The Ghadar Party

  • By Gagandeep Bakshi
  • April 2017
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In 1912, a group of Indian revolutionaries in San Francisco founded a newspaper ‘The Ghadar’ (Revolution), which was distributed to the large Indian communities of the Pacific ports and regularly smuggled into India. In 1914, the Ghadarites were able to induce several thousand Sikhs to return home and create trouble for the British. Even as they landed in India, war broke out in Europe. The British had information about this movement and the Ghadar project failed dismally.

The Ghadar Party leadership now moved to Berlin. One of the most prominent of these revolutionaries was Rash Bihari Bose. Bose had earlier been involved in hatching plots to assassinate the Viceroy, Lord Hardinge in 1912. The Germans made a determined bid to instigate rebellion in India and prevent British and Indian forces from being moved out of India towards the various theatres of that war.

Later, Rash Bihari Bose escaped to Shanghai. Here he assisted the Germans in two other plans for an Indian Revolution in 1915. In fact, there was a German Plan in the First World War to raise an Indian Revolutionary Force to march to India from the East, much like the manner the INA would do later during Second World War.

In 1916, Rash Bihari Bose had to flee to Japan. He came under the protection of Toyama, the Head of the secret Black Dragon Society. Rash Bihari Bose then married Toyama’s daughter and became a Japanese citizen. He founded the Japanese Branch of Congress “Indian Independence League”, which was still active in 1941 and helped raise the first INA and lay the grounds for the second.


Bust of Rash Bihari Bose at Keylong, Lahual Valley, Himachal Pradesh

Japanese Offensive in Malaya, December 1941- January 1942

Maj. Gen. Kiani, later the GOC of one of the INA Divisions under Netaji Subhas Bose has left behind an excellent eyewitness account of the Blitzkrieg style Japanese invasion of Malaya. Besides, a contingent of the Australian Expeditionary Force was deployed in the South and East Coast of Malaya. The entire plan for the defence of Malaya was mired in confusion from the very beginning. It was anticipated that the Japanese attack could come via Thailand, which was then neutral.

The Japanese Blitzkrieg in Malaya began on December 08, 1941, under the command of Gen. Yamashita (nicknamed ‘Tiger’). By January 1942, the entire British forces were bottled up in Singapore Island and had blown up the Jehore causeway. On February 14, 1942, the Malay High Command called a conference and decided to surrender Singapore unconditionally on February 17, 1942. Gen. Yamashita took the surrender of Gen. Percyval’s Malaya Command.

The British had rushed in reinforcement towards the end. These did not delay the Japanese advance. The Japanese 5th Imperial Guards Division just sliced through Malaya. The reinforcements only added to the number of prisoners in the Japanese bag. About 80,000 troops in total surrendered in Singapore. Almost 50,000 of these prisoners were Indians. The British and Indian prisoners of war (POWs) were separated.

Mohan Singh’s Surrender

It is noteworthy that at the very start of the Japanese offensive, 1/14 Punjab had been deployed on the Jitre line to guard the approach to North Malaya. It was attacked by Japanese tanks and the battalion was split. Most of the unit fled into the jungle. This was where Pritam Singh met Capt. Mohan Singh and talked him to surrendering. The two men talked at length for hours. Pritam then took the two Indian officers to meet Major Iwaichi Fujiwara.

Fujiwara was the Japanese “Lawrence of Arabia”. He told the Indians that the Japanese were determined to crusade against the colonial powers. They wanted to establish a Greater Co-prosperity Sphere, which would ensure “Asia for the Asiatics”. He really swayed the Indians. Pritam Singh now appointed Mohan Singh as the head of the armed component of the IIL and exhorted him to save the lives of Indian soldiers now fleeing in the jungles. Collection centres were set up behind the rapidly advancing Japanese lines, where Indian POWs were collected. Soon the Indians began to trickle in and Mohan Singh started work on raising a military force for the Indian Independence League (IIL), sponsored by the Japanese. Thus, the foundations of the First INA were laid.

When Singapore fell, the Japanese handed over to Capt. Mohan Singh all the 45,000 Indian POWs captured there. He persuaded them to join the fledgling INA. His team of volunteers went to all the Indian POW camps and spoke of British exploitation and racial bias and the need to free India. Gen. Kiani writes that they were fairly successful. However, Mohan Singh did face some initial problems. The Indian troops were dazed and disoriented. They had been let down badly by their British leadership and had lost the battle. Many were then demoralised and intent on self-preservation. While raising the First INA Brigade, he appointed the Senior Subedar Majors as Brigade and Battalion Commanders and asked the Indian officers to serve as their staff officers.

The racist attitude of the British officials and their recent abandonment of their Indian soldiers however, had put off many officers and men and they were amenable to persuasion. Mohan Singh however, did raise the first INA and that is a tremendous plus to his credit. He showed surprising qualities of leadership and some had even begun to call him the “Eleventh Guru”. This itself is a great tribute.

Mohan Singh, the British said, lost patience in some cases and possibly used coercion and strong arm methods as per subsequent British claims. Most of this was pure propaganda designed to demonise the INA hierarchy and cook up cases against them after the war. It was also to justify themselves that they had lost the faith of the Indian sepoy only due to coercion and trickery.

However, such rumours and reports of coercion did put off some Indian POWs who had qualms about violating their oath of allegiance to the British Army. Also, all of them had faced the shock of defeat and most of them now just simply wanted to survive and get back home. It was the instinct of self-preservation and not so much lofty questions of loyalty to an oath to the British that led some of them to decline undertaking further combat. Cowardice can always masquerade as principle after the event. Their initial experience of Japanese captivity had till then been relatively benign and some thought it would be safer to be POWs and survive, rather than get pitch-forked into more uncertain battles with unfamiliar leaders and new and untested organisations.

At the instance of Fujiwara, the Japanese now sought a Tri-partite Axis Declaration on Indian Independence and invited Subhas Bose to leave Germany and come to the Far East to assume the leadership position of the INA. At that stage, Bose’s energies in Europe were entirely being consumed towards getting a Tri-partite Declaration favouring Indian independence, for which he was campaigning vigorously in Germany.

Bose had his meeting with Hitler and received a final refusal to support Indian independence. Only after this setback did he firmly set his eyes on the East. Meanwhile, in August 1942, great political unrest had broken out in India due to the launch of the Quit India Movement by Mahatma Gandhi and its brutal repression by the British. The Main League Secretariat was set up in Bangkok and Territorial Branch HQs were established throughout Japanese held territory in Asia. Members of the Council of Action took charge of their departments. Propaganda via radio broadcasts was now intensified under central directions and agents were recruited for espionage and subversion in India.

The Eleventh Guru

Meanwhile Gen. Mohan Singh had gradually gained confidence and stature. He told the conference that about 25,000 Indian volunteers had joined the INA. By August 1942 about 40,000 POWs had signed a pledge to join the INA under Mohan Singh. In August 1942, the Japanese agreed to the raising of the first Combat Division of the INA. By September 10, an armed force of 16,300 officers and men was ready. Gen. Mohan Sigh now asked for a second combat division to be raised from his force of 24,000 men (former POWs). He also wanted to recruit civilians and train them in training centres established for this purpose.

The Japanese hesitation in expanding the INA led to increasing friction with Mohan Singh’s INA. There were also instances of Japanese interference with Indian propaganda broadcasts in Singapore under K.P.K. Menon. Since the Bangkok resolution had asked that the property of absent Indians be entrusted to the League as a source of revenue, this led to increased acrimony and friction and the Japanese at one stage declared that the Bangkok Resolution had never been accepted and the Council of Action had no legal status. It was all at the discretion of the local Japanese commanders. Agent provocateurs served to egg on the Indian functionaries in the INA and IIL (especially the latter) and questioned their patriotism and accused them of selling out to the Japanese, whom they painted as a new colonising power. This aroused deep, latent insecurities in the First INA’s leadership.

Later, the Bangkok Resolutions were scrapped. Lt. Col. J.K. Bhonsle, a relatively senior Officer was now given temporary command of the INA. It was now clear that Netaji Subhas Bose would have a freehand. His friend Col. Yamamoto, the former Military Attaché in Berlin, had been appointed to succeed Col. Iwaguro. He would have full authority over the League and the INA would be subordinated to the IIL.

Bose was the promised one, the chosen one destined to lead the March for India’s Freedom. Bose was an established leader of the Indian National Congress. He had twice been its President. He had been treated like an acknowledged national leader by the Italians and Germans and treated with great respect and deference in all countries of Europe that he had visited.

Excerpted from Chapter 4
Bose: An Indian Samurai. Netaji and the INA: A Military Assessment
Maj Gen (Dr) G D Bakshi SM, VSM (Retd)
KW Publishers
ISBN: 9789386288394
Price: Rs 620/-         

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