Recollections and reflections

Reminiscences, Rafi Ahmad Kidwai

I first came in contact with Subhas Bose in 1923 at Delhi when the Congress was divided into two groups over the question of what was known as 'Council Entry.'...Subhas Babu, as the favourite lieutenant of Deshabandhu, was playing a prominent part in the controversy. more>>

Report of the Netaji Inquiry Committee (1956)

Chapter I: Last Plans of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose

The terms of reference of the Committee are:

"To enquire into and to report to the Government of India on the circumstances concerning the departure of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose from Bangkok about the 16th August 1945, his alleged death as a result of an aircraft accident, and subsequent developments connected therewith."

2. We have been asked to write the last page which had up to now remained blank; but to do so, it is necessary to know a little of the background of the first and intermediate pages. Early in 1942, the Japanese armies overran large parts of South-East Asia, which had been under colonial domination by European powers, and in so doing, they released a great impetus to nationalism. There were three million Indians in South-East Asia who took a leading part in this movement. They formed the Indian Independence League under Mr. Rash Behari Bose. Singapore fell on 15th February 1942, and the large British Indian Army stationed there surrendered. Out of this was formed the first Indian National Army under General Mohan Singh. This movement, however, was without a real leader of sufficient political stature. From the very start, the movement was waiting for Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, who was then in Europe, having escaped from detention in India in 1941. After a long and perilous journey by submarine, Netaji arrived in South-East Asia, and took charge of the Indian Independence Movement on the 4th of July 1943. Soon after, he assumed supreme command of the Indian National Army. Addressing a review of the Indian National Army at Singapore on 5th July, he first uttered his famous battle-cry, 'CHALO DELHI!' 'DELHI CHALO!' On the 21st October 1943, the Provisional Government of Azad Hind was formed. There was great enthusiasm and men and money poured in. The Japanese Army had overrun Burma and was poised for the invasion of India through Assam. Troops of the Indian National Army were sent to the front, and they took a gallant part in the fighting around Imphal and Kohima. Netaji toured all over East Asia, and visited Japan more than once. Although belonging to a subject nation, and dependent on Japan for keeping his army in the field, he left an indelible impression of his personality on all those who came in contact with him. Even today, his name is a household word in South-East Asia and Japan. Between his arrival in Singapore in July 1943, and his departure from Bangkok in August 1945, barely two years passed, but great things were attempted, and partly achieved, during this short period. Under the stress of war, the Indian Independence Movement in South-East Asia had some of the qualities of an epic. Its full story is yet to be written. The story can be divided into several chapters. The first chapter, the spring of hope, ended with the incursion into the fringes of India and the failure to take Imphal. That was in April 1944. There was lack of air-cover, artillery and food. Then the monsoons set in. The forward elements of the Indian National Army, along with the Japanese Army, fell back across the Chindwin in Upper Burma. The rivers were in flood and sick men were carried on the backs of their comrades. Many have heard of the historic march of the Communist Fourth Route Army across China to Yenan, but few know the story of the heroic retreat of the I.N.A. across Burma. Netaji, however, was not daunted by failure, and continued to work hard at reorganising the I.N.A. Addressing a public meeting at Bangkok at this time, he said, "March to Delhi still continues to be our battle-cry. We may not march to Delhi via Imphal, but it must be borne in mind that, like Rome, there are many roads leading to Delhi."

3. There were changes in the Government of Japan and General Tojo was replaced by General Koiso. In October 1944 Netaji visited Japan for the third and last time to meet the Members of the new Government of Japan and discuss important matters with them. By that time there had been further reverses for the Axis powers in Europe, and for the Japanese in Asia. The British forces had advanced far into Burma, and were threatening Mandalay. The Americans were active in the Pacific. The chances of a Japanese victory seemed more and more remote. From the very outset, Netaji had declared that his battle was for the Independence of India, and whatever happened to his Allies, Germans or Japanese, his war would continue till the liberation of India was achieved. From the time of his last visit to Japan Netaji looked out for another vantage-point from which to fight the British. He saw that the only country which could afford any assistance was Russia. He foresaw, and discussed with his Advisers, Members of his Government, and officers, that it would not be long before Russia fell out with the Anglo-Americans, and that the wartime alliance between the two was a temporary phase. He went even to the extent of predicting that there would be a third world-war in ten years' time between Russia on the one hand, and the Anglo-Americans on the other. Netaji felt that for him it would be good policy to take shelter in Russia, from where he could come out in time to continue his war of liberation against the British. On his way back from Tokyo in October 1944, Netaji met at Shanghai Mr. Anand Mohan Sahay who had long been in Japan. He asked Mr. Sahay to go to Tokyo and try to establish contact with the Soviet Ambassador there, Mr. Jacob Malik. Mr. Sahay, who is at present our Consul General in Hanoi, was examined at Saigon. He said that he sounded several important personalities, including the Foreign Minister, Mr. Shigemitsu and the Home Minister, Mr. Uzawa, but they advised him that it would be useless to contact the Soviet Ambassador. So, Mr. Sahay returned to Singapore and told Netaji the result of his mission. The quest, however, was not given up. The question of a "second front" became urgent in the middle of 1945, after the retreat from Rangoon and the collapse of Germany. An official reference was made to the Government of Japan by Netaji to contact the Russian authorities on his behalf. Mr. Debnath Das has kindly supplied the Committee with a copy of the Japanese Government's reply which was received sometime in June 1945. After thanking Netaji for his continuing co-operation with Japan, it says, "Nippon Government deems it almost without hope of success to get directly in touch with the Soviet Government on behalf of Your Excellency, and it has no intention of doing so." Mr. Debnath Das has stated that about this time several alternative plans were considered. The first was to go to India and prepare for an armed revolution inside the country: Alternative, to go to Yenan (Communist China): And thirdly, to try and contact the Russians through the Japanese. The third alternative seemed to have found favour with Netaji. A direct approach to Russia seemed difficult; Manchuria, which was next door, and held by the Japanese forces, was increasingly considered as the best place to move to. But in case all these failed, Netaji advised Mr. Debnath Das to organise cells in South-East Asia which could be used for going underground.

4. About the same time, the movement of the Headquarters of the Indian National Army, and the Indian Independence League to China, was also seriously considered. General Isoda, who was the head of the Japanese Liaison Mission (Hikari Kikan), and through whom all correspondence with Japan passed, has given valuable information on this point. He has said that the first proposal was that the headquarters should be moved to Shanghai, but this did not materialise. There is reason to believe that the Japanese Southern Army Command felt that if Netaji moved out of South-East Asia, it would be difficult to control the I.N.A. The second alternative was that the Headquarters should be moved to Saigon, with branches at Shanghai and Peking, or some other city in North China. The reason for establishing a branch in North China was that Netaji would be nearer Russian territory, and be in a better position to contact the Soviet authorities. The Government of Japan and the Imperial General Headquarters were at first reluctant to accept this scheme, but they agreed when General Isoda explained to them that Netaji did not intend to cut off connection with Japan, but to have an alternative connection with Russia. This plan was apparently approved by the Government of Japan in the middle of May. By that time British forces had broken through at Meiktila and Rangoon was lost. Netaji stayed at Rangoon as long as possible, and moved out only at the last moment on the 24th April 1945. He retreated to Bangkok, arriving there on the 14th of May. The chapter of retreat which began at Imphal in June 1944 ended at Bangkok in May 1945. This was the second chapter of the I.N.A. story. The third chapter was brief. From Netaji's arrival in Bangkok on the 14th May, to his flight from Saigon on the 17th August, there were barely three months. To go back to the approved plan, before it could be given effect to, Netaji moved to Singapore, especially to broadcast a series of talks to India, not to accept the terms offered by the Viceroy, Lord Wavell. Even at that time, Netaji and his advisers calculated that there would be at least six months’ interval between the collapse of Germany, and the eventual surrender of Japan. It was hoped that by that time, the Headquarters would be shifted somewhere further east, and some contact made with the Russians. But Russia declared war on Japan on August 9th and atom bombs were dropped by Americans on the Japanese mainland. All calculations were thus upset and Japan surrendered on the 15th August 1945.

5. Mr. S. A. Ayer in Chapter V of his book Unto Him Witness has vividly described the rush and turmoil of those days. Netaji was on a visit to Seramban in Malaya. On the 12th of August, Dr. Lakshmayya and Mr. Ganapathy of the Indian Independence League Headquarters rushed up in a car, and gave him the shattering news that Japan had surrendered. Netaji received this news in a calm and even carefree manner, typical of him. To quote Mr. Ayer's words, "He first broke into a smile, and almost his first words were: 'So that is that. Now, what next?' It was the soldier speaking. He was already thinking of the next move and the next battle. He was not going to be beaten. Japan's surrender was not India's surrender." Netaji returned to Singapore immediately and held a non-stop series of conferences, night and day, with his Advisers and officers. Against their advice, Netaji was determined to remain behind and surrender at Singapore with his troops. But on the 14th evening they were joined by Mr. A. N. Sarkar, a Member of the Provisional Government of Azad Hind, who arrived from Bangkok with words from General Isoda, Chief of the Hikari Kikan and Mr. Hachiya, Japanese Minister to the Provisional Government of Azad Hind. Mr. Sarkar told Netaji that Messrs. Isoda and Hachiya were anxious to help him to get away from Malaya and Thailand to further east, so that he would not fall into the hands of the Anglo-Americans. At last Netaji was persuaded not to remain behind at Singapore, and to proceed east. The final decision was, to quote Mr. Ayer, "Out of Malaya definitely, to some Russian territory certainly, to Russia itself, if possible." There were reasons why Netaji should go to Tokyo at that time. There was the pressing question whether the I.N.A. should surrender as part of the Japanese forces, or as a separate army. Netaji and his Advisers were anxious that there should be an independent surrender, as the I.N.A. represented an independent State. The Japanese Commander in Singapore could not give an answer as he had no instructions. Probably, the authorities in Tokyo only could give a definite answer. Mr. N. Kitazawa, a member of the House of Representatives, Japan, was examined by the Committee. During the war, he was a Counsellor attached to the Japanese Embassy in Rangoon. He has stated that a week before the surrender, the Japanese Government communicated to all Heads of States who were allied with them that they would be prepared to give them shelter in Japan. Accordingly, President Laurel of Philippines, Dr. Ba Maw of Burma, and Mr. Chenkun Pao, Head of the Chinese Government in Nanking, took refuge in Japan. So far as Mr. Kitazawa knew, this offer was communicated to Netaji by Mr. Hachiya. It is not certain whether Netaji accepted the offer because Netaji's concern throughout had been the continuance of his struggle, without any thought of personal safety. Mr. Kunizuka of the Hikari Kikan, who was attached to Netaji throughout the period, has stated that Netaji was not in favour of taking shelter in Japan, as Japan was a small country, and the Occupation Forces would be there soon. Perhaps, Netaji accepted it only as a gesture of courtesy.

6. On the 16th August Netaji came to Bangkok. Mr. Hachiya, the Japanese Minister to the Provisional Government of Azad Hind, met him and delivered to him a message which conveyed the decision of the Japanese Government to surrender. It thanked Netaji for the co-operation extended to them in the prosecution of war. The message also contained an offer from the Government of Japan to be of any assistance to him. Mr. Hachiya says that Netaji told him that the Government of Japan having surrendered unconditionally, they would not be in a position to afford any protection to him. He was, therefore, more inclined to contact Russia. About this, however, the local authorities at Bangkok could not give much help. All they could do was to carry him to Saigon, and discuss and take orders from Field Marshal Count Terauchi, who was the Japanese Supreme Commander in South-East Asia. Col. Yano, Staff Officer of that Command, knew that Netaji was coming, and that he wished to go to Russia. He has said that Field Marshal Terauchi could not give any decision himself, but wished that Netaji should proceed to Tokyo and discuss the matter with the Government of Japan, So, there were a number of reasons for Netaji to go to Tokyo, although his ultimate goal was Russia via Manchuria. General Isoda, who, as the Head of the Hikari Kikan, was consulted by Netaji on his return to Bangkok, says that Netaji "expressed a desire to go to Russia. I promised to give all the help that I could give to Netaji...Eventually, the plan that was finally settled was that Netaji would first go to Tokyo, thank the Japanese Government for all the assistance that they had given him...and then proceed to Russia via Manchuria."

7. There was no time then to contact Russian authorities or to make out detailed plans ahead. Russia was at war with Japan, and the Russian armies were advancing into Manchuria. Even if Netaji reached Manchuria, what would happen to him and the few trusted lieutenants, whom he wanted to take with him, was uncertain. All that he could hope was that they would be taken prisoners first, establish their bona fides as fighters for India's freedom, and later on secure Russian assistance for their objective. The details were uncertain; the purpose was fixed. Netaji himself described his last journey as "an adventure into the unknown." He chose Col. Habibur Rehman, Major Abid Hasan, Col. Gulzara Singh and Col. Pritam Singh, Mr. Debnath Das and Mr. S. A. Ayer to accompany him, but they were not told where he was going. They all knew vaguely that they were going to Manchuria. General Bhonsle, Chief of the General Staff, who was left behind by Netaji in charge of the I.N.A., says, "On the eve of his departure, I enquired from Netaji whether he had been able to decide where he would make for finally, after his discussions with the Japanese Government, and his reply was that he was hoping to go to Russia, but that he would talk over the matter further with the Japanese Government." At Saigon, almost by chance, Netaji was met by Lt. General Shidei, who was proceeding as Chief of Staff of the Kwantung Army in Manchuria. General Shidei was a leading Japanese expert on matters Russian. According to Mr. Negishi, who was with the party up to Saigon, it was suggested that Netaji should accompany General Shidei to Manchuria, and he apparently fell in with the suggestion. The plane was proceeding to Tokyo by the following route: Saigon-Heito-Taihoku (Formosa)-Dairen (Manchuria)-Tokyo. A little element of doubt remained whether Netaji would proceed by the same plane to Tokyo or break the journey at Dairen. Japan had surrendered. There was profound depression, and the elaborate machinery of Government was running down. Netaji was flying two days after surrender for an uncertain destination. It was indeed a leap in the dark. From this leap he did not return.