For decades, Indian historians and academicians have grossly misrepresented or underrepresented certain events and personalities during the Indian independence movement to suit political narratives. In this age of information, unfortunately, such narratives are falling flat. The new generation in India has craved for information to be factually represented and democratisation of information, thanks to the internet and social media that have enabled a lot of set narratives to be challenged much to the dismay of those who set such narratives. In the Sirf News Independence Series — refer to our homepage for the full series — we had highlighted how popular historians have grossly neglected the partition of Bengal, 1905, and medieval events that our freedom fighters looked up to for inspiration. We will conclude the series by shedding light on one of India’s most daredevil freedom fighters who outwitted the British in ways they could barely imagine in their wildest dreams. That man was none other than Rash Behari Bose, founder of the Indian National Army (INA), which was the formal military force Indians launched against the British in the 20th century.

The extent to which Rash Behari Bose had outsmarted the British can be summarised from Lord Hardinge’s autobiography My Indian Years, in which he wrote :

“At Dehradun when driving in a car from the station to my bungalow I passed an Indian standing in front of the gate of his house with several others, all of whom were very demonstrative of their salaams. On my inquiry, I was told the principal Indian there had presided two days before at a public meeting at Dehra Dun and had proposed and carried a vote of condolence with me on account of the attack on my life. It was proved later that this identical Indian who threw the bomb at me!”

Revolutionary Rash Behari Bose: Inception

Rash Behari Bose was born in Parala-Bighati village near Bhadreshwar in Hoogly district of Bengal to Binod Behari Bose and Bhubaneshwari Devi on 25 May 1886. Since childhood, he was an expert lathi player and was always keen on learning the latest warfare techniques. [I]Uma Mukherjee’s Two great Indian revolutionaries: Rash Behari Bose & Jyotindra Nath Mukherjee, Firma KL Mukhopadhyay

Bose had run away from home twice during his school days to join the British Army. However,  back then, the British were firm practitioners of the martial race theory and a Bengali man would have a tough time joining the army. The fact that the British humiliated him on grounds of his ethnicity would be the trigger to developing a strong determination to prove Bengalis could match the British in warfare. Hence, the ideology of his struggle was aimed at launching an armed revolt against the British as opposed to the non-violence movement of Gandhi. His ideology would often find him at odds with the Indian National Congress but would gain support from freedom fighters like Vir Savarkar and Netaji Subash Chandra Bose.

Following the partition of Bengal in 1905, a number of secret societies engaging in anti-British activities had sprung up. Besides Bengal, United Provinces (present-day Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand) and Punjab were a hotbed of revolutionary ideas. While Rash Behari Bose was living in Dehra Dun, he was introduced to Jitendra Mohan Chatterjee who was the organiser of a revolutionary committee in Saharanpur. Chatterjee had close connections with revolutionaries from Punjab such as Sardar Kishen Singh (father of Bhagat Singh) and Sardar Ajit Singh (Bhagat Singh’s uncle), Sufi Amba Prasad and Lal Chand Pramanik. [II]Saral Srikrishnan’s Indian Revolutionaries: A Comprehensive Study, 1757-1961 Vol 2

Jitendra Mohan Chatterjee would influence and shape up Rash Behari Bose’s views and help him develop connections across the nation which would prove vital later on.

In 1911, Bose’s mother fell seriously ill. He came back to his home state of Bengal in the city of Chandanagore, a French colony back then. Away from the influence of the British, it was an epicentre of revolutionary activities. At Chandanagore, Rash Behari Bose met Motilal Roy (a disciple of Aurobindo Ghosh) and Srish Chandra Ghose another revolutionary. Together, they plotted the bomb attack on Lord Hardinge, the then Viceroy of India.

Bomb plot against Lord Hardinge: Delhi-Lahore Conspiracy

Rash Behari Bose came into the limelight with the Delhi-Lahore conspiracy case, which was a series of assassination attempts on Lord Hardinge and Commissioner Lawrence Gordon. He trained his domestic help Basanta Kumar Biswas as his aide while simultaneously inviting his superior officers to his home and introducing them to his cook who would make the choicest dishes for them. In due course, he sent Basanta away to Lahore and got him a compounder’s job with the help of fellow freedom fighter Bal Mukund. Using a strong underground network, Bose would move bombs from Chandanagore to Lahore and Delhi while lamenting to his officers that his cook had run away and he was searching for him! Basanta Kumar Biswas would move to Delhi from Lahore on 21 December, two days before the attempted assassination.

On the fateful day of 23 December 1912, Biswas would sneak into the crowd disguised as a lady and Rash Behari Bose was present there to coordinate the operations. There are conflicting accounts on who threw the bomb, with both Bose and Biswas named in the records. The generally accepted view is that Bose was the one who threw the bomb at Lord Hardinge while Biswas had sneaked in the bomb, disguised as a lady. This is corroborated by Lord Hardinge’s account.

Lord Hardinge was severely injured in the bomb attack on his elephant, but he escaped alive while his mahout was killed. Rash Behari Bose would escape and re-join his work in Dehra Dun as if nothing had happened.  To rub salt into the wounds of the British, he would organise a strong public condemnation of the attack! Such audacity is unimaginable even by today’s standards.

Within months of the Delhi bomb attack on Lord Hardinge, Rash Behari Bose would strike again with an attack on former sub-divisional officer of Sylhet Lawrence Gordon in Lahore (Gordon was then the Commissioner of Lahore) on 17 May 1913. Gordon was notorious for unleashing extreme cruelty during his tenure in Sylhet. This time, the bomb was hurled by Basanta Kumar Biswas. Unfortunately, the mission failed; Biswas and other aides of Rash Behari Bose, namely Bal Mukund, Amir Chand, and Abad Behari, were caught by the British and hanged in 1914 for their role in the Delhi-Lahore conspiracy case. Rash Behari Bose, though suspected, remained elusive.

Rash Behari Bose’s role in Ghadar Conspiracy

Following the death of his associates, Rash Behari Bose went underground and was based out of Benares (now Varanasi). During this time, he practically took over the leadership of the nationwide armed struggle against the British coordinating the operations with the help of his chief “lieutenant” Sachindra Nath Sanyal.

Rash Behari Bose got in touch with VG Pingley, a member of the Ghadar Party. Bose then sent Sanyal with Pingley to Punjab in order to oversee the activities of the Ghadar Party members who had returned from the US and Canada in thousands and were ready to revolt against the British. He left the command of the Bengal unit of the armed revolt to Jatindranath Mukherjee (Bagha Jatin), another daredevil revolutionary who was feared by the British. The date for the revolt was fixed for 21 February 1915. The revolt was planned as a nationwide movement on the scale of 1857, for which the British were totally unprepared. He trained revolutionaries in using firearms, making bombs, blowing up railway tracks, cutting off communication and distributing pro-revolutionary literature in order to mobilise the masses. Unfortunately, the traitor Kripal Singh gave the details of the plot to the British. Rash Behari Bose came to know of this leak and changed the date to 19 February, which was leaked too, along with his name and that of other members. Most Ghadar Party members, including Pingley, were captured and executed. Rash Behari Bose, being a master of disguise, managed to escape.

Indian Independence League, Indian National Army: Garnering support in Japan

After the arrest of VK Pingley and British crackdown in Benares, Rash Behari Bose disguised himself as PN Tagore (a relative of Rabindranath Tagore) and escaped to Japan as the British were closing down on him. Japan, during World War 1, was an ally of the British and was willing to cooperate in deporting him. However, sections of Japanese society were sympathetic to his cause. Rash Behari Bose, for a period of three years, changed his identity and residence numerous times. Japanese military officer M Toyama and the owners of Nakamuraya Bakery Aizo and Koko Soma would play a pivotal role in helping him to avoid arrest by British intelligence.[III]Saral Srikrishnan’s Indian Revolutionaries: A Comprehensive Study, 1757-1961 Vol 2

Rash Behari Bose would marry Aizo & Koko Soma’s daughter Toshiko and would have two children with her. During this time Rash Behari Bose would also teach his in-laws the authentic Indian way of preparing curries and the famous Indo Karii (still found at Nakamuraya) would become a tradition distinguishing itself from contemporary Japanese curries due to its authentic spicy flavours.[IV]Just Hungry: A Blog by Makiko Itoh on Japanese Recipes

Bose would become a Japanese citizen by 1923 and would start organising a pan-Asian movement against European Imperialism in Japan. In 1924 Bose founded the Indian Independence League (IIL) where he would explain the condition of India to the Japanese and coined the slogan “Asia for Asians” to emphasise on a pan Asian identity. Rash Behari Bose was not one bound by rigid political dogmas or idealism, he was a pragmatist with one goal in mind, complete independence of India from the British. The idea of pan Asian unity saw a serious set back when Japan invaded China in 1937. Many intellectuals like Rabindranath Tagore and political figureheads like MK Gandhi vehemently condemned it. This was a very strange move from the Indian leaders despite substantial support from Japan towards the Indian cause while China remained indifferent. Rash Behari Bose wrote several letters and sent telegrams to Indian leaders urging them to stop their anti-Japanese rhetoric as it would impact the Japanese support.

The following communication between Rash Behari Bose and Rabindranath Tagore gives us a glimpse of the situation in 1937.[V]Uma Mukherjee’s Two great Indian revolutionaries: Rash Behari Bose & Jyotindra Nath Mukherjee, Firma KL Mukhopadhyay

Bose To Tagore Telegram:

“Indian Merchants, students, residents here request you to prevent Congress and Pandit Nehru’s anti-Japanese activities for the sake of Indian interests and Indo-Japanese friendship”

Tagore to Bose Telegram reply

“Your cable has caused me many restless hours for it hurt me very much to have to ignore your appeal. I wish you had asked me for co-operation in a cause against which my spirit did not protest.”

With the bombing of Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, Japan was officially at war with the allied forces. Rash Behari Bose seized this opportunity to convince Prime Minister Tojo of Japan to support the Indian cause. Japanese spared Indians in the British and American territories they conquered. This would prove vital as Indian PoWs were treated respectfully and later handed over to Rash Behari Bose who would organise them as the Indian National Army in the year 1942. The Japanese set up a War Council with Rash Behari Bose’s IIL and the INA as a part of it to launch a campaign in India. For the first time in the 20th century, the revolution was coming to India with the help of a modern trained army.

It must be noted the formation of INA was not without hiccups. From its very inception, it faced a major challenge due to the personal ambitions of General Mohon Singh. Mohon Singh had mischievously bypassed the War Council and had a direct understanding with Japanese military officers to transfer some INA troops under his command and sent an advance party to Rangoon without informing the War Council. The crisis deepened when the Japanese suspected that INA was not going to cooperate with Japan and all members of the War Council resigned. Gen Mohon Singh declared INA was completely loyal to him and will not act under the command of the Indian Independence League and the War Council set up with the Japanese. Rash Behari Bose stepped in to prevent a full-blown Indo Japanese conflict by dismissing Gen Mohon Singh and assumed the command of the Indian National Army on 9 December 1942.

Rash Behari Bose had taken a keen interest in the political developments in India. Throughout his years in Japan, he maintained close correspondence with V.R Savarkar and even set up a branch of Hindu Mahasabha in Japan with himself as the president. This cordial relationship with Savarkar was pivotal in attracting Netaji Subash Chandra Bose towards joining the INA later on. As revealed by V.R Savarkar’s personal secretary, the former had impressed Netaji by showing him a letter from Sri Bose (Rash Behari Bose) on the eve of Japan joining the World War. During his historic meeting at Calcutta on Hindu Muslim unity, Savarkar urged Netaji to join Rash Behari Bose and aid him in organising an armed attack on British India[VI]Uma Mukherjee’s Two great Indian revolutionaries: Rash Behari Bose & Jyotindra Nath Mukherjee, Firma KL Mukhopadhyay.

On the historic day of 4 July 1943, Rash Behari Bose resigned as the president of the IIL and the INA and handed over all operations to Netaji Subash Chandra Bose. He would continue to serve the INA, now called the Azad Hind Fauj, as the supreme adviser of the provincial government of Azad Hind till his death on 21 January 1945.

Rash Behari Bose may have been forgotten in his homeland but in Japan, he was given the highest honour for a foreigner: the Second Order of the Rising Sun.

Today, it is essential for us to realise that independence was not won due to any one particular movement but a concerted effort of many, whose names have been grossly neglected. Time has come for us to give credit where it is due and widen the scope of discussion of the freedom movement against the British.

References   [ + ]

I, V, VI. Uma Mukherjee’s Two great Indian revolutionaries: Rash Behari Bose & Jyotindra Nath Mukherjee, Firma KL Mukhopadhyay
II, III. Saral Srikrishnan’s Indian Revolutionaries: A Comprehensive Study, 1757-1961 Vol 2
IV. Just Hungry: A Blog by Makiko Itoh on Japanese Recipes