Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Netaji's Birhday - an article where Ex-INA soldiers recollect


Forgotten heroes of India's 1st army
By: Nilanjana Sengupta Date: 2010-08-14

From Singapore, 3 Indians who were in Netaji's INA, our first National Army, talk about glory and subsequent neglect from a "corrupt, truncated" motherland

In a small Udipi restaurant on Singapore's Serangoon Road, a group of octogenarians greet each other with "Jai Hind". They remember phone numbers with difficulty, but lucidly recall their INA days.

Each of them carries copies of a certain certificate with pride. It is the only, slim testimonial to prove that they belonged to the first real national army of their homeland, about 3,000 km away.

(From left) Girish Kothari, Kishore Bhattacharya and Bala A Chandran in Singapore

Bala A Chandran, Girish Kothari and Kishore Bhattacharya were once members of the Indian National Army (INA), a band of revolutionary fighters that Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose created in 1943 from among Indian immigrants in Singapore and other parts of South-east Asia to fight the mighty British military machine.

There is still a vibrant subculture of participants and descendants of INA in Southeast Asian countries including Singapore, Japan, Thailand and Malaysia.

Radical

Bala Chandran joined the Balak Sena, Kishore Bhattacharya the Tokyo Cadets while Girish Kothari the Officers' Training School at Nissun Camp (Yishun of modern day Singapore). Whichever wing of the INA they were a part of, the single-minded intent was to be among the 45,000 Indians from the diaspora who fought against British occupation of India.

After Bose's disappearance on August 18, 1945, INA's men and women were left largely to fend for themselves against the returning British Army. Keeping in mind Bose's rift with the Nehru-Gandhi camp and his radical views on the Civil Disobedience Movement, it is not difficult to discern why.

Today, after several years of neglect after Independence, the ex-INA members, with some exceptions, were refused service in the Indian Army the only recognition of Bala Chandran, Kothari and Bhattacharya's place in India's history is their certificates from the Ex-INA Committee, a committee set up in Singapore after the war and later "approved by" the Indian Government. Dated July 2007, these certificates are a classic example of too little too late.

Soya beans

Bala Chandran was just 14 when he joined the Balak Sena - the youth wing of the INA. A third-generation Indian in Singapore, he caught only stray words from Netaji's speech at the Padang because he did not know Hindustani, and still was moved to tears. When he reached home, he could not sleep.

"I knew I had to do something," he says. Coming from a relatively affluent background, he faced stiff opposition from his family. Still, the next day found him at the INA headquarters. When he was offered the job of a peon he did not hesitate because at any cost he wanted to be a part of the war effort.

Bala Chandran still recalls the night he, along with a few other young cadets, decided to defy army orders and under cover of darkness reached the office of INA seniors Major General Alagappa and Major General Loganathan at the Chancery Lane bungalows with an urgent request to allow them to fight at the Burma border.

Kothari had come to Singapore in 1940 to eke out a livelihood for his really poor family in Junagarh. And yet he put the very real material needs of his family on the backburner as he plunged into the independence struggle and decided to join the INA.

He recalls that after the war was over and the INA summarily disbanded, he left the INA quarters with nothing but the set of clothes he was wearing. He telegrammed his father, who immediately wired back, "Send home money."

"Those days our spirits were different you know," he says with a smile. "We happily survived on a daily breakfast of soya beans fried in vegetable oil and a lunch of soya beans and obi. We just wanted to see a free India."

The Raj

And still, after Independence when he travelled across India in search of employment, he did not get any response and was forced to come back to Singapore where he lives with family.

Kishore Bhattacharya has come to their meeting point on Serangoon Road after a recent intestinal surgery, walking with a stick and assisted by his wife. "I have to come because you mentioned Netaji," he says with difficulty. He recalls his days at the Seletar Camp where he had the opportunity to personally interact with Netaji. On hearing his name, Netaji had told him in Hindi: "You are Bengali? Welcome!"

(From left) Girish Kothari, Kishore Bhattacharya and Bala A Chandran in Singapore

K Kesavapany, director of the Institute of South East Asian Studies, puts it aptly: "Bose built an army of Indian outcasts." In the INA, Netaji recruited Tamil Malayans considered "non-martial" and ignored by military tradition. They were rubber plantation workers with their history of colonial oppression.

The POWs who formed the backbone of the INA were burdened with the guilt of serving the Raj - distrusted by their British Commanders and Indians alike. With the Rani Jhansi Army, Bose empowered women as an equal party in the military struggle for freedom.

Religion

And despite the subsequent defeat of the INA on the battlefield, lives changed forever for those who had lived through these glorious, inspiring times. An army veteran, KR Das, in Subhas Chandra Bose: A Malaysian Perspective, mentions: "He turned the servile Indian labourer in the plantations of Malaya into a proud, self-respecting man...when the planters returned after the war, they found a different Indian...they organised themselves into powerful labour unions and negotiated with the employers on an equal level."

Bala Chandran recalls: "When the British returned, there was a noticeable change in their attitude towards Asians." The word coolie was replaced by a more politically correct 'labourer' and higher positions were offered to Asians in the bureaucracy.

So, while demands of everyday life took over after the war, a wider purpose of life remained even for the Indian soldiers in Singapore. Bhattacharya joined the Singapore police, Kothari delved into community service providing medical and educational aid to the poor through the local Gujarati Association.

Inspired by INA ideals, he tried to bring all Indians under one umbrella but failed and had to reconcile himself to working within his community. "Only Netaji could do that you know the INA had no religion," he says.

Bala Chandran involved himself with grassroots issues he joined the Labour Party of Singapore and continues to work for the betterment of the working class.

Did they ever think of going back to India, the motherland they had set out to liberate?

Corruption

They are unanimous in their reply the "truncated freedom" achieved over Partition and communal riots is not the India of their dreams. Whenever they have gone to India they have also been disturbed by the rampant corruption.

The certificate

"We were advised to request the Indian government for pension or free railway pass. But we did not join the INA for compensation and when nothing was done for us, we left it at that," says Bala Chandran.

Today, Singapore is where they belong. But they are quick to add: "Whether Singaporean or Indian, we will always be INA men at heart."

Many believe the seed of India's final victory lay in INA's defeat. The Red Fort trials of the INA leaders, staged by the British, raised a patriotic storm, which refused to die down.

Eminent historian Ramesh Chandra Majumdar observes in his book Three phases of India's Struggle for Freedom: "There is...no basis for the claim that the Civil Disobedience Movement directly led to Independence.

The campaigns of Gandhi...came to an ignoble end about 14 years before India achieved Independence...The revelations made by the INA trial, and the reaction it produced in India, made it quite plain to the British...that they could no longer depend upon the loyalty of the sepoys...This had probably the greatest influence upon their final decision to quit India."

Netaji had kept his promise to his people: "Give me blood, I shall give you freedom."

Chalo Dilli
June 27, 1943: Subhash Chandra Bose arrives in Singapore after his epic submarine journey from Germany and takes over the INA. He makes it the force it is remembered as. In a historical meeting at the Cathay Hall of Singapore, he declares: "It is your privilege and honour to be the first to come forward and organise India's national army. Comrade! My soldiers! Let your battle cry be 'Chalo Dilli!'"

Nehru and Bose
In Sunanda Datta-Ray's book Looking East to Look West, we read a description of Nehru's visit to Singapore soon after the war. Mountbatten apparently wrote in his diary: "I asked Nehru to cancel only one item of his programme...the laying of a wreath on the War Memorial for the INA...He agreed to do this." However, "He slipped away quietly the following day and left his personal wreath." [a bunch of roses supposedly bought for Edwina Mountbatten].

Netaji in front of Bharat Mata pic/courtesy: Institute of South East Asian Studies (ISEAS)

Luminaries
After the public frenzy around the Red Fort Trials, both Indian National Congress and the Muslim League made the release of the three defendants an important political issue. The three were defended by the INA Defence Committee formed by the Congress with legal luminaries including Jawaharlal Nehru, Bhulabhai Desai, Kailashnath Katju.

Hall of Fame
Cathay Hall: In the 1940s, the Cathay Hall at Dhoby Ghaut was the tallest building of Singapore and it was here that Netaji proclaimed the formation of the Provisional Government of India and gave the call of "Chalo Dilli" in his first public appearance here. Today, it has been reconstructed as the Cathay Cinema and is dwarfed by other skyscrapers.

Netaji's Singapore

Cathay Hall: In the 1940s, the Cathay Hall at Dhoby Ghaut was the tallest building of Singapore and it was here that Netaji proclaimed the formation of the Provisional Government of India and gave the call of "Chalo Dilli" in his first public appearance here. Today, it has been reconstructed as the Cathay Cinema and is dwarfed by other skyscrapers. Shyam Benegal's film Bose: The Forgotten Hero was screened to a sold-out auditorium at the Cathay Cinema earlier this year. The screening was attended by Singapore's President SR Nathan who suggested the venue because of its historical connections.

The INA War Memorial: At the Esplanade on the Singapore sea-front stands the War Memorial laid by Subhash Bose in 1945, shortly before he passed away. While paying homage to the martyrs of the INA he said "The future generations of Indians who will be born, not as slaves but as free men, because of your colossal sacrifice ¦" When the British returned to Singapore, Lord Mountbatten ordered the INA Memorial to be destroyed. In 1995, the site was marked by the National Heritage Board.

The Stage

1818: Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles sets sail from Calcutta, the capital of British India, to take over Singapore and give the East India Company a strategic foothold in the Straits of Malacca
February 1942: Singapore falls to the Japanese. The first brief avatar of the INA, consisting largely of Indian POWs, is set up by Mohun Singh and is subsequently led by Rashbehari Bose

June 27, 1943: Subhash Chandra Bose arrives in Singapore after his epic submarine journey from Germany and takes over the INA. He makes it the force it is remembered as. In a historical meeting at the Cathay Hall of Singapore, he declares: "It is your privilege and honour to be the first to come forward and organise India's national army. Comrade! My soldiers! Let your battle cry be 'Chalo Dilli!'"

Around 1944: The INA starts its revolutionary march from Singapore towards Delhi

The Red Fort Trials

After World War II, the British government of India brought some captured INA soldiers to trial on treason charges. Between November 1945 and May 1946, about ten courts-martial were held.

The first of these, and the most celebrated one, was the joint court-martial of Colonel Prem Sahgal, Colonel Gurubaksh Singh Dhillon and Major General Shah Nawaz Khan held in a public trial at the Red Fort, Delhi.

After the public frenzy around the Red Fort Trials, both Indian National Congress and the Muslim League made the release of the three defendants an important political issue.

The three were defended by the INA Defence Committee formed by the Congress with legal luminaries including Jawaharlal Nehru, Bhulabhai Desai, Kailashnath Katju.

This spread to include mutinies and wavering support within the British Indian Army.

This movement marked the last major campaign in which the forces of the Congress and the Muslim League aligned together; the Congress tricolor and the green flag of the League were flown together at protests.

In spite of this aggressive and widespread opposition, the court martial was carried out, and all three defendants were sentenced to deportation for life.

This sentence, however, was never carried out, as the immense public pressure of the demonstrations and riots forced Claude Auchinleck, commander-in-chief of the Indian Army, to release all three defendants.

Within three months, 11,000 soldiers of the INA were released after cashiering and forfeiture of pay and allowance.

On the recommendation of Lord Mountbatten and agreed by Nehru as a precondition for Independence, the INA soldiers were not re-inducted into the Indian Army.

While the INA's role in military terms is considered to be relatively insignificant, INA trials brought a decisive shift in British policy. The viceroy's journal describes the autumn and winter of 1945-'46 as "The Edge of a Volcano".

Intelligence reports at the time noted that the "patriotic fury" was beyond the communal barriers. Particularly disturbing for the British was the overt support for the INA by the soldiers of the Indian army.

After the war ended, the story of the INA was seen as so inflammatory that, fearing mass revolts and uprisings not just in India, but across its empire the British Government forbade the BBC from broadcasting their story.
Source: Wikipedia

Recos in Vain?

These are the 10 recommendations of Captain John Jacob, founder president of the INA Committee to the Government of India:
1. Declare Netaji as the first President of India because he, on October 21, 1943, proclaimed the Provisional Government of Free India from exile, which drew instant recognition from nine European and Asian countries.
2.Declare Netaji's birthday, January 23, as a National Day.
3. Declare "Jai Hind" as the national greeting.
4. Include the INA National Anthem in all school and college prayers.
5.Erect a life-size statue of Netaji in the precincts of the Red Fort.
6. Issue permanent currency notes, coins and postage stamps of various denominations bearing the portrait of Netaji.
7. Name at least one women's wing in the Indian Defence Forces as Rani Jhansi Regiment as it was in the INA.
8. Name one defence academy after Netaji.
9. Introduce an authentic account of the INA as an integral part of modern Indian history in all educational curricula.
10. Establish an International Netaji Research Foundation under the aegis of the Ministry of Human Resources for undertaking wide-ranging research in areas like international relations, defence and welfare economics.


In Singapore, three soldiers of #Netaji army talk about how their "corrupt, truncated" mother treated them: http://t.co/11Oy8EHA
http://in.tweetwood.com/abhijitmajumder/tweet/293957113384935425

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