Book Review—Story of INA by SA Ayer

While strolling in Blossoms, I stumbled upon an interesting book titled ‘Story of INA’. The blurb said that the author was a member of the provisional government set up by Subhas Chandra Bose in Burma.

I bought it out of interest. Before reading this book, I was not fully aware about the importance of Subhas Bose’s contribution to the India’s struggle for independence. Before I speak I about the book, I would like to provide the context and background that one needs to understand before evaluating INA.

The entire British empire was built with the services and obedience of the native army manned by Indians. With the brief exception of 1857- 58 , the Indian soldier was the key instrument used to expand and retain the new colonies of British. The Indian soldier fought in China, Arab world , Afghanistan, South Africa , Europe and South East Asia. Contribution of Indian soldiers in first and second world war was indispensable. This speech by Ajit Doval summarises the background that I am trying to explain.

Though the non-violent movement under Gandhi succeeded in mobilizing the masses , creating international opinion against British and  winning marginal concessions from the British, it did nothing to shake the real power of British people. As long as Indian soldiers of the British army were loyal and obedient, no domestic entity could remove them from India.

However in 1946 , the INA trials of Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon, Shah Nawaz Khan and Prem Kumar Sahgal in Red Fort managed to trigger something that the British never expected. Public opinion and the emotions of the Indian soldiers were on the side of INA soldiers. They were proud to know that some bunch of soldiers had dared to fight the British like real men. The trials triggered riots and mutiny in three naval docks : Karachi, Bombay and Kolkata in quick succession. The naval ratings who were loyal to British throughout the world war, hoisted the Indian tricolor !

The signal to the British was ominous. With disobedience within ranks of the army, it would have been impossible to hold on to colonial possessions anymore. These events had immense impact on the British calculations regarding Indian independence.

Capture

Given the importance of Indian National Army in India’s independence struggle, it is sometimes painful to know that it is mentioned in the footnotes of history books. No attempt has been made to recognize and remember their contributions in post independence India.

This book by Bose’s colleague, outlines Bose’s escape from house arrest, origin of INA and its functioning from a first hand perspective. Some fascinating revelations of forgotten chapter of history are available in this book.

I was stunned when I learnt that Bose considered funds and help received from Axis powers like Japan and Germany as loans to free India ! He managed to repay a part of the loan through the funds collected from Indian diaspora in South-East Asia !

The author provides a first hand experience of the way in which Bose handled the Army. He says Bose offered INA soldiers to drop out of any expedition if they wished to do so. Bose reportedly said that there was no shame in dropping out and the ones who do would be assigned some other work in the provisional government.However, none took that offer as per the author.  Ayer quotes Bose’s words as below :

Even at this last moment before you leave for the front, I give you the freest choice whether to lay down your lives for the cause. If you have the least doubt in your minds the sacredness of the cause , you may this moment step out of the ranks and stay behind. Do not hesitate to do so. I shall find some other duties in the rear. I do not care for numbers. Even a small number of utterly dedicated soldiers with the fullest faith in the cause for which they are going to fight are any day better than a large number of men with indifferent interest and vague ideas of what they are fighting for. I tell you in the plainest possible words that I promise you nothing but hunger, thirst , suffering and death. You are free to choose your path. You need not be ashamed to drop out here and now. I shall not blame you. I shall appreciate your honesty and find you some useful duties.

The emotional narration of the Subhas Bose’s address in Cathay Theater on October 21, 1943 in Singapore is another highlight of the book. It was a historic moment when Rash Behari Bose handed over the responsibility of INA to Bose after he arrived from Japan. Netaji read out the proclamation of establishment of provisional government of free India. Ayer quotes the proclamation as below :

In the name of God, in the name of bygone generations who have welded the Indian people into one nation and in the name of dead heroes who have bequeathed to us a tradition of heroism and self-sacrifice , we call upon the Indian people to rally round our banner and to strike for India’s freedom.

cathat
Bose addressing the Indian gathering at Cathay Theater, Singapore on October 21, 1943

The proclamation was followed by an oath of allegiance to the India. Ayer says the Bose broke down into tears while reading the oath. As I read the chapter, I feel sad that Indians are largely unaware of this historic and poignant event in India’s struggle for independence.  The oath is worth reproducing here :

“In the name of God, I take this sacred oath that to liberate India and the 38 crore of my countrymen. I, Subhas Chandra Bose will continue this sacred war of freedom till the last breath of my life. I shall remain always a servant of India and to look after the 38 crores of Indian brothers and sisters shall be for me my highest duty . Even after winning freedom, I will always be prepared to shed the last drop of my blood for the preservation of India’s freedom “

On Feb 4 1944: the first shot of INA was fired. Mar 18: INA reached Indian soil. On 21st March, Bose called a press conf to announce the same. Indian tricolor was planted by INA for the first time on liberated territory at Moirang in Manipur on April 14 1944. The book speaks of the army’s advance till Imphal in Manipur.

Ayer recounts the unfavorable conditions during monsoons and the lack of supplies to the army thereafter. The British had resorted to a scorched earth policy in North East. He also mentions that the army suffered from cholera, dysentery and malaria. The retreat thereafter in April 1945 and British advance in Burma is also detailed in the book.

Japan’s surrender seemed to be the last nail in the coffin for INA. Bose had to make alternate plans and seek help of Russia in liberating India. Events before his flight on August 17 , 1945 are also narrated in detail. Rest of the book covers INA trials which are well documented. Bose’s declaration of provincial government was the sole reason which helped the accused escape trial as traitors. They were tried as POWs of provincial government of India.

A book that should have been a bestseller and a mandatory reading material for history course, is now an out of print obscure book that is found in a remote corner of a second hand bookstore. It is a pity that we don’t recall contributions of Bose to the independence struggle. His stellar contributions remain unsung. But they linger in the air. His story is hidden in some old books that have gathered dust over the years. Fortunately, these stories find their way to readers like me. I am only playing my minor role by informing the world about the existence of such a book.

 

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