Netaji Deserves Honour
The IMF forecast recently that India will leave China behind in growth rate and creating job opportunities by 2016 is a good news for our country, as it will goad greater ambition and reforms. This forecast is one marked event, which shows the change, the new leadership has brought in India’s economic environment. Also the Obama visit to India on an important day of our national life is a remarkable event, which will surely forge a mutually beneficial relationship between the two democracies. Looking beyond all this, I would like to bring to the fore one issue, which has been haunting the country for many decades now: the fate of Subhash Chandra Bose and his Indian National Army (INA). The Transfer of Power (1942-47), Vol.VII, 1976, throws light on the mindset of the Congress leadership towards the INA veterans. The re-instatement of the I.N.A. personnel in the armed forces was out of question. In a speech on January 9, 1946, Jawaharlal Nehru said that the I.N.A. personnel were fit only for absorption in the public works like industrial co-operatives and village re-construction.
But more shocking was the device used to ease them out by offering the terms which were humiliating—disregarding I.N.A. ranks and exclusion of I.N.A. service. In a speech in the Central Assembly, delivered on March 1948, Nehru turned down the demand for reinstatement of the I.N.A. personnel on the ground that “there had been a long break in their fight”, shockingly implying thereby that the glorious service rendered by these patriotic men in staking their life was of little consequence to the government of free India.
Three questions had cropped up between Commander-in-Chief Auchinleck and the Defence Minister of the Interim Government, Sardar Baldev Singh. The first was the release of all the jailed members of I.N.A., the second the payment of arrears of pay and allowance and third their reinstatement in the newly formed Indian Army. At the very outset the Congress abandoned the last question. On the other two questions, Baldev Singh requested the Interim Cabinet, headed by Jawaharlal Nehru, to make recommendations to the Auchinleck, because he had to face questions in the Central Assembly.
Auchinleck rejected these demands outright. Viceroy Wavell threatened to veto any consideration of these two matters. The British Government in London endorsed Wavell’s stance. Auchinleck too threatened to resign. The Bristishers were sure that not a single Congress minister would offer to resign on these issues. The Congress leaders were also secretly trying to make the I.N.A. ineffective as a political force. In his speech on January 9, 1946, Nehru specially stated that I.N.A. personnel should be kept out of politics. Even Sardar Patel had said, in 1950 that the interim government should be very careful in reinstating any of the officers who had gone over to Subhas Bose’s I.N.A. in any political position.
After their release from the various prisons, the I.N.A. soldiers were hurriedly dispatched to their villages. They were a defeated army, most could not reconcile to the fact that the promise made to Netaji could not be fulfilled. The disappearance of Netaji too had them perplexed. They lived miserable lives of ignominy, forlorn, forgotten and forsaken by a nation for whom they had shed blood. Surprisingly, the I.N.A. personnel were not even treated as freedom fighters till 1974, twenty-seven years after independence, and the government thought it fit to pay them a measly pension of Rs. 150/- per month. Ironically enough, in committing sacrilege upon the glorious heritage of I.N.A., the Congress leaders were one with the alien rulers. Bose had thoughtfully named Andaman and Nicobar Islands as Swaraj and Shaheed islands. One of the first actions that were taken by free India’s government was to revert to the old British names.
There are many other instances of other acts of acquiescence against the I.N.A., the most shameful being the demolition of the Shaheed Smarak at Singapore. It was blown up by the British Suppers in afternoon of September 6, 1945 on the orders of Mountbatten. In response to the public outcry, Nehru went to Singapore in March 1946 to “study the fate of the Indians who had helped the I.N.A.” and other misdeeds of the British including dynamiting of I.N.A. Memorial. Ironically, he was a guest of Mountbatten, who proudly took him to the spot and showed him the demolished memorial. Marie Seaton in Panditji—A Portrait of Jawaharlal Nehru recounts that in Singapore, Mountbatten did not restrict Nehru in any way, but requested one concession that he would forgo laying a wreath on the War Memorial. Nehru agreed, but in secret, did go and lay a wreath of roses at the spot later. The attitude of denigrating Netaji and I.N.A. was not restricted to the British alone. In a confidential memo, dated February 11, 1949, the government “recommended that photos of Netaji Subhas Bose be not displayed at prominent places like unit Lines, Canteen, Quarter Guards of Recreation rooms.” Nehru had given a very cold response to initiate any action to decipher the truth about Netaji’s death. India’s post-independence politicians—whether Congress or of other hues and varieties—get effortless amnesia about the many splendoured contribution which Netaji made to the emergence of what modern India is today. At least the nation expects this much from the new nationalist government under Modi.