Assimilating Subhas Bose?

Commemorating Provisional Government of Free India

Shamsul Islam

Prime Minister Narendra Modi who describes himself as Hindu nationalist unfurled the Tricolour from the Red Fort on October 21 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the declaration of 'Aarzi Hukumat-e-Azad Hind', an Urdu term meaning Provisional Government of Free India (PGFI) on October 21, 1943 at Singapore by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. Earlier Netaji had announced the raising of Azad Hind Fauj i.e. Army of the Free India which is wrongly translated as Indian National Army (INA) on July 4, 1943 giving the famous slogan: "Give me blood! I will give you freedom". Netaji as head of the PGFI also announced a cabinet, which included SA Ayer, AN Sahay, Karim Ghani, Debnath Das, DM Khan, A Yellapa, Sirdar Isher Singh, AN Sarkar, Aziz Ahmed, NS Bhagat, JK Bhonsle, Gulzara Singh, AD Loganathan, Ehsan Qadir and Shahnawaz Khan.

Bose used the slogan 'Dilli Chalo' to inspire thousands of soldiers in his historic address after taking over INA. The Provisional Government as well as INA represented diversity of India and all-inclusive freedom movement. If Provisional Government had ministers from all religions and regions so was the case with the INA. It was led by General Mohammed Z Kiani, Col Inayat Kiani, Col Gulzara Singh, Lt Col Gurubaksh Singh, Col Shah Nawaz Khan and Col Habibur Rahman and Captain Abbas Ali, Colonel Abdul Aziz Tajik and Col Prem Sehgal. Amazingly, Azad Hind Fauj also had 'all-female' combat regiment known as 'Rani of Jhansi Regiment' headed by Captain Lakshmi Sehgal, a military practice which was introduced much later in the world armies. It is true that INA did not succeed in its liberation struggle and with the victory of Allied forces in the World War II, it was routed. A total of 16,000 of the INA's 43,000 recruits were captured, of whom around 11,000 were interrogated and tried by around ten courts-martial at the Red Fort, Delhi between 1945 and 1946.

The first and most celebrated joint court-martial was of Prem Sehgal, Gurubaksh Singh Dhillon and Shah Nawaz Khan, belonging to three major religious communities of India. These court-martial proceedings galvanised whole of India in support of the INA officers. The Congress took initiative to defend these officers of the INA by forming INA Defence Committee which included renowned lawyers like Jawaharlal Nehru, Bhulabhai Desai, Kailashnath Katju and Asif Ali. The three officers were awarded life sentences which were not executed.

PM Modi on the eve of this event said in a statement: "I am honoured to participate in the programme. I know some people will criticize it. Let them do it. Everyone is aware how Netaji gave a challenge to British rulers when he formed his Azad Hind force. One party had ruled India for more than 70 years, but it didn't bother to make the files public." It is true that Congress opposed Netaji and his aligning with Japan, Italy and Germany in the World War II. It is also true that Congress Govornrnent after Independence led by Nehru and Sardar Patel disbanded INA and on the suggestion of Lord Mount-batten former soldiers of the INA were not allowed to join the Independent India's army.

But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and INA. Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials. There are plenty of documents available in the archives of Hindu nationalist organisations to show the terrible betrayal of his cause by the Hindu Mahasabha under the leadership of Savarkar who was also adored by the RSS as Hindutva ideologue. When Netaji was planning to liberate the northeast of the country through INA, it was VD Savarkar who offered full military cooperation to the British masters. While addressing 23rd session of Hindu Mahasabha at Bhagalpur in 1941, he said:
"The war which has now reached our shores directly constitutes at once a danger and an opportunity which both render it imperative that the militari-sation movement must be intensified and every branch of the Hindu Mahasabha in every town and village must actively engage itself in rousing the Hindu people to join the army, navy, the aerial forces and the different war-craft manufactories".

To what extent Savarkar was willing to help the British would be clear by the following words of his:
"So far as India's defence is concerned, Hindudom must ally unhesitatingly, in a spirit of responsive co-operation with the war effort of the Indian government in so far as it is consistent with the Hindu interests, by joining the Army, Navy and the Aerial forces in as large a number as possible and by securing an entry into all ordnance, ammunition and war craft factories... Again it must be noted that Japan's entry into the war has exposed us directly and immediately to the attack by Britain's enemies... Hindu Mahasabhaits must, therefore, rouse Hindus especially in the provinces of Bengal and Assam as effectively as possible to enter the military forces of all arms without losing a single minute".

Savarkar called upon Hindus "to flood the [British] army, the navy and the aerial forces with millions of Hindu warriors with Hindu Sanghatanist hearts" and assured them that if Hindus recruited in the British armed forces, "Our Hindu nation is bound to emerge far more powerful, consolidated and situated in an incomparably more advantageous position to face issues after the war—whether it be an internal anti-Hindu Civil War or a constitutional crisis or an armed revolution".

Savarkar believed in the invincibility of the British imperialists. His presidential address at Madura is a living testimony to his unabashed support to the British imperialistic designs. He rejected out rightly Netaji's attempts to liberate India. He declared:
"Not only on moral grounds but on the grounds of practical politics we are compelled not to concern ourselves on behalf of the Hindu Mahasabha organisation with any programme involving any armed resistance, under the present circumstances".

When the British government in the wake of the World War II decided to raise new battalions of its armed forces, it was Hindu Mahasabha under direct command of Savarkar which decided to enroll Hindus in a big way in this venture. This is what Savarkar reported to the delegates at the Hindu Maha-sabha session at Madura:
"Naturally, the Hindu Mahasabha with a true insight into a practical politics decided to participate in all war efforts of the British government in so far as they concerned directly with the question of the Indian defence and raising new military forces in India".

It was not as if Savarkar was Un-aware of the strong resentment which was brewing in the ranks of common Indians against such an approach. He brushed aside any criticism of Hindu Mahasabha's decision of co-operating with the British in war efforts as, "political folly into which the Indian public is accustomed to indulge in thinking that because Indian interests are opposed to the British interests in general, any step in which we join hands with the British government must necessarily be an act of surrender, anti-national, of playing into the British hands and that co-operation with the British government in any case and under all circumstances is unpatriotic and condemnable".

If on the one hand, Bose was working on the military strategies to take help of the German and Japanese forces to liberate India, on the other hand, Savarkar was busy in directly assisting the British colonial masters. This amounted to the betrayal of the cause espoused by Netaji. Savarkar and Hindu Mahasabha openly stood with the British government which later was able to kill and maim thousands of brave cadres of the INA. While greatly eulogising the British masters, Savarkar told his followers at Madura that due to the ever-advancing forces of Japan with a declared objective of freeing Asia from European influence, the British government needed Indians in large numbers in its armed forces which must be helped. While praising the British war strategy, he said:
"The British statesmanship, far- sighted as it usually is, realised this also that if ever war broke out with Japan, India itself must be the centre of gravity of all war preparations... chances are that an army with the strength of a couple of millions shall have to be raised, manned by Indians under Indian officers as rapidly as Japan succeeds in advancing near our Frontiers".

Savarkar spent the next few years in organising recruitment camps for the British armed forces which were to slaughter the patriotic soldiers of INA in different parts of the North-East later. The Madura conference of Hindu Mahasabha concluded with the adoption of an 'immediate programme' which stressed "to secure entry for as many Hindu recruits as possible into army, navy and the air forces". He also informed them that through the efforts of Hindu Mahasabha alone, one lakh Hindus were recruited in the British armed forces in one year. It is to be noted that during this period RSS continued inviting Savarkar to address the RSS youth gatherings for motivating the latter to join the British armed forces. His call to the RSS cadres had no ambiguity: "Let the Hindus therefore come forward now and enter the army, the navy and the air-forces, the ordnance and other war-crafts factories in their thousands and millions".

Hindu Mahasabha under Savarkar's leadership organised high-level Boards in different regions of recruitment in the British armed forces. These Boards were in direct contact with British government. Savarkar informed the cadres, "To deal with the difficulties and the grievances which the Hindu recruits to the Army find from time to time, a Central Northern Hindu Militarisation Board has been formed by the Hindu Mahasabha at Delhi with Mr Ganpat Rai, BA, LLB Advocate, 51, Panchkuin Road, New Delhi, as convener".

The similar kind of Boards were established in different parts of India. Savarkar also told HMS cadres that: "Sir Jwala Prasad Shrivastav; Barrister Jamnadasji Mehta, Bombay; Mr VV Kalikar, MLC, Nagpur and other members on the National Defence Council or the Advisory War Committee will certainly try their best to get these difficulties removed so far as possible when they are forwarded by these Militari-sation Boards on to them".

This clearly shows that the British Government had accommodated leaders of the Hindu Mahasabha on its official war committees. Those who declare Savarkar as a great patriot and freedom fighter must bow their Heads in shame when they read the following instruction from Savarkar to those Hindus who were to join the British forces: "One point however must be noted in this connection as emphatically as possible in our own interest that those Hindus who join the Indian [read the British] Forces should be perfectly amenable and obedient to the military discipline and order which may prevail there provided always that the latter do not deliberately aim to humiliate Hindu Honour".

Astonishingly, Savarkar never felt that joining the armed forces of the colonial masters was in itself a great humiliation for any self- respecting and patriotic Indian. The British Government was in regular touch with Savarkar so far as the organisation of its highest war bodies was concerned. It included individuals whose names were proposed by Savarkar. This is made clear from the following thanksgiving telegram Savarkar sent to the British government. Bhide's volume tells us that,
"The following Telegram was sent by Barrister V D Savarker [sic], the President of the Hindu Mahasabha to (1) General Wavell, the Commander in-Chief; and (2) the Viceroy of India on the 18th instant (July 18, 1941).

It is important to note here that even the Muslim League, sub-serving the interests of the British rulers, refused to align in these war efforts or join Defence Committees established by the government as done by Savarkar.

It will be a sad day for India with glorious tradition of anti-imperialist struggle that children of those who criminally betrayed Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers are playing mischief with the icons of all-inclusive anti-colonial struggle. What right PM Modi has to talk of Netaji and INA which fought for a democratic-secular India when he as an ideologue of the RSS and BJP declares himself to be a Hindu nationalist, committed to turn India into a theocratic Hindu state and belittling the minorities?

Vol. 51, No.19, Nov 11 - 17, 2018