Dr Bhuvan Lall
On the occasion of the 125th birth anniversary of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s, Government of India declared January 23 as Parakram Diwas to commemorate his indomitable spirit and selfless service to the nation
On an afternoon in the summer of 1944, the British and Japanese warplanes screamed across the peaceful skies dropping death over the dense jungles of Imphal and Kohima along the India-Burma border. On the frontline, there was no time for fear. Half a million men from all corners of the world were locked in one of the goriest battles of World War II. Firmly holding the tricolour, the Indian National Army advanced with the war cry “Delhi Chalo” (Onwards to Delhi). Their military objective was India’s freedom. And their leader was Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. With shells blasting, guns blazing, and blood flowing, this was the defining moment of his life. He was the only Indian nationalist to confront the British Empire on the battlefield.
Decades earlier, the Cambridge educated Bose resigned from the heaven-born Indian Civil Service in 1922 and immediately became the stuff of legends in India. During the 1920s and 1930s, the nationalist movement was marked by a cat-and-mouse game of campaigns, crackdowns, and concessions. Mahatma Gandhi had successfully orchestrated the largest civil disobedience mass movement in world history. Simultaneously the Indian revolutionaries kept the fire burning with their audacious attacks. Several Indians were imprisoned and hanged.
However, those sacrifices only won minor legislative reforms. The liberation of India seemed impossible. In September 1939, Britain unilaterally brought India into WWII, without pledging independence in return.
By now Bose had resigned as the President of the Congress Party even though he won the election against Mahatma Gandhi’s candidate. His amazing adventure started on January 17, 1941, after he heroically escaped from British captivity in Calcutta (Kolkata now) to faraway Berlin via Kabul perplexing all the secret agents and assassins of British Intelligence. From that moment onwards, he would remain the most interesting and exciting man of that period of history. The world leaders he encountered across Europe grasped that Bose after his death-defying journey was full of resolve to serve the land of his birth. Berlin gave him a territorial base to set up Free India Centre and a loan of a few hundred thousand Marks. Motivated by Gurudev Tagore’s famous poem, ‘Ekla Chalo Re‘ (walk alone) he built a formidable organisation brick by brick. The mystique around Bose and his magnetism ensured that many young men and Indian POWs in Nazi Germany were drawn into his cause. Soon he had a virtual government in exile with its own Free Indian Army. On his initiative, ‘Jana Gana Mana’ was played in Hamburg for the first time and selected as the national anthem. Back home in India, the brutal WWII was unpopular, and its costs were being felt every day with nationwide rationing. In August 1942, after Mahatma Gandhi launched the massive Quit India movement the entire top Indian political leadership were served long prison sentences. Against this backdrop, Bose took charge of India’s Independence struggle from overseas. In those crushing times, the people of the enslaved nation bereft of hope tuned to the Azad Hind Radio short wave station. From Berlin, the fiery speeches of Bose exhorted his countrymen to rise against the merciless British Empire. Millions of Indians had an incomparable emotional connect with Bose. The mere mention of his name would electrify them like never before. For his admirers, he emerged as an exceptional unifying force.
In London, the British politicians found the rise of Netaji against the Crown intolerable. They quickly labelled him as a misguided patriot and a wannabe dictator. George Orwell and Ian Fleming’s brother Peter were engaged in a secret character assassination project. Along with their Indian acolytes, the British media and historians reinforced a false narrative that he was a pro-Nazi Japanese satellite. In reality, Netaji had diplomatically employed the ancient Indian doctrine of combining resources with one’s enemy’s enemies
The Nazis, however, remained unimpressed. For them, India was still a continent away perhaps better served by the British rulers. He needed new geography to wage war for India’s independence. That opportunity presented itself with Japan’s entry into WWII and the fall of Singapore considerably altered his fortunes. In February 1943, he left his wife Emilie and daughter Anita in Vienna. He secretly boarded a U Boat for a two-stage submarine voyage that had never been attempted before in the world’s history. After a dangerous three-month-long journey he managed to reach Tokyo in May 1943. Two months later he arrived in Singapore along with veteran Indian revolutionary Rash Behari Bose to take charge of the Indian National Army (INA – Azad Hind Fauj). He effectively revived the Ghadr of 1857 and acquired the remnants of Lala Har Dayal’s Ghadr Party in Asia. Then cheered by thousands of people in an explosion of national fervour he experienced his finest hour. The tall Indian leader dressed in a military uniform unveiled his vision. There was magic in his words as he dramatically stated, “Tum Mujhe Khoon Do, Main Tumhe Azaadi Doonga” (You give me blood, I shall give you freedom). In admiration of Bose, thousands of Indians in South East Asia cutting through the age-old barriers of caste, religion and gender rushed to volunteer for the INA and sacrifice their lives for India. To the extent that no other Indian but the man himself could have thought possible, Bose achieved his vision of a future India in the INA. For his followers more than any other Indian leader, he was a man of destiny. His dedication, decisiveness, and dynamism to the cause of India’s freedom were matchless as he set up a provisional government on October 21, 1943.
Netaji’s INA affected the withdrawal of Britain rule from India and the subsequent dismantling of the British Empire from the rest of the world as Indian forces were employed reinforces colonisation
In London, the British politicians found the rise of Netaji against the Crown intolerable. They quickly labelled him as a misguided patriot and a wannabe dictator. George Orwell and Ian Fleming’s brother Peter were engaged in a secret character assassination project. The global newspapers propaganda campaign featured caricatures of the rebellious Netaji and the news about INA was censored. Along with their Indian acolytes, the British media and historians reinforced a false narrative that he was a pro-Nazi Japanese satellite. In reality, Netaji had diplomatically employed the ancient Indian doctrine of combining resources with one’s enemy’s enemies. Seen from a distance, it is now clear that Netaji and the INA changed the course of history.
By the end of 1943, leading from the front, he took charge of the Andaman Islands. In early 1944, Bose, a man of extraordinary fortitude, led the sixty thousand strong multi-faith INA even comprising of a regiment of women warriors named after Rani Laxmi Bai. Together they marched to the tune of ‘Kadam kadam Bharaye Ja‘, towards Burma India border to challenge the greatest empire the world had ever known. On April 14, 1944, the fearless INA charged through British held positions to plant the INA flag on Indian soil at Moirang near Imphal. The extremely arduous Battle of Imphal and Kohima where Netaji’s INA won its battle honours is now considered the greatest WWII battle. Historian Robert Lyman has stated, “Great things were at stake in a war with the toughest enemy any British army has had to fight… This was the last real battle of the British Empire and the first battle of the new India.” The Allied Forces’ victory in Kohima along with Midway, El Alamein, and Stalingrad were the turning points of WWII. Then in August 1945, two atom bombs swiftly ended WWII. Yet at the INA headquarters, the invincible Netaji was determined to triumph over impossible odds. Even after the surrender of Japan, he decided to continue his fight against imperialism. His dream to unfurl the Indian tricolour on the ramparts of the Red Fort in Delhi remained intact. Netaji announced, “The roads to Delhi are many and Delhi remains our goal”. From here onwards, the story of his life remains adrift in the fog of time.
As prophesied by Netaji, the INA reached the Red Fort in Delhi but as prisoners of war. However, in November and December 1945, the famous INA trials weakened the British Empire’s very foundation. The Indian newspapers splashed the amazing exploits of Netaji and INA for the first time. India stood united in defence of the three INA officers – Capt. Prem Sehgal, Capt. Shah Nawaz Khan and Lt. Gurbaksh Singh Dhillion was representing three major faiths of India – Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh. Despite a judgment in favour of the Crown, the British Army feared the revival of the Ghadr of 1857 and the three officers were hurriedly freed. That day the entire world saw the mighty British Empire lose to one man – Netaji. Subsequently, on February 18, 1946, the Royal Indian Navy’s ratings in Bombay (Mumbai now) enthused by the INA trials mutinied against the Crown using ‘Jai Hind’ as a rallying slogan. The British Empire brutally suppressed the naval mutiny as it spread across India to all Royal Indian Navy units. By now, a tsunami-like wave of Netaji’s nationalism stirred the entire country and terrified the British rulers. They recognised that they had lost the loyalty of the Indian forces; a crucial backbone of the imperialism. Left powerless they let go of the “jewel in the crown” and swiftly quit India. The single greatest emotional truth of India’s freedom movement is that Netaji’s INA affected the withdrawal of Britain rule from India and the subsequent dismantling of the British Empire from the rest of the world as Indian forces were employed reinforce colonisation.
As the tricolour fluttered on the Red Fort, the liberator’s mantle fell on Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. On the occasion of the 125th birth anniversary of Netaji, his epic contribution to our freedom movement must be celebrated.
(The writer is the author of The Man India Missed The Most: Subhas Chandra Bose and The Great Indian Genius Har Dayal)