The nation enters its 71st year of Independence in 2017. With this, the upcoming Republic Day parade will mark a significant milestone in the life of the Republic. It would be a time to reflect and see where we are going. It would also be a suitable occasion to set right a grave historical wrong. The basic issue concerns the narrative of state the Nehruvian dispensation had crafted for itself in 1947. It had claimed that India was a unique state that had gained its Independence solely by the use of soft power tools of non-violence, persuasion and non-cooperation. Force and violence, they claimed, had no role, whatsoever, in India’s freedom struggle.
This narrative was deliberately crafted by the spin doctors of Nehru to gain political legitimacy and the right to rule. It was designed to counter the legend of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and his Indian National Army (INA). Of the 60,000 INA men, 26,000 perished in the war in Burma. Was that non-violence? The historical fact, however, is that non-violence had dismally failed to get India its Independence. Its last charge was the Quit India Movement of 1942. Unfortunately, the British had employed some 57 battalions of white troops to crush it ruthlessly. All Congress leaders were flung into jails and released at the end of the war. Many of them, while in jail, had struck Faustian bargains with the British. So how and why did the British quit India just two years after the end of war? This is the critical question of our freedom struggle.
The key British decision-maker in this exercise was Lord Clement Attlee who took over as the British Prime Minister at the end of the war. In 1956, he visited Kolkata as guest of Justice P B Chakraborthy, then Governor of West Bengal. The two had a long conversation about the events of the freedom struggle. Chakraborthy asked Attlee point blank, “The Quit India Movement had failed dismally in 1942. Why then did you leave in such a tearing hurry just two years after the war ended? Attlee’s reply was direct, forthright and unequivocal, ‘It was Subhas Bose and his INA’.” He explained that though the INA had lost the battles of Imphal and Kohima, the post war trials of the INA officers had enraged the people of India. There had been major mutinies in February 1946 in the Royal Indian Navy and the Air Force, and finally the Army.
The British decided to leave. The original date was 1948, but Mountbatten preponed it to August 1947. Thus the prime catalyst and trigger for the British to leave was Bose and his INA. Unfortunately, the British had their final revenge by handing over power to an Anglophile elite. They made Mountbatten the first Governor General of free India. The post-Independence Intelligence Bureau (IB) and sections of the bureaucracy ostensibly remained loyal to the erstwhile British masters. For almost a quarter century after Independence, the IB kept reporting to MI-5 about the whereabouts and activities of Netaji’s kin. The INA men were treated as traitors and not taken back into the Indian Army.
The Nehruvian dispensation blanked Bose and the INA completely out of the history books. The court historians fabricated a new history of the freedom struggle based entirely on non-violence and Satyagraha. To live up to this exaggerated narrative, Nehru became a great pacifist. He told General Sir Roy Bucher, India’s first Army Chief, that independent India didn’t need armed forces. Police forces were sufficient! He marginalised the military and sidelined it. He starved it of resources till we met the disaster of 1962 at the hands of the Chinese. That abject humiliation opened our eyes and made India’s leaders turn to real politic. Armed forces were expanded and modernised. It did well in the 1965 war with Pakistan and won in Bangladesh in 1971.
The wheel had come to a full circle. But Bose and his INA were never rehabilitated. The Nehruvian dispensation went to lengths to prove Bose had died in an air crash in Taiwan. In our 71st year, the time has now come to revisit our history and unravel the truth of our freedom struggle. I strongly urge that we psychologically rehabilitate the INA and nurture its spirit of militant nationalism.
On the 68th Republic Day parade, we must have a contingent of INA veterans move in jeeps behind our PVC winners. There are so few of them left. Within the next few years they will all die out. Let us honour those who are left. It will right a historic wrong of monumental proportions.
We should have tableaux depicting the bust of Netaji and the soldiers of the INA at Moirang—the first place they had liberated in Manipur. It would be a wonderful and soul-stirring gesture that will revive the intense nationalism of the INA. It will help us throw off the psychological shackles of slavery and heal a ravaged colonial mindset of deep-seated cultural inferiority and subjugation. We need that grand gesture to revive the idea of India in the 71st year of its existence.
Maj. Gen. (Retd) G D Bakshi
War veteran and strategic analyst