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Netaji, not netas

Subhas Chandra Bose was the practitioner of the antithesis of today’s identity-based politics. More than ever before, on his 113th birthday, we need Bose’s pan- Indian vision.

india Updated: Jan 21, 2010 21:51 IST

Subhas Chandra Bose was the practitioner of the antithesis of today’s identity-based politics. More than ever before, on his 113th birthday, we need Bose’s pan- Indian vision.

He formed the provisional Government of Azad Hind in 1942 in Singapore and with the Azad Hind Fauz or the Indian National Army (INA) — made up of Indian prisoners of war captured by Japan — declared war on Britain. He assumed Supreme Command of the INA and expanded it to a sizeable force of three divisions with some 60,000 soldiers.

He prevailed upon the Japanese to invade India. Two INA divisions later joined the 15th Japanese Corps led by Lt Gen Mutaguchi in the assault on Kohima and Imphal. They marched over 200 km through the dense jungles and crossed the Chindwin. They helped the Japanese to capture Kohima and besiege Imphal. Had the Japanese struck out for the rail head of Dimapur, victory would have crowned this offensive. Air power, however, tilted the scales. The tide of the war had turned and the combined Japanese-INA force retreated across Burma.

The INA troops fought fiercely at Mount Popa on the Irrawady river. Over one-third of the 60,000 strong INA force laid down their lives. It was a hopeless battle but Bose personally led the retreat. The nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki forced Japan to surrender. What was Netaji’s response? In a display of amazing tenacity he boarded a Japanese bomber flying to Manchuria. He wanted to contact the Russian forces and take their help to resume the freedom struggle. Japanese accounts indicate that this bomber crashed in Taiwan but the legend of Bose endures to this day.

The key catalyst for the British leaving was not so much the non-violent freedom struggle but the spectre of Bose and his INA. We need to revive his vision of a pan-Indian identity and his emphasis on ‘hard power’ and realpolitik.

G.D. Bakshi is a former Major General in the Indian Army

The views expressed by the author are personal