Special Content

Issue no 43, 22 - 28 January 2022

Commemorating the Birth Anniversary of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose

(23rd january)

Subhas Chandra Bose in South East Asia

While bidding farewell at a ceremony in Berlin to the first contingent of Indian Legionaries on their way to a training centre in East Germany, Subhas broke down and wept because, as he said, being in a foreign country, he had nothing to offer them except hardship and suffering. A group of twelve young men, who had volunteered and who formed the first corps of the Indian Legion that expanded later into a Brigade formation of nearly 2500 men, had assembled in the Office of Free India Centre in Berlin and Subhas sorrowfully remarked that he felt so unhappy that, being in a foreign country, he had really nothing-not even some presents-to give to those young men who were going to risk their lives. This feeling of being dependent on foreigners, and being unable to finance the I.N.A. with national resources, haunted him all the time.

Being scrupulously correct in money-matters, Subhas always felt uneasy because the financing of his work was done not by Indians but by Germans and Japanese and this feeling of uneasiness always gnawed at his soul. The slightest hint that his organisation depended on foreign money would fly him into a rage, and that was why, as soon as he was able to raise money from Indians in East Asia, he made payment towards the loan the Germans had given him and the record of this payment has now been registered by the German Foreign Office. Similarly, the letter, which we are reproducing here-a letter written by Subhas from Indian Independence League Headquarters in Singapore to the Japanese Headquarters of the Hikari Kikan-clearly states that the assistance given by the Japanese to the Indian Independence League will be honoured and repaid by the Free Indian Government .

In fact, one of the reasons why he decided to leave Germany was that he began to feel more and more uncomfortable for having to seek financial help from the German Foreign Office, and it gradually occurred to him that he would be able to raise funds from the Indians in South East Asia and pay back the debt which he had incurred in Germany and which he considered to be a loan to the Provisional Government of Free India, a loan which he wanted to pay back after independence. Just before he went to Taiwan on his fatal journey, he never forgot to transfer sums of money from a Japanese bank to Berlin, as mentioned before, as a part payment of the sums advanced by the Germans to the Azad Hind Sangh. Subhas was always from his childhood scrupulous about money transactions and it particularly hurt his sensibilities that he had to take help from foreigners.

Nevertheless, he undertook a great sea voyage to East Asia in a German submarine in the hope of being able to be (i) near to India, and (ii) amongst the Indian community in South East Asia who, he had learnt from Japanese reports, were willing to support his campaign against the British in India. His main feeling was that by being in South East Asia, he would be able to get rid of the suspicion which the British had tried to propagate all over the world - Subhas was working as a stooge of the Germans. His hope was that when he would be in South East Asia, he would be amongst his own countrymen and he would not be dependent on foreigners either for material or moral support. This hope was largely fulfilled and, on his arrival in Singapore on July 2, 1943, he immediately found himself amongst an enthusiastic Indian crowd who had been expecting his arrival since a long time. People of Indian origin in South East Asia businessmen and workers, clerks and lawyers, the poor and the rich-all welcomed him with open arms, for they had come to believe that with the arrival of Subhas Bose in South East Asia, a new phase of the campaign against the British would begin.

Subhas Bose's predecessor, Ras Behari Basu, a well known revolutionary had fled from India after having thrown a bomb on Lord Hardinge, the Viceroy of India, as he was entering Delhi on an elephant soon after the announcement of Delhi as the capital of India. Ras Behari had fled to Japan and married a Japanese lady and was a protege of the famous Japanese nationalist Toyama. In Japan, there was also a small group consisting of Japanese and Indians which clustered round Basu and, throughout the years, kept up the light of Indian freedom movement alive and, when the Japanese army overran the whole of South East Asia, these people and Ras Behari Basu thought that the time had come when they would really be able to fulfill the dream, which they had cherished so long, of marching to India in order to challenge the British army. But the difficulty which Ras Behari Basu experienced was that, being away for so long a time from India, he was not able to understand fully the mind of the young Indians, nor was he very familiar with the current problems. Basu's idea of India was still the pre-World War I India, and he was unable, therefore, to understand the working of the mind and the thinking of those young Indians who rallied round the Independence of India League under Captain Mohan Singh. It was at this moment that Subhas Bose arrived on the scene.

He was well known to the Indians who had joined the British Indian Army and who were captured by the Japanese. They knew Subhas Bose not only as a young nationalist hero but also as a man who had been honoured by the highest office in the country at the age of 41. His differences with Mahatma Gandhi notwithstanding, every Indian, who found himself in South East Asia, knew how great was his patriotism and when, by skill and patience, Subhas Bose began to reorganise the League and the Indian National Army, it was apparent that his arrival had worked as an electric spark to the entire Indian population in South East Asia. Subhas Bose, however, had learnt a great deal from his stay in Germany and he knew that the Great Powers, who were engaged in war, were not very seriously interested in Indian independence. He had, therefore, to proceed very cautiously and when he met General Tojo, the Japanese Prime Minister, he did not ask for too much but, in his conversations with the Japanese Prime Minister, he made it a condition, as he had earlier made it a condition with the German authorities, that the organisation and the Indian National Army, would function independently and outside the Japanese war machine. He obtained an assurance from the Japanese Prime Minister that the Japanese military authorities would not interfere with the inner working of the I.N.A. and that the administration and the training of the I.N.A. would be left entirely to Subhas Bose and his colleagues. General Tojo was a man of remarkable vision. He agreed to the conditions set by Netaji and gave him free hand to reorganise the Indian prisoners of war in South East Asia in the way he thought would serve the Indian cause best. Subhas Bose having been assured of this support and a great deal of sympathy at the highest level, proceeded cautiously and step by step, firstly, in reorganising the League which had been much battered by internecine quarrel and, secondly, by forming a Provisional Government of Free India with its capital in Singapore. He knew that both these organisations were necessary, firstly, because even a Government in exile must have a political party behind it to give it political and popular standing and, secondly, unless there was a semblance of Government with all the paraphernalia of administration and other regular activities, it was impossible to obtain loyalty and action from other people who were not inclined to take orders from merely a political organisation. These two steps, which he took in order to boost up Indian morale in South East Asia and to prepare for his march to Burma for a confrontation with the British Indian Army in Assam, showed what a master tactician he had developed into and what talent for organisation he had acquired. Both the League and the I.N.A. became indispensable parts of the same organisation functioning with the sole objective but, by keeping them separate, he really succeeded in winning the loyalty and support of all the Indians in South East Asia.

 (Excerpts from the book Builders of Modern India - Subhas Chandra Bose - by Dr Girija K Mookerjee published by Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India.

The book can be purchased online from www.publicationsdivision.nic.in)