NOT ONLY ON NETAJI-INCOGNITO, ▬ BUT, NEHRU SNOOPED ON ALL THE MEMBERS OF ‘INA’, PARTICULARLY OF BOMBAY, FROM WHERE THE ‘NAVAL MUTINY OF 1946’ STARTED IN SUPPORT OF ‘INA’ 〜 ‘ANJAAN BANDAA’
Courtesy ‘Mumbai Mirror’ & ‘Shekhar Krishnan’
NOT JUST BOSE, BOMBAY TOO
Mumbai Mirror | Apr 19, 2015, 02.00 AM IST
1. A picture of Nehru and Bhosale (right) from the 8th May, 1946 edition of Bombay Chronicle; 2. Ayer (below) was Bose’s Propaganda Minister
By Shekhar Krishnan
Secret intercepts reveal the Nehru government kept close tabs on several of its own senior members, including high-ranking officials from the city.
India’s first government, led by Nehru and Patel, not only authorised snooping on the extended family of Subhas Chandra Bose well after Independence, but on many other ex-Indian National Army veterans, including prominent Mumbaikars who served as union and state ministers.
Mumbai Mirror has reviewed confidential documents that attest to sustained surveillance ordered by the Nehru government on its own functionaries.
Among the notables under watch were Jagannath Rao K Bhosale and SA Ayer, who together led the Bombay branch of the Indian National Army (INA) Relief & Enquiry (R&E) Committee established in 1946 at Congress House with Vallabhbhai Patel as its chair and patron. Recognised for his work with displaced Partition refugees and returning WWII veterans – and the road named for him in the 60s at Mantralaya – Bhosale was Bose’s Chief of Staff in the INA, and served as the Deputy Union Minister for Rehabilitation in Nehru’s cabinet from 1952.
Ayer was the Director of Information of the Government of Bombay from September 1946 until 1951, when he joined the Censor Board. A Bombay journalist since 1918, and the first Indian to head Reuters and Associated Press India, Ayer was a correspondent in Bangkok at the outbreak of WWII. He soon became a close associate of Bose and in October 1943 was appointed as both Propaganda Minister and member of the War Council of Bose’s Azad Hind Sarkar.
By the end of WWII in August 1945, the drop of atomic bombs, Japan’s immediate surrender, and the mysterious death of Bose a few days later, his myth had reached its peak just as the Allies (and excolonisers) deployed the tired and nearmutinous Indian Army to re-occupy the arc of territory under Mountbatten’s South East Asia Command (SEAC), derisively known as “Save England’s Asian Colonies”.
This was just as Nehru and Patel were being released after almost three years in prison in June 1945, and in Bose’s last words, “The roads to Delhi are many and Delhi still remains our goal”. Congress was soon supporting the INA, and demanding that Indian soldiers be repatriated to India immediately. Returning from Japan under military escort to Delhi in February 1946 – days after the mutiny of the Royal Indian Navy in Bombay – Ayer came to the city in March 1946 to re-unite with his wife and children in Matunga and meet Gandhi and Patel. He confirmed the death of Bose at a meeting organised by the South Indian Association, and reported in the Bombay Chronicle. “It is mere wishful thinking to believe that Netaji [Bose] would come back. I was with Col Habibur Rahman, who was in Netaji’s ill-fated plane, for full three months in Tokyo and in the Red Fort. He gave me graphic details of Netaji’s last moments at Taihoku”. The 30-year-old Rahman was then still in British detention in Berlin.
In April 1946 an INA Central R&E in Delhi co-opted Ayer as secretary along with Nehru, Patel, Sarat Chandra Bose, Amiya Nath Bose, INA veterans Shah Nawaz Dhillon, Prem K Sehgal and others to run relief centres and find jobs for over 3,000 veterans. Released from detention in the Red Fort in May 1946, Bhosale met Nehru and Gandhi and arrived to a hero’s welcome at Bombay Central, garlanded by representatives of Congress, Socialists, the Maratha community, and Hindu Mahasabha on special instruction of VD Savarkar. Bhosale announced his plans to setup a military training academy with help from Sarat Bose. En route to his native Sawantwadi in Sindhudurg, he was welcomed at Pune by over a hundred INA veterans, where he dispelled the mystery around Bose’s death, asserting in Pune “I, for one believe, Netaji is no more amongst us!” (Another INA speaker on the dais was less sure).
By July, he was working jointly with Ayer in Bombay, asking veterans to “rally round the Congress banner”. While Ayer approached his wide range of contacts to secure jobs for INA men – such as asking the Tatas to give aeronautic training at Juhu – Bhosale and other INA veterans, especially in Punjab, grew anxious for opportunities, sending petitions and ultimatums to the government. Bhosale lost his wife in September, and was left with two daughters. He began to organise gender, creed and caste-less training centres to prepare young volunteers for Bose’s “unfinished task” of national liberation. PK Sehgal threatened to “plunge into battle” if the British Cabinet mission in mid-1946 failed. During Bhosale’s tours across Maharashtra through late 1946, he was presented with massive monetary purses dedicated to INA veterans’ wellbeing.
Apart from Ayer who was now directing publicity for the Bombay Government – the same office he held for Bose in the Azad Hind Sarkar – Congress sought to distance itself from the INA veterans. But by early 1947, Bhosale’s speeches had turned more militant, as Rahman and the other INA prisoners from Germany returned and Partition was announced by Mountbatten. “We are defeated again,” he told a newspaper in June. Deploring the dismemberment of India’s multi-ethnic army, and referring to difficult times ahead, Bhosale demanded a General Assembly for the masses and a Council of Action of leaders of all faiths. He then called for “an army of two lakhs thoroughly trained martial Marathas” to defend Hindustan against its neighbours – both Muhammad Ali Jinnah in Pakistan and the Nizam in Hyderabad. According to declassified intercepts, during this time and well after Independence, Bhosale maintained correspondence with Sarat Bose, who had resigned from Congress’s Interim Government to protest the Partition of Bengal.
By late 1947, as Pakistan was born but many princely states remained undecided, Bhosale was raising cadets and officers for his new INA, and attempting to recruit volunteers across the border in Hyderabad. Feted by several rulers, it was rumoured Bhosale was organising INA armies for their states. Intercepted communication reveals he continued using the Bombay letterhead of the INA R&E, Congress House, Lamington Road, with Home Minister Patel’s name on top. He also now signed his name below as a member of Bose’s erstwhile party, Forward Bloc, which had just come above ground and were raising funds and recruits briskly – the CID noted with concern that in October 1947, in Bombay Bhosale raised 35 lakhs (with one donor alone giving five).
Bhosale remained under intensive surveillance throughout 1948 (see Memo No. 7940/PM, 868/47; inset), when Bose’s Socialist Republic Party and the Forward Bloc severed all ties with Congress. Police recorded several letters (some with relief parcels) to fellow veterans in Japan in 1948 complaining bitterly – one from Hyogo-ken was surprised to learn that the returning INA were not the “pets of the Indian public”. In March, Bhosale launched a petition campaign against Nehru’s “unjust and ruthless” award of Rs 30 lakh for all the INA officers, which left nothing for either civilians or the women of the Rani of Jhansi Regiment. In the Constituent Assembly, Nehru also denied re-instatement of INA personnel with their ranks, arrears and positions in the independent Indian Army, as had been done with other Indian soldiers and POWs. “It is no fault of ours that the Government of India did not take the earliest opportunity to give us the same facilities as were given by the British to their loyal POWs at India’s expense,” he said.
Bhosale wrote to Sarat Bose in April 1948 (inset) inviting him to Bombay for a national conference, and enclosing a draft text to be sent to contributors to the INA protesting Nehru’s reward and refusing to close down the INA relief centre. Intercepts between Bhosale and an INA veteran from Delhi, CJ Stracey, instruct him to be ready to call a cross-party convention with help from the Socialists. Bhosale warned that the founders of the pre-Bose INA, Gurbaksh Dhillon and Mohan Singh were “exploiting the INA name” in Bombay by starting a new organisation for “military-minded” youth, the Desh Sevak Sena.
This set-off alarm bells, according to a Lucknow CID intercept of a letter to Sehgal. In the summer of 1948, as the brutal “police action” Operation Polo was being planned to depose the Nizam, Nehru approached Sehgal and Ayer to forestall more agitations by INA veterans. In September, as Hyderabad was annexed to India, Bhosale was drafted into Government Refugee Rehabilitation Officer, sent to camps in western India, now crowded with emigrants from Pakistan. Still prone to battle-cries, in Nasik he suggested they should form a “Sindhi Army Front” to help the Indian Union. In June 1949, the Madras CID found a Tamil pamphlet by Bhosale decrying a circular by “Army Officers of Free India” banning the display of photos of Netaji in military camps.
In the 1952 elections, Bhosale joined Nehru’s cabinet as Union Deputy Minister for Rehabilitation, though he remained under observation and his file in “H” Branch stayed open. So did Ayer, who in 1951 became the central officer of the Censor Board in Bombay. During his background check, an officer wrote asking IB if his pre-1947 records should be retained or destroyed. Under orders from IB until 1954 – for reasons unclear – Ayer was under “discrete but strict” surveillance, when he went to the Madras on deputation from the Information and Broadcasting Ministry. In the early 60s, he helped start and chaired the Netaji Research Bureau in Calcutta. It is the luck of the historian that even until the late 60s, there was no internal reply on the destruction of his file.
SHEKHAR KRISHNAN is with the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR). His maternal grandfather worked in the Bombay Police from 1944 to 1960.
The home ministry fears that there will be a law and order problem in the country if the files are declassified, particularly in West Bengal. It’s not as worried about a fallout in relations with other countries
– ANUJ DHAR, former journalist and author of India’s Biggest Cover-Up
The BJP today is definitely taking a stand that this is really surprising and shocking. Already, on the dimension of snooping, research that has come out. I feel that till 2010-11 snooping has become a part of Congress’ DNA
– Nirmala Sitharaman, Union Commerce Minister
There’s unlikely to be anything in the files that can cause a diplomatic issue, considering most events took place more than 50 years ago. At the most, it will be mildly embarrassing for some. But the issue is part of a larger problem about the management of archives… it limits the resources a historian has access to. In the absence of facts, it’s not possible to take a balanced decision which is why there are so many conspiracy theories
– PATRICK FRENCH, historian and author of India: A Portrait
The declassified information needn’t paint a glorious picture of Netaji. It may say something negative. In all probability, it will. We must not shirk from the truth even if it adversely affects Netaji’s image. The family is ready to face it
– SURYA BOSE grandson of Netaji’s elder brother Sarat Chandra Bose, and son of Amiya Nath Bose, who was among those under watch
The prime minister and home minister must explain as to why only “notings on the file” of the two declassified files have been released while the “correspondence portion” of these files were withheld. Does the correspondence portion contain some inconvenient truth that PMO has chosen to withhold?
– ABHISHEK SINGHVI Congress spokesperson