Who were braver – the British Indian Army or the INA soldiers?

Excerpt from ‘The Vanishing of Subhash Bose: The Mystery Unlocked’ by Rajesh Talwar

Rajesh Talwar | December 3, 2020


#National Archives of India   #INA   #Indian National Army   #Suchash Chandra Bose   #Bose papers   #Indian British Army  


THE VANISHING OF SUBHASH BOSE: THE MYSTERY UNLOCKED
By Rajesh Talwar
Kapaz Publications, 209 pages, Rs 250

The fate of Subhash Chandra Bose has long been an enigma. Now that the government has declassified the papers relating to his mysterious disappearance, Rajesh Talwar has penned the full story behind it in ‘The Vanishing of Subhash Bose: The Mystery Unlocked’. Talwar, who has studied Negotiation at Harvard, Human Rights Law at Nottingham, and Law and Economics at Delhi University, earlier authored several non-fiction including ‘Courting Injustice: The Nirbhaya Case and Its Aftermath’ (Hay House, 2013) fiction including ‘How  to Kill a  Billionaire’  (Juggernaut Books; 2016).

Here is an excerpt from the concluding chapter of ‘The Vanishing of Subhash Bose: The Mystery Unlocked’:

The  soldiers  of  the  Indian  National  Army  (INA)  who  were  brought  back  to India to face trial were ultimately given a reprieve. This was not done out of the goodness of the Englishman’s heart, but rather because there was a strong groundswell of Indian public opinion in their favour  which  could  not  be ignored.  Had  it  been  only  the  Indian  civilian  population  who  were  outraged  at the  trial  the  British  might  have  not  cared,  but  there  was  clear  support for the INA  even  among  the  ranks  of  the  British  Indian  army. The  British  may  have consulted  with  the  Congress  Party  but  the  party  too  threw  up  their  hands. The issue was such that the Congress could not go against the tide of public opinion, otherwise it would itself lose favour. The British understood that they could have a rebellion in the Indian army on their hands if they did not proceed with care and caution.

After sacrificing thousands of lives for the British in their war, why was it that on the INA issue, the British Indian army was suddenly no longer loyal to the British or could not be trusted to remain loyal?

Sections of the British Indian army started to question themselves and their own motivations when they came into conflict with their own Indian brothers serving in the INA in the North East and in Burma. Their conscience was troubled and their intellect finally awakened. How could they possibly fight with and kill their own Indian brothers, who were fighting for India’s independence. Whether the Japanese  could  be  trusted  was  a  separate, intellectual question really. The Indians fighting for the INA were fighting for India’s independence. Who was the British Indian army fighting for? It was for the British. They could not find it  within  themselves  to  refute  the  greater  logic  to  INA  actions.  India had not even been promised freedom by the British. Why were they fighting?  Were there not mercenaries compared with the INA?  Such were the troubling questions that passed through each British Indian army soldier’s mind, and there was no satisfactory answer. They were also fighting against people whom they knew and had fought alongside. Those very men from the British Indian Army now worked in service of the INA.

When  Indians  fought  for  the  British  in  conflicts  far  away  in  Europe  and  in Africa,  they  probably  did not  even  ask  themselves such  troubling  questions. Why am I fighting? Why, in God’s name, am I risking my life fighting for a race that rules over my own people, who humiliate and disrespect them day in and day out? They were somehow able to ignore such questions from raising their head, because they were fighting against people they didn’t know. The enemy, be it African or European was really an abstraction.

Face to face with their brothers (and even sisters!!)  in the INA  they  could  not ignore  these  questions. The question of fighting against the Ranis from Bose’s Jhansi of Rani Regiment would not have been merely troubling; it would have been heart-breaking for any uniformed Indian with honour, chivalry and self-respect! Doubts spread within the ranks of the British army not only engaged in the north east and in Burma but across the country even as they won the war and the INA was forced to retreat.

Families in India continue to celebrate the courage displayed by their ancestors in wars fought on behalf of the British. Is it worth celebrating really? Is it not the courage of a mercenary that is being celebrated?

Courage  is  always  worth  celebrating,  it  may  be  said,  with  truth,  even  if  it  the courage  of  a  mercenary.  Let  us  also  not  forget  that  the  idea  of  Indian nationalism  had  still  to  be  properly  formed.  The Indians who fought  for  the British fought as they would have for any other king.

That is true, but on the other hand surely the courage of a person who fights for a noble cause is on a higher footing. The courage of a person who fought for a foreign English queen must be judged at a lower level than the courage of a man or a woman who fought for the freedom of India? Even the British admired the courage  of  the  famed  Rani  of  Jhansi,  more  than  they  admired  the  courage  of their own men, be they English or Indian.

There  will  be  some  who  will  argue,  with  a  degree of  justice  that  there  were mercenaries  within  the  INA  too.  It  is  true  that  there  were  many  British  Indian Prisoners of War who had been captured by the Japanese. Netaji met these men and convinced them that they had all along been fighting with the wrong people for  a  cause  that  was  not  their  own;  many  saw  the  logic  in  his  arguments  and agreed to enlist in the INA to fight against the British. They were then no longer treated  as  Prisoners  of  War  and  became  a  fighting  asset  for  Bose  and  the Japanese.  Now  it  could  be  said  that  some  of  these  men  were  no  better  than mercenaries, and their real motive was not to remain Prisoners of War anymore, but to have their freedom as a soldier. No one can delve into the secret corners of the hearts of these men and know the purity of their reformed understanding: was  it  just  the  better  life  and  freedom  of  a  soldier  that  they  coveted,  or  were they now really seeing the foolishness of their earlier  ways? They were in any event  willing  to  risk  their  lives. Even  Shah  Nawaz,  the  chairman  of  the  first committee that enquired into the alleged air crash in which Bose was supposed to have died was one such individual, who had been ‘converted’ to the INA cause. He had originally fought with the British Indian Army, had been captured by the  Japanese,  made  a  Prisoner  of  War,  and  then  after  listening  to  Subhash Bose’s inspiring talk he returned to the theatre of war but this time to fight against the  British.  There  were  many  such  converts,  and  the  purity  of  their actions may have been uncertain or questionable in some cases.

On the other hand there were also thousands of men and women who fought for the INA,  who  had  no  prior  military  experience. These were  men  and  women who had not fought in any army. No woman soldier in the INA’s Rani of Jhansi regiment  (named  after  the  legendary  heroine  of  the  1857  rebellion)  had  ever fought a war before but they had been drawn to the cause by Bose’s stirring words. This was heroism at another level altogether, rarely surpassed anywhere in  the  world. There are  numerous  moving  testimonies  of  parents  in  Singapore and Malaysia giving permission to their daughters, upon Netaji’s request to fight  in  the  great  Indian  cause  of  freedom.  We  need  to  honour  not  only  the ladies  who  died  fighting,  the  women  who  survived,  but  also  their  beloved parents and families who consented to have their daughters risk their lives.

Netaji  never  had  a  portrait  in  the  Indian  Parliament  for  many  years.  A  great affront to one of India’s great sons, but it could have been ignored if it had been the  only  one,  and  other  heroes  from  the  INA  had  been  honoured.  No  one  was honoured.  Yet  more  shamefully,  not  a  single  Rani  has  been  honoured.  They deserve  not  only  a  standalone  group  photograph  placed  in  a  corner  but  they deserve  an  entire  wall – and  even  that  would  not suffice  to  properly  honour them!

[Reproduced with the permission of the publishers]
 

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