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Unsung Warrior~II

It beats one’s imagination to surmise the degree of excruciating agony that this lonely hero had to endure, the frustration he fought against and what debilitating depression he had to contend with throughout his life in exile in singular and sickening isolation. His wistful yearning for a free India remained unfulfilled.

Shyamal Krishna Basu | Kolkata |

It was only in 1924 that the British stopped pursuing Bose and he could settle down permanently in a house at Kakuredein Hirajuke. Bose was married to Toshiko, the daughter of Aizo and Kokko’s, the owner of the shop at Nakamuraya where he had taken shelter. The marriage was solemnised secretly in July 1918 without any ostentation, without participation of friends and relatives.

In 1920 more than two years after the marriage, their son Masahide was born and in December 1922 their daughter Tetsuko was born. On March 4, 1925 Toshika passed away. Even after Toshiko’s death, the relationship between Bose and Nakamuraya did not end. On the contrary, the bond became stronger.

In 1923 Bose became a citizen of Japan. Bose had moved to the centrestage of activity and founded the Indian Club in December 1921 and he tried to make it a centre of the freedom movement. While the post War-I generation of Japanese may not have heard of Rash Behari Bose, he was a well-known figure in Japan in the years before the Second World War.

He was trying to secure foreign help for Asia’s liberation from the clutches of imperialist powers. Again it would be most apposite to state here that Indians should be deeply grateful to the people of Japan for the kind treatment meted out to this illustrious son of India in his utter distress by giving him shelter, home and a family. Rash Behari began teaching English at Kokushikan University in Tokyo to earn his living from around 1922.

He could speak Japanese fluently and started maintaining regular contact with Japanese political circles and lecturing in different parts of the country. He published 20 books that he wrote, translated or coauthored. He was a prolific writer on the pathetic plight of Indians smarting under the tyranny of the British. He contributed enormously to form a favourable public opinion in Japan and was instrumental in almost persuading the Japanese authorities to support the Indian freedom struggle.

During the Second World War, the Japanese overran Kuala Lumpur on 11 January 1942 and Singapore on 15 February 1942 and began planning to move against British India. Here they needed the involvement of Rash Behari Bose. He convened a conference in Tokyo from 28-30 March to discuss matters relating to India.

It was decided that an Indian Independence League would be instituted to give impetus to the freedom movement. Rash Behari was finally appointed the head of the League and decided on military action against the British in India through a national army comprising Indians and under Indian command. Meanwhile, a battalion of Indian soldiers headed by Capt. Mohan Singh decided to join the Japanese.

After the fall of Singapore, an estimated 12,000 Indian Prisoners of War were transferred under the command of Capt. Mohan Singh for raising the INA. Rash Behari too came to Singapore to discuss with Mohan Singh and Japanese army commander on how the action would be carried out. By the middle of June 1942 all plans were finalised at a conference in Bangkok which reaffirmed Rash Behari as Chairman of the Council of Action of the League, and the INA led by Mohan Singh was subordinate to it.

The headquarters of the Council would be established in Singapore. But within a few months, the INA fell apart with serious differences cropping up between Rash Behari Bose and Mohan Singh. In November, it was disbanded and Mohan Singh was arrested by the Japanese for his noncooperation and hostile attitude. The INA was however revived a few months later in February 1943 under Lt. Colonel JG Bhonsle, also a POW.

Around this time Rash Behari Bose’s health underwent a change for the worse. The stress caused by the dismissal of Mohan Singh, continuous travel around South-east Asia (Singapore, Malay, Thailand and Burma) for propaganda activities for the cause of fighting against the British and cooperating with the Japanese and for keeping the tempo of the Independence struggle among the Indian POWs and Indians in general took their toll and led to health deterioration. His diabetes worsened rapidly.

He also contracted pulmonary tuberculosis. The giant of a man, ebullient and sturdy, was terribly emaciated. He was extremely ill in early 1943. Yet Bose continued his propaganda activities with unabated zeal heedless of health hazards. It was now felt that the INA required to be reorganised. None but Subhas Chandra Bose, the man of destiny, who was waiting in Germany could undertake this uphill task.

Seizo Arisue, a Senior Commander of the Japanese Army, was to explore the ways of bringing Netaji through the Japanese Embassy in Germany. But Seizo Arisue was particularly worried about RB Bose’s frame of mind. He would have to be asked to resign voluntarily to make room for Subhas Chandra Bose. But his fear was totally unfounded. Rash Behari Bose was an epitome of sincerity and gallantry. Inspired by the ideological moorings of Sri Aurobindo, he was far above a noxious egomaniac and could always view things with insouciance and equanimity.

That apart, Bose had all along nurtured a very high impression about Netaji and his activities. In fact the consummation that he had devoutly wished for, was going to attain fruition. On hearing the proposal, Rash Behari grabbed Arisue’s hands and said ‘Please do call him’. Bose along with a Japanese companion went to room 217 at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo at 5 pm on 1 June. Subhas Chandra Bose was waiting for them. The door opened and the moment they entered the room, the two Boses looked at each other and shook hands firmly.

They then hugged each other exultantly; for some time no words were exchanged. On 4 July Subhas Chandra attended the public meeting in Singapore, where Rash Behari Bose introduced him to the audience. He then officially passed the mantle of leadership of the Indian Independence League and INA to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose saying “I have brought you one of the most outstanding personalities of our motherland. I resign from my office as President of the Indian Independence League in East Asia. From now on Subhas Chandra Bose is your leader in the fight for independence”.

Subhas Chandra took charge and requested RB Bose to lend his hand as an advisor. A day before his departure for Japan in September, Rash Behari Bose had dinner at Subhas Chandra Bose’s residence. On October 31, Subhas Chandra arrived in Tokyo and called on RB Bose at his residence. They lunched together on November 16, just before he returned to Singapore. Subhas Chandra always showed great concern for Rash Behari and continued to pay him the respect due to him as a senior revolutionary from the same country.

In February 1944, Rash Behari had a lung haemorrhage and was advised complete rest. His daughter Zetsuko stayed with him to nurse him. Around the middle of December Rash Behari’s son Masahide who was in the Army returned from the battlefront and met his father after two and a half years. On January 20 Bose suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and was paralysed on one side.

The bubbling strength of mind yielded place to complete despondency after Japan’s defeat along with broken and decrepit health. His end had come and was staring at him unblinkingly. It beats one’s imagination to surmise the degree of excruciating agony that this lonely hero had to endure, the frustration he fought against and what debilitating depression he had to contend with throughout his life in exile in singular and sickening isolation.

His wistful yearning for a free India remained unfulfilled. But all his agony ended, all pain and anguish faded away when on 21 January 1945, this forlorn son of India peacefully breathed his last.


(The writer is a retired IAS officer)