Japan and the INA had a very realistic
chance of achieving near total success, had they invaded India in 1942 or even
in 1943. India might well have been freed had Bose shifted to South East Asia
in 1942 itself and had led his INA in an invasion of India. Unfortunately, he
was forced to cool his heels in Europe. While, The, Nazi warlord Adolf Hitler,
was distinctly cool towards the idea of supporting Indian Independence.
The Nazi regime kept Bose waiting for
months before his meeting with Ribbentrop materialised. He had in fact waited
for over a year before he could get an audience with Hitler. That he was
granted these unprecedented audiences at the highest level of the Nazi
hierarchy is a tribute to the power of the charismatic personality of Netaji
Subhash Chandra Bose. In the East, however, the Japanese were extremely keen to
The rank and file of the INA had informed
them that it was only Bose who could infuse new life into the idea of the INA
and galvanise it into action. He was a highly charismatic leader and if he
arrived on the scene, the Indian troops and the people of the Indian diaspora
in South East Asia would follow him most enthusiastically. Had Bose been
permitted to move out from Germany in 1942 itself – the course of history may
well have been radically different. How? What different shape could events have
taken in 1942? It is worth exploring this line of speculation to understand
what a close call it had been in the summer of 1942.
The Total War Institute of Japan had
included India as part of the concentric circles, each encompassing groups of
Asian countries to forge an enlarged Co-prosperity Region. On December 08,
1941, after the failure of the US-Japan talks to end the economic strangulation
of that country, Japan lashed out militarily on the US forward base in the
Pacific Ocean. The entire battleships of the US Navy Fleet were deployed in
forward locations at Pearl Harbour and these were sunk in the sudden,
catastrophic attack by Japanese Naval aviation.
The Japanese Southern Drive that followed
in Malaya, Singapore and Burma was equally successful. The British Warships HMS
Repulse and Prince of Wales were sunk by aircrafts
from the Japanese Carriers. The stunning and rapid success of the Japanese Army
had created massive demoralisation in the British ranks and created the bogey
of the Japanese superman who could not be beaten in jungle warfare. The
Japanese Southern Army, under Count Field Marshal Hisaichi Terauchi had
achieved its objectives well ahead of schedule. By March 1942, the British were
driven out of Burma, well before the rains had started. A clear opportunity now
presented itself for the Japanese to follow up this spectacular success by a
quick foray into India.
There was total collapse and demoralisation
then in the British Camp. Col. Hayashi Akira of the staff in the Southern Army
now proposed a swift dash to capture Dimapur and Tinsukhia in Assam. He
correctly estimated that there was absolutely nothing to stop the Japanese Army
if it had followed up its success in Burma and entered the plains of Assam in
the summer of 1942. About 100,000 Indians had died in the racially organised
escape from Burma. The British administration had withdrawn from Chittagong to
Feni (in what is now Bangladesh). There was complete and total panic. So
terrified were the British of an Imperial Japanese invasion that they undertook
this virtual scorched earth policy. This panic destruction of the riverine
transport system in East Bengal had a very tragic fallout. It led to the
massive Bengal famine of 1942, which caused the death of some three million
On April 22, 1942, the Japanese Foreign
Affairs Ministry signalled to its Embassy in Berlin to get Bose out and send
him to Japan. This message from the Gaimusha (Foreign Office) to Ambassador
Oshima in Berlin was intercepted and decoded by Enigma, and alerted the British
to Bose’s plans to escape again. An Italian aircraft was to do the non-stop
flight from Europe to the Far East in July 1942. It was thought that Bose would
attempt to get out of Berlin by air or land route.
This was the time when the British Foreign
Ministry appealed to Moscow to prevent the escape of Bose by air/land routes to
the Far East. Churchill in fact had already issued instructions for his
assassination after his first escape. They knew of Bose’s plan to escape again
and tried their best now to block him. Amazingly it took the Germans 13 months
before they finally agreed to send Bose by a perilous three month-long
submarine voyage to Japan losing precious time in the bargain.
The situation in South Asia however can be
summed up in the words of Mahatma Gandhi. In April 1942, Gandhi wrote to Horace
Alexander, “My firm opinion is that the British should leave India now in an
orderly manner and not run the risk of what they did in Singapore, Malaya and
Burma. Britain cannot defend India, much less defend herself on Indian soil
with any strength. The best thing she can do is to leave India to her fate.”
At this juncture, Bose felt that the
circumstances were especially propitious for a determined bid for creating a
liberated zone across the Indian borders either in North East India, the
Arakans or the Chittagong Division of Bengal. The British administration had
already pulled back from Chittagong into Feni and begun destroying the local
civil crafts in utter and unseemly panic. Thus, at this critical juncture in
the war, Gandhiji’s views had taken a complete about turn and were now aligned
very closely with those of Bose.
Quit Indian Movement, August 1942
To placate the Americans who were
pressurising Britain to make up with the Congress, Churchill had sent the
Cripps Mission in early April 1942 with a virtual plan for the partition of India.
This was rejected by the Congress. In fact, Nehru had told a meeting at
Guwahati on April 24, 1942 that he would “fight Mr. Subhas Bose and his party
along with Japan, if he comes to India.” Azad was noticing a clear hardening of
Mahatma Gandhi’s position and how he was veering around completely to Netaji’s
point of view on how India should fight for its freedom.
Gandhi now openly admired Bose’s courage in
escaping to Germany. Gandhi felt the time had come to “Do or Die”. Despite
reservations expressed by Nehru, Azad and others, he insisted on launching the
Quit India Movement. In fact Gandhiji’s draft resolution sent to the Congress
Working Committee had demanded immediate cessation of British Rule in India.
This was precisely the position that Bose had urged him to take in his last
meeting in the Wardha session in 1940.
William Philips, the personal representative
of President Roosevelt in India informed the US President about the August Quit
India movement: “if Japan had been in a position to invade India at this
moment, even on a limited scale as she had attempted earlier that year in
April, there was every reason to believe that the story of Malaya and Burma
would have been repeated.”
Japan had thus wasted two golden opportunities
in 1942, one in the summer of 1942 when it completed its Burma operation well
ahead of schedule and had a clear window of opportunity to attack before the
monsoon began. Its second opportunity came in August 1942, when the Quit India
Movement sucked away about 35,000 troops towards Internal Security duties and
the British military deployment was more oriented to face a Japanese assault
from the sea on undivided Bengal. In the bargain, it had destroyed all local
boats and created a famine in Bengal that killed about 3 million Indians.
This amounted to genocide for the British
continued to export grain from India to supply their troops in other theatres,
right through this famine. A sudden Japanese attack towards Assam to seize the
railheads of Tinsukhia and Dimapur would have altered the course of history in
Asia. This invasion would have succeeded beyond all expectations and generated
the revolt in India that Bose had foreseen so clearly.
In hindsight, it is now clear, that the
Japanese hesitated for two main reasons. One was the Mohan Singh episode and
the internal sabotage of the first INA by secret British Indian operatives and agent
The second was the major weakness of
logistics in supporting such an offensive. The Japanese supply route over
Northern Burma was a logistical nightmare.
The British Intelligence had instigated a
mutiny in the First INA of Gen. Mohan Singh to help stave off the impending
Japanese invasion. The Japanese hesitation in 1942 and 1943 was to prove fatal.
India had been so close to freedom through military means and yet this historic
opportunity was wasted due to sudden Japanese over-caution and hesitation as
also an instigated rebellion in the first INA of Gen. Mohan Singh.
Excerpted from Chapter 3
An Indian Samurai. Netaji and the INA: A Military Assessment
Gen (Dr) G D Bakshi SM, VSM (Retd)
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