|Subhash Bose & Gandhi in happier times|
Conventional official history suggests that India rode to independence on a successful Quit India movement and which among others, is celebrated by the popular 1950s Abhi Bhattacharya film `Jagriti’ in a song “De di Azadi haemin bina kharag, bina dhal …’ (Gave us freedom without picking up a sword or shield) . Popular perception and pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that is contemporary history, however gives less credence to the efficacy of the non-violent struggle of 1942 and more to the chain of mutinies which Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and his INA initiated in giving the British the last push homewards.
In 1956 while on a trip to Calcutta, British Prime Minister Lord Attlee, who piloted the India Independence Bill into an Act in the British Parliament was asked by his host, the Acting Governor of West Bengal, Justice P.B.Chakravarti as to why the British decided to grant India independence within four year of having successfully crushed the Quit India civil disobedience movement of 1942 launched by Mahatma Gandhi.
The pipe-smoking, Labour leader Clement Attlee, known to be a plain-speaking politician who could be embarrassingly blunt, said that the most important reason was “the loyalty of the men of the (British) Indian Army to their British commanders had been undermined by Subhash Bose’s action.”
In his `The Journal’, French Nobel prize winning writer, Romain Rolland, says that Bose had revealed to him by the mid-1930s, that he believed the way to freedom was by harnessing the “organised violence” of an armed force. This army, he believed should take the field when Britain herself was at war.
The Second World War gave Bose that grand chance. He took it with both hands. Most of us know the saga of his daring escape from house arrest in Calcutta and his travels in disguise through the North West Frontier and Afghanistan and on to Germany ; of his parleys with Hitler, his disappointment with Germany’s lack of material help or open declaration of support for India and decision to wage war against Soviet Russia. As well as the story of his eventual arrival at Singapore after a daring submarine journey across two Oceans, to launch the rebel Indian National Army, a force of 55,000 soldiers drawn from Indian Prisoners of War and military age civilian volunteers from the Indian community in Malaya, Singapore and elsewhere in East Asia. A force free from religious or caste or linguistic divides, where officers and men and women (for the INA, far ahead of its times, had an all women regiment) alike were fired by one single goal – freedom of their motherland.
|Netaji Subhash Bose with top INA officers, flanking him on the right is Col Lakhsmi Swaminathan|
The INA along with the Imperial Japanese Army which was supporting it, lost the war in 1945. However, in defeat, their and their Netaji’s glorious saga of sacrifice managed to do something which no Indian leader had managed to do till then: stir the semi-literate villagers who made up the British Indian Army and used by the British Monarch to rule over the sub-continent with a heavy hand, to rise above all divisions in favour of India’s independence.
As Colonel Hugh Toye, a British intelligence officer charged with screening INA men after the war, wrote “In the eleven months which had lapsed since the first contact of the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force with the men of the INA in Rangoon, there had been wide-spread fraternisation. Its result was a political consciousness which the Indian serviceman had never before possessed.”
The result of this `consciousness’ or in the words of other classified British intelligence reports `contagion’, was `alarming’. Colonel Prem Sehgal of the INA in his memoirs describes how after his capture at Alammyo, he was being driven to Magwe in a truck with an escort of two British NCOs, a Punjabi Muslim Naik and four sepoys of the Frontier Force Regiment. “On the way”, Sehgal said “the Naik got talking to me …. He told me that he was prepared to shoot the two British NCOs, after which he and his men would join me in escaping to the INA.”
Sehgal, who had been adjutant general of the INA, knew the war was over and wisely advised the Naik against this course of action. However, enthusiasm for the INA and its ideals of fighting for India’s freedom could not be stilled. At his jail in Magwe, the Colonel was again accosted by 20 soldiers of the Madras Regiment, “accompanied by the regimental clerk who spoke English. These men told me that they had come to meet me on behalf of their regiment and that their services were entirely at my command.”
Gurkha soldiers guarding INA’s Gen Shah Nawaz Khan sought an interview with their commanding officer and sought discharge to “join the INA” ! The most important work in turning the Indian soldiers around, was not done by captured INA men but really by Indian youth from Malaya and Singapore. They as pre-arranged, fraternized with British Indian Army soldiers and invited them home in batches to tell them the story of Netaji and INA. At times full length propaganda films shot earlier by the Azad Hind Government were shown to them.
In the chaotic Malaya of that time, Netaji’s Indian Independence League and Bal Sena (Boy’s Force, akin to Boy Scouts or NCC) remained intact. They marched through the streets of towns and villages shouting : `Jai Hind’, making quite an impact. Several Anglo-Indian officers had joined the INA, including Col Cyril John Stracey who had built a Azad Hind war memorial consisting on Singapore’s beach front. The British had it dynamited the moment they took back Singapore. However, the tens of thousands of Indians living on the island continued to throng the site everyday with flowers and to stand around recounting tales of bravery of the force.
|Azad Hind Government Currency|
In the meanwhile, Indian journalists including Amrit Lal Seth, Editor of Janambhoomi, were sent to South East Asia by the British Government as an extension of war propaganda to witness how the surrender by Japanese was taking effect. However, they returned with a different tale altogether – that of a Shivaji like figure – Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and his valiant band of INA soldiers. This fired the imagination of India’s youth.
By November 1945, public demonstrations in support of Netaji and the INA men who were being brought home as prisoners started. Lahore, Lucknow and Calcutta saw wide-spread demonstrations and rioting early in the month. In Calcutta, public unrest engulfed the largest city of the Indian sub-continent for 4 whole days, forcing the police to fire repeatedly. Pro-INA demonstrations spread to Delhi, Patna and Bombay.
In Calcutta, the situation was so dire that the European Association printed instructions for members on how to defend themselves and sought to build arsenals in towns and plantations.
A nervous Sir Henry Joseph Twynam, British Governor of Central Provinces, wrote to the Viceroy, Lord Wavell, on November 10, 1945 : “ When the air-born Division leaves Bilaspore, I shall be left without British troops … references to mutiny (by Indian troops) continue to be frequent.” In another letter to the Viceroy, Sir Henry reported : “At Jubbulpore, when a speaker … asked who would join the INA, all raised their hands.” (Jubbulpur did witness a short-lived Army rebellion in the following year)
By November 24, 1945, Field Marshall Sir Claude Auchinleck was warning the British Government of a full-scale rebellion in the offing. In an `Appreciation’, the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army wrote : “There are now large quantities of unlicensed arms throughout India and there will be many ex-INA men to use them … also a considerable number of demobilized (British Indian Army) soldiers … principal danger areas are likely to be United Provinces, Bihar and Bengal, but trouble must also be expected in the Punjab, the Central provinces and Bombay.”
By February 1946, Royal Indian Navy ratings mutinied in Bombay. Many other ships followed. This was followed by mutinies by Air Force ground staff in several stations including Karachi. At some military stations, there were instances of NCOs and sepoys disobeying British officers or taking on an insolent attitude towards them, besides strikes by munitions workers.
A note entitled `Present State of Morale and Degree of Reliability of Indian Fighting Services’, prepared by the Director of Military Intelligence (DMI), said Signal Corps was unreliable as also other ancillary services. The entire navy and air force was of doubtful reliability! Of the main arms – infantry, armour, artillery and sappers, the note said they may be depended upon, with the caveat that this would depend on Indian Commissioned Officers remaining loyal, finally adding that it was difficult to assess these officers’ reliability!
Lt Gen S.K Sinha, then a captain at Army headquarters in Delhi later to become Adjutant General of the Indian Army, many decades later wrote that he had managed to see the note marked `Top Secret - Not For Indian Eyes’ prepared by the DMI Maj Gen O’ Brien where the Emergency Commissioned Officers, who were the largest body of commissioned officers in the Indian army then, numbering nearly 12,000, were rated as `highly suspect’. Regular Indian Commissioned Officers numbering about 400, some of whom had joined the INA while others were believed bitter because of pay and social discrimination, were also rated as not to be fully trusted.
On the basis of this and other inputs, the Commander-in-Chief concluded in reports to the British cabinet that “most Indian officers are nationalists” and that should “the situation deteriorate … we cannot rely upon Indian armed forces, I may ask HMG to send as many British formations as can be made available.”
|Field Marshall Auchinleck|
Auchinleck believed that at least 5 more British divisions were required (than what was then available) to defend India in case of troubles. The issue was taken up by the British cabinet. However, what probably stopped His Majesty’s Government from again reforming disbanded regiments to police the Indian Empire was the war fatigue which had set in amongst ordinary British citizens after the six year long Second World War, which saw millions dead and tens of millions more made homeless or crippled for life.
The costs of continuing with the business of running the Empire would also be immensely huge even if the force was formed and sent. In the rebellion, which the British were sure was coming, hundreds of thousands of Britishers would surely die to keep Indians enslaved after having declared that they had fought the Axis powers to bring freedom and democracy to the world.
Gen Sinha wrote that the British were so nervous that they had even formulated an evacuation plan called `Gondola’ to ensure timely evacuation of some 43,000 Europeans in case of a full scale rebellion, with maps showing evacuation routes to port cities.
It was then that the British came up with their ingenuous plan of a three tier constitution, which eventually evolved into a plan to carve up India, before the British left.
This by itself is not a historical analysis which can openly conclude that the last push to send the British out of India was given by Netaji and his INA. However, in conclusion, I would like to relate the second half of the interview between Lord Attlee and West Bengal’s Acting Governor and leave the reader to make his own judgement. In a letter to noted historian Ramesh Chandra Majumder, Justice Chakravarti, describing the interview with Lord Attlee, said “towards the end of the discussion, I wanted to know to what extent Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent movement had influenced the British decision to leave India. There was a flicker of a smile on Attlee’s lips as he uttered with slow deliberation the word “mi-ni-mal”.