'The Great Escape' that brought us Freedom

17th January 1941. 38/2 Elgin Road, Calcutta, British India. It was still dark, early morning hours. A German Wanderer sedan stopped in front of the house. A person resembling a Muslim cleric came down the stairs, took the rear seat of the car and the car left the gate. The man in Muslim disguise was no other than India's final liberator, 'Netaji' Subhash Chandra Bose. The man on the steering wheel was Netaji's nephew Sisir Kumar Bose. This was the beginning of 'The Great Escape' and the final stage of our liberation from the oppressive Empire.

The Rebel Leader

"no real change in history has ever been achieved by discussions" - Subhas Bose about Gandhi's 2nd Round Table Conference in London, 1932

Before we continue our journey, we will go back few years. It was 1938 when Subhash Bose became the president of Indian National Congress. He had already toured across Europe and met the national leaders of many European countries, including Benito Mussolini, to create a favorable opinion for India's independence. Long before that, he had started losing confidence in Gandhi's passivism and non-violence. In 1921 after Gandhi's abrupt withdrawal of non-cooperation movement, he could not hide his sheer disappointment, "the order of retreat, just when public enthusiasm was reaching boiling point, was nothing short of a national calamity.". On the Congress's stand for Dominion Status, in 1928 he said, "What we feel most acutely is that at a most critical juncture in our history our older leaders have failed to rise to the occasion.".

Subhash Bose with M. K. Gandhi
Subhash Bose with M. K. Gandhi

A rebel within him started rising. The rebel that had been always within him. In December 1921, when he was sent to a jail for the very first time, it was not long enough for him. "Only six months?", he said to the magistrate; "have I then stolen a chicken?". In 1928, he organized men for Bengal Volunteers, an underground revolutionary organization, that carried out multiple assassinations of top British officials. By the year 1932, he was utterly frustrated with the Congress's inaction and after the disastrous Gandhi-Irwin Pact that ended the civil disobedience movement, he said, "Gandhi is an old, useless piece of furniture. He had done good service in his time but is an obstacle now.". He started advocating war against British rule by taking foreign help.

"I am not a shopkeeper and I do not bargain. The slippery path of diplomacy I abhor as unsuited to my constitution." - Subhash Bose on his release terms from Jail, 1927

After this Bose started his campaign in Europe. He visited Germany. A series of visits followed, to Berlin, Rome, Prague, Warsaw, Istanbul, Belgrade, Bucharest. He met top Nazi officials and directly asked when they were going to strike at Britain "so that we might also take up arms simultaneously against the British". Readers may remember Jatindranath Mukherjee aka Bagha Jatin's similar fight by causing defection in British Indian Army and taking active German help during World War 1, also known as the Hindu-German Conspiracy in history.

Upon return to India in 1936, he was selected as the president of Congress in 1938. He wanted to steer Congress to a more active confrontation with British Empire that caused further friction with Gandhi. Against Gandhi's wish, he won the Congress Presidential election for the 2nd time in 1939 beating Gandhi's preferred candidate. Gandhi considered it as his personal defeat. Bose could clearly see the British difficulty in the looming war in Europe and wanted India to take full advantage of it. But Gandhi and the Congress were not ready. Gandhi still relied on a British change of heart. Bose was forced to resign and finally ousted from Congress for 3 years. Soon he formed his new party 'Forward Bloc'. His aim was to consolidate all left-wing groups. When the war began, the British government arrested him without delay. He was arrested on 2nd July 1940. Bose knew this was the time to act, not to spend time in jail. He had to get out of India and reach out to Britain’s adversaries. He could see India's independence.

He announced that he would starve himself to death - "Release me or I shall refuse to live". Finally, he was allowed to go home, but in house arrest. It was already December 1940. 26th January 1941 was fixed for his trial for sedition. But Bose had a different plan. He slipped out 9 days before that, disguised as a Muslim insurance agent, Mohammed Ziauddin.

Calcutta to Kabul

German Wanderer that Bose used on 17th Jan 1941
The car left Calcutta. It was not safe for him to take a train from there. So, Subhash Bose along with Sisir went by road, moving at night, hiding by day, to Gomoh, 210 miles from Calcutta. On the way, they rested the day in Subhas's another nephew, Dr. Asoke Nath Bose's house. Upon reaching Gomoh, Subhash took leave of his nephew and boarded the train for Peshawar. In Peshawar, he was received by Mian Akbar Shah who visited Bose's Elgin Road house during the house arrest to chalk out the plan. Bose stayed at Taj Mahal Hotel and for some time in the house of Abad Khan. Mian Akbar Shah brought a man named Bhagat Ram Talwar to assist Bose reach his next destination to Kabul. Bose stayed 2 days in Peshawar.

Bhagat Ram was a very interesting character in himself. He was once a part of a Punjab-based communist movement called the Kirti Kisan Party. He was tasked to move Subhash Bose out of the British territory. Unknown to Bose, Bhagat Ram eventually became the only quintuple spy of World War 2 with a code name 'Silver', worked for the Germans, Italians, Japanese, Russians, and the British!

They took a car from Peshawar to reach Kabul. This time Bose posed as a deaf and mute Pathan as he did not know the local Pashto language and Bhagat Ram took a new name 'Rehmat Khan'. In order to avoid the border patrol, they got off near Jamrud, the fort that guards the entrance to Khyber Pass. They went by foot from there, escorted by two armed Pathans.

On the first night they stayed in a tribal village and took refuge in a mosque at Adda Sharif on the second night. The next day they reached Lalpura. Here they had some prearrangements and stayed the night at a local person's house. The host was an influential Khan who gave Bose a letter so that they would not be disturbed by the police and they used it in two occasions in next few days. On the fourth day they crossed the Kabul River for the 2nd time to reach the main road to Kabul. There was no boat available. The locals made a makeshift boat using some leather sacks. They were already deep inside Afghanistan for anyone to demand passports. Here the escorts left them.

Unable to find any car, finally in the evening, they boarded an open lorry that drove through the bitterly cold night to reach Kabul the next day. Snows were falling and they had just two boxes as seats in that open lorry. They were almost frozen when they were dropped off from the lorry near the Lahore gate, Kabul. It was 31st January 1941 and Bose was out of British India. They stayed the night at a lorry driver's inn. In Bose's words:

"A cold wind raged outside and we could not let the doors remain open. Smoke filled the cell and it became suffocating. We then managed to get a few dry logs for a fire to warm our frozen bodies. In the evening Bhagat Ram brought some candles from the bazaar for a light, and some dry bread and kabaabs. When I could not eat the bread, he brought me a cup of tea. I dipped the bread into it and ate it."

Orlando Massotta in Kabul

For the next 3 days, Bose tried to contact the Russian Embassy in Kabul without any luck. On the fifth day, Bose sent Bhagat Ram to the Italian Legation (administrative office). Finally, here Bose got all the cooperation, hearty congratulation for reaching this point and a promise of a fake Italian passport. By this time on 26th January 1941, British authority in Calcutta found out about his disappearance. Afghan police became suspicious about the long stay the two 'pilgrims' in lorry driver's inn. So, on 3rd February 1941, Bose and Bhagat Ram moved out of the inn and took shelter in another Indian, Uttam Chand's house.

In the meantime on 7th March 1941, Prime Minister’s office in London issued an order to two Special Operations Executives (SOE), of the British Intelligence, stationed in Turkey and Middle-East. The order was to find and kill the Indian leader Subhash Chandra Bose. Yes, Churchill wanted Bose dead. No other top rung Indian leader had this honor as Bose was truly His Majesty's opponent.

Bose as Orlando Massotta
At last, after much delay, on 18th March 1941, Bose received his Italian passport in the name of Orlando Massotta. Unable to get any Russian help, Bose had set his next destination to Berlin. Bose was no Axis apologist. He hoped for Soviet help first. But Germans and Italians provided what he needed. He said, "I am not altogether happy about going to Berlin or Rome. But there is no choice."

The only way to reach Berlin from Kabul was through Moscow. So, he set out for the Russian frontier on 18th March 1941 in a car along with two Germans and one Italian. He went through one of the most difficult passages in the world in this journey. He went from Kabul to Bokhara, then through the high passes of Hindu Kush, the gorge of Tashkurgan, the dead cities of the Afghan steppe, ancient Mazar-i-Sharif, crossed the jungles along Oxus, took the ferries at Pata Kesar and finally arrived at Samarkand. From there he took a train to Moscow and then finally on 28th March 1941, flew to Berlin.

Before leaving, Bose gave important messages and letters to Bhagat Ram to be delivered in Calcutta. Bhagat Ram followed his orders and met Bose's family members in Calcutta, 'Forward Bloc' and 'Bengal Volunteers' leaders. Bose's instruction to 'Bengal Volunteers' was to foment rebellion in the North-Western province. But later Bhagat Ram betrayed and all the major leaders were captured.

Bose in Berlin

Bose was now in Berlin. But this time Hitler's Germany was different from the WW1 era Germany that had not only helped Indian revolutionaries with arms and money, but also allowed them to set up base in Germany. Hitler's persecution of communists removed the last trace of Indian revolutionary groups from German land. Hitler was preparing to invade Soviet Union in June 1941. Everyone knew Subhash Bose's alignment with left ideology. But still Ribbentrop, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Nazi Germany, gave a warm welcome to Bose. He was allowed to setup a radio link to broadcast anti-British literature and establish 'Free Indian' military units from Indian prisoners of war. But Germany was not yet ready to provide direct military support to the Indian cause. Galeazzo Ciano, Italian Foreign Minister, wrote:

"While being of the opinion that Bose must be helped...Ribbentrop considers premature any public declaration on the part of the Axis on the subject of the future settlement in India. The Führer did not receive Bose, precisely to avoid any definite commitment on the subject."

Subhas Bose with Nazi Officers

By this time Germany invaded Russia. Bose proposed to raise Indian Legion of three infantry battalions. The plan was when Germany reached beyond Stalingrad, deep into Central-Asia, Indian Legion will leap ahead of German and storm into British Indian territory through the North-Western province. As they would move ahead more and more patriots from British Indian army would join this Indian Legion.

Bose oversaw the recruitment into this Indian Legion. Bose brought in A.C.N. Nambiar, a left-wing journalist and post-independence Indian ambassador to Scandinavia, as the 2nd in command of the Legion. Indian prisoners of war from various parts of battlefield were brought here. Many joined voluntarily. Bose had setup an office called 'Indian Independence League’ or 'Free India Centre’. By January 1942, his movement became well-known among the Indian diaspora there and many young civilians volunteered for the Legion. Now he had become the 'Netaji' and the greeting 'Jai Hind' was first used.

In the meantime, Japan joined the war and they captured Singapore from British in February'1942. Japanese forward movement towards east of British India made Netaji hopeful of end of the British Empire. He announced from the 'Azad Hind Radio' on 28th February 1942:

"In this struggle, and in the subsequent period of reconstruction we will cooperate whole-heartedly with all those who help us to destroy the common enemy"

On the other side of the globe, another selfless patriot, Rashbehari Bose, was working tirelessly to get the Japanese government to support Indian freedom movements. He was the same man who fled to Japan during WW1, when the Hindu-German Conspiracy, led by Bagha Jatin, was foiled. He was instrumental to cause defection in the British Indian army barracks at that time. Now during this tumultuous time of WW2, he was again the key influencer to setup the Indian Independence League and proposed to raise an army that was known as the 'Indian National Army' (INA) or the 'Azad Hind Fauj'. Finally the Japanese government formally sent the proposal of tripartite declaration on India's independence to Hitler and Mussolini along with sending an invitation to Netaji to join them. Netaji was in Rome at that time to meet Mussolini and Ciano. On 5th May 1942 he met Mussolini and the Italians agreed. Ciano wrote:

"Mussolini allowed himself to be persuaded by arguments produced by Bose to obtain a tripartite declaration in favour of Indian independence. He has telegraphed the Germans proposing - contrary to the Salzburg decisions - proceeding at once with the declaration."

Subhash Bose with Hitler on 19th May 1942
But the Germans were still doubtful. Goebbels, Nazi politician and 2nd in power after Hitler, was not convinced with the amount of support the Japanese could provide. On 19th May, Netaji met Hitler. German Führer also conveyed the same message that German troops were caught in Russian territory. They were too far away to provide any support to the Indian Legion and without German support they had little chance against the British Army.

It is needless to say Netaji was highly disappointed and lost hope in Europe. So, he made up his mind to go to Japan. In the meantime, Rashbehari Bose convened the second conference of the Indian Independence League at Bangkok on 22nd June 1942 where resolution was made to have Netaji join the league and take its command as its president. In his last few months in Europe, Netaji tried to keep the morale high of the Indian Legion which was already 4000+ men strong having 3 battalions. Netaji could see India's independence and said in a speech to the Legion:

"There is no doubt that the British have lost this battle. The problem is how to take charge of our country. When the Englishmen are about to leave there is no point in begging independence or getting it as a present from other nations because such an independence cannot last long. We are young and we have a sense of self-respect. We shall take freedom by the strength of our arms. Freedom is never given. It is taken."

Berlin to Tokyo

Netaji had to wait eight more months before a passage to Japan could be arranged. The Italians could not arrange an air route. No land routes were open. There was a chance of capture even while travelling in a ship. Submarine was the only option.

Subhash Bose in German U-Boat (1943)
Finally on 8th February 1943, Netaji, along with Abid Hassan boarded a German U-boat (a submarine) from Kiel, a German port city on the Baltic Sea coast. The quest for Far East begins from here. The submarine went past Denmark into the North Sea and came to the Atlantic Ocean crossing above north of England. The meeting point with the Japanese navy was fixed at 400 miles South of South-West of Madagaskar. The submarine sailed past the entire African West coast via Cape of Good Hope and reached the rendezvous point on 28th April 1943. Here both Netaji and Abid Hassan were transferred to a rubber dinghy to reach the Japanese submarine I29.

They sailed through the vast Indian Ocean. They crossed Sabang, the Northern tip of Sumatra, and stopped at Penang, Malayasia before finally reaching Singapore. From here, they took the flight to Tokyo accompanied by Colonel Yamamoto, the head of Japanese-Indian liaison group, the Hikari Kikan. They reached Tokyo on 13th June 1943 after a journey of 18 weeks.
Subhash Bose (right most) in 1943 Tokyo Summit

Here Netaji took the command of the Indian National Army to lead them to India's freedom. That is another fascinating story of the next 2 years of his life before his unconfirmed and mysterious death on 18th August 1945.

The Liberator of India

Readers may think why I titled this article as 'The Great Escape that brought us Freedom'. Is it just a catchy phrase, a click-bait? Didn't we get freedom through Gandhi's charkha (spinning wheel) as we have been taught since ages?

Sorry to dishearten you. The Prime Minister of England, Clement Atlee, who signed the Indian Independence Act of 1947, told later during his visit to Calcutta in 1956 that Gandhi's role was "MINIMAL". He said the reason behind British left India was Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and his Indian National Army.

Whole world, particularly West, loves to promote Gandhi as he is a very nice tool, a symbol that any imperialist government would love as their opponent instead of someone like Subhas Bose who reaches out to enemy nations for help to wage war. What else can demoralize a nation than this line - "De Di Hame Aazadi Bina Khadag Bina Dhal" (Gave us freedom without wielding sword and a shield)?

The fact is British ruled over us with the help of us, the Indians. There was never more than 20,000 British people at a time in India. Few local rulers from 560+ Princely States, zaminders (landlords) and some English educated bootlicking elites helped them to rule over us for two centuries.

They used our men in police force to brutally torture our true freedom fighters. They used our men in the armed forces to wage their personal wars in Europe, China and rest of the world. Only way to throw this Empire out to their own little island was to break loyalty of our own men in the armed forces. That is what Bagha Jatin, Rashbehari Bose, Sachindranath Sanyal, Har Dayal, Pingle, Virendranath Chattopadhay did during WW1. That is what Rashbehari Bose and Subhas Bose did during WW2.

More than 30,000 INA soldiers died fighting British Army in WW2. Who says we got freedom by non-violence? The INA trial in Red Fort brought further defection in the armed forces. More than three times Royal Indian Navy (RIN) revolted between 1942 and 1945. During the RIN Mutiny of 1946 (as the British calls), multiple barracks of British Indian Army and Indian Air Force supported them.

During this revolt, British generals asked Gurkha Regiment to fire on the ratings (junior members) of revolting Navy in Karachi and they refused to fire. British Empire realized that they have lost control over the armed forces and their time has come to pack the bags. Later British High Commissioner John Freeman stated "The British were petrified of a repeat of the 1857 Mutiny, since this time they feared they would be slaughtered to the last man". 

It is now time to change the demoralizing fake narration that suits the imperialists and bring back some national pride.

The Springing Tiger by Hugh Toye
The Forgotten Army by Peter Ward Fay

1 comment:

  1. This is true story of our independence that was snatched from the Britishers who by their own admission accepted the cause.