Modi’s visit to INA War Memorial in Singapore should have enormous significance. It presents a unique opportunity to set right some grave wrongs in the narratives of India’s freedom struggle.
For selfish reasons, various political regimes ruling the country in independent India have sought to monopolise credit for wresting freedom from the British. Thus, the theory advanced by the Congress of having driven the British out through non-violent means had been doing rounds almost unchallenged for several decades without a counter. But of late, a part of the intelligentsia has begun to question the hypothesis that the freedom of India was earned ‘bina khadag bina dhaal’ (without sword, without shield). The truth relating to war memorial in Singapore threatens to explode that myth conclusively.
This memorial is not only about the INA soldiers who gave their lives fighting the British and the Allied forces in the Arakans, Imphal, Kohima and Burma. It must simultaneously remind every one of us about the enormous sacrifice that the then 3 million strong Indian community of East and Southeast Asia had made to drive out the British from the sub continent.
We ought to know that following the call by the Congress Working Committee from Gowalia Tank Maidan, Bombay, to the British to quit India, the entire Congress top leadership was thrown into prison cells 9th August 1942 onwards. Although the Congress has consistently endeavoured to project the ‘Quit India’ movement as a deadly blow on the British, facts speak otherwise.
With the top Congress leadership inside jail, that movement floundered without any direction. It often assumed characters of sporadic violence, strikes and attacks on government assets. But the British then in the thick of the Great War and fighting grim battles with the powerful Axis powers, took no chance. Applying brute power, they crushed the fledgling movement with alacrity and iron hands. And as the Congress abdicated the political space, Jinnah, with encouragement from the British, went full throttle in his attempts to communalise Muslims across the whole sub-continent. There were severe repression by the British Raj on every form of dissension and the press was gagged. India continued to be suffocated for next three years – or almost so – as long as the war lasted.
In that ambience of deep pessimism, when all hopes of freedom had nearly deserted the country, the 3 million strong émigré Indian community had risen in East Asia to take over the enormous responsibility of unshackling their motherland. This was an extra-ordinary chapter in the history of India’s freedom struggle – but hidden discretely from mainland India’s vast masses.
Under the leadership of Subhas Chandra Bose, millions of Indians in this part of the world congregated with a steely resolve to wrest India’s freedom. When Subhas reminded them of the dangers that lay ahead of them and the enormous sacrifice they would be required to make in fighting the strongest imperial force in the world, the spirit of patriotism redoubled their enthusiasm. These nationalist people, deeply proud of their Indian origin and overcome by the love for their motherland, came forward to contribute their money and wealth, blood and even lives without caring a wee bit about selfish interests.
It must be noted that large number of youths from these émigré Indians joined the liberation army and they formed a large chunk of the INA’s strength. Those of them who got an opportunity to face the enemy forces in the battle front gave a good account of their patriotism and valour.
It was a matter of great pride that these émigré Indians led by Subhas Chandra Bose had launched an armed liberation war unlike the extant scheme of begging the British for freedom. The INA, in combination with their ally the Japanese army, fought wars in Kohima and Imphal in 1944 and in Burma the next year. And behind that army of liberation and the Azad Hind Government stood the three million strong expatriate Indian community like a rock lending their all out might.
Right since 1947 there has been systematic attempts by vested political interests in India to undermine that armed campaign in the east. But that the combination of INA’s political appeal and the might of the Imperial Japanese Army portended a very grave danger to the British was confirmed in April 2013 when in a contest organised by Army Museum at London, the battle of Imphal-Kohima was voted as the Britain’s greatest battle since the time of English civil war. Significantly it was chosen ahead of battles of D-Day, Normandy and Waterloo. Eminent historians mentored important battles and put forth their respective cases before the jury. Though not known widely, it is a fact that had only Major General Sato not committed a strategic blunder in Kohima, the history of India’s liberation – nay, the World War II itself, could have been very different!
That the heroics of INA and those millions of Indians failed to achieve a military victory over the British is true. But as the Japanese PM General Koiso Kuniaki admitted in his meeting with Subhas in November 1944, the responsibility for losing that war against the British laid in Japanese army’s arrogance and strategic blunders. These crusaders of Indian liberation struggle dazzled in moral halo and in the spirit of patriotism even amidst military defeat.
After the Allied forces gained conclusive victory in the WWII, the British Raj, on peak of glory, released the bulk of the top Congress leaders as if as a measure of charity but began to humiliate them and their party by branding it as the representative of not all Indian religions- not even all communities of Hindus. Viceroy Wavell compelled the Congress leaders to attend a conference in Simla in 1945 to discuss ‘power sharing’ by asking them to act as the representatives of only caste Hindus. On the contrary Jinnah was riding high and getting almost all concessions he was asking for. In that environ of gloom and despair, Congress could make a come-back as the major political power by leveraging the issue of the INA and the Azad Hind government – especially the INA trials.
By 1945-46 there was no trace of ‘non-violence’ variety of agitation and movement anywhere in the country. The wily British Raj had become successful in making the Congress kow-towing its dictates. It is being realised, and increasingly so, that it was the spirit of the INA that ignited the self respect of Indian armed forces, unnerved the British and pushed them out of India. Simultaneously we must realise that this final blow upon the British was delivered by the INA, Azad Hind Government on the strength of the 3 million Indian émigrés of east and southeast Asia mobilised as one single monolithic body under the deeply patriotic and charismatic leadership of Subhas. The saga of their heroics, patriotism and sacrifice constitute a very important chapter in the history of Indian freedom struggle. The INA war memorial should remind every one of us about it.
It is a pity that vested political interests had systematically undermined this chapter of India’s freedom movement and therefore consciously neglected the INA memorial. This memorial was built in 1945 and it took 70 years for an Indian Prime Minister to pay a visit to it. This was proposed to be done now by Prime Minister Modi. It was a long overdue task to pay obeisance to INA martyrs and the fierce patriotic spirit of the Indian émigrés and put the history of freedom struggle in the right perspective.
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