New Delhi, Freedom fighters or British Army deserters? This was a poser put forth by the information watchdog to the Home Ministry on the status of those who were part of Subash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army (Azad Hind Fauj).
The case came up for hearing before Information Commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu as Right to Information applicant Prodyot Kumar Mitra could not get details on the status of the INA soldiers who had marched with Bose to fight the occupying British forces and their allies.
Directing the Home Ministry to furnish an answer to the applicant within a month of the order issued on February 13, the Information Commissioner pointed out that “the MHA should have taken the responsibility of answering the question regarding revoking of the social stigma attached to the INA veterans”.
He said it was necessary to clarify the doubt why INA veterans should not be considered freedom fighters and whether the Home Ministry was ready to provide the benefits like pension to the members of INA.
The application filed on August 26, 2014 was first transferred to CPIO, Ministry of Defence which further transferred it to Department of Ex-Serviceman Welfare and finally to the Ministry of Home Affairs which again passed it on to the National Archives.
Four months after Mitra filed the application, National Archives offered inspection of records and asked him to cull out the desired information and documents.
Acharyulu noted that the Home Ministry was right in transferring the RTI application to the National Archives as far as records are concerned.
However, he opined that the Home Ministry was under obligation to explain the logic or reason behind neglecting the members of INA led by Netaji and rejecting them the status of freedom fighters.
The Indian National Army was founded by prisoners of wars of British Indian Army captured by the Japanese in Singapore, Malaysia and other countries of Southeast Asia during the World War II.
The main task of gathering them and forming the INA was carried out by Rashbehari Bose, one of the stalwarts of the freedom movement.
He gave the mantle to Netaji, who took over the leadership of this army in 1943. It was declared to be the army of the Azad Hind, the provisional government formed by Netaji. Huge funds, jewellery and other valuables were donated by Indians living in these countries for the struggle which was being launched at the call of Netaji.
The army comprising ex-prisoners and volunteers marched with the Imperial Japanese army against British forces in South East Asia.
The INA led a campaign through Burma till Imphal and Kohima and formed a government in Moirang in Manipur by unfurling the national tricolour in the town.
However, the campaign was not successful facing stiff resistance from British Indian Army as well as the US allies in Kohima and Imphal.
A joint court-martial of hundreds of captured INA soldiers, led by Colonel Prem Sehgal, Colonel Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon, Major General Shah Nawaz Khan, was held during 1945- 46 at the Red Fort.
Leaders of independence movement Jawaharlal Nehru, Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, Kailashnath Katju, Bhulabhai Desai, Asaf Ali, along with Muslim league defended the comrades of Bose despite difference of ideology.
However, none of the INA soldiers were inducted in regular army of India.
The famous INA trial sparked off massive unrest across the country, including the strike by the ratings (sailors) and officers of the Royal Indian Navy and Air Force — from the ports of Mumbai and Karachi to Madras, Vishakhapatnam and Calcutta in February 1946. The airmen too struck work at various places including Karachi and Kalaikunda (now in West Bengal).
Historians termed this unrest as “the last nail in the coffin” of the British Empire.