Right Word | Netaji, Savarkar and the making of INA: A glorious chapter of India’s independence movement

Subhas Chandra Bose and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar worked in close coordination and played an instrumental role in forcing the British to leave India after World War II.

Arun Anand January 22, 2022 13:37:52 IST
Right Word | Netaji, Savarkar and the making of INA: A glorious chapter of India’s independence movement

Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that a statue of freedom fighter Subhas Chandra Bose will be installed at Delhi’s India Gate. Twitter/Narendra Modi

As India celebrates 75 years of its Independence, it is time to have a relook at some of the forgotten chapters of our recent history and one of them is the relationship between Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar — the two stalwarts of India’s independence movement. Both of them had their differences with Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru-led Congress and chose a different path to end the colonial rule focusing on the militarisation and a straight fight on the battlefield against the British.

Bose, born on 23 January 1897 in Cuttack, had entered public life at the beginning of the 1920s, whereas Savarkar had joined the independence movement in the first decade of the 20th century. Both of them later came together to work for India’s Independence.

One of the defining moments in this relationship was a three-hour meeting that took place between Bose and Savarkar on 22 June, 1940. The meeting took place at Savarkar’s residence-Savarkar Sadan in Mumbai. Savarkar’s personal secretary Balarao Savarkar revealed what had happened in that meeting in a letter dated 2 June 1954: “It may be mentioned here that it was a private and personal meeting between Netaji Subhas Babu and Savarkarji at Savarkar Sadan Bombay that a definite suggestion was made to Subhas babu by Savarkar Ji that he should try to leave India and undertake the risk of going over to Germany to organise the Indian forces there fallen in German hands as captives and then with German help should proceed to Japan to join hands with Sri Rash Behari Bose. To impress this point, Savarkarji showed to Subhas Babu a letter from Sri Bose (Rash Behari) to Savarkarji written just on the eve of Japanese declaration of war.”

Around six months after this meeting, Bose took exactly the same route as was said to have been discussed in the meeting. In January 1941, he disappeared from his house on Elgin Road in Kolkata and eventually joined Rash Behari Bose in Japan.
Vikram Sampath explains in Savarkar: A Contested Legacy (Penguin, Pp418-19), “Rash Behari Bose was… holding a Tokyo Conference during 28-30 March 1942 where it was resolved to form an Indian National Army under the direct command of Indian officers who would conduct the campaign to liberate India.

An Indian Independence League(IIL) was established and its conference was held in Bangkok in June 1942. Over 100 delegates participated from Burma, Malaya, Thailand, Indo-China, Philippines, Japan, China, Java, Sumatra, Hong Kong and the Andamans. The conference raised the tricolour flag of India and also invited Subhas Bose to East Asia. Indian soldiers who had been captured by the Japanese in the war but had now sworn allegiance to liberate their motherland and eschew the British were also recruited in this group. More than 25000 volunteers swore to join the INA that was formally set up on 1 September 1942. But several handicaps prevented Rash Behari Bose from taking the full plunge and it was only when Subhas came to the East that INA got a bolster. Subhas was made the leader of the Indian independence movement and hailed as Netaji by his followers, with the war cry of ‘Jai Hind’ resonating the frontiers.”

After Subhas Chandra Bose’s escape from Calcutta, Savarkar had issued a statement, “May the gratitude, sympathy and good wishes of a nation be a source of never-failing solace and inspiration to him. Wherever he happens to be, I have no doubt he will contribute his all, even health and life to the cause of Indian freedom.”

After INA’s campaign came to a close due to the defeat of Japan in World War II, around 250,00 Indian soldiers were taken as prisoners of war by the British.

While most of the Congress leaders kept a deafening silence on this issue, Savarkar came out openly in defence of these soldiers. He sent a cable to the then British Prime Minister Clement Attlee on 1 December 1945 which read: “In view of general convention of international treatment dealt out to war prisoners and in view of the very deep discontent aroused in the public mind, which could not be easily appeased I implore apart from any question of right that every Indian under arrest of those war prisoners whether they belong to the Subhas Sainiks or outside of it should be released without any humiliating conditions as an act of grace by declaring a general amnesty.”

Earlier Subhas Bose talked about Savarkar in a radio broadcast from Singapore on 25 June 1944 where he said, “When due to misguided political whims and lack of vision almost all the leaders of the Congress Party are decrying all the soldiers in the Indian Army as mercenaries, it is heartening to know that Veer Savarkar is fearlessly exhorting the youth of India to enlist in the Armed Forces. These enlisted youth themselves provide us with the trained men from which we draw the soldiers of our Indian National Army.”

Eminent Congressman NB Khare wrote in My Political Memoirs or Autobiography (Pp 64) about INA, “In this enterprise, Subhas Bose took his inspiration from Savarkar’s book on Indian War of Independence of 1857. In one of his speeches, Subhas Bose has freely admitted this. He also distributed copies of this book freely amongst all the army personnel. He named one of his regiments as Rani of Jhansi Regiment and he borrowed the slogan Chalo Delhi from the Indian soldiers in Meerut who marched to Delhi from there on the 10th May of 1857.”

According to Sampath (Savarkar: A contested Legacy, Pp422-23), “Kapil Kumar, former professor, Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), stumbled upon some letters of the INA trials and Military Intelligence reports. A letter in his collection, dated 31 May 1946, is from a soldier to the INA Relief Committee and is addressed to Sardar Patel: ‘I am very glad to inform that the C-in-C in India has now permitted to read any newspapers prohibited since a long time… Sir, there are Indian soldiers who still raise their rifles against their own brothers… Simultaneously there are men who have INA at heart and worshipping ‘Netaji’ as their God and waiting for the order, who joined the Army by the advice of Barrister Savarkar in 1942. Still, the same light is in the lamp...”

Sampath further adds, “Through his compilation of the letters of the time, Professor Kumar asserts that several soldiers of the INA were from Maharashtra and were seemingly inspired to join the Indian National Army through the call given by Savarkar for militarisation.”

Incidentally, Rash Behari Bose also spoke very highly of Savarkar in a radio address as he said, “In saluting you, I have the joy of doing my duty towards one of my elderly comrades-in-arms. In saluting you, I am saluting the symbol of sacrifice itself.”
It is clear from the above that Netaji and Savarkar worked in close coordination and the relationship between Savarkar, Netjaji, Rash Behari Bose and INA was not only one of the most glorious chapters of India’s struggle for freedom, but together they played an instrumental role in forcing the British to leave India after World War II.

The writer, an author and columnist, has authored several books on RSS. Views expressed are personal.​

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