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>>

Statesman and Diplomat

S A Ayer

Ayer was with Reuters before he joined the Indian Independence League in 1942, in Bangkok. He became the Minister of Propaganda and Publicity the the Provisional Government of Azad Hind in October 1943.

Since my return to India in 1945, at the end of the World War, I have heard the criticism from the lips of even otherwise well-informed persons that Netaji ought not to have taken the aid of the Japanese. Some others have repeated unthinkingly the war-time British propagandist accusation that Netaji had "joined" the Japanese and was a tool in their hands for the invasion of India; and, if the Japanese had succeeded, they would have taken the place of the British as India's rulers.

It suited the British to broadcast this disgraceful libel because they knew exactly where the shoe pinched them. Their military experts told them that Netaji and his INA could not be ignored; on the contrary, they were a dagger pointed at Delhi, the seat of British power in India.

It suited the British to broadcast this disgraceful libel because they knew exactly where the shoe pinched them. Their military experts told them that Netaji and his INA could not be ignored; on the contrary, they were a dagger pointed at Delhi, the seat of British power in India.

The British accusation may, therefore, be dismissed as utterly baseless war-time propaganda; the man who was twice elected President of the Indian National Congress and who literally wore himself out inch by inch in the epic fight for India's freedom, could certainly not love India lessthan did Wavell or Mountbatten!

Now, to turn to the criticism that Netaji took a serious risk in taking Japanese aid because he could not have prevented the Japanese from imposing their rule on Indians, once they were well entrenched on Indian soil. I am sorry to have to say that such critics betray a degree of ignorance of Netaji and the Japanese that is unpardonable.

In his dealings with the Japanese, Netaji took his stand four-square on certain fundamentals and refused to budge an inch, even when such a stand meant an imminent and total break with the Japanese and an end to all his dreams of freeing India. For those of us who were privileged to watch him night and day handling Japanese Generals, statesmen, diplomats, administrators and businessmen, it was really a wonder how Netaji could be so constantly and intensely alive even to the remotest possibility of a situation ultimately leading to a compromise of India's complete sovereignty and independence.

The Japanese were left in no doubt about this mental attitude of Netaji, and they were sore about this, and said so openly. In fairness to the Japanese nation, I must admit that the higher-ups were always decent and their actions were above board; but not so all the lesser men in the Japanese government and in the armed forces.

Netaji never relaxed his vigil in his dealings with the Japanese; indeed, it is a pity that he was compelled to be constantly on his guard instead of being free and unrestrained in his friendship with them.

The lesson of China was not at all lost on Netaji. He warned the Japanese time and again that delay in their arriving at a friendly settlement with the Chiang Kai-shek regime at Chungking would prove disastrous for the conduct of their war against the Anglo-American alliance.

He won the unqualified admiration of the great East Asia leaders like Dr. Jose Laurel (President of the Philippines) and Dr. Ba Maw (Head of the State, Independent Burma) for his vigorous independence in his parleys with the tallest among the Japanese leaders.

There was something quietly majestic about his bearing, a rhythmic dignity about his gait, something electrical about his very presence, and at the same time, something very charming about his child-like smile, that fascinated and deeply impressed one and all in any international gathering that he attended at Tokyo.

He truly strode East Asia like a Colossus and dominated the entire scene without being self-conscious about it. In the midst of a group of Japanese he looked a stalwart — over six-foot in his top-boots, khaki breeches, khaki tunic and khaki forage cap — the unique yet simple uniform of the Supreme Commander of the INA.

He was a stalwart both physically and figuratively. He commanded the respect of the Japanese. But some of the small-minded Japanese would not so readily acknowledge his complete equality with the highest Japanese dignitaries. Some of them spent all their time devising pinpricks for Netaji; while they would suggest to him to observe all etiquette and formalities with Japanese ministers, generals, admirals and air marshals, they would trot out some fantastic excuse or other for an occasional waiving of such formalities or etiquette to be observed by the Japanese. "Incidents" of this kind took place at regular intervals. But every time Netaji made the Japanese eat the humble pie. Often, mere threats sufficed to make the Japanese climb down; sometimes he carried out those threats. At the last moment, he threatened to absent himself from dinners because the Japanese had failed to observe certain formalities which they had earlier promised to do.

When a new Japanese Commander-in-Chief arrived in Rangoon, the Japanese liaison officers suggested to Netaji to depute one of his Senior officers to call on the Commander-in-Chief at his residence by way of a courtesy visit. Netaji said "No." He insisted that the C.-in-C. should first call on him and then he should himself, return the call, and there would be no need to depute any officer.

The Japanese were in no doubt as to the place Netaji occupied in the hearts of the millions of his countrymen at home. They had no illusions about their own military strength, if it came to a question of imposing their will on the Indian people once they entered India with the INA. They were reminded at every turn that once they stood on Indian soil shoulder to shoulder with the INA, only the overall war strategy would be left to them to be worked out, but full sovereignty over the liberated regions would rest wholly with the Supreme Commander of the INA. They would look to him for all supplies, and the administration of liberated areas would be the exclusive responsibility of the Azad Hind Government.

But, it may be asked, what was the sanction behind Netaji if the Japanese broke faith with him after crossing the border, and while advancing into India? That sanction was the fiery spiritof the INA to which the Japanese themselves bore witness and the total non-co-operation and sabotage by the civilian population in the liberated regions. A combination of these two formidable weapons, if directed by Netaji against the Japanese, would prove too much even for the Japanese forces.

The Japanese knew this very well. That was why Netaji was more than confident that he was not taking even the slightest risk in accepting Japanese aid in his epic armed struggle for India's independence. Only those who, having ears refuse to hear, having eyes refuse to see, having intellect refuse to think for themselves, - and, being too prejudiced, refuse to be fair — only such people could go on repeating their regret that Netaji took Japanese aid.

As for the insinuation that Netaji was at any time a tool in the hands of the Japanese, there is no need to say much in refutation. The man whom the mighty British Empire could not subdue, the man who insisted on his independence in running the Azad Hind broadcast from war-time Berlin, the man who refused to have India's Independence with Japanese aid except on his own terms, that man might have been anything else but certainly no tool in anybody's hands.

Nothing was dearer to him in this world than India's independence; but he was prepared to do without it, if the price asked was a compromise on any principle.

He felt it his moral duty to India to take Japan's aid; he made more than sure that India would be no loser at all. He was quite sure of himself; he was supremely confident that he could handle any contingency ; he, therefore, went ahead without a moment's hesitation.

In regard to Netaji's role as the leader of the Indian freedom movement in East Asia, I have also

noticed traces of obscurity and self-contradiction in the attitude of some Americans. The Americans strongly resented the Azad Hind Government's declaration of war on the United States also, along with the declaration against Britain. While they conceded in theory any subject nation's right to fight for its freedom from alien rule, they were annoyed over Indians taking up arms against Britain when, as an ally of America, Britain was herself engaged in a life and death struggle. And, lastly, the Americans resented Netaji's alliance with Japan, the mortal enemy of the United States in the Pacific.

On the surface, these objections were quite understandable, but how far were they justified in the eyes of right-thinking men?

First, let me take the declaration of war by the Provisional Government of Azad Hind on the United States of America. As a member of the Azad Hind Cabinet I was present at the historic midnight meeting of the Provisional Government on the night of 23rd-24th October, 1943.

Netaji was in the chair. All the ministers and advisers were present. Netaji himself, in a brief speech, moved that the Provisional Government declare war on Britain and her ally, America. Practically no discussion followed and it looked as if the motion would be carried unanimously. The meeting was taking place on the spacious rear verandah of Netaji's bungalow. Colonel Loganadan ('uncle' to everybody) who was sitting at the far-end to Netaji's left, then struck a discordant note. He never hesitated to speak out his mind to Netaji on any important issue.

"Why drag in America, Sir? Why not leave her alone and confine the declaration to Britain?" asked 'uncle,' speaking straight to Netaji. "After all," uncle added, "Britain had begged America to help her in this war, and as we have nothing particularly against America, why not try and retain America's goodwill for us? Why range America also officially against ourselves?"

Netaji saw no ethics in 'uncle' Loganadan's viewpoint; he failed to see even expediency. He took his stand on the moral plane, and said that they should be honest about their attitude towards America. The presence of American forces on Indian soil was a reality, a grim reality, too, because it meant that the task facing the INA on Indian soil had been made doubly difficult. The INA was not concerned with any other issue except the expulsion of the British from India in the shortest possible time. American forces in India were actively obstructing the march of the Indian liberation forces towards their goal of Freedom. And no nation on earth, whatever the circumstances, had a right to fight against another nation which was merely struggling to achieve its own liberty. In the alternative, America ought to have forced Britain to concede India's national demand for Independence without further delay. America ought to remember her own fight for independence against the very same British over a century ago. It would be immoral and beneath the dignity of the Government of Free India to shirk the issue and to appear to curry favour with America.

Uncle Loganadan saw Netaji's viewpoint and readily admitted that he had not looked at the matter from those angles.

The declaration of war was carried unanimously.

As for the objection about embarrassing Britain, Netaji was convinced of the perfect morality of exploiting any and every opportunity of fighting Britain for the sacred cause of the freedom of one-fifth of the human race. He went a step further. He was emphatic that it would be a crime against God and man to let go a golden opportunity, thereby allowing the continuance of Britain's domination of India. There was no question of betrayal or of breach of faith; because, Netaji had proclaimed from the house-tops, long before World War II broke out, that he would take full advantage of it; Britain knew exactly where she stood with him and treated him as her worst enemy in India; he never squealed; of course, he outwitted and outmanoeuvred Britain; so, the British should not complain, nor should any of their friends.

Now, to take up the most important objection from the American viewpoint, namely, Netaji's alliance with Japan, the "aggressor" in China and the perpetrator of the attack on Pearl Harbour. America took the aid of France to win her own independence from Britain, and, in World War II, Britain was not only taking America's aid but had gladly placed her Generals under the command of an American General in Europe. If a mighty Power like Britain could go round with the begging bowl in hand, there could be no objection to Netaji's taking Japan's aid. After all Britain was not fighting to win her freedom but Netaji was fighting for India's freedom. Why, then, should he not accept the proffered hand of Japan? Were the Japanese in any way worse than the British? They could not be so, at any rate in one respect. Japan had not lorded it over another country of the size of India for a century and a half. Then, should Netaji have declined Japan's aid because of her "aggression" in China? He was not an arbiter among independent nations of the world; he must first make his own people independent, and only then start apportioning blame among free nations; not that he did not have full sympathy with the Chinese people.

It must be remembered that, as President of the Indian National Congress in 1938, he had sent an Indian Medical Mission to China as a practical demonstration of his own and the Indian people's sympathy with the people of China; and, as a matter of fact, Netaji never missed a chance of telling the Japanese topmen to come to terms with the Chiang Kai-Shek regime because he wanted to see the end of the war on China's soil at the earliest possible moment. Netaji's attitude towards China was clear, and his conscience was more than clean.

As for the Pearl Harbour attack, Netaji was fully aware of the feeling of vengeful hatred that this attack created in the minds of Americans; but that was a matter for settlement between two world Powers. And, did not America, after all, settle her score with the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

Netaji had no other quarrel with America as far as India was concerned; he had no malice against her; but he made no secret of his feeling that it was a thousand pities that America should have helped Britain indirectly to continue her stranglehold on India. He was only concerned with this aspect of the war and with nothing else. With him the acid test was: who is fighting for India's freedom and who against it? Other considerations merely sought to sidetrack the issue and he refused to be a party to it.

Extracted from Unto Him A Witness: The Story of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose in East Asia

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