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Wednesday 22 January 2020

Nehru’s defence of INA in trials an eyewash?

Netaji’s nephew Dwijendranath Bose thought it was electoral expediency. Declassified British documents suggested the same. Furthermore, a mole of British intelligence agency MI in the INA, who later joined the British-Indian Army, reported this to his real boss, a British brigadier.

In happier times in the Congress
In happier times in the Congress

With the Jawaharlal Nehru government being accused of snooping on Subhas Chandra Bose’s kin for 20 years, thanks to some declassified documents, the Congress has come up with a defence of the first prime minister that goes: Panditji wouldn’t have defended Netaji’s Indian National Army in the Red Fort trials if he had been so inimical to Bose. Going back to the pre-Independence days, the last phase of the freedom struggle in particular, Nehru, on the face of it, stood out for his impressive defence of the Indian National Army men at the historic Red Fort trials.

Grainy visuals of Nehru in his lawyer’s coat and gown, out to defend the soldiers of his one time friend Subhas Chandra Bose, fit perfectly with the linear, officially-sanctioned narrative that various streams of the Indian freedom struggle culminated into a singular thrust.

PR Dasmunsi, a minister in Manmohan Singh’s government, wrote in The Pioneer in January 2006 that “Pandit Nehru, notwithstanding his political differences with Netaji, saluted the historical march of the INA and came forward to defend its solution as a lawyer in the Red Fort trials”. In August that very year, while defending his rejection of the Justice Manoj Kumar Mukherjee Commission report on Bose’s disappearance, his Cabinet colleague Shivraj Patil repeated in Parliament that Nehru had “donned the black coat and gown and went to the Red Fort to defend” the INA men.

Challenging this please-all interpretation are bitter torrents from Subhas Bose’s admirers and family members. Their argument against Nehru’s defence of the INA is that it was a political ploy. Because, right from 1942, Nehru had publicly opposed Bose’s going out of the country to seek outside help in attaining freedom. Nehru went to the extent of characterizing Bose’s strategy as “a sign of cowardice”. On 12 April 1942 at a press conference in New Delhi, he had commented thus:

It is a slave’s sentiment, a slave’s way of thinking to imagine that to get rid of one person who is dominating us we can expect another person to help us and not dominate later.

He even declared that he “would oppose and fight Subhas Bose to death”.

So how come this very Nehru had come around to hailing the INA man in 1946? An answer was provided by freedom fighter and Bose’s nephew Dwijendranath Bose. “Do you understand the word ‘namaboli’”, he asked angrily. “[It] means the words ‘Hare Krishna Hare Rama’ are printed and it is worn by Brahmins. So, Panditji thought it proper to wear that namaboli of INA to cross the river of election.”

Documents declassified by the British some time after Dwijendranath rhetorically asserted the above in 1972 seem to suggest that the Congress leadership’s defence of the INA was motivated by a desire to excel in the provincial elections of 1946.

Commander-in-Chief of British Indian armed forces General Claude Auchinleck wrote to Field Marshal Viscount Wavell on 24 November 1945 that “the present INA trials are agitating all sections of Indian public opinion deeply and have also provided the Congress with an excellent election cry”.

Similarly, Wavell was informed by Sir M Hallett of the United Provinces on 19 November 1945 that “the publicity on this subject (INA trials) has been a useful gift to political parties, especially the Congress, in their electioneering campaign…”

The most incisive account rendered on this subject came in 23 October 1945 from Brigadier TW Boyace of Military Intelligence. To understand the Congress gameplan, the MI had used a mole of theirs, Captain Hari Badhwar — who first joined the INA, then switched sides to the British-Indian Army, and finally gave evidence against the INA men during the Red Fort trials.

Badhwar informed Brigadier Boyace that the Congress’s remarkable change of heart had to do with “political expediency” rather than any affection for their ousted former president or the people who fought under his command. Badhwar had gathered this information from an unimpeachable source: Asaf Ali, then Congress Working Committee member and free India’s first ambassador to the United States of America.

According to a report filed by Boyace, before taking a stand on the INA issue, the Congress had sent Ali on a reconnaissance mission to gauge public mood about the INA. He travelled across India to discover that people were overwhelmingly in support of the INA. “This inflamed feeling forced Congress to take the line it did,” the report read.

Asaf Ali told Hari Singh Badhwar that “Congress leaders had realised that those who joined the INA were far from innocents”, adding that Nehru made it a point to refer to them as ‘misguided men’ in his speeches. His understanding was that as and when Congress came to power, they “would have no hesitation in removing all INA from the Services and even in putting some of them on trial”.

Badhwar asked Ali why the Congress couldn’t “repudiate their championship of the INA” when they knew “the true facts”. He replied that “they dare not take this line as they would lose much ground in the country”.

In 1946, as the freedom struggle reached its zenith due to unparalleled boost provided by Subhas Chandra Bose, Congressmen raised the cries of “Lal Quile se aayi awaaz: Sehgal, Dhillon, Shah Nawaz. Inqlab zindabad (A war cry comes from the Red Fort: Sehgal, Dhillon, Shah Nawaz. Long live revolution)!”

And by the time 15 August 1947 came, the INA was history and so was Bose, now declared dead. In Nehru’s famous “Tryst with destiny” speech, not once was Bose or his INA mentioned. Lord Mountbatten’s last report as Viceroy of India dated 16 August 1947 recorded that slogans of “England zindabad” and “Jai England” were raised on the day of the Transfer of Power by grateful Indians who had happily settled for the dominion status after years of yearning for the Purna Swaraj.

Traitor Badhwar had a whale of time after 1947. He retired from the Indian Army as a general. As for the INA men, in 1948 Prime Minister Nehru announced that they “would not be allowed to rejoin the Indian Army” as “to reinstate them would lead to many complications”.

No complication, however, came in the way of the Indian Army appropriating the war cry of the INA — Jai Hind — without ever acknowledging its contribution to the emergence of free India.

Anuj Dhar is the author of bestseller “India’s biggest cover-up” (नेताजी रहस्य गाथा in Hindi) and an activist seeking declassification of the files relating to Subhas Bose.

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Anuj Dhar
Author of books on Subhas Chandra Bose's disappearance, activist, former journalist based in Delhi

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