Modi's visit to INA memorial in Singapore opens old wounds
Declassified British records make it amply clear that the Congress' defence of the INA was politically motivated.
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to the Indian National Army (INA) memorial in Singapore has not only created history, it has also opened old wounds.
The sombre visit makes Modi the first Indian head of government to pay tributes to the fallen INA soldiers, whose sacrifices were one of the primary reasons the British transferred power to Indian hands in 1947.
The interpretation of history fed to us over decades would have us believe that ahimsa alone got India freedom, and that Congress leaders' defence of the INA soldiers facing "war crimes" charges at the Red Fort was actuated by nationalistic motives. PR Dasmunshi, a minister in the first Manmohan Singh government, wrote in a newspaper article in January 2006 that "Pandit Nehru, notwithstanding his political differences with Netaji, saluted the historical march of the INA and came forward to defend it... as a lawyer in the Red Fort trials".
However, declassified British records make it amply clear that the Congress leadership's defence of the INA was politically motivated. For instance, on October 23, 1945, Brigadier TW Boyace of the military intelligence sent a secret report to the secretary of state for India in London. To understand the Congress gameplan, the military intelligence had used one of its moles. This mole, who rose to be a general in free India, mingled with the Congress leaders. The mole was told that before taking a stand on the INA, the Congress Working Committee had sent Asaf Ali out on a recce mission to gauge the public feeling. He travelled across India and discovered that people were overwhelmingly in support of the INA. "This inflammed feeling forced the Congress to take the line it did," the mole told his handler.
Ali further told the mole that the "Congress leaders had realised that those who joined the INA were far from innocent", and that was the reason Nehru always made it a point to refer to them as "misguided men" in his public speeches. Ali was positive that as and when the Congress came to power, it "would have no hesitation in removing all INA (men) from the Services".
And indeed, in free India, most of the INA men were kept out of armed forces. Many were put under surveillance by the intelligence bureau, which continued to play second fiddle to the MI5 for years and years after independence.
On the other hand, in his last known days, Subhas Chandra Bose took a decision, the like of which the leaders of free India could not, till very recently. He decided to raise a monument to the INA martyrs. In free India - a nation built on hollow Gandhian principles - such an initiative commemorating the men in uniform was unthinkable. Bose selected one out of half a dozen models submitted by his aide Colonel CJ Stracey. A few days before Bose was reported dead, he visited the site where the memorial was being raised under the most adverse circumstances.
After the end of the war, Supreme Allied Commander Southeast Asia Command, Louis Mountbatten, free India's choice as her first governor-general, did what was without a parallel. He ordered that the newly-built INA memorial should be blown up.
Some time later, the man who reaped the harvest of the Red Fort trials arrived in Singapore. Jawaharlal Nehru had been invited by local Indians to lay a wreath on the site of the demolished INA memorial. In the words of Mountbatten, this is what happened in March 1946: "When he came, I told him he could go where he liked and could do what he liked but asked him to refuse the invitation of local Indians to lay a wreath on the memorial to the Indian National Army."
Mountbatten said this in the course of his talk at the Cambridge University on Nehru's birth anniversary in 1968.
Two years later, he would write the following in the foreword to the memoirs of Nehru's sister Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit: "And I was able to persuade him not to lay the wreath on (memorial to the) pro-Japanese Indian National Army. In fact, the whole of his nine-day visit went extremely well, and this was the beginning of a deep friendship between Jawaharlal Nehru and Edwina and me."
Perhaps as a tribute to that lasting friendship, the government of India never supported any initiative to rebuild the INA memorial in Singapore. The present modest structure, which Modi visited, came up in 1995 thanks to Singapore's National Heritage Board.