Kolkata: Did Japan offer full-fledged support to the Indian National Army (INA) in its war against the British Indian forces? Did the Japanese troops withdraw from the battlefields in the Northeast after suffering reverses in World War II, leaving the Subhas Chandra Bose-led forces in the lurch? Or, was the INA attempt to wage a war an ill-planned misadventure that cost 24,000 lives?
Questions like these have remained unanswered over the last 70 years. The INA history remains the most unexplored chapter of India’s freedom movement. It got lost in the multitude of civilian movements fuelled by Mahatma Gandhi, despite the fact that a book had been written on its history that probably sheds light on these issues. But it was mysteriously obscured.
While Jawaharlal Nehru is often accused of undermining the INA’s role and obscuring its contribution along with that of Netaji, he himself had commissioned the book on the military operation conducted by INA in the Northeast, soon after Independence. He had appointed noted historian Pratul Chandra Gupta to author the book in 1949. For three years, Gupta researched extensively and produced a 490-page manuscript titled ‘INA in Military Operation’. It had been eagerly looked forward to with the expectation that it would duly assess the INA role and narrate its history. But the book never saw the light of day, ostensibly because it didn’t suitably undermine the INA effort, according to researchers.
More than 60 years after it was written, historian and researcher Purabi Roy managed a peek into the only surviving manuscript of the book. Along with fellow researcher Major General Prabir Chakrabarty, Roy is now studying the manuscript and they are yet to arrive at definite conclusions from it. But it does throw up enlightening facts on the actual Japanese involvement in the war and reveals, in the form of a narrative, that the valiant war waged by the INA perhaps didn’t follow a well-thoughtout strategy. The manuscript also indicates that Bose may not have harboured ill-feelings for either Nehru or Gandhi even though he had fallen out with both.
Gupta’s manuscript reveals how Bose had used his charisma to get close to Japanese ruler Tojo Hideki and convinced him to join the INA operation in the Northeast. But the Japanese involvement remained partial and selective. “They were in two minds about joining the war. It was going to be a logistically impossible war to fight and the Japanese realized that. Yet, it was the Japanese army that led the charge in Manipur and not the INA. At the battle of Kohima, too, the INA played second fiddle. But the Japanese army withdrew from the battlefield soon after, leaving the INA to take on the British Indian army. They suffered heavy casualties,” said Chakrabarty. ‘INA in Military Operation’ doesn’t answer too many ‘whys, he maintained. “It’s a flowing narrative that answers some questions and leaves some unanswered,” said Chakrabarty.
It emerges from Gupta’s book that Bose probably never discussed his military strategy even with INA seniors, according to Chakrabarty. “It describes the INA’s military operations in great detail but desists from making observations or comments. It leaves it to the readers to draw their own conclusions. But several facts come out very strongly from Gupta’s account. First, Bose had realized that the country could be liberated only through an organized military intervention. Movements like the civil disobedience, he believed, would only have a limited impact. Secondly, he knew and understood Europe very well, which helped him garner support for the INA,” said Chakrabarty who has just submitted a proposal for a research on the 490-page book to the Indian Council of Historical Research.
The book doesn’t tread on Netaji’s disappearance. Gupta personally didn’t believe in the air-crash theory, though, according Roy. “In his memoir ‘Dinguli Mor’, he had expressed doubts about the crash. The book, however, doesn’t venture into the disappearance controversy. Instead, it describes the INA’s struggle and origin. His research was based on the 950 INA files created by the British government, which were provided to him by Nehru. But Gupta went beyond the files and consulted numerous other documents and spoke to scores of INA people. In the end, he came up with a seminal work that remains unpublished for some unknown reason,” said Roy. The book could have been better if Gupta had access to INA soldiers and officers who moved to Pakistan after Partition, Roy felt.
The book also points at the fact that despite ideological differences, Netaji had immense respect for both Gandhi and Nehru. “Bose had named his INA regiments after them. This shows that he held them in high esteem. But Gupta’s book doesn’t use any adjective or observation, leaving you free to draw your own inference,” said Chakrabarty.
Gupta probably refused to toe Nehru’s views on INA, she believes. “The vivid account of the INA heroics in the book couldn’t have gone down well with Nehru. Praising the INA’s role obviously reduced the importance of the Congress-led civil movement. So, despite being repeatedly questioned in Parliament about the book, Nehru refused to publish it,” said Roy.
The only copy of the manuscript lies at the ministry of defence’s record division in New Delhi. It took three applications to the ministry for Purabi Roy to have limited access to it in 2011. “I copied from it as much as I could. Chakrabarty has the entire manuscript, which will allow him to do a comprehensive study. So, let us wait and see,” observed Roy.