor's birthday on 29 April."
The Japanese-Indian offensive took the British by complete surprise. The
Japanese and INA troops literally galloped through mountains and jungles routing
the enemy on the way. Prior to the Imphal offensive, an INA detachment under
Colonel Saligal had created a breach through the British lines in the Arakan
sector. Now the INA's deployment was extended to the Imphal sector.
As the INA under Netaji's command set foot on the Indian soil, the main
Japanese force also defeated the obstinate resistance of the enemy on 22 March,
broke through the India-Burma border, and advanced from the north and west to
encircle Imphal. The initial success of the INA at the Arakan front generated
much enthusiasm. In a Special Order of the Day, Netaji referred to the "Glorious
and brilliant actions of the brave forces of the Azad Hind Fauj."
On 8 April, Japanese Imperial Headquarters issued a communique which said:
"Japanese troops, fighting side by side with the Indian National Army, captured
Kohima early on 6 April. A jubilant Netaji at this time started talking with
the Japanese about the administration of the liberated and soon-to-be-liberated
territories in India.
In response to a call by Netaji, Prime Minister Tojo made an announcement
clarifying that all areas of India occupied as a result of Japanese advance
would be placed under the jurisdiction of the Provisional Government. This was
followed by Netaji's announcement that he was appointing the Finance Minister of
his cabinet, Major-General A.C. Chatterjee, as the governor of the newly
liberated areas. Netaji described the march of the INA into India as the event
of the century.
He had also just declared the Legion in Europe to be part of the INA and had
appointed Nambiar to be a Minister in the Provisional Government; his Chief
Commissioner had been installed in the Andamans, his first heroes from the
Arakan front had been decorated, and the, INA troops had raised the national
standard of free India in Kohima; and now, the fall of Imphal seemed very near.
Did the Imphal Campaign come almost two years too late? What would have
happened if Netaji had arrived in East Asia a year earlier? by the end of 1942,
the Axis had scored successes everywhere.
Rommel was in Egypt, the German invasion of Russia had gone smoothly,
Nationalist China was on her knees, and India and Australia were expecting a
Japanese invasion. Prospects for the Allies were dark in the Pacific and the
Rising Sun was at its zenith from Japan to the Bay of Bengal ... Britain was
unable to dispute with the Japanese Navy, and there were not enough British
and Indian troops in India to assure its defense. Even air protection was
inadequte ... Japanese forces had not pursued retreating British troops
beyond the Chindwin river in Burma in May 1942, allegedly because "an
invasion was likely to arouse ill-feelings amongst the Indian masses." ...
So the Japanese remained east of the Chindwin river, leaving British Indian
forces to build up their strength in the Imphal plain.
But above all, in that moment of a golden opportunity, the towering
leadership of Netaji, a provisional government, and an Indian national army
worthy of its name -- all these were non-existent in East Asia. Japan by itself
simply lacked the motivation for extending war into India, let alone think of
its independence. The fact remains, however, that the Imphal campaign was indeed
first conceived in 1942, right after the conquest of Burma. According to the
official history of the British Armed Forces in the Second World War,
Soon after the completion of the Japanese conquest of Burma in June 1942,
a certain Lt. Col. Hayashi had advocated an attack on Imphal. He considered
that the Japanese should strike against India without giving time to the
defenders to recuperate from their disastrous retreat, and Imphal's capture
would rob them of the best base for launching a counter-offensive against
Burma ... 18th division argued that the jungles of Burma were impassable for
large bodies of operational troops and that any attack on Indian territory
would provoke anti-Japanese feelings in India. About December 1942,
therefore, the plan was abandoned.
Lieutenant-General Kuroda Shigetoku, Southern Army Chief of Staff, stated
later that if the operation had been carried out in 1942 when first conceived,
rather than in 1944, it would have succeeded. According to Lebra, "General Tojo
stated in the spring of 1945 that he regretted Japan had missed the opportunity
As the INA and the Japanese forces continued to lay siege on Imphal, the
Allied air superiority gained strength and the enemy was preparing for
counterattack. Shah Nawaz, commanding two battalions of the Subhas Regiment in
the Chin Hills, told of the hardships his men were suffering as a result of
disease and of supply and transport difficulties. However, owing to
communication problems, the news of difficulties his men were undergoing at the
front did not reach Netaji in detail.
While there was a stalemate in the front and the offensive came to a halt,
there were meetings and jubilations at Rangoon where Netaji collected money and
donations in other forms for the conduct of his campaign. He offered to send
additional INA regiments to the Front and more troops were despatched. For about
a month Operation U went according to plan. Enemy forces were successfully
encircled in the Imphal area.
Suddenly, in the middle of April, the military balance began to shift against
Japan and the INA. Wingate's airborne unit had already been attacking from air
over Burma supply routes. British forces were being supplied by airlift into the
besieged Imphal, and reinforcements began to flow in. British forces were being
sent to Kohima to the north by both rail and air. Japan had no matching air
power to strike back at enemy air operations.
By the end of April the battle strength of Japanese and INA divisions was
decreased forty percent. Time for success by surprise attack had already passed
and gradually the offensive turned into a defensive battle. The monsoon that
followed, brought the ultimate disaster.
As roads became impassable, all supply routes were cut off. Muddy streams
flooded roads and valleys, and rivers swelled to sweep away tanks and
ammunition. In the wake of the monsoon, disease became rampant. Cholera,
malaria, dysentery, beriberi and jungle sores began to take their toll.
The INA and the Japanese started living on rations consisting of rice mixed
with jungle grass. The 33rd Division had fought desperately for forty days
without being able to penetrate the British lines at Imphal. And now that vast
amounts of military supplies were reaching the beleaguered garrison at Imphal,
there was virtually no hope for a renewed offensive. On 8 July, on the
recommendation of top-ranking Generals including Kawabe and Mutaguchi, Prime
Minister Tajo issued the order to halt the operation.
The story of retreat from Imphal is one of the greatest tragedies of World
War II. It is a story of misery, hunger and death. Japanese and INA troops,
bottled up in the Kawab valley between the Chin Hills in the west and the
Chindwin river in the west, began their long trek back through jungles and
mountains, headed by division commanders and guards in jeeps and horses.
Officers, supply, communication and medical units followed. Behind them
marched thousands of stragglers: rain-soaked, emaciated with fever and
malnutrition. Soon, corpses began accumulating along the trek, and they had to
be left unburied. Of the 220,000 Japanese troops who began the Imphal Campaign,
only 130,000 survived, and of these only 70,000 remained at the front to
retreat. INA casualties were over fifty percent. It was a disaster equal in
magnitude to Dunkirk and Stalingrad. Lebra writes:
When Bose heard the order to retreat he was stunned. He drew himself up
and said to Kawabe in ringing tones: "Though the Japanese Army has given up
the operation, we will continue it. We will not repent even if the advance
of our revolutionary army to attain independence of our homeland is
completely defeated. Increase in casualties, cessation of supplies, and
famine are not reasons enough to stop marching.
Even if the whole army becomes only spirit we will not stop advancing
toward our homeland. This is the spirit of our revolutionary army." In an
article in Azad Hind on 6 November 1944, after the retreat from Imphal, Bose
was reported to have "reiterated his firm conviction that final victory in
this war would belong to Japan and Germany ... that a new phase of war was
approaching in which the initiative would again lie in the hands of the
Each Japanese commander gave his own analysis of the causes of the failure of
Operation U, like the problem of the chain of command, lack of air power, on
dispersal rather than concentration of forces. However, Netaji thought it was
timing, with respect to the monsoon.
He felt that the only chance to take Imphal was before the rains came, and
most strategists agreed on this point. From the historic perspective, however,
Fujiwara perhaps was the most correct. According to him, the Imphal disaster
could have been avoided had the operation been undertaken a year earlier, at a
time when the British power in the region was weak.
The delay in launching the Imphal offensive was no doubt due to Netaji's late
arrival from Europe to East Asia. The Imphal campaign should have been
undertaken at a time when the Axis victories had reached their zenith and the
Allied forces were on retreat everywhere.
During the last three months of 1944, Japanese forces had withdrawn to the
banks of the Irrawaddy in Burma, where they intended to make a stand. Netaji
enthusiastically offered the reorganized INA First Division, when the Japanese
15th division was ordered to oppose the British. Subsquently, the 2nd Division
was also readied for action. In February 1945, the INA held some positions in
the region of Mandalay in Burma, giving battle to the advancing enemy.
This was the second campaign of Netaji's army, and it held out tenaciously at
Nyaungu for some time. However, allied troops later crossed the Irrawaddy at
several points and the Japanese and INA units were surrounded. There were some
Despite unique examples of heroism and Netaji's presence in the battlefields,
risking his own life in the face of enemy attacks, the second campaign of the
INA (which was purely a defensive one) finally had to give way to the gradual
reconquest of Burma by the British.
The end of this campaign was followed by a chain of events that included the
final Japanese defeat, an alleged plane crash in Formosa in which Netaji
reportedly perished, the surrender of the INA to the allied forces and the trial
of their leaders at the Red Fort in Delhi, staged by the British. However, all
these fateful events, occurring during the final phase of World War II and its
aftermath, should be considered parts of an altogether different episode
relating to Subhas Chandra Bose and the Indian National Army.
In the present episode we have examined the historical tasks fulfilled by
Netaji and his army in Europe and Asia during World War II, and their
significance. In recognition of Netaji's historically significant role as a war
leader, Guy Wint pays him a rare tribute with these words: "He played ... an
extraordinarily decisive part. By accident, and by seizing an exceptional
opportunity, he was able to cut a figure which made him outstanding among the
comparatively small number of men who influenced the course of the war by their
The Myth of "Freedom through Non-violence under Gandhi's Leadership"
Modern historians in India are taking a second look at the way the country's
freedom was achieved, and in that process are demolishing a number of theories,
assumptions and myths preached by the "court historians."
However, in order to grasp the magnitude of the issue, with its many
ramifications, it is essential to understand first the concept of freedom as
envisaged by Netaji -- the ideal which motivated him to wrest it from the hands
of the British by the force of arms.
In his entire political career, Subhas Chandra Bose was guided by two
cardinal principles in his quest for his country's emancipation: that there
could be no compromise with alien colonialists on the issue, and that on no
account would the country be partitioned. The Indian geographical unity was to
be maintained at all costs.
As we have already seen, the unfortunate turn of events during World War II
prevented Netaji's dream of his victorious march to Delhi at the head of his
Indian National Army from becoming a reality.
In his and his army's absence in a post-war India, politicians under the
leadership of Gandhi and Nehru did exactly what Netaji never wanted: they
negotiated and compromised with the British on the issue of freedom, and in
their haste to get into power, agreed to a formula of partitioning India
presented to them by the British.
The transfer of power was followed by two more developments that were alien
to Netaji's philosophy and his blueprint for a free India: introduction of a
parliamentary democratic system by Nehru and his decision to keep India in the
British Commonwealth of Nations.
It was a truncated freedom, achieved over the bloodbath of millions who had
perished in fratricidal religious rioting during the process of partition, as
the erstwhile India emerged on the world map as the two nations of India and
Even so, the fragmented freedom that fell as India's share after the British
had skilfully played their age-old game of divide and rule came not as a result
of Gandhi's civil disobedience and non-violent movement as the court historians
would have us believe; nor was it due to persistent negotiations by Nehru and
other Indian National Congress leaders on the conference table, which the
British found so easy to keep stalling. The British finally quit when they began
to feel the foundations of loyalty being shaken among the British Indian
soldiers-the mainstay of the colonial power-as a result of the INA exploits that
became known to the world after the cessation of hostilities in East Asia.
Ramesh Chandra Majumdar, the eminent Indian historian who passed away
recently, and who by virtue of his challenges to several historical myths can
rightly be called the Dean of new historians in India, observed in his book
Three Phases of India's Struggle for Freedom:
There is, however, no basis for the claim that the Civil Disobedience
Movement directly led to independence. The campaigns of Gandhi ... came to
an ignoble end about fourteen years before India achieved independence ...
During the First World War the Indian revolutionaries sought to take
advantage of German help in the shape of war materials to free the country
by armed revolt. But the attempt did not succeed. During the Second World
War Subhas Bose followed the same method and created the INA. In spite of
brilliant planning and initial success, the violent campaigns of Subhas Bose
failed ... The Battles for India's freedom were also being fought against
Britain, though indirectly, by Hitler in Europe and Japan in Asia. None of
these scored direct success, but few would deny that it was the cumulative
effect of all the three that brought freedom to India. In particular, the
revelations made by the INA trial, and the reaction it produced in India,
made it quite plain to the British, already exhausted by the war, that they
could no longer depend upon the loyalty of the seapoys for maintaining their
authority in India. This had probably the greatest influence upon their
final decision to quit India.
Despite Japan's defeat and the consequent withering away of the Indian
National Army on the India-Burma front, both Subhas Chandra Bose and his INA
became household names throughout the country as the returning soldiers were
sought to be prosecuted by the British. By then, the Congress leadership under
Gandhi and Nehru had pre-empted itself, and the year 1945 seemed relatively calm
and uneventful. However, Netaji and his legend worked up a movement all over the
country which even a Gandhi could never produce. Echoing this mass upsurge
Michael Edwardes wrote in his Last Years of British India:
The Government of India had hoped, by prosecuting members of the INA, to
reinforce the morale of the Indian army. It succeeded only in creating
unease, in making the soldiers feel slightly ashamed that they themselves
had supported the British. If Bose and his men had been on the right
side-and all India now confirmed that they were-then Indians in the Indian
army must have been on the wrong side. It slowly dawned upon the Government
of India that the backbone of the British rule, the Indian army, might now
no longer be trustworthy. The ghost of Subhas Bose, like Hamlet's father,
walked the battlements of the Red Fort (where the INA soldiers were being
tried), and his suddenly amplified figure overawed the conference that was
to lead to independence.
Apart from revisionist historians, it was none other than Lord Clement Atlee
himself, the British Prime Minster responsible for conceding independence to
India, who gave a shattering blow to the myth sought to be perpetuated by court
historians, that Gandhi and his movement had led the country to freedom. Chief
justice P.B. Chakrabarty of Calcutta High Court, who had also served as the
acting Governor of West Bengal in India, disclosed the following in a letter
addressed to the publisher of Dr. R.C. Majumdar's book A History of Bengal.
The Chief Justice wrote:
You have fulfilled a noble task by persuading Dr. Majumdar to write this
history of Bengal and publishing it ... In the preface of the book Dr.
Majumdar has written that he could not accept the thesis that Indian
independence was brought about solely, or predominantly by the non-violent
civil disobedience movement of Gandhi. When I was the acting Governor, Lord
Atlee, 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 Atlee 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,
When the new version of the history of the Twentieth Century India, and
especially the episode of the country's unique struggle for independence comes
to be written, it will no doubt single out but one person who made the most
significant and outstanding contribution among all his compatriots toward the
emancipation of his motherland from the shackles of an alien bondage. During
World War II this man strode across two continents like a colossus, and the
footsteps of his army of liberation reverberated through the forests and plains
of Europe and the jungles and mountains of Asia. His armed assaults shook the
very foundations of the British Empire. His name was Subhas Chandra Bose.
- Bose, Subhas Chandra, The Indian Struggle 1920-1942,
New York: Asia Publishing House, 1964, p. 318.
- Ibid., pp. 419-422, 431-432.
- Ganpuley, N.G., Netaji in Germany: A Little-known
Chapter, Bombay, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1959, p. 63
- Ibid., pp. 63-64.
- Toye, Hugh, The Springing Tiger, London, Cassell,
1959, p. 63.
- Ibid., p. 70.
- Lebra, Joyce C., Jungle Alliance: Japan and the Indian
National Army. Singapore, Asia Pacific Library, p. 110.
- The Goebbles Diaries, 1942-1943,
Edited, translated and with an introd. by Louis P. Lochner, Westport, Conn.,
Greenwood Press, 1970, p. 107.
- Ibid., P. 123.
- Ibid., p. 211.
- Toys, Hugh, op. cit., pp. 72-73.
- Ibid., p. 75.
- Seifriz, Adalbert, In Preface to Ganpuley's Netaji in
- Sopan, pseud., Ed., Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. His
Life and Work. Bombay, Azad Bhandar, 1946, pp. 281-282, 284.
- Ganpuley, N.G., op. cit., p. 153.
- Staatsmaenner und Diplomaten bei Hitler, Part Two,
Edited by Andreas Hillgrueber, Frankfurt am Main, Bernard & Graefe fuer
- Maryama Shizuo, Nakano Gakko, Tokyo, 1948, p. 120
- Subhas Chandra Bose and Japan,
4th section, Asian Bureau, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Govt. of Japan,
- A Beacon Across Asia: A Biography of Subhas Chandra
Bose. Ed.in-chief: Sisir K. Bose, New Delhi,
Orient Longman, 1973, p. 143.
- Lebra, Joyce C., op. cit., p. 51.
- Subhas Chandra Bose and Japan,
- [??? Not included in original, the webmaster]
- Ghosh, K. K., The Indian National Army: Second Front
of the Indian Independence Movement, Meerut, Meenakshi Prakashan, 1969,
- A Beacon Across Asia, op.
cit., p. 167.
- Ghosh, K. K., op. Cit., p. 135.
- Press Statement, 19 June 1943.
- Sopan, op. cit., p. 313.
- Sivaram, M., The Road to Delhi, Rutland, Vt., C.E.
Tuttle Co., 1967, pp. 122-123.
- Ibid., pp. 123-124.
- A Beacon Across Asia, op.
cit., p. 178.
- Toyle, Hugh, op. cit., p. go.
- Ibid., p. 91.
- A Beacon Across Asia, op.
cit., p. 196.
- Ibid., p. 200.
- Toye, Hugh, op. cit., p. 103.
- A Beacon Across Asia, op.
cit., p. 203.
- Arun, pseud., Ed., Testament of Subhas Bose,
Delhi, Rajkamal Pub., 1946, p. 170.
- A Beacon Across Asia, op.
cit., p. 205.
- Lebra, Joyce C., op. cit., p. 150.
- British Armed Forces in the Second World War,
Combined Interservices Historical Section, 1958.
- Lebra, Joyce C., op. cit., p. 158.
- Ibid., pp. 190-191.
- Calvocoressi, Peter, and Guy Wint, The Total War: the
Story of World War II, New York, Pantheon Books, 1972, pp. 801-802.
- Majumdar, R.C., Three Phases of India's Struggle for
Freedom, Bombay, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1967, pp. 58-59.
- Edwardes, Michael, The Last Years of British India,
Cleveland, World Pub. Co., 1964, p. 93.
- Majumdar, R. C., Jibanera Smritideepe, Calcutta,
General Printers and Publishers, 1978, pp. 229-230, (quotation translated
from original Bengali).