Revisiting Netaji`s Role In The Freedom Struggle Of India : INA And Manipur Perspective

    By Dr. Priyadarshni M. Gangte,
    Lecturer, Damdei Christian College, Motbung, Manipur.
    Popularly called Netaji, Subhas Chandra Bose, stands aloft among the many freedom fighters that India has produced. His contribution and character is unique. He provided the leadership when it was most needed. He gave a definite direction, the internal input, which invigorated the freedom struggle movement and intimidated the British Administration.

    Netaji was of the firm belief that the British could only be thrown out by force. He had no constitutional means and peaceful methods for the attainment of freedom. He disagreed with Gandhi’s method of struggling for freedom. He thought that India under Gandhi’s Principle will not attain freedom and never achieve at all. He could not rely on Gandhi on this. While working as an active protagonist of the Congress, he along with Nehru had formed the Forward Block.

    Rise of the revolutionary struggle for freedom started by Gandhiji in 1920, developed the middle class group who were led first by C.R. Das and later on by Subhas Bose. After the incident of Chauri Chaura (5th February, 1922), the socio-political condition was completely changed particularly in Bengal because some of the earliest settlers in Calcutta had amassed wealth and property during the John Company’s days and dominated the Calcutta Society for nearly a century because of their financial power.1 Since his entry into politics, his personality made him so popular and, of course, had taken the role of leader who inspired the well to do tycoons, edging their way slowly to the Congress platforms in order to ensure their earthly possession which had been acquired by being loyal to the British.

    Regarding his anti-imperialist struggle and Sansyavada, Netaji engaged in a non-existent war with the British Government for the attainment of our political freedom2 Subhas categorily rejected all the constitutional measures initiated by Gandhi and introduced two paths for easily attaining goal; “uncompromising military and compromise”. He further suggested to face a major imperialist nation like Britain is not an easy task. So he wanted the supply of necessary resources depends on our ability to keep up the enthusiasm of the people and maintain the spirit of opposition towards the government. As an instance, Subhas opposed Gandhi’s resolution on Dominion Status at Calcutta Congress in 1928. Along with that, he also pointed that the Round Table Conference a misnomer. He gave reason to it, “a handful of non-descript Indian nominated by the alien Government would be representing to do with the bidding of the British politicians”. This had irritated Gandhi and Nehru. Subhas’ never fell in line of sycophants of the British. He behaved in his deeds and words.

    He vehemently rejected the Delhi Pact better known in history as the Gandhi – Irwin Pact (March, 1931) and he out-rightly declared as a painful document and called to “Strike when the iron is hot”.3

    The long rule of India by an imperialist nation, ultimately made India inferior and that developed inferiority complex would continue till India gets freedom. It is obviously true that India witnessed stiff hardship till she achieved independence. Subhas had foreseen the future. The social, economic and political forces working in unision within India were never possible. It rather contradicts with the British till her legitimate aspirations were fulfilled. Thus to defeat the British was to win freedom for India.

    In the process of the freedom struggle of India, the role played by Subhas was significant. His quality was unique as was described by his biographer, N.G. Jog.

    “Bose became the man of the hour … if, by some miracle he had returned to India, he would have carried everything before him as Napoleon did after his escape from Elba.”4 

    This is the truth of which Mahatma and Nehru and the Congress were afraid.

    Several factors were responsible for winning our freedom from the British clutches. Though, the Indian National Congress Party acted as the centrifugal force, there were many parties like Indian League, Muslim League, Communist Party, the Liberal Federation, Swarajya Party, Forward Block, India Independence League under Rash Behari Bose and individuals whose name never appeared in history, who had struggled hard for Indian Independence. Indeed, perhaps the violent ways of Subhas had also contributed a lot for the same. His charismatic leadership had influenced thousands of people which led the birth of Azad Hind Fauz (INA) – one major force fighting for India against the British. Before the Madras Congress Session in 1927 Subhas supported Nehru for an ultimate objective to gain Purna Swaraj or complete independence for India 5.

    Subhas made an escape from India on January 16, 1941 through Afghanistan reached Germany on April 3, 1941. He was no stranger to Germany for he had spent time and time again in Europe during 1934 – 1937 though mostly in Germany, he went to Italy where he met Mussolini several times and to Austria, also. How much Subhas loved India can easily be seen from his actions to the cause of India that can be confirmed by Govind Talwalkar’s article “Among the Nazis”.

    “ He was shocked by the cases of maltreatment of Indian students in Germany and Goering’s attack on Gandhiji. Subhas even wrote to Dr. A. Franz Theirfelder, Secretary General of the Indian Institute in Munich condemning the attitude of Nazis and demanding an apology from Hitler for his speech and Goering’s attack on Gandhiji.” 6

    While Gandhiji detested Netaji he never did so. In fact he always defended in person outside India that was his greatness. Gandhi & Nehru therefore felt overshadowed by Netaji and his politics.

    It is to be noted that during his visits and stays in Germany, he could not meet Hitler personally despite his several attempts but on 27th May, 1942, met the top brass of Germany of that hour. Furthermore, Subhas asked Hitler to clarify passages in Mein Kampf (a book which gave a very inaccurate account of his own life and set out his beliefs7 which were insulting to India Hitler explained that they were mainly aimed at discouraging the pacifist tendencies in Germany which might have been further influenced by the Indian movement8. In fact, Hitler had discouraged the non-violent path followed by Indian freedom fighters for two reasons. Firstly, the weapon Ahimsa goes against Nazism and, Secondly, admired the British imperial policy, because Hitler, had helped to copy the same after conquering Russia.

    When the Japanese conquered the Malay Peninsula; a large number of Indian soldiers fell prisoners into their hands. Under an agreement with the Japanese Government, Bose, now called Netaji (Leader) organized them into an Azad Hind Fauz or Indian National Army. He inaugurated the Government of Free India at Singapore.9

    It was on October 21, 1943, which is red letter day not only in the life of Subhas but also in the history of India’s Independence Movement. This Provincial Government was immediately recognized by nine powers. At midnight on October 23, the Government declared war on Britain to effect liberation from their dominion. The Indian National Army had been formed by Rash Behari Ghosh and Captain Mohon Singh and others, was reorganized and revitalized. Another significant area initiated by him was the involvement of Indian women in actual military action. Back in 1928, he had been instrumental in raising under the leadership of “Colonel” Latika Ghosh a Congress Woman’s Volunteer Corps that had marched on the streets of Calcutta in full uniform.10 When in 1943 he raised the expatriate INA in Southeast Asia, he decided to add a women’s regiment, which he called the Rani of Jhansi Regiment, named after Rani Lakshmibai, the legendary heroine of the Revolt of 1857.11 Thus, it was started with the 20 women12 maintained by Col. Dr. Lakshmi Swaminadhan Sahgal13 the Commander of the same. Under his able leadership the INA marched victoriously to Indian borders. It posted its tri-colour flag at Moirang Kangla on April 14, 1944 at about 5 pm by Col. Saukat Ali Malik, the Commander of the Bahadur (Intelligence) Group where a monument stands now in his name to honour his supreme sacrifice for the country.

    It will be interesting to elaborate how Manipur became a Warfield during Second World War. On 10 and 16 May, 1942 Imphal the capital city of Manipur was bombed by the Japanese as their first raid. Thousands of Indian refugees were fleeing from Burma through Manipur. And, Imphal became the forward base of new forces built up by the Allied Forces.14 The intelligentsia including the Nikhil Manipuri Mahasabha – a political organisation had been waiting for impending changes in the emerging political and military scenario of the world. As had been said by Netaji, “The enemy of the British is the friend of India”. Germany, Italy and Japan though they were branded as fascist, all the leaders and workers of the Mahasabha regarded them as friends contended by Koireng15. Moreover, the Nikhil Manipuri Mahasabha had identical ideas and objectives with the Indian National Congress welcomed the appeal made by Netaji. Thirteen members of the Mahasabha, namely16, (1) Th. Angou Singh, (2) P. Tomal Singh, (3) S. Ibohal Singh, (4) I. Tombi Singh, (5) L. Bijoy Singh, (6) L. Kanhai Singh, (7) M. Jatra Singh, (8) W. Gyaneswar Singh, (9) M. Amuba Singh, (10) L. Irabot Singh, (11) Kh. Jugeswar Singh, (12) Smt. O. Keinya Devi and (13) Smt. K. Randhoni Devi reached Moirang secretly. They joined together with the members of Moirang and worked out their plans which could be seen by their actions. The INA along with the Japanese forces reached Manipur on 18th March, 1944 by crossing the hill tracts of Indo-Burma border17 the 15th Japanese Division with one INA regiment marched towards Tamu and Ukhrul in two ways. Ukhrul was captured. They further advanced towards Imphal-Dimapur road. In the meantime another group of the Division reached Pallel but they could not come down to the valley18 and for that matter the British forces could not stay in the hills but in the valley only. The combined forces of INA and 33rd Japanese Division advanced upto Kohima and Imphal towards Tiddim Road by capturing the British Defence Base at Khuga Valley, Yaiyok (Zezo), Thingkaiphai, Churachandpur19.

    In this connection, it will be relevant to mention that some 32 (thirty-two) Meetei who earned their livelihood in Burma joined the movement under the leadership of Shri L. Guno Singh of Khurai (Manipur)20  and operated in the battle-front as an advance party. 13 out of the 32 Meeteis reached Pallel and tried to secure the secrets of enemy and also sought the support of local people. One of them was arrested at Sugnu.21 A large number of Manipuri tribals who were the erstwhile members of the British “V” Force also joined the movement and participated in the war front. One Kuki, named Lulngam Lhungdim even brought the message of Netaji from Chamol (INA Advance Base Camp) and handed it over to Dr. Gulapchand Singh, the then Medical officer posted at Sugnu, which rehanded over to Shri Thokchom Angou Singh of Singjamei, Imphal.22 Then the British force began to retreat and took defensive measures at Phougwakchao – Ithai, Tronglaobi and Okshangkhong but of no avail23. Consequently they were forced retreat and its surrounding areas to Phuballa, Ningthoukhong and then to Bishenpur – Thus the withdrawal of the 17th British Division was completed on April 13, 1944. Before the retreat of the British from Tronglaobi was their strong defence base till April 13, 194424. In the early morning of April 14, the leaders of the Indo-Japanese advance party had discussions with M. Koireng Singh, (2) L. Sanaba Singh, (3) K. Kanglen Singh and (4) M. Mani Singh and others all of Moirang at Tronglaobi Village. After taking stock of the situation, at about 5 p.m. on the same day Col. Soukat Ali Malik, planted the Tricolour Flag with springing Tiger as emblem at the historic Moirang Kangla where the INA Martyrs’ Memorial Complex is, at present taking shape.25

    It was unfortunate that the Germany’s defeat in the war in April and her surrender on 3rd May, 1945 as well as the dropping of atom bombs in Hiroshima (6th August, 1945) and Nagasaki (9th August, 1945), compelled Japan to surrender to the Allied forces in the middle of August 14, 1945, the INA at Rangoon also surrendered. The members from Manipur were also arrested by the Rangoon occupying Allied Forces from their hiding places through a tip for Manipuris and put in Rangoon Central Jail. It will be relevant to know that Manipuris who took part in the INA at Rangoon were in Guest Houses at Kandogulay, Rangoon. (1) L. Irabot Singh, (2) Kh. Jugeshwar Singh and (3) I. Tombi Singh joined the active services of the INA and (1)Smt. O. Keinya Devi and (2)Smt. M. Randhoni Devi joined Jhansi Rani Regiment. The other members were attached to the Intelligence group of the INA.26

    However, Subhas did not lose hope, his aspirations to achieve independence was living. On the 25th April 1945, a few days before the Japanese evacuated Rangoon, he flew out of the capital leaving behind a message in which the Government and people of Burma for their help and hospitality, and stated, inter alia:

    “I am leaving Burma with a very heavy heart. We have lost only the first round. There are many more rounds to fight… I have always said that the darkest hour precedes the dawn. We are now passing through the darkest hour; there the dawn is not far off; India shall be free”.27

    Whatever said and done, we assure that his foundation of the Indian National Army, its organisation in the foreign land, its programme for complete independence – all speak of his highest degree of capability during the Second World War. The great mission was executed in a grand manner and successes of the INA brought about a great damage to British interests in South-East Asia.28  Moreover, Rajaram29 contended that “the Indian Armed Forces began to see themselves as defenders of India rather than of the British Empire. This, more, than anything else, was led to India’s freedom”.

    In this connection, it is pertinent to observe the contention of Chhabra30 :

    “The public enthusiasm shown at the time of the INA trials the demonstrations of the Calcutta students on 19 November, 1945, who despite the police firings and lathe charge, could not be prevented from marching to the Dalhousie Square; the violent Mutiny of 3000 naval ratings on 19 Feb, the spread of this trouble to Karachi, Madras, Calcutta and Delhi and sympathetic hartals in the cities; all this showed that the fire of disaffection had spread from students to labourers, peasants, shopkeepers and now even to the common soldier without whose help the British could not stay on even for a day.

    Furthermore, Rajaram31 justifically maintained : “This is also the reason why the British Empire disappeared from the face of the earth within an astonishingly short space of twenty years. Indian soldiers, who were the main prop of the Empire, were no longer willing to fight for the British. What influences the British decision was mutiny on 18th February, 1946 of the Indian Navy following the INA trials in 1946. While the British wanted to try Subhash Bose’s INA as traitor,Indian soldiers saw them as nationalists and patriots. This scared the British. They decided to get out in a hurry”.

    Knowing the historical fact of facts, Rajaram32 emphatically asserted and reaffirmed on the subject matter that great historian R.C. Majumdar wrote, Subhas Bose with his INA campaigns probably contributed more to Indian independence than Gandhi, Nehru and their movements. Moreover, the result of Subhas Bose’s activities was the rise of the nationalist spirit in the Indian Armed Forces. As a matter of facts the Quit India Movement launched in 1942 were not the last uprising against the British rule in India, it was rather a part of the ongoing politics in India.



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