Netaji and the Indo-Pacific Narrative

Rup Narayan Das
26th August 2021

Picture Courtesy: Netaji Research Bureau

Netaji was an iconoclast. He was an iconoclast in more than one way. In the first place, although he qualified the Indian Civil Service (ICS) examination in 1920, securing fourth position, he resigned from the ICS and plunged himself into the freedom struggle in April 1921. Secondly, although he joined the Congress Party and Mahatma Gandhi, he respectfully differed with him with regards to the methods and strategy of the freedom struggle adopted by the Congress Party. His meeting with Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das impacted and shaped his outlook and approach to the freedom struggle in India.

What is most significant about him was that he effectively took the Indian freedom movement beyond the frontiers of India, which was a rare feat in the history of India’s freedom struggle. He creatively intertwined India’s yearning for freedom with the prevailing dynamics of world history, and geopolitics during the Second World War. A similar abortive armed revolt against the British rule in India was undertaken earlier during the First World War in 1914 with the support of Germany under the leadership of Jyothindranath Mukherjee, popularly known as Bagha Jatin. In terms of scale and impact, however, the two attempts cannot be compared.

The caption of the paper has two dots- Netaji and Indo-Pacific.  The Indo-Pacific may be a new strategic lexicon in the present context, but the region resonated in Netaji’s sustained perseverance for attaining Swaraj. A fair amount of Netaji’s struggle to liberate India was on the foreign soil starting from nearer home in Afghanistan and Burma, to the Far East in China including Taiwan, Japan and the South –East Asia in Singapore and Europe.  He traversed the entire region during the tumultuous years of the Second World War to realise the objectives of liberating the motherland from British colonialism and left behind his footprints and imprints in the annals of history. Netaji navigated the tenuous path for Swaraj with steely determination and resolve.

On 16/17 January 1941, Subhash Chandra Bose, who was under the surveillance of the British Police,  surreptitiously slipped out of his Elgin Road home in Calcutta and reached Delhi in the evening of 18 January 1941 and boarded the train to Peshawar. He had to face many hurdles before he could cross the Afghan border, which is very much in news today for a different reason, and entered Kabul. Thereafter, he was in touch with German leaders and other European leaders in order to seek their support for the cause of the Swaraj. Ultimately, he reached Japan. The Japanese Prime Minister Hikedi Tojo welcomed him and promised him support in his mission.

On July 1943, he took over the leadership of Indian Independence Movement from Rash Behari Bose in East Asia. He organised the Azad Hind Fauj with its headquarters in Singapore and became its Supreme Commander. On 21 October 1943, he proclaimed the formation of provisional Government of Azad Hind at a historic assembly in Singapore. The provisional government was recognised by nine countries including the then three world powers-Japan, Germany and Italy. The INA headquarters was shifted to Rangoon in January 1944. Subhas Bose ignited the Indian National Army with his clarion call, “Give me blood, I shall give you freedom”.

The INA reached the Arakan front on 4 February 1944 and marched towards India’s border with the call “Chalo Delhi”. The Azad Hind Fauj crossed Burma border on 18 March 1944 and for the first time, stood on the soil of India. The British Army halted the liberation forces within three miles of Imphal. As they lacked the air cover, they could not go further into Assam territory. The British forces under Lord Mountbatten, reinforced by air power, prevented the forward march of Azad Hind Fauj. The torrential rains of Burma, which started just at that time, submerged the INA supply lines and Netaji ordered the retreat of his forces.

After the suspension of INA activities, Bose went back to Singapore and issued instructions to the civilian and army wings of the provisional government of Azad Hind Fauj as to what they should do. It was decided to leave Singapore and move further eastwards. In the meantime, the surrender of Japan was officially announced on 15 August and on 17 August 1945, Netaji took a plane from Saigon, which crashed over Taipei, Taiwan. Although his passing away as well as the date and the circumstances under which he might have died are matters of conjecture and debate, it is known that he boarded a flight from Saigon, which met a crash at Taipei, where it is believed that he might have died. Therefore, there is an emotional and historical connect with Taiwan and Taiwanese people.

* The Author is Senior Fellow, Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR)

(The Article is based on the presentation at the webinar on “Netaji and the Indo-Pacific narrative” organised by the Kalinga Institute of Indo-Pacific Studies on 20 August 2021) 


Disclaimer: The Views in the Article are of the Author