Bose in Singapore

Print edition : December 08, 2017

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose reviewing his INA troops in Singapore, 1943. Photo: Netaji Research Bureau, Kolkata

FOR Subhas Chandra Bose, violent armed struggle was an option unlike the non-violent creed of the Mahatma Gandhi-led Congress in attaining independence from the British. Bose’s arrival in Singapore gave a fillip to the Indian freedom movement in South-East Asia.

Addressing soldiers of the Indian National Army (INA) on July 5, 1943, Bose said: “Comrades! You have voluntarily accepted a mission that is the noblest that the human mind can conceive of. For the fulfilment of such a mission, no sacrifice is too great—not even the sacrifice of one’s life. You are today the custodians of India’s national honour and the embodiment of India’s hopes and aspirations. So conduct yourselves that your countrymen may bless you and posterity may be proud of you.”

A few months later, on October 21, 1943, Bose would proclaim the formation of the Provisional Government of Free India, in the Cathay Cinema building. He culminated his speech by saying: “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 the 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 strike for India’s freedom. We call upon them to launch the final struggle against the British and their allies in India and to prosecute that struggle with valour and perseverance and full faith in final victory until the enemy is expelled from Indian soil and the Indian people are once again a Free Nation.”

Bose’s arrival in Singapore made for greater coherence in the INA as well as for better liaisons with the Japanese. His arrival also helped the PoWs as forced recruitment into the INA stopped. John Baptist Crasta, a soldier from Mangalore who sailed for Singapore in 1941, writes that Bose gave instructions that no coercion should be used in recruitment, but when recruitment for the second INA began, “ was more or less clear that those who did not volunteer would be taken away by the Japanese out of Malaya for fatigue purposes and put to extreme, life-threatening hardship”. Crasta himself was taken away to Kokopo in New Britain, which on the map is the farthest island in South-East Asia beyond which lies only the blue of the Pacific Ocean. Crasta’s is a grim account of how he almost died several times from hunger.

Bose wanted the total mobilisation of Indian manpower and financial resources in East and South-East Asia, and roused by his leadership, even civilians volunteered in any way they could. If they could not join the army, they gave in kind. Bose was committed to the idea of a free India and in this he did not hesitate in joining hands with fascist governments. In such a situation, it is unrealistic to expect Bose to have negotiated with the Japanese for clement conditions for the Indian PoWs. He must have seen the PoWs as traitors to the cause of a free India as they remained steadfast in their loyalty to the British.

Prof. Rajesh Rai, a historian and Deputy Head of South Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore, said: “By the time Subhas Chandra Bose arrived in Singapore in July 1943, the number of Indian troops in the city had depleted considerably. Thousands of Indian PoWs had been transferred to Japanese-controlled territories in South-East Asia and the Pacific to be deployed as slave labour. Bose salvaged soldiers willing to join the INA in the city, but was able to do little to secure the release of PoWs shipped elsewhere. Indeed, it is unlikely that he would have gone out of his way for those who had remained adamant in their loyalty to the British Raj.”