One of the greatest sons of India, Subhas Chandra Bose has always created a sense of pride among people who believe in the greatness of their country. His plans for independence of his motherland from the yoke of the British imperialism with the help of its adversaries during the Second World War still evoke a sense of awe and reverence for this brave patriot. He set up a Provisional Government of Free India abroad and organised the Indian National Army (INA), known as the Azad Hind Fauj. With the help of the Japanese forces, the INA attempted to enter the Indian soil as liberators. In the initial stages, they made great headway and the flag of Azad Hindustan was hoisted by them at Mowdok, about 50 miles to the east of Cox Bazar, amidst great rejoicing and singing of national anthem. But when the fortunes of Japan nosedived, the aspirations of the INA also received a setback. Subhas Chandra Bose was killed in an aircrash on his way to Tokyo. His endeavour to free his country by putting his own life at risk at every step is indeed part of the saga of Indian history.
Subhas Chandra Bose resigned from the Indian Civil Service (ICS) in 1921 to join the Non-cooperation Movement. He was a born rebel and emotionally a dissenter. He wrote a book, The Indian Struggle, which was published in London in 1935, but was proscribed in India. He was elected twice the President of All-India Congress in the years 1938 and 1939 for the sessions at Haripura and Tripuri, but had to part company with the Congress leaders because of his radical views. He was arrested on July 2, 1940 under Section 129 of the Defence of India Rules. The Government had no case against him and was trying to implicate him in two criminal cases. Languishing in jail, he lamented he could do nothing for the liberation of his motherland. He, therefore, embarked upon a plan to take advantage of the War and seek the help of the foreign powers for obtaining the independence of his country. To execute this plan, it was necessary to come out of jail. He, therefore, went on a hunger strike on November 29, 1940. As his health soon deteriorated to an alarming condition, the Government released him on bail on December 5, 1940.
After his release, Subhas remained quietly at his house on Elgin Road in Calcutta under the strict surveillance of the police. He left home stealthily on January 17, 1941 at about 1.25 a.m. in a car driven by his nephew, Sisir, in the guise of a kabuliwalla and boarded the train for Peshawar. He remained in Peshawar for a week, both in mental agony and utter physical discomfort trying to find ways and means to safely cross the borders of the British empire without being detected. He undertook his journey to Kabul via Jamrud and Landikotal by various modes, partly by tonga, partly by truck and partly on foot also. He reached Kabul on January 31, 1941 at 11.00 a.m. from where he proceeded to Russia on an Italian passport. He flew from Moscow to Berlin on March 28, 1941.
Bose did not find his mission to Germany an easy task. There were bottlenecks and obstacles at every stage. He was able to meet the German Foreign Minister, Von Ribbontrop. The German Government allowed him to set up a Free India Centre and make regular broadcasts from the Azad Hind Radio Station at Berlin, but was not prepared to make a declaration of Indian independence. Subhas Chandra Bose also met Hitler on May 29, 1942, but could not convince him of the immediate necessity of securing the independence of India. Hitler persisted in his belief, put forward in Mein Kampf, that India would not be able to rule herself for another 150 years. All this threw cold water on the hopes of Subhas, but he was not a man to be disheartened by the reverses and repulsions during his mission. The rapid successes of Japan against the Allied powers in the Far East soon provided him with a new ray of hope. He could fight the British imperialism more effectively with the assistance of Japan.
The opportunity for embarking upon the new adventure came much sooner than it could have been expected. Rash Behary Bose, the veteran revolutionary of the First World War period, had been living in Japan since 1915 with his Japanese wife. The entry of Japan in the Second World War against the Allied powers provided him an opportunity for uniting all the Indians living in Tokyo and forming an Indian Independence League in March 1942. A bigger gathering of the Indians settled throughout the Japanese Asia from China, Philippines, Thailand, Borneo, Java, Sumatra, Hong Kong, etc., met in a conference at Bangkok from June 15 to 23, 1942. The conference re-elected Rash Behary Bose as the Chairman of the Indian Independence League. It laid down the attainment of complete and immediate independence of India as its main objective and passed thirty-five resolutions. It decided to form an Indian National Army with Captain Mohan Singh as its Commander-in-Chief and constitute a Council of Action for the attainment of the objectives of the League. It invited Subhas Chandra Bose to take up the leadership of the struggle.
Bose accepted the invitation of the Bangkok conference and embarked upon another hazardous journey—along with Abid Hussain—in a German submarine. Leaving Kiel on February 8, 1943, the submarine made a long journey through the Atlantic Ocean to avoid the British ships. Another Japanese submarine was waiting for him to which he and his colleague were transferred by a rubber dinghy on April 28, 1943. It took them across the Indian Ocean to Sumatra and after a long sea journey, Bose reached Tokyo on June 13, 1943. The days of his wanderings were now over and an era of hope, purpose and accomplishment began in his life, fully dedicated to the independence of his motherland. The Japanese Premier, Tojo, assured him that his country wanted India to be free and independent. He invited Bose to attend the proceedings of the Japanese Parliament (Diet) in which he declared on June 16, 1943, “We are determined to extend every possible assistance to the cause of India’s independence.” The Premier also encouraged Subhas to establish a Provisional Government of Free India and allowed him to broadcast his views to the Indian people through Tokyo Radio.
Having achieved complete success at Tokyo, Subhas Chandra Bose went to Singapore on July 2, 1943. He received a tumultuous welcome there by a big gathering of Indians. They instinctively felt, that at last, the Man of Destiny had come to lead them on the road towards freedom of their country. The soldiers of the INA presented him a guard of honour and he took the salute in his civilian dress with Gandhi cap on his head. Two days later, Rash Behary Bose handed over to him both the Presidentship of Indian Independence League (IIL) and the Supreme Command of the Indian National Army. He was hailed as Netaji—the supreme leader, the title by which he has always been and is still remembered by the people.
Assuming the leadership of IIL and command of INA, Bose gave a call ‘Dilli Chalo’ (March to Delhi) and the salutation ‘Jai Hind’. He reorganised the recruitment and training departments of the Indian National Army. Apart from physical training, the soldiers were also to be imparted mental training to arouse their national pride and love for the motherland. They were to imbibe in their lives the three principles of the Indian Independence League, namely, unity, faith and sacrifice. The soldiers were placed under three commands named after Gandhi, Azad and Nehru. Subhas also made extensive changes in the style and functioning of the Indian Independence League.
The scene was now set for the formal inauguration of the Provisional Government of Free India. A grand function was held at Cathy Hall in Singapore on October 21, 1943 where Bose read his historic proclamation declaring the establishment of the Provisional Government of Free India. On this solemn occasion, he took an oath of allegiance: “In the name of God, I take the sacred oath that to liberate India and the thirty-eight crore of my countrymen, I, Subhas Chandra Bose, will continue this sacred war of freedom till the last breath of my life. I shall always remain a servant of India. Even after winning freedom, I will always be prepared to shed my blood for the preservation of India’s freedom.” The Provisional Government immediately declared war on Great Britain and the United States of America. It also won quick recognition from nine nations—Japan, Germany, Italy, Thailand, Burma, Nationalist China, Manchuria, Croatia and Philippines. On October 28, 1943, Subhas Chandra Bose, now called Netaji, flew to Tokyo as the Head of Provisional Government of Free India and was received by the Japanese Emperor with full honours due to the head of a state. He also attended the Greater East Asia Conference on November 6, 1943 at which the Japanese Premier, Tojo, announced that his Government had decided to hand over the Andaman and Nicobar Islands to the Provisional Government of Free India. These islands were renamed as Shahid and Swaraj by the Provisional Government.
The task before the Provisional Government now was to participate in the Japanese offensive against British India. “Any liberation of India secured through Japanese sacrifices,” declared Netaji, “is worse than slavery.” Our independence must be won by the blood of Indians. The brave soldiers of the INA were ready to sacrifice their lives for the honour of their motherland. The INA decided to launch an attack simultaneously in three sectors. The Arakan sector was placed under the command of Col. Misra. The Bishenpur sector was put under Col. Malik and Kohima sector under Major Maghar Singh and Ajmer Singh. The INA achieved great success in the Arakan and Bishenpur sectors and was also to occupy Mowdok in May 1944. The Kohima sector was much wider and strategically more important. After quite a hard fighting, the Japanese-INA forces were able to capture Kohima, only a few miles from Dimapur, on April 6, 1944. It now looked that Imphal would also fall into the hands of the Japanese-INA forces by the middle of May 1944. Unfortunately, this did not materialise and the advent of monsoon created many difficulties in supply of rations and ammunition to the force besieging Imphal. This together with the mounting pressure of British reinforcements compelled the Japanese-INA forces to withdraw to the east bank of the river Chindwin. Ultimately, the Imphal campaign had to be called off and the INA also had to retreat. Thus ended the great hope of liberating India by Netaji and his Indian National Army with the help of the Japanese.
By the middle of 1944, it was clear that both Germany and Japan would lose the War. The Britishers started their counter-offensive in the winter of 1944-45 and were able to regain Rangoon in May 1945. The INA men occupying Rangoon were disarmed and declared prisoners of war. They had sacrificed 4,000 lives for the liberation of their country. The heart of Netaji, the architect of the Indian National Army, must have been broken by the total collapse of his plans but he still hoped to renew his fight against the British imperialism. Unfortunately, the cruel hands of destiny snatched him from us. He died in an aircrash on August 18, 1945, immediately after his plane took off from Taipei (Formosa) at 2 p.m. after lunch. Thus ended the life story of a brave son of India who constantly dreamed of her independence and dedicated all his life to its attainment.
The trials of the INA officers—Shah Nawaz, Sehgal and Dhillon—for treason to their oath evoked patriotic feelings among all sections of our people. There were protests and demonstrations throughout the country demanding release of these patriots. The Congress appointed INA Defence Committee. It comprised eminent lawyers like Bhulabhai Desai, Tej Bahadur Sapru and Kailash Nath Katju. Jawaharlal Nehru also donned the lawyer’s gown after 22 years. The prosecution proceedings commenced at the Red Fort on November 5, 1945 and continued till December 31, 1945. It brought into focus the sacrifices made by the soldiers of INA for their country. The court martial found the accused guilty and sentenced them to transportation for life, subject to confirmation by the Commander-in-Chief. The latter announced the remission of the sentence on January 3, 1946.
The three INA heroes received a tumultuous welcome from the public wherever they went. This was bound to evoke the feeling of patriotism among all the armed forces of the country. A section of Royal Indian Navy at Bombay revolted against the authorities in February 1946. The Air Force and the Army were also affected by the nationalistic upsurge in the Navy. Finding that they were now seated on top of a volcano which could erupt at any moment, the Britishers decided to leave India and grant freedom to her. This vindicated fully the sacrifices made by Subhas Chandra Bose and his INA.