Still Hidden After All These Years, India’s Official History of the INA and Japan's Netaji Files

What is the reason every prime minister – from Nehru to Narendra Modi – has not allowed the officially commissioned history of the Indian National Army to be published?

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Soon after independence, in 1949, Prime Minister Nehru commissioned the noted historian Pratul Chandra Gupta to write a history of the Indian National Army (INA) and its military operations in the northeast of India to project Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and the INA in a fitting light. This was to have been the first ‘official history’ of the INA.

Nehru provided Gupta with 950 classified INA files created by the British government. (These files, along with 40 Ministry of Defence files, were eventually declassified for public access by the United Front government in 1997. That was the first set of declassification of Netaji and INA files.)

Historian Pratul Chandra Gupta (1910-1990). Photo: https://boundlessoceanofpolitics.co.in

For three years, Gupta researched extensively and produced a 490-page manuscript titled “A History of the Indian National Army 1942-1945”. But Nehru did not clear the book for publication.

At the time, some of his critics accused Nehru (and the Congress party) of thereby undermining the INA’s role and obscuring its – and Bose’s – contribution to India’s independence. Had that been Nehru’s intent, however, he would not have commissioned Gupta to write the book in the first place. Nor would the Congress government have honoured Gupta with Padma Bhusan in 1975.

But this begs the question: What is there in Gupta’s book that made Nehru, and every subsequent prime minister, withhold its publication?

In 2011 the Manmohan Singh government gave Major General (Retd) Prabir Chakrabarty and historian Purabi Roy access to Gupta’s manuscript for a comprehensive study. But it is now known what came out of this exercise.

‘INA in military operation’

Gupta died in 1990 but a 2016 Times of India news report citing Purabi Ray provides us with some information about what the manuscript contains.

Bose believed India could be liberated only through organised military intervention and that movements like civil disobedience would only have a limited impact. He also knew and understood Europe very well, which helped him garner support for the INA, but his dealings with the Japanese might have been a different matter.

Gupta’s account, apparently, sheds light on a number of uncomfortable issues that flowed from his Japanese strategy:

1. Bose used his charisma to get close to Japan’s Hideki Tojo and convinced him to join the INA operation in Northeast India. But the Japanese involvement remained partial and selective.

2. The Japanese were in two minds about joining the war. It was going to be a logistically impossible war to fight and the Japanese realised that.

3. It was the Japanese army that led the charge in Manipur and at the battle of Kohima and not the INA. The INA played second fiddle.

4. The Japanese army withdrew from the battlefield soon after, leaving the INA to take on the British Indian army. As a result, the INA suffered heavy casualties.

5. The valiant war waged by the INA did not follow a well thought-out strategy.

6. Bose probably never discussed his military strategy even with INA seniors.

Gupta also brought out how Bose, despite his ideological differences with Gandhi and Nehru had immense respect for both of them. He even named his INA regiments after the two Congress stalwarts. This shows that he held them in high esteem.

Gupta’s manuscript did not deal with Netaji’s death/disappearance in 1945, though he expressed doubts about the air crash in his 1985 memoir, Dinguli Mor.

Sukhendu Shekhar Roy, MP, filed a PIL in Delhi High Court in 2018 for immediate publication of the book. Nothing has happened so far, there too. Earlier, the Ministry of Defence refused to make the document public under the Right to Information (RTI) on the plea that it would hurt the “economic interest” of the government.

If that is so, it is not difficult to conclude – from what little has come out about the book in the public domain – that Gupta did not paint the Japanese and the role they played in the way the Government of India would have liked to see. It is likely that successive governments – from Nehru down to Narendra Modi – have thought it prudent not to embarrass Japan, a key economic partner, by publishing Gupta’s book. Perhaps this the reason why protecting the “economic interest” of India is being cited as the reason to block its release.

Over to Japan

Japan was an ally of Britain during World War I. The Japanese wanted to take over German colonies in the Far East to expand their hegemony in Asia. On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked the US Pacific fleet in Hawaii and simultaneously launched attacks on Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong, all British colonies. Britain immediately declared war on Japan.

As defeat loomed in 1945, Japan sought to revive its old connections with Britain. Some say key Japanese military and intelligence figures were in favour of sacrificing Netaji to appease the British and purchase security for Japan’s royal family.

Netaji’s plan to start a second independence war with the help of Soviet Union was known to Japan. There is no reason to believe what remained of Japanese imperialism would agree to patronise the emergence of an independent India as a permanent Communist ally. There were enough reasons for British and Japanese intelligence agencies to develop a common minimum program against what they believed was Bose’s pro-Communist agenda.

Japan’s refusal to give safe passage to Netaji to escape to the Soviet Union was conveyed to him in June 1945. Instead, they advised “firm determination to display the spirit of live or die together by India and Nippon” in his “fighting for the liberation of India”.

While many Japanese commanders were tried as war criminals and hanged, the Japanese royal family was not touched. Like the United States, Chiang Kai Shek saw some value in Emperor Hirohito as a check against communism. The Japanese military too understood the importance of anti-communism as a survival strategy.

Japan’s secret Bose files

While the United States, Britain, Austria, Germany, Italy and Russia have declared that all their secret files on Subhas Chandra Bose have been made public, Japan remains the only country to keep three files on Netaji ‘Secret’ despite several requests made by India for their declassification.

On March 9, 2017, India’s external affairs minister, Sushma Swaraj, informed parliament that the Japanese government has said ‘Secret’ documents are declassified as per their policies after the prescribed time period based on “an internal review mechanism”. No exception can be made for India.

This may well be construed as an indication of Japan’s dubious role in the death/disappearance of Netaji. This possibility was pointed out by the INA’s civil administrative wing, the Indian Independence League (IIL), in their investigative report of 1953.

When we lay the two issues side by side – Pratul Gupta’s hidden book and the Japanese ‘secret’ files – it is reasonable to surmise that Tokyo is the cause of all cover-ups by both sides on Netaji.

Sumeru Roy Chaudhury is an architecture graduate from IIT, Kharagpur. He was the chief architect of the CPWD. He has studied the Netaji files and related documents in detail.