Posts tagged ‘Partition’

April 19, 2011

Subhas Chandra Bose – Another Look Part 5: The Jehadis of Azad Hind Fauj

by Sarvesh K Tiwari

Continues from
Part-1  (the beginnings) 
Part-2 (the Urdu-phile Secularism)
Part-3 (“Mahasabha is communal”)
Part-4 (“the Holwell Monument”)

The Jehadis of Azad Hind Fauj

When Bose arrived in Germany, Berlin and Rome were the bastions of international pan-Islamists from all over the world.  In the well established Axis policy, support to global Islamists was an important element of geopolitical strategy, primarily to cultivate Jehad against British dominated and controlled Moslem-populated countries including India.  Nazis were hand in gloves with such a wide array of Islamists now gathered and hosted by them as the fanatical Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Amin Al-Huseyni from Palestine, Rashid Ali al-Gilani the ex-Prime Minister of Iraq whose credit was to have abetted the Farhud pogrom against Jews in his country, Shah Amanullah the dethroned Sultan of Afghanistan, pan-Islamist Shakib Arslan of Lebanon, Muslim Brotherhood Jehadists from Egypt, and Bosnian Islamists who massacred the Serbs — all of them, bedfellows of the Nazis as part of the policy of abetting Islamists all over the world.

Before Bose even made an entry in the picture, such Indian Jihadists as the Faqir of Ipi of Waziristan and Inayatullah Khan al-Mashriqi of Punjab, were receiving covert support from the Nazis.  Interestingly, the latter of these, the founder of the Khaksar movement, Inayatullah Mashriqi of Lahore, was the first ever Indian leader whom Hitler had personally met in Berlin, as early as 1926 when Hitler was still a struggling small fry [foot note 1].

In reality, this policy of co-opting Islamists was only a continuation from the pre-Nazi German policy since WWI itself, and was a scholarly studied and researched geopolitical doctrine of how to cultivate Jehad to foment trouble for the British-French [Footnote 2].  It is a telling symbol of this policy that the first masjid ever erected on the German soil, was constructed in 1915 for and by none other than the Mohammedan PoWs of British Indian Army captured during WWI and camped in the Berlin outskirts.  Around WWI already, the German Emperor had financed and propped up such Indian Jehadis as Mawlana Barqatullah Bhopali, who dreamt of an Afghan invasion to India for liberating Hindustan (for Moslems), and from this pious motivation had become a fellow traveler with the Ghadar Party and Hindu-German conspiracy revolutionaries [Foot note 3].

While the same tactical reasoning of WWI days of abetting Jehad world-over was still a prominent component of the Berlin thinking, their collaboration now had a deeper purpose and ideological compatibilities including the shared hatred for the Jews.  In a telegram to the Grand Mufti, Himmler wrote:

“The National Socialist movement of Greater Germany has, since its inception, inscribed upon its flag the fight against the world Jewry. It has therefore followed with particular sympathy the struggle of freedom-loving Arabs, especially in Palestine, against Jewish interlopers. In the recognition of this enemy and of the common struggle against it lies the firm foundation of the natural alliance that exists between the National Socialist Greater Germany and the freedom-loving Muslims of the whole world…”

This Grand Mufti Mohammad Amin al-Husayni, as is common knowledge, was an important lynchpin of Nazi policy towards Moslems all over the world including India.  While Bose would not be deemed important enough by Nazis to even get him an interview with Hitler for almost a year, and even then only once for a brief meeting, Grand Mufti on the other hand was a much sought after personality flying in and out of Hitler’s & Mussolini’s offices and commanding great policy influence.  Grand Mufti was one of the chief interlocutors to deal with Bose.  Bose would often meet and dine with the Grand Mufti and Rashid Ali al-Gilani in trying to impress them with his mission and his plans.  [Foot note 7]

Then too, before Bose appeared in the Axis scheme of things, there was already an Indian Jehadi squatting in Rome for some years under Mussolini’s direct patronage as the India policy man.  This was Mohammad Iqbal Shedai of Sialkot, a pious disciple of the Ali brothers and a staunch pan-Islamist to boot, who had migrated from India under influence of Mawlana Muhammad Ali Jouhar’s fatwa declaring India a dar-ul-harb and calling Moslems to migrate elsewhere.  This Jihadi was declared by Mussolini to be the point man for India policy, and he was already running much of the same operations which Bose would later try to run, including a radio station airing Islamist propaganda in India [Foot note 6], and recruitment of the Indian PoWs.  Shedai’s organization had consisted entirely of the Moslems alone and included among its officials such people as a close relative of the Grand Mufti and an ex-minister of Afghanistan.  Bose had to cooperate (and compete) with Shedai, take his help in setting up his own radio infrastructure, even staff, and retained even the name of Shedai’s organization “Azad Hindustan” with a minor abridgement as “Azad Hind”. [Foot note 4]

Thus, Bose who had since beginning of his career pursued Islamist-placatory policies, if needed any encouragement to go farther in that direction, Berlin gave it to him in abundance.  All these pressures would further force Bose to demonstrate himself as being a fellow traveler of the Islamists, a path not new to him anyways.

To appease the Islamists, he would on one hand continue to criticize the Hindu Mahasabha and Akalis even in Berlin, and on the other, in the initial days, maintain an ambivalent stand about Pakistan.

From a news broadcast on Berlin Radio:

“Speaking over the Radio on Monday, the noted Indian Leader in Berlin, Subhas Chandra Bose … pointed out that the majority of the Muslims, except those in the Muslim League, had joined the Congress and fighting side by side their Hindu brethren for the emancipation of India.  He condemned the Hindu Mahasabha and the Akali Sikh leaders for their selfish policy of ignoring the national cause and for trying to secure power and influence for themselves.  He assured Mr. Jinnah that his Pakistan scheme will never materialize so long as the British were in India. He emphasized that Pakistan could be created only under a national government.” [Foot note 8]

Notice above, that Bose does not lash out at the concept of Pakistan itself, but only that Jinnah should postpone it until after the exit of the British.  This was his stand in 1942, and then, even after that period in Berlin days, his criticism to Pakistan would remain limited to (mistakenly) claiming that Pakistan idea did not have a majority Indian Muslim support, or that it was a wile ploy of the British.  As though, if proven that the majority Indian Moslem opinion was indeed in support of Pakistan (as the upcoming assembly elections showed), the idea became legitimate or acceptable to him!

On 26 January 1943, Bose organized a celebration of Indian Independence Day in a Berlin hotel, attended by about four or five hundred people, mostly Indian diaspora, students, and Axis diplomats.  The Chief Guests carefully chosen for the function by Bose were none other than the bigoted pan-Islamists: the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Amin Al-Huseyni and Rashid Ali al-Gilani the ex Prime Minister of Iraq.  Subhas Bose led the proceedings, dressed not in his military uniform or European suits nor in his dhoti-kurta which he otherwise would, but calculatedly in a black Sherwani.  In the speech that he delivered he assured these pan-Islamists that the Indian Moslem opinion was safely in favour of a united India and Pakistan was indeed but a British propaganda:

“By the beginning of the present century, the British … discovered the Muslim problem in year 1906 when Lord Minto was the Viceroy.  Prior to this there was no such problem in India.  In the great revolution in 1857, Hindus and Muslims had fought side by side against the British, and it was under the flag of Bahadur Shah, a Muslim, that India’s first war of independence was fought…. Consequently, the British policy has now fallen back on its last hope.  If Indian people cannot be divided, then the country – India – has to be spilt up geographically and politically. This is the plan called Pakistan which has emerged from the fertile brain of a Britisher.  Though the vast majority of the Indian Muslims want a free and independent India, though the president of the Indian National Congress today is Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, a Muslim, and though only a minority of the Indian Muslims support the idea of Pakistan, the British propaganda throughout the world gives the Indian Muslims are not behind the national struggle for liberty and want India to be divided up.” [Foot note 9]

He would insist that Jinnah, by allying with the British, is the one who is actually acting against the interests of Islam and Moslems:

“…British are the enemies of Muslims and Islam, and their policy has been always directed against them.  It was the British who brought about the downfall of the Moghals and enslaved India… Mr. Jinnah is always surrounded by Muslim landlords and capitalists who are loyal to the British… A free Indian Army has been organized to deliver India from alien bondage, and Indian soldiers will render a great service to Islam by uprooting British influence from their country.” [Foot note 10]

Bose would also express, on multiple occasions, his support to Palestine, and oppose creation of the Jewish settlement (to later become Israel), though not vocalizing his opposition to latter too obviously.

Bose would never tire of asserting that it is the Moslem Prisoners of War who joined Azad Hind Fauj that made the backbone of his movement, and present it as a proof that the Moslem separatism did not exist and was merely a British propaganda:

 “I can confidently assert that the Hindu-Muslim question is a British creation.  This is proved by the fact that though the Indian National Army is mainly composed of the Moslem soldiers, there is perfect harmony between them and their Hindu comrades. ” [Foot note 11]

The later paragraphs  in this essay will demonstrate the real motivation behind the Moslems of INA, but the above statement does reveal that if Bose really needed yet another reason to bend towards placating the Islamist sentiments, the high concentration of Moslems among the PoWs was one. 

As a matter of policy, since the last two decades, British had increased the proportion of army recruitment from Moslem majority regions, especially Punjab, Waziristan and Balochistan.  As a result, while at the officer level in the British Indian Army, Hindus and Sikhs were still in a majority, at the Jawan level the proportion was more tilted towards the Moslems.  This seems to have been the British policy since late 1920s, and was indeed one of the reasons why Savarkar had vehemently called out to Hindu youth from all over India to enlist in the Army, while Congress (and, back then Bose himself) were all out for the boycott of the army recruitment efforts around the breakout of WWII.  In later days Bose would, for once at least, publicly praise Savarkar for his policy:

“When due to misguided political whims and lack of vision, almost all the leaders of Congress party have been decrying all the soldiers in Indian Army as mercenaries, it is heartening to know that Mr. Savarkar is fearlessly exhorting the youths of India to enlist in armed forces. These enlisted youths themselves provide us with trained men and soldiers for our Indian National Army.” [Foot note 12]

Bose would though dare not say of course that it was the Hindu youth that Savarkar was exhorting to join Army, surely Bose was not only aware of it, but also had reason to silently appreciate it, as the following paragraphs will show.

The secularists look back at the Azad Hind Fauj days with misty eyes as that golden moment when Moslem soldiers marched arm in arm with their Hindu-Sikh comrades for liberating their common motherland, as perfectly symbolized in the “Sahgal-Dhillon-Shah Nawaz” trinity of one Hindu, one Sikh, and one Moslem INA officer jointly facing the famous Red Fort trial of 1946.  But if only one explores the Azad Hind history more deeply and sincerely, the uncomforting facts stare at one’s face about the motivation behind most Moslems in joining the INA.

We provide four different evidences from four different sources.

We have a loud and clear testimony of INA senior officer Capt. Abdul Rashid Ali, who held very senior positions in the Azad Hind Fauj, at the same level as Dhillon, Sahgal and Shah Nawaz Khan.  During his later Trial & Court Martial by the British in 1946, he clearly stated that his predominant objective in joining the INA was to serve the interests of Islam and safeguard the Indian Moslems from getting dominated by the Hindu-Sikhs of INA.  His court martial testimony, unlike those of Shah Nawaz and others, are never ever quoted by the secularist narratives. 

A newspaper report:

“Reading from written statement, in a clear ringing voice, he [Capt. Abdul Rashid Ali] declared, I was cut off from the rest of the world and could get only such news as was supplied by the Japanese.  I was convinced that the non-Muslims who were the moving spirit in the INA were going to invade India with the help of the Japanese.  I was also convinced that this would result in the domination of India by the non-Muslims [helped] by the Japanese.  In order to safeguard the interests of my community I decided like the rest of the Muslims to join the INA in order to arm myself and thus be in a position to safeguard the interests of my community in India…” [Foot note 13]

Rashid Ali was awarded seven years of imprisonment by the British, and was turned into a hero by Muslim League.  In his honour and to demand his release, Muslim League announced to observe 12 February 1946 as Rashid Ali Day and to hold demonstrations and agitation all over India on that date.  As is usual for the ignorant and moronic Hindu leadership, eager still to forge some kind of Hindu-Moslem unity and gain some approving nod from Muslim League, foolish Hindu leaders too announced support to this Rashid Ali Day (of course they called it ‘INA Day’!) and held joint rallies and protest marches especially in Calcutta!

Most, if not all, secularist narratives ignore Capt. Abdur Rashid Ali’s testimony. 

But the motive of most Moslems joining INA, as reported by Capt. Abdur Rashid Ali, is also corroborated by multiple other independent testimonies of other INA Moslem officers.

In the earlier Trial and Court Martial of Sahgal-Dhillon-Shahnawaz trio, testimony of some Moslem soldiers and officers of how they joined INA is also documented.  The argument delivered by the Defence Attorney Advocate Bhulabhai Desai includes quoting the testimony of one witness Muhammad Hayat (a PoW who had refused to join INA), reproduced below:

“The Camp Commandant was Capt. M. Z. Kayani, who was succeeded by Col. Shah Nawaz Khan.  I heard Col. Shah Nawaz Khan [was] lecturing to the camp.  I was not present at the lecture he delivered at the camp, but I was present at the lecture he delivered in the Mosque.  He said that the Sikhs and Hindus had already volunteered, and that Mussalmans should also join.  He said: ‘Muslims must join the INA because when the Hindus and Sikhs go [victorious to India], they will trouble you in your homes in India’… He did not say that he only wanted sincere men [i.e. interested in the INA cause].” [Foot note 14]

This is Shah Nawaz Khan, the INA hero, coercing Moslem PoWs in a mosque, to join INA not to fight for the emancipation of their motherland or to serve the cause of the Indian liberation, but to empower Moslems against the Hindu-Sikh soldiers!  And in his own statement during the Court Martial, Shah Nawaz Khan himself stated that he had reluctantly joined the first INA of General Mohan Singh and Rash Behari Bose only to sabotage it from within, and had had his part in its failure, but that he underwent a change of heart after seeing Subhas Bose’s character and ideology (which is not surprising as we have already seen what it was.)

Muhammad Hayat and some other Moslem witnesses also narrated another episode when yet another Moslem INA officer applied similar communal reasoning to motivate them to join INA, albeit using a different pressure.  Maj. Aziz Ahmed of INA charged the Moslem soldiers of a PoW camp in Burma, of having captured some cows from the local Burmese village and having slaughtered them in the camp.  This charge was used as a pressure to create fear and coerce the Moslem soldiers in either joining the INA thus becoming equally empowered as the Hindu-Sikh soldiers, or remain a PoW and face being sent to the concentration camp (by the Hindu-Sikh majority INA) for having done that.  The episode was corroborated by other witnesses, that in reality no such act of cow slaughter had taken place, but Maj. Aziz Ahmed wanted to frighten the Moslem soldiers into joining INA.  It further shows how Moslem officers of INA were driven by the same fanatic passions and motivations, to recruit more and more Moslems in INA, their object being to not let Hindu-Sikh soldiers becoming too dominant in INA.

By the early part of 1945 in Manipur & Burma, Azad Hind Fauj faced several instances of treachery by their own officers.  Bose as the “Sipah Salar” (Supreme Commander) of the INA issued a Pronouncement of Purge on March 13, 1945.  Excerpts:

“We were hoping that with the advent of the New Year, all evidences of cowardice and treachery would be wiped out… But that was not to be… the recent treachery of five officers of the H.Q. of the Second Division has come as an eye opener to us that all is not well in our ranks and that the seeds of cowardice and treachery are yet to be wiped out.  If we now succeed in exterminating this cowardice and treachery once and for all, this shameful and despicable incident may, through God’s grace, prove to be a blessing in disguise.  I am, therefore, determined to take all possible measures necessary for the purification of our Army.”

The Order then goes to list eight points of how the Purge was to be carried out and declares Death as punishment for the actions of treachery after the Purge.

This much is a common knowledge.  But what most secular-sensitized narratives skip over here is the motivations behind the treachery in INA, and no surprise, one of the main and indeed catalytic reasons was desertion and active sabotage by many Moslem INA officers due to their pan-Islamist ideology.  Once they began deserting, in many cases actively assisting the British against their INA comrades, it resulted in a cascading effect of severe moral handicap for the still loyal INA troops who too either surrendered as PoWs or deserted.

From the diary of Col. P K Sahgal who was an eye witness to these events:

“After a very careful study of these points, and the circumstances under which the unit fought, I am of the opinion that these desertions were due to the following causes:

i) Turkey’s alignment alongside the anti-Axis powers has had a very adverse effect on certain Muslim Officers.  In spite of our efforts to explain to them the circumstances under which Turkey has been forced to join the War, the officers feel that by fighting against the powers that are allied with the Turks, they are being disloyal to Islam.

ii) In the minds of a number of officers and men there is a lack of faith in our final victory.  They are in their own minds convinced that the Anglo-Americans are going to win the war and it is futile to carry on the struggle.

iii) In this particular operation, after the desertion of Lt. Yasin Khan and his companions, there was a general feeling among the officers and men of the unit that it was useless to continue fighting the enemy, so superior in numbers and armaments, and helped by the traitors who had gone over to his side.  Majority of these officers, in normal circumstances, would never have done anything treacherous, but finding themselves so overwhelmed, they did not have the moral strength to continue… ” [Foot note 15]

Thus again, we are staring at the same phenomenon which keeps hammering Hindus from time to time but from which they always refuse to learn the lesson: that no matter how much Secularism Hindus would display as Bose did, in Moslem psychology Islam and its interests come first and foremost, all other loyalties are secondary. 

One does not expect Bose to have known the dark history of the debacle at Talikota, about 390 years before the above events, when Vijayanagara army had fallen precisely due to the Moslem commanders trusted by Emperor Ramaraja having deserted at the crucial moment in the battle to the invading Sultan at the cries of allahu-akbar.  But one surely expects Bose to have known the facts of not so long back about the behaviour of the Moslem soldiers of British Indian Army during the WWI, when at many places they deserted and joined the Turks for the pious motivation of the call of Islam being above any other mundane loyalties and pledges:

“…a much more serious incident took place in February 1915 among the Muslim infantry posted at Singapore.  Thinking that they were going to be sent to fight the Turks, they mutinied, shot eight officers, gave a pitched battle and escaped into the hinterland.  Again in 1916, several killings and desertions were reported from among the Afridi units.  In fact, a large number of Indian prisoners of war, especially after the fall of Kut al-Amra (April 1916), fought alongside the Turkish forces on various fronts.” [Foot note 16]

But well, little blame to Bose; this is a common disease of Secularism among Hindus which causes them becoming semi-blind to reality, inviting debacle after debacle and calamity after calamity!

Another Moslem INA officer who deserves mention before we move on is Brig. Habib-ur-Rahman.  This was the same famous INA officer whom Bose had chosen to accompany him on his attempted escape to Soviet Russia, when the fateful crash took place allegedly killing Bose.  The survived Habib-ur-Rahman, originally from Kashmir, would within months become the chosen handyman of Jinnah to architect Pakistan’s plans of annexing Jammu & Kashmir.  Habib-ur-Rahman was first instrumental in leading the diplomatic mission to Srinagar for coercing Maharaja Hari Singh Dogra and his Prime Minister Ram Chandra Kak in acceding to Pakistan, and then when Maharaja declined, it was the same INA veteran Habib-ur-Rahman who not only provided training to the Kabailis and armed them as Mujahids but also architected the whole Pakistani Army operation of the 1947 invasion of Jammu & Kashmir.

The remaining legacy of Bose is visible in the activities of his brother Sarat Bose, who in the crucial partition days, led the efforts to “Keep Bengal United”, which really meant partitioning India with the whole of undivided Bengal, that is today’s West Bengal and Bangladesh, becoming a separate “secular” country. “If dividing India is a sin”, Sarat Bose would declare, “Dividing Bengal is a bigger Sin!!”

Another Subhas Bose supporter and Forward Bloc leader in Punjab, Sardul Singh Caveeshar, would float the similar secular plan of keeping Punjab united, which too meant taking the whole of Punjab to Pakistan. 

Thankfully, Mahasabha and Akalis were strong enough in East Punjab to douse this crackpot proposal before it got any life.  The Bengali Hindus also had already had enough of such utopian secularism, when right before their eyes they had seen what the undivided Bengal meant through bloodbaths from Calcutta to Noakhali, and led by Syama Prasad Mookerjee they also bounded up Sarat Bose from going too far with his “plan”.  Sardar Patel also came and read to Bose his riot act which was sufficient to make him silent.  Mujib-ur-Rahman, after the formation of Bangladesh in 1971, would remember Subhas Bose in his first speech, wistfully recalling that had Bengal stuck to Bose’s vision, Bangladesh would have already been in a much better shape!


Concluded. (Or as Sita Ram Goel said, the trouble is that this past is not really past, the same behaviour patterns, of both the seculars and the Moslems, are intact and repeating right before us.  Can we at least learn something from the past and do something about it for our present?)

Foot Notes:

1: In his memoirs entitled Tazkirah, Mashriqi gives the details of their conversation which included the subject of Jehad and political vision of Islam.  Hitler and this ghazi seem to have kept in touch and shared mutual admiration, and if Mashriqi’s claims are to be believed, he played an important part in influencing Hitler’s ideas towards Moslems, India, Jehad and Ummah. (See Claudia Preckel, “South Asian Muslims in Germany”, 2008)

2: Eminent Orientalist & archaeologist Max von Oppenheim was the author of this doctrine both during the WWI and also during the Nazi regime.  His case is not unique at all, that Indologists and Orientalists were key players in geopolitics and subversion then as they are now.

3: After this jehadi’s name, senile Hindus have named the University of Bhopal!  Also for a detailed treatment of pan-Islamists around the WWI, see M. Naeem Qureshi, “Pan-Islam in British Indian politics: a study of the Khilafat Movement, 1918-1924”, Brill 1999.

4: He disappeared around this time to emerge some years later in Pakistan but he returned back to live in Rome in early 1950s.  Apparently Mawlana Azad, then the Education Minister, met Shedai in Rome and offered him a lucrative post to come to Delhi and work for the Government of India, which he declined.

5: It was this Grand Mufti who continuously stalled the efforts of transporting the Jews from many European countries to Palestine or elsewhere, and willingly pushed them to the concentration camps.  It was also his inspiration in raising Bosnian battalions which massacred the Serbs.  Google for this fellow’s name and read much material available online.  For Rashid Ali al-Gilani, see “Coordinated Farhud Anti-Jewish Pogrom in Iraq”:

6: The radio broadcasts that Shedai was airing in India from his Himal Radio, were a total Islamist propaganda, supporting Islamization of India, Pakistan, and Muslim League.

7: What a tremendous soft power Islamists have always managed to project since a long time!  Look at the WWII itself, every party was bending itself backwards to courting them.  Allies, Nazis, Congress, Bose – every party indeed!  Even after the WWII, Allies themselves would shield both the Grand Mufti and Rashid Ali.  French government stalled all efforts to have them prosecuted for their war crimes and made part of the famous tribunal.  They both lived to their ripe age and continued their Islamist activities in different countries.  There were some rumours that Israel wanted to avenge the Jew pogroms by taking clandestine action against them, but such step was forestalled by the Anglo- Americans.

8: Berlin Radio, October 7, 1942, “Testament of Subhas Bose, 1946”.  In later days, especially in Singapore and Burma, Bose would more unequivocally oppose Pakistan, but still on the ground that Muslim League was not the sole representative of the Indian Moslims, and also that in his opinion majority Moslems of India did not want Pakistan.  Being abroad he might not have known, but most of the other Moslem parties and individuals whom he would appeal in his broadcasts to oppose the plan of Pakistan had either already sided jubilantly with Muslim League, or had meekly given in.  Only notable exception being NWFP khidmatgar pathans under Abdul Gaffan Khan, who continued to be vehemently vocal against Pakistan and sided with India and Congress, to be of course let down by Nehru in not supporting their claims to joining India.

9: This was broadcasted over Berlin Radio. “Testament of Subhas Bose, 1946”.

10: An interview on Bangkok Radio on July 18, 1943. “Testament of Subhas Bose, 1946”

11: An interview on Bangkok Radio on July 18, 1943. “Testament of Subhas Bose, 1946”

12: Azad Hind Radio, June 25, 1944. “Testament of Subhas Bose, 1946”

13: Star of India, Calcutta, January 28, 1946. Quoted in “Communalism in Bengal: from famine to Noakhali, 1943-47” By Rakesh Batabyal, PP 210

14: INA Defence Committee report, Defence Address by Advocate Bhulabhai Desai, Senior Defence Counsel, October 1945

15:  Durlab Singh, Formation and growth of the Indian National Army (Azad Hind Fauj), 1946. Hero Publication, Lahore. PP 115-116

16:  M. Naeem Qureshi, “Pan-Islam in British Indian politics: a study of the Khilafat Movement, 1918-1924”, Brill 1999, PP 78-79

April 15, 2011

Subhas Chandra Bose: Another Look Part 4: Holwell Monument & with Muslim League

by Sarvesh K Tiwari

Continues from Part-1  (the beginnings) | Part-2 (the urduphile secularism) | Part-3 (“Mahasabha is communal”)

The Holwell Monument

We have seen in the last part how the year of 1940 began with a failed Bose–Mahasabha alliance, followed by a successful Bose-Muslim League alliance for Calcutta Corporation.  While Bose waved aside his attempts to ally with Mahasabha as purely an attempt at running the civic body free of British control, he dubbed his alliance with Muslim League of being a larger vision and strategic purpose.

Important to note that when Bose allied with League, Muslim League had declared loud and clear, only one week earlier at Lahore (24 March, 1940), not only its objective of Pakistan but also their vision of how they planned to achieve it. Interestingly, the person who moved the Pakistan Resolution at Lagore was none other than Abul Kasem Fazlul Haq, the Prime Minister of Bengal and chief leader of KPP, whom Bose would continue to call (even after this) a secular, progressive, patriotic and a nationalist Moslem.

It was written on the wall for all sane Hindus to read as to which way the winds were blowing.  But like any diehard hopeful secularist, Subhas Babu was not to be dismayed by such tell-tale signs.  He forged an alliance with Muslim League in Calcutta, and made a career Muslim leaguer Abdur Rahaman Siddiqui the Mayor, himself being just one of the five aldermen under Siddiqui.  Modern Review (in which Sir Jadunath Sarkar used to write), perceptively criticised Bose, that instead of waging a war against the pro-Moslem and anti-Hindu Corporation Bill itself, Bose had “walked into the parlour of Muslim league which has humiliated the Congress and the Hindus”, and which had openly declared, right under the proposal of the Bengal Prime Minister Haq, the plan for Pakistan.

In justifying the Calcutta Corporation alliance with Muslim League, even in the face of League’s declared objective of creating Pakistan, he wrote under a signed editorial for Forward Bock (4 May, 1940):

“…one cannot ignore the fact that a certain number of communally-minded Hindus are furious about the above understanding. We, on our part, do not regard the communal organizations as untouchables. On the contrary, we hold that the Congress should try continuously to woo them to its side. During the last three years, repeated attempts have been made, to bring about a rapprochement between Congress and Muslim League. At a certain stage, the writer, then President of Congress, met Mr. Jinnah, President of the Muslim league… the attempts failed… We regard the present agreement with Muslim League as a great achievement not in its actuality, but in its potentiality… There is now some hope that we may ultimately succeed in solving a problem which has proved well nigh insoluble to many.”

In the hindsight, as assessed the Bengal Governor John Herbert in a letter to the Viceroy that month, Muslim League objective in allying with Bose was simply to employ him as a useful tool to keep Congress and Hindus divided, while at the same time consolidating itself in Bengal as the sole Moslem representative.

Indeed, Bose would continue his labours to “woo them to his side” at all costs, and it is towards that direction that he spent his energies in the next political program that he took up: Muslim League led agitation to remove the Holwell Monument.

Short-lived “Last sovereign Nawab of Bengal” [Footnote 1], Nawab Siraj-ud-Dawla[Footnote 2] was as notorious for his debauchery and drunkenness as for his cruelty and harshness.  After successfully capturing the Fort William at Calcutta from the East India Company garrison on 19 June 1756, his soldiers locked up over a hundred European and Anglo-Indian captives in a small dungeon cell meant probably for not more than 2 or 3 people. Without enough ventilation and any water and sanitation at all, in the Bengal heat of June month, most of them died of suffocation or heat exhaustion in a single day.

One of the few survivors, Dr. John Zephaniah Holwell, an East India Company Army surgeon and later Governor of Bengal, wrote a detailed narrative of the event. He himself placed at this place, after the battle of Palashi, a memorial tablet to remember the victims of the tragedy, which remained there till 1822 when it disappeared until replaced by another one in 1901 by Viceroy George Curzon remembering also the older slab. This rather modest and humble stone slab came to be known as the Holwell Monument. Neither the Holwell’s book nor his memorial blamed the Nawab, who seemed to have been unaware of the tragedy until it was over.

As is usual to the Moslem psychology, the Moslems suddenly discovered the issue in 1940 and monument overnight became as a famous insult to the ‘venerable memory of a great Islamic sultan’ and a British attempt to ‘tarnish his glory’. And also as is usual to the Secularist psychology, Siraj-ud-dawla, like the Ghazis Tippu Sultan and Hyder Ali, became great ‘nationalist revolutionaries’ and ‘freedom fighters’, and therefore here was another opportunity to forge a ‘Hindu-Moslem unity’ by lionizing these “Heroes”.  Subhas Bose pledged support to Muslim League Students Organization and declared a joint agitation with Muslim League, just like Gandhi had done with Ali Brothers for Khilafat.

Bose wrote in a signed article in Forward Bloc on 29 June 1940, declaring the plan for agitation:

“The third of July 1940 is going to be observed in Bengal as the Sirajuddaula Day – in memory of the last independent king of Bengal. The Holwell Monument is not merely an unwarranted strain on the memory of the Nawab, but has stood in the heart of Calcutta for the last 150 years as the symbol of our slavery and humiliation. That monument must now go.”

On the said date, a meeting was held at the Calcutta Town Hall, attended mostly by the Muslim League’s student wing and Forward Bloc workers, and addressed by Subhas Bose. Glowing homage was paid to the lionized nawab, and the whole tragedy of dungeon itself denied as being a malicious farce of British historians’ creation; and demands were made to rewrite the history textbooks that had any ‘negative’ reference to Siraj-ud-dawla. Bose and his Muslim League supporters also gave a two week ultimatum to the government (which was itself a Muslim League led government!) for removing the monument or face street agitations. There was never really any opposition to removing the Holwell plaque from any quarter including British. And still, the hoax of an agitation went on for some time under the leadership of Muslim League student wing supported by Forward Block and Congress supporters of Bose.

Some “nationalist” supporters of Subhas Bose in this movement were student leaders Abdul Wasek Mian and Chaudhary Muazzam Ahmed, who, having made their name in this ‘cause’, would later take active part during Partition politics and after partition have bright careers in East Pakistan.

It was in mid of all this that Bose travelled to Bombay and had the famous meeting with Savarkar on 21 June 1940, along with on the same day, and before Savarkar, having also met Jinnah and Dr. Ambedkar. Apparently Savarkar unsuccessfully tried to impress Bose about the futility of the Holwell agitation, rather using the opportunity presented by the WWII in going abroad and focusing on activities from there as had done the earlier Indian revolutionaries around WWI. However, as the quoted editorial above appeared right in the next week of this meeting shows, Bose seems to have taken no heed to Savarkar’s first suggestion, but he possibly did discuss in detail the second one. [Footnote 3]

Bose would never mention his meeting with Savarkar, but he would the meeting with Jinnah. Elated about collaboration with Muslim League in Calcutta, Bose was optimistic of some understanding with Jinnah at national level, towards a “Hindu-Muslim Unity”. It was in background of similar initiatives Bose had taken up with Jinnah three years earlier when Bose was the Congress President.  As then, also now, Bose would not recognize the reality that Muslim League really represented the most popular Indian Muslim sentiment.  And as then, also now, Jinnah would insist that no understanding between League and Congress was possible without Congress realizing, whether they liked it or not, that Congress really represented a large body of Hindu opinion and Muslim League the large body of Muslim opinion; and a successful Hindu-Muslim alliance in shape of a Congress-League pact can be had, as was done at his own initative over 2 decades back by Tilak and League, only if Congress could shed the false grandiose notions of representing all Indians and denying League the right of representing Moslems.  Congressmen should shred the false notions, once and for ever, first that the Congress was a secular party representing not Hindus alone, and second, there were other groups besides League that could be the representative of the Moslems.  And then Jinnah pointed out that Bose was not even an official Congressman at the time, having been expelled from it, and enjoyed no locus standi to represent either the Congress or the Hindus for any formal agreement with Muslim League, who were bonafide and sole representatives of the Indian Muslims.  Bose would forever remain bitter at this, and would continue to dispute this claim, as comes out from his later speeches.

Continues to the concluding part, the Ghazis and Jehadis of Azad Hind

Foot Notes

1: Alivirdi Khan, maternal grandfather and predecessor of Siraj-ud-dowla was a chauth-paying vassal of Raghuji Bhosle, therefore hardly a sovereign.  Peshwa Bajirav II had subdued the rogue Raghuji, for which he had himself marched upto Murshidabad, Alivirdi standing before him in attendance, and he had plans for Bengal just when Panipat debacle took place.  In a letter he even says so far that he intended to reduce the nawabs of Bengal and Awadh to ‘pigeons without feather’ after taking care of Hyderabad and Hyder Ali.  But he made a great mistake in misjudging the British.  Indeed, one of the mistakes of Maharatta policy in failing to check the British was that the Peshwa did not send Maharatta support and reinforcement to Bengal, underestimating the mlechcHa power.

2: British had invented an ingenious way to pronounce the nawab siraj-ud-dawla’s name as ‘New-Web Sir-Roger-Dweller’)!

3: Rash Behari Bose, from whom Subhas Bose later took reigns of the INA, was in close communication with Savarkar since, at least, 1937 when Savarkar was freed by the British. Rash Behari was also engaged in establishing Hindu Mahasabha among the Indian Diaspora in East Asia. But it would not be correct to say that there was no independent initiative about going abroad on Bose’s part if credence is given to the theory that Shankarlal, a secretary of the Forward Bloc, had clandestinely travelled to Japan and had held meetings with Rash Behari Bose, returning sometime in the same month of June 1940. (Mihir Bose in his “Raj, Secrets, Revolution” quotes a British intelligence brief that mentions Shankarlal’s activity. PP 178)

February 10, 2011

Subhas Chandra Bose – Another Look Part 1: “The Seeds of Islamophile Secularism”

by Sarvesh K Tiwari

Some friends were recently wondering how Subhas Chandra Bose would have responded to Jehad. No different from the other secularists, when we said, it seemed to have offended or shocked them. Shocking obviously, since such is now the image of Subhas Bose in the Hindu psyche, which is best represented on the popular calendar art where he is seen rubbing shoulders with Shivaji and Pratap, sometimes like them riding a horse and carrying a sword or performing utsarga in front of Bhawani or Bharat Mata. The BJP-minded ones go so far as to even claim Bose as an icon of Hindutva, placing him alongside Syama Prasad Mookerjee and Savarkar. A couple of years back in a political campaign, L K Advani made, to use the words of Kanchan Gupta, an “audacious attempt to co-opt Subhas Chandra Bose in the pantheon of proponents of Hindutva”. Of course if they can dress up Jinnah as a secular icon, then Bose can rather easily take their Hindutva garb, the shift seems only logical.

Subhas Bose, no doubt, had a thorough Hindu outlook in life and was a religious Hindu, as is evident in his unfinished autobiography. Not only does he speak therein of his spiritual quests, but interestingly at one place also recounts an encounter with a Jesuit priest whom he convinced of superiority of Shankara’s philosophy over Christian dogma. At another point he says that later in his life when he failed to agree with or follow the concepts of Shankara, then rather than becoming hostile to Hindu thought or considering a non-Hindu philosophy, he sought and followed the other options available within Hindu dharma. To the impact of Aurobindo on his early life also he openly admits. Towards his last days in Singapore and Burma it is said that he would often go to the temples wearing traditional Hindu attire and spend hours in meditation at night. It is also said that he used to carry a pocketbook edition of bhagavadgita in the chest of his uniform during the day and while sleeping keep it under his pillow. In support of an armed struggle opposed to unconditional Ahimsa, he used to seek sanction from Mahabharata and his argument against Gandhian non-violence was basic, “How can we possibly accept Ahimsa as an inflexible principle of action, when Sri Krishna himself exhorted Arjuna not to run away from a righteous war, a dharma-yuddha?” It is also said by some who knew him, that like Tilak he also used to worship Kali or Bhawani before launching a major political campaign to gain divine blessing and strength.

All of this seems true enough, and would widely separate Bose from the garden variety of Nehruvian Secularists and Marxists who are, by design, hostile to the Hindu dharma without many exceptions.

And still, when it came to understanding Islam and its objectives, as a thinker and as a leader, it must be said that Bose was not very different from the other Marxist-Secularists. Bose is really an uncomforting case in point, that even deeply religious Hindus, of excellent intellectual gifts, untiring patriotism and great leadership acumen, can remain utterly gullible to the Islamic propaganda and keep causing self-injury to the nation. Bose remained deluded throughout his life when it came to understanding Islam, its goals & objectives and its history, and particularly its encounter with India. Laden with deluded understanding of Islam, great men only cause greater harm.

His beliefs in secularism were no different from the Gandhi variety and can be summed up as follows: a) without Moslem approval neither can Swaraj be won, and what is more, nor was it worth winning without their support; b) the onus of Hindu-Moslem unity lied on the shoulders of the Hindus alone, and the Hindus should be willing to make unlimited and extreme sacrifices to that end; c) only by adjusting to the Moslem sensibilities and removing their ‘misgivings’ was it possible to achieve that unity; and therefore d) appeasing Moslems should be made a core and visible part of any program, which is what he conscientiously belaboured to do throughout his political career. In his hostility to Hindutva also he was quite virulent just like the other Marxist-secularists.

Imprint of the above is visible throughout his career, from the 1920s when he started as a Bengal congressman under Deshbandhu’s wings, to 1930s when he rose to the central Congress as the Leftist rallying point and was elected its President for two consecutive terms, to the 1940s’ Azad Hind Fauj campaign and the events leading to the partition.

Subhas Bose began his career in the 1920s under the wings of Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das, the rising star in Bengal Congress, since Gandhi’s coup d’état at the center. As Gandhi’s deputy, the first significant program of Deshbandhu was his over-enthusiastic campaign for the holy cause of Khilafat. Most of the important leaders within Congress like Pandit Malaviya, Bipin Chandra Pal, Lajpat Rai, and Sardar Patel were clearly and rightly opposed to making Khilafat as a Congress program. Deshbandhu Das took it upon himself to open direct personal communications with them to garner their support to Khilafat. Malaviya refused to relent till the end, but Lajpat Rai finally acquiesced on the logic that if Britain came into possession or control of larger Moslem domains, it would only mean more Moslem influence on British policies, more moslem recruitment in armed forces, and undue pressure on India and Hindus.

Visionary Bipin Chandra Pal was opposed to congress taking up Khilafat. He later recorded in his Memories of My Life and Times, how he dreaded the “virus of pan-Islamism among the Indian Moslems” which Khilafat would invariably affect. In his 1921 presidential address, which was to be his last, Bipin Chandra Pal warned Gandhi against preferring hocus-pocus emotionalism over hard reasoning with his acidic speech, “you want to do magic while I try to give you logic.” (Bipin Chandra lived for another decade, but the rise in Central politics of Gandhi, and in Bengal of Deshbandhu Das and Bose brothers, practically elbowed out this visionary Hindu and hardliner of Lal-Bal-Pal fame, out of politics. He left Congress at this time, and died in 1932 in condition of abject poverty, refusing to accept help from his wealthy comrade Lajpat Rai. A true genius, one only needs to read his works to understand the depth of his understanding of Moslem question. It was the leaders like Pal and Lajpat Rai who could have won an Akhanda Swaraj, if such a thing was ever possible. It was largely under Pal’s influential leadership that Bengali Hindus defeated the Bengal partition of 1905. And today, while Bose brothers and Chittaranjan Das share between themselves a majority of prominent landmarks, roads, and establishments of Bengal to their name, Bipin Chandra Pal seems to have been almost deleted from the Bengali memory. We shall try to dedicate a separate exploration of Pal’s thought and work later. For now, let us return to Khilafat, Deshabandhu, and his deputy Subhas Bose.)

In justification of the rationale of generally aligning with the pan-Islamists, and using Islamic sentiments in Congress policy, Subhas Bose later wrote, “…Moplah Rebellion in Malabar in South India intensified the crisis… Afghanistan had entered into a treaty with Mustafa Kamal Pasha and this was followed by a treaty between Persia and Soviet Russia. In Egypt the nationalist Wafd Party of Syed Zaghlul Pasha was strong and active. Thus it was apparent that the entire Moslem world was combining against Great Britain and this had an inevitable reaction on Moslems of India…Government would be eager to compromise with Congress.”

While Khilafat movement failed, what it did achieve for the Moslems especially in Bengal was to only prove ruinous for the Hindus and India in the coming times. Muslim League, although born in Dhaka in 1906, did not have much of an organization nor support among Moslem masses in Bengal. Through the Khilafat agitation and over-enthusiastic support to it by Congress, there emerged a wide and deep fundamentalist Moslem organization across the state, same as all across India. It also created a renewed and distinctly radicalized Islamist consciousness among the younger Mohammedans — it would be this generation of Bengali Moslems incubated in the 1920s Khilafat Movement which in a couple of decades launched the Direct Action for Pakistan.

All these pro-Khilafatist Congress leaders in their fanciful secularist confusion utterly failed to recognize that underneath the Khilafat sentiment of Indian Moslems, there was absolutely no motivation for India’s own sake, but simply the emotional pan-Islam zeal which was in reality directly opposed to the wellbeing of India and could not have reconciled with the Indian Nationalism.

Subhas Bose was not against the principle of taking up Khilafat agitation, even in hindsight he only went so far as to regret its operating format. He wrote, “The real mistake in my opinion did not lie in connecting the Khilafat issue with the other national issues, but in allowing the Khilafat Committee to be set up as an independent organisation throughout the country, quite apart from the Indian National Congress…. If no separate Khilafat Committees had been organised and all Khilafatist Moslems had been persuaded to join the ranks of the Indian National Congress, they would probably have been absorbed by the latter when the Khilafat issue became a dead one.” And again at another place, “…the introduction of the Khilafat question into Indian politics was unfortunate. As has already been pointed out, if the Khilafatist Moslems had not started a separate organisation but had joined the Indian National Congress, the consequences would not have been so undesirable.”

Bose is only trying to put the blame somewhere else, to avoid recognizing the fundamentalism and separatism that is inherent in the Moslem psyche, behaviour, and creed. Because, at least in context of Bengal, right before Bose’s eyes, the above suggested line of his is what Bengal Congress under Deshbandhu had taken, that is to induct Khilafatist Moslems within the rank and file of Congress.

In name of Khilafat recruitment, Congress brought to its leadership positions within Bengal, such Moslems as Abdullahahel Baqi of Dinajpur, Muniruzzaman Islamabadi of Chitagong, Mawlana Akram Khan of 24-Parghanas, Shamsuddin Ahmed of Kushthia, and Ashrafuddin Ahmed Chowdhury of Tippera, some of which were quite openly fanatic. Most of these men would later wreck havoc on the Hindus, although Deshbandhu Das did not live to see it and Bose would not acknowledge it. Some of these like Mawlana Akram Khan were staunch Islamists and emerged as hardliners within the reinvigorated Muslim League in Bengal; he would later be instrumental in the making of (East) Pakistan.

Deshbandhu Das and Subhas Bose cultivated and helped Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy launch himself as a prominent politician of Bengal. Suhrawardy was the Secretary of the Khilafat Committee for a long time and along with the others he joined the Swaraj party bloc of Congress, by initiative of Deshbandhu. They jointly shared power in Calcutta Municipal Corporation after winning the elections of 1924, with Deshbandhu becaming the Mayor, Suhrawardy the Deputy-Mayor, and Bose the Chief Executive Officer. Soon, within a couple of years, like most other Moslems who had joined Congress during the Khilafat, Suhrawardy ditched it to pursue an illustrious career as a distinguished Muslim Leaguer. It would be under his watch as the Prime Minister of Bengal that the Direct Action in 1946 bathed Calcutta in blood; he would later become the fifth Prime Minister of the yet undivided Pakistan. But already in 1926 he was showing his colours when he stood by and defended the Muslim rioters who were arrested during the great Calcutta riot of that year, including personally intervening to secure bail of a notorious goon named Mina Peshawari, murderer of several Hindu slum-dwellers. Even after seeing the behavior of his enlightened Moslem colleagues, Bose would never realize the hoax of the so called ‘progressive Moslems’. He continued to persevere under this confusion till the end of his INA days when he would give leadership positions within Azad Hind Fauj to many such people who would later jump at the first opportunity and show their true Islamist colours. Secularists must be either extremely poor judges of characters, or bad learners from experience, or just way too optimistic.

Deshbandhu Das around this time made with the moderate Moslem leaders like Hakim Ajmal Khan what is known as the Bengal Hindu-Muslim Pact of 1923, which besides other things, for the first time anywhere in India, committed to providing reservations in the government jobs on a communal basis. In Bengal as many as 55% to 60% public jobs were agreed to be reserved for the Moslem candidates alone. This Bengal Pact although rejected by the national body of Congress in Kakinada that year from being adopted as an India-wide program, still established a policy direction in Congress for the time to come. Subhas Bose, a part of this program as a lieutenant of Chittaranjan Das, records, “Deshabandhu had drawn up an agreement between Hindus and Moslems, covering religious as well as political questions, but it had been rejected by the Coconada Congress in December 1923, on the ground that it conceded too much to the Moslems… There was a stormy debate and the political opponents of the Deshabandhu, joined by some reactionary Hindus, put up a formidable opposition.”

Lala Lajpat Rai was totally opposed to such a line. Having studied Islam in detail, he was convinced of the futility, and really the danger, of such policies being pursued by Bengal Congress. Around these days, in a secret letter to Deshbandhu Das, Lalaji wrote categorically, “I have devoted most of my time during the last six months to the study of Muslim history and Muslim Law and I am inclined to think that Hindu-Muslim unity is neither possible nor practicable… Assuming and admitting the sincerity of the Mohammedan leaders in the Non-Co-operation Movement, I think their religion provides an effective bar to anything of the kind. There is no finer Mohammedan than Hakim [Ajmal Khan] Sahab, but can any Muslim leader override the Koran? I can only hope that my reading of the Islamic Law is incorrect and nothing would relieve me more than to be convinced that it is so… I do honestly and sincerely believe in the necessity and desirability of Hindu-Muslim unity. I am also fully prepared to trust the Muslim leaders, but what about the injunctions of the Koran and the Hadis? The leaders cannot override them!” (A. Ghosh, Making of the Muslim Psyche, 1986)

Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, the literary genius and arguably the Father of the modern Indian Novel, also tried to talk sense to C R Das, his close friend. Like Lajpat Rai, Sarat Chandra was an astute student of the Moslem situation. He had recently toured the rural Bengal especially in the East where Hindus were a minority, and seen the pattern of behavior of the Moslems there. He rightly felt that far from bringing about any Hindu-Moslem unity, such placatory gestures of “sacrifice” were a slippery slope and would only make Moslem bullies see “success” of their hardened attitude and demand more and more until there was nothing left. Anxious that these policies would only bring disaster upon the Hindus in Bengal and for whole of India, he took up the issue with C R Das, who himself being an accomplished Bengali poet shared a cordial friendship of long standing with him. But Sarat Chandra’s discussions with C R Das proved futile. In a discussion Deshbandhu Das simply told Sarat Chandra that since Moslems were soon going to replace Hindus from power anyway by their demographics, it was a fait accompli, better would be for the Hindus to accept the fate and let it happen peacefully! (We shall return to Sarat Chandra again in a while)

Like Subhas Bose, Deshbandhu Das was a very religious Hindu in his personal life; his mansion in Calcutta always resounding with Kirtans of vaishnava mandali in which he used to actively participate. As a spiritual retreat, in the June of 1923, C R Das travelled to Pondicherry to briefly stay with Shri Aurobindo whom as his attorney he had eloquently and successfully defended in the Alipore Bombing case about fifteen years back. Aurobindo also tried to enlighten Deshbandhu Das about futility of his policy of making the so called Hindu Moslem unity as a prerequisite for the national movement. Das held on to his opinion and went on to say so much that unless the so called communal questions were settled, in his view he would not even like the British to leave! (So records a letter of Shri Aurobindo to Mother that month.)

But such ideology within Bengal Congress only got amplified with Subhas Bose and his elder brother Sarat Bose after the death of C R Das in 1925.

As the CEO of Calcutta Corporation, Subhas Bose outdid C R Das, who had only proposed 55% communal reservation that too in Moslem-majority districts which Calcutta was not. Subhas Bose appointed in Calcutta Corporation, 25 Mohammedans out of 33 vacant posts, not on the grounds of any merit, but for their creed. He said, “In (the) past Hindus have enjoyed what maybe regarded monopoly in matters of appointments. The claims of Mohammedans, Christains and Depressed Classes have to be favourably considered, though it is sure to give rise to a certain amount of heart-burning among the Hindu candidates.” So he left 8 seats for these Hindus of both “depressed class” and otherwise, and the Anglo-Indians.

There is another less known episode that begs recalling from these same years when Subhas Bose was the CEO of Calcutta Corporation and Deshbandhu Das the Mayor, and Bengal Congress comfortably in their control. There is a shrine of Tarakeshwar Mahadev at Serampur, not far from Calcutta, which is one of the most popular temples in Bengal. The shrine had enjoyed patronage and endowments from the local Hindu Jamindars and Rajas for at least the last three or four hundred years, and was headed by the traditional Giris, one of the ten dashanamis. Sometime around these days allegations were made of financial impropriety against Satis Chandra Giri, the reigning Mahant of the shrine. Deshbandhu C R Das got involved and launched a movement of agitation what Congressmen called as Tarakeshwar Satyagraha. Under his leadership, hundreds of Congress volunteers from Calcutta dawned upon the shrine and started doing blockade, dharna and arrests. In face of such ugly protests that went on for many weeks, Satis Giri retired, giving charge to his disciple Prabhat Giri. Deshbandhu also got the shrine to agree to come under a management board which would abide to Congress decisions, would disclose to them its financials, and agree to spend parts of its endowment and donations to secular causes of “various nation-building activities.”

Subhas Bose, who was an observer and a participant of these activities, wrote: “As in the case of other holy shrines, there was considerable property attached to the temple… there were allegations against the Mohunt of Tarakeswar with regard to his personal character and to his administration of the endowed property.… pressure was brought to bear on the Bengal Congress Committee…. Deshbandhu launched a movement for taking peaceful possession of the temple and the attached property, with a view to placing them under the administration of a public committee.…”

The temple remained in physical control of these Congress-satyagrahis until a third party of Hindus in Bengal, particularly the managers of the other temples under a body they formed called Bangal Brahman Sabha, filed a litigation against them in the Calcutta court. After a year of the heated legal battle, the Court finally decided in Sabha’s favour, asking congress workers to vacate the temple possession and hand it over to the Sabha and the new Mahant. But even now the Satyagrahis were in the attitude to defy the court order and continue their “satyagraha”. Gandhi had since beginning not liked this program and had even brought it up in a meeting with C R Das in Darjeeling that year. Finally he had to intervene and publish a signed appeal in Amrit Bazar Patrika on July 9, 1925 to call off the agitation and hand over the temple control. The then Bengal Governer wrote about this Tarakeshwar Satyagraha as ‘Hoax of a Movement’.

Bengal Congress gave it up but not without passing a resolution condemning the court order and the Bengal Brahman Sabha. Some years later, Congress minister Taraknath Mukherjee of Fazlul Haque government got a legislation passed in Bengal Assembly called the ‘Tarakeswar Temple Bill of 1941’, which explicitly set aside the earlier court verdict, and placed the temple management and its property under a public committee with government oversight, along with the provision to spend the excess temple funds for miscellaneous “social purposes”. The whole episode tells us something about the eagerness of those who call themselves secular to meddle in the temple management and its funds, then just like now.

All through, while the Bengal Congress was busy making the Muslim appeasement policies, the Bengal and especially the eastern Moslem-dominated rural parts continued to be rocked by riots. Many stories of atrocities, pillage, rape and temple-desecrations used to reach Calcutta. Major riots broke out in Calcutta itself in 1926, with prminent Moslems like Suhrawardy openly supporting the rioters as mentioned before, and it was in its wake that the 1926 session of Congress took place.

Krishnanagar Session of Bengal Congress in 1926 must have been a historic moment in a unique sense. Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay attended it as an observer, and presented a paper in Bangla on the Hindu-Moslem communal issue entitled ‘Bortoman Hindu-Musalman Somosya’. Backing up by sound arguments he made a strong pitch to Congress leaders that the unity of Hindus and Moslems was impractical in the ways they were trying, and the history of Islam in India does not support it. He argued that instead of pursuing the mirage of Hindu-Muslim unity, what was pertinent and more desired at the time, was unity within the Hindu community by putting to end the curse of treating a section of the Hindus as low castes. Said Sarat Chandra, “If we go by the lessons of history we have to accept that the goal of Hindu-Muslim unity is a mirage. When Muslims first entered India, they looted the country, destroyed the temples, broke the idols, raped the women and heaped innumerable indignities on the people of this country. Today it appears that such noxious behaviour has entered the bone-marrow of Muslims. Unity can be achieved among equals. In view of the big gap between the cultural level of Hindus and Muslims which can hardly be bridged, I am of the view that Hindu-Muslim unity which could not be achieved during the last thousand years will not materialise during the ensuing thousand years. If we are to drive away the English from India depending upon this elusive capital of Hindu-Muslim unity, I would rather advise its postponement.”

But Sarat Chandra would not have impressed Subhas Bose, who was at this time imprisoned in Burma, and his lessons in history were very different. Subhas Bose wrote, “…the distinction between Hindu and Muslim of which we hear so much nowadays is largely an artificial creation, a kind of Catholic-Protestant controversy in Ireland, in which our present-day rulers have had a hand. History will bear me out when I say that it is a misnomer to talk of Muslim rule when describing the political order in India prior to the advent of the British. Whether we talk of the Moghul Emperors at Delhi, or of the Muslim Kings of Bengal, we shall find that in either case the administration was run by Hindus and Muslims together, many of the prominent Cabinet Ministers and Generals being Hindus. Further, the consolidation of the Moghul Empire in India was effected with the help of Hindu commanders-in-chief.”

So, blame the British, blame the Hindu, blame everyone but the Moslems and the fundamental separatism that is inherent in Islam. At least Moslems had no such fancy ideas about the pre-British era being a Hindu-Moslem joint rule, and were clear that it was a Dar-ul-Islam-i-Hind which British and before them Marathas had subjugated, and which must be restored back by either driving away or supporting the British. As to the Hindu Generals in the Moghal Army, obviousely we dont expect Bose to have come across the Moslem historians like Badayuni and Mulla Shirin who gleefully explain the concept of how “Hindus (were made to) bear the sword of Islam”. One only wishes Bose had taken the benefit of consulting Jadunath Sarkar’s volumes on Awrangzib, Mughal era, and Shivaji, which were published only a few years back and might have given him better insights in Hindu-Muslim History.

Continued in the next post…

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