Azad Hind Government's preparations for the final encounters with British
In Oi Mahamanab Ase a great thinker and military strategist had remarked (translated from original Bengali), "I had great hope that when we cross Burma, Bengal will rise like a single person - To a man. When the British commander was trying to despatch the signed surrender information of the Staff Command in a sealed envelope - that we (the British) are surrendering, at that very moment four men entered there. So order went to the front, 'Do not surrender, their condition is unenviable, pitiable.' Wheel of fortune turned." He was possibly referring to the desertion from INA that resulted in turning the tide in favour of the Allied forces in Imphal. The inability of the Japanese and the INA to break through into Assam and Bengal also undermined the strategy of fomenting internal revolutions through secret service activities from the Indian cities. The secret service agents sent, including S.N Chopra and Dr. Pabitramohan Roy were captured owing to betrayals. Atleast 23 secret agents were sentenced to death. INA had also lost the propaganda war to the British as no news regarding their tremendous feat and the defeat of the allied forces in the North Eastern hills was allowed to be circulated. Instead people of India had got an impression that British were locked in a desperate battle with Japanese and Netaji's troops mainly acted as the fifth column of the Japanese. Together with the British the communists also carried out the same propaganda and it was impossible for ordinary people to get the true picture of the heroism of the INA.
The withdrawal of troops had started from all the fronts. INA was not defeated, it was still victorious, but it did not have supply lines, its soldiers were worn out from fatigue and diseases, and rains and aerial attacks would lead to a decimation on the plains as enemy had been able to reinforce their supplies. Therefore it was decided not to go ahead with the attack of Imphal and instead return to the base camps. As per the narratives of Maj. Gen. A.C Chatterjee, "troops from Kohima front under Lt. Col. Shah Nawaz Khan came down on foot as far as Sittang, from where they went to Chindwin river and crossed over to Kindat. from there a large no. of them went by foot along the river and reached Kalewa and then to Budlin. Men carried sick men and many of them perished on the way. This march will ever remain an epic of willing suffering, determination and patriotism."
Troops under Lt. Col. I.J Kiani came down the Manipur Hills to Moray, to the Sittang or Kabaw valley and went to Yeu. Troops under Col. S.A Malik came down via Tiddim to Kalewa and crossed Chindwin. The troops that greatly suffered were ordered to proceed directly to Mandalay and were admitted in the hospital in Mandalay. Those who were serious were sent to the base hospital in Maymyo. Other parts of the troops, mainly from first and third brigades had taken up defensive position at Budlin and Minjun to check enemy advance. The enemy however could not take much advantage of the retreat. Netaji publicly admitted the failure of the Imphal offensive in a radio address from Rangoon on August 21. He blamed the early onset of the monsoon for the debacle. He summarized that until the rains began, INA had held the enemy in Arakan, Haka-Falam, advanced in Kaladan, Tiddim, captured Palel aerodrome and went until Kohima, raised flag in Moirang and held Bishnupur against a well equipped enemy that vastly outnumbered INA. He vowed to regorup to fight the next round.
Netaji came to visit the patients in the hospital by September. He was deeply affected by hearing their stories of a miserable retreat, the sufferings and the losses. The troops were beside with joy by seeing Netaji coming to visit them. Netaji visited several camps and raised the morale of the troops who were raring to go back to fight again on recovery. The nurses of the Rani Jhansi regiment like Bela Dutta did a stellar job of looking after the wounded and the sick, hastening their recovery. Rallies and meetings were held to rouse the enthusiasm and the motivation of the civilians who were disappointed by the failure of the troops to achieve their objective. Netaji also visited the Maymyo and stayed there looking after the expansion of the hospital. Netaji arranged for entertainment sessions for the troops and sat down for a special dinner with them. The British airforces now started mission to attack the INA bases in Mandalay and Maymyo. In several cases INA men and Rani of Jhansi troops were saved miraculously from being bombed, even though their buildings got destroyed. Intelligence reports were received regarding the advance of the enemy to the east bank of the Chindwin river. Netaji and his key men moved to Rangoon. Netaji held a cabinet meeting in Rangoon. He summarized that the INA had learned through the "baptism of fire". He cited the desertions of British Indian troops to INA and also highlighted the positive developments like the increase in confidence of the Japanese leadership on the combat capabilities of INA, obtaining information about the strength of the enemy and reiterated the weak points like the supply, transport and lack of propaganda units in the front. The cabinet decided unanimously to continue with the struggle until India got her liberation. Netaji decided to form a small war council which was made the sole coordinating authority for all war efforts. A.C Chatterjee was its Secretary and later that role was taken up by M.Z Kiani as Chatterjee had to take up the work of the Foreign Office. The council consisted of, apart from Netaji himself and Chatterjee, Bhonsle, M.Z Kiani, Col. Aziz Ahmed, Col. Ehsan Qadir, Col. Habibur Rahman, Col. Gulzara Singh, Paramanand, N. Raghavan, Col. I.J Kiani, and Shah Nawaz Khan. On October 9, Bose had an invitation from Japan's new prime minister General Koiso, requesting him to visit Tokyo. Netaji also decorated his soldiers in a special ceremony and awarded many of them posthumously for their exceptional bravery. He again encouraged the civilians for total mobilization as the troops would redouble their effort to capture Imphal.
Azad Hind Day and the Provisional Government Day celebration rallies were planned between 16th and 22nd October. On 18th October, Netaji had a miraculous escape in Rangoon. While reviewing his troops in the parade ground at Mingaladon outside Rangoon, he was standing on a big raised platform. High ranking army officers were standing behind him and huge Tri colours were flying. Japanese aeroplanes were flying overhead to defend against any possible incursion. About 4000 troops were paraded. An enemy bomber appeared suddenly and the pilot fired a machine gun in front of him to the cars, no shot was fired on the troops that were marching. Netaji refused to come down despite repeated pleas from his men as he had firmed up his mind to die standing and facing the impending death rather than succumbing to it while trying to escape. Anti aircraft guns of the Japanese tried to take the plane down but failed. One INA man was killed by a deflected AAG fire. Another enemy plane appeared and Netaji issued an order for the dispersal of his parading troop to ensure their safety. Enemy started firing machine guns and dropped grenades but not a single INA man was injured and Netaji was safe. Evidently there were British spies around who had informed their bosses on the parade.
Azad Hind Government now took up the job of equipping its own men with the transports needed. Since motorized transports were largely unavailable, bullock carts were used and depots were created at suitable distances. Paramanand became the new minister of Supplies. They received a lot of help from the local Sindhi merchants who had volunteered to serve in the Azad Hind Dal. Netaji visited Tokyo with Maj. Gen. Kiani, Col. Habibur Rahman and Maj. Gen. A.C Chatterjee. He wanted to take his other officers but could not do so on account of non availability of suitable transport. They stopped in Bangkok and Saigon, and reached Hainan. According to Maj. Gen A.C Chatterjee, there they met a few prisoners of war of the Japanese who wanted to join the INA. Netaji also donated two thousand dollars for a Japanese hospital. They reached Tokyo after passing through Taihoku. In the aerodrome in Tokyo there was a large gathering of the Japanese civil and military officers including Sugiyama, the war minister and Shigemitsu, the foreign minister. This proved the status and the respect that the Japanese accorded to Netaji despite the apparent debacle. Netaji met the premier on the very first day of his ten day stay and met the other ministries like the Foreign Office, the war Office, Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Navy. A state dinner was given by the premier, Gen. Koiso who reaffirmed Japan's vow to help in the liberation of India. He also affirmed that Japan had no material interest or ambitions in India and did not want any special favour in return for the help. Another dinner was given by Shigemitsu. Prof. Toyoma, of the Black Dragon Society, who had given shelter to Rash Behari Bose, had died couple of days earlier. His deputy came to meet Netaji. Tojo presented a sword to Netaji. Netaji also met the famous Japanese poet Noguchi. The highlight of the visit to Tokyo was an audience by the Japanese emperor Hirohito to Netaji.
Major General A.C Chatterjee recalls in his book that Intense negotiations were carried out in the next few days in the Imperial Hotel of Tokyo where the guests were shifted from the Foreign Office guest house. It was decided that the Japanese Government would continue give all out support to the Azad Hind Provisional Government in its struggle for the independence of India, The Provisional Government would establish a department of foreign affairs for the direct negotiation of all political matters with the Tokyo and this branch of Hikari Kikan should be abolished as far as India was concerned. A large supply of medicines were provided to the Azad Hind Government. The team of visitors also went to visit the places of importance for a new India that they envisioned, like the educational institutions and the universities, facilities of military training, hospitals and research institutes, and were impressed by the advancements made by Japan, esp. in providing nutritional food to its citizens, including the foreigners. Netaji was very glad to meet his Tokyo cadets in the Military Academy, a select group of young men whom he had hand picked for military and air force training in Tokyo for the future needs of the INA, from Malaya, Burma and Singapore. He had an interaction session with each of them and also took dinner with them. Netaji also addressed the students and the faculty of the Tokyo University. He pointed out that after independence the main battles facing India would be national defence, poverty eradication and providing education for all. He also advocated regional cooperation and urged Japan to take the lead in Asia. From Tokyo, the team went to Shanghai where a public reception was given to the Netaji by the members of the Indian Independence League and the Indian community, which was also attended by the Mayor of Shanghai and Chinese and Japanese military authorities. Netaji also reviewed the performance of the members of the Azad Hind Volunteer force. Medicines and Drugs worth million yens were purchased from Bayer & Co. and were despatched to Singapore. Netaji also reviewed the contingent of the Rani of Jhansi regiment under training in Shanghai. New men were inducted from among the civilian volunteers. The training centres in Ipoh, Kua La Lumpur, Penang, Singapore and Rangoon were enhanced and intake were increased. The number of men reached almost fifty thousand and the second division of the Fauj was sent to the Burma front. A division three was set up under Col G.R Nagar.
Netaji also wanted to establish contact with Russia and he had asked Anand Mohan Sahay to meet Russian Ambassador to Japan, Jacob (Yakov) Malik. From Tokyo, Netaji also tried to make a series of broadcasts to the United States and told his American friends that he had to take help from Japan since no other superpower came forward to help India. There are other unconfirmed reports that say that he himself met Jacob (Yakov) Malik and sought Russia's help in continuing with the revolutionary activities of his army. As an astute military and political observer he knew that the days of the Japanese were numbered and they would not be in a position to help much in the long run. He reached out to USA to soften their stance on INA, but to continue fighting his army needed money, equipment and above all large quantities of sophisticated arms and ammunition which could only be obtained from Russia. There are other unverified documentary claims that in December 1944, he himself went to Russia for three weeks and met Stalin to make arrangements for his future plan (of escaping to Russia in the event Japan surrendered to the Allied forces). But this is not reflected in any of the contemporary memoirs or letters. Writes Kanailal Basu in his book Netaji: Rediscovered, that Prof. Purabi Roy handed over a copy of a letter written by Netaji to Yakov Malik in Nov 1944, to Col. Hugh Toye, which greatly surprised Toye as he was not aware of it.
On Nov 29 he wrote a letter to the Tokyo cadet students that "he had no son of his own" and they were more than sons to him as they had dedicated their lives to the cause that was the one and only one goal of his life, to liberate India. Netaji returned to Burma on January 10, en route via Bangkok.
Rashbehari Bose, the architect of INA and one of the key revolutionaries who had dreamt of a free India and gave his life for that cause, died on 21st January in a hospital in Tokyo. His son had died in the battle and his daughter was with his in laws. He was honoured by the Japanese Emperor Hirohito with the second order of the merit decoration and sent the royal vehicle for carrying his body. Subhas ordered all the flags of the provisional Government to fly half mast in recognition of the great loss. M.Z Kiani presided over a condolence meeting by the war council. After his return from his long trip, Netaji at a press conference reminded the assembled newsmen that the war had proceeded by stages. "The Anglo-Americans are overextended," he said. "Their losses at sea and in the sky have been enormous, and cannot easily be replaced. In any case, it is not material power that will decide this conflict, but spiritual force—in which they are notoriously deficient. The third stage will be decisive. In it we Indians must play our rightful part. The struggle will be hard, harder than last year’s, for in Burma the enemy’s strength is more than it was and grows greater daily. But Imphal has taught us something precious. Imphal has taught us that we can defeat the British. Had the rains not intervened, we should by now have occupied the Manipur basin and be descending into the plains. Imphal has given us the knowledge and the certainty that in the fight for independence, which Indians at home will join as soon as they receive the call, we shall ultimately prevail. It is in this spirit of confidence that we enter the new year."
As per Azad Hind reports, on 8 January Netaji inaugurated a new dormitory for the orphans in Ramakrishna Mission Orphanage Home at 179, Bartley Road, in the presence of a large gathering of Indians. Swami Bhaswarananda, the president of the Ramakrishna Mission in Singapore said that the Orphanage was established at the request of Netaji himself and Indian Independence League had contributed $ 30,000 for the construction of the building (source: Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and the Indian Liberation Movement in East Asia, Priyadarshi Mukherjee). Netaji had lauded the work of the Mission in India and elsewhere and outlined his hope that the Home would also accommodate the children whose parents were looking forward to join the independence movement.
In the third week of January an intensive drive for funds collection was launched. A.C Chatterjee was sent to Bangkok for raising funds. A committee was established for celebrating the birthday of Netaji on a large scale, with Karim Ghani, and Habib as secretary and chairman resp. The main idea was to raise funds for the Government work. On 23rd January, 1945, Netaji's birthday was celebrated with great elan in Rangoon and against the wishes of Netaji it was decided by his admirers to collect funds in gold equivalent to his weight. More than double that quantity was collected. Writes S. A Ayer in the "Story of I.N.A", "They (People) organised the celebration of a Netaji Week on a grand scale in Rangoon. Netaji stood on the dais flanked by his ministers. An unending procession of men, women and children walked up to the dais and presented him with trays laden with gold and silver, jewelry and trinkets. Some young men from the Janbaaz or suicide squad, who had nothing else in this world to offer gave a pledge written in blood, offering their lives at the altar of their motherland. This was the symbolic response of Indian youth in all East Asia to Netaji's call: "Give me blood and I will give you freedom." Major Swami and his special group were active for sabotaging the allied pipeline in North Burma. Bose devised an elaborate plan with Swami to send agents with wireless sets behind the enemy lines.
The Government of Siam under Maj. Khuong Aphoyvongse, invited Netaji for a state visit to Siam. Subhas was given a huge reception in Siam between 16 and 19 January. He also carried out major restructuring in his organization. February 4 was regarded as Army Day and INA commemorated its success in Imphal. A.C Chatterjee was appointed as a Foreign Minister by Netaji on February 5, 1945. He was also elevated to the rank of Major General along with Bhonsle, Kiani and Loganadhan. Netaji also promoted Shah Nawaz Khan, Gulzara Singh, Habibur Rahman, Aziz Ahmed, G.R Nagar and Alagappan to full Colonel rank. Netaji arrived in Bangkok with Habibur Rahman and S.A Ayer and was received by the premier and the high ranking officials with a Guard of Honour. He paid a courtesy call to the regent of the minor king. A State Banquet and a Cultural Programme was organized for him by the Premier. The Indian community was also present in large number and felicitated Netaji. Afterwards Maj. General Chatterjee stayed back for the collection of funds and Netaji returned to Rangoon. Mr. Hatchia, Japanese Ambassador had arrived in Rangoon but Netaji did not want to meet him until he had the credentials like the letter of authority from the Japanese Government. This was the first time that Japan had to present credentials for an Ambassador or its Minister to a Provisional Government. This again demonstrates the amount of respect and importance that the Japanese gave to Netaji. It took sometime before the documents arrived. On 1 February, Netaji donated a sum of Rs 500,000 to the Burmese National Defence fund.
In the meanwhile the British forces were advancing rapidly to Burma. They were nearing the Chindwin river and had taken up positions on the banks of the Iravati river. Hospitals in the Maymyo were being evacuated in anticipation of an attack. Mandalay had been fortified for a prolonged defence. The hospital at Monywa was closed and transferred to the Ziwawadi. It was decided to send the no. 2 division to the Popa Hills.