The Great Tactical Retreat
Late evening of 24th April, a moonlit night, saw the convoy of trucks and cars leaving Rangoon. The cars and trucks were camouflaged with foliage to hid themselves from the frequent sorties of the bombers. The progress was slow as every hour the party had to jump out of their vehicles and take cover when they heard the noise of the aeroplanes approaching. The Japanese while retreating had set fire to Pegu and the ammunition dump there. While Netaji's convoy was approaching Pegu, an intense battle was raging between the INA battalion commanded by Major L.S Mishra, hero of the Arakan victory, and the British Indian army. Mishra and his men held the enemy steadfastly until Netaji's convoy was safely out of Pegu and sacrificed their lives in their endeavour. Writes S.A Ayer, "We were literally living every moment of our lives in those hours." Several times death had missed them by the whiskers. From Pegu the party moved towards Waw, further East. Netaji was saved miraculously from the machine gun fires and the bombers more than once. While crossing the river, the vehicles got caught in the mud and Netaji's car was sinking in a deep pond. Netaji had extricated himself to safety, his car was pulled out and the journey resumed. The pace was slow as the road was choked with the Japanese lorries. The convoy tried to take a short cut to the Waw river and lost each other in the process. All the men and the lorries had to cross the river by ferries by night to avoid the bombers. Netaji did not want the Ranis to wait and asked Major Swami and Col. Shaukat Malik to arrange for the girls to cross the river on foot. Netaji and his men kept waiting patiently for the ferry. When the ferry was not available and the night was almost over he insisted that his men should cross over and he himself was the last man to do so. Netaji was so oblivious of the threats to his own life that he ensured a safe shelter for the girls and his men and slept out in the open, despite the heavy bombing and machine gun fires around him. During that twenty one day trek, they walked through all the nights as the trucks got stuck in the mud, often stayed in dilapidated houses where they could cook some meals, and took cover during the day to escape the continuous machine gun bullets wheezing past them. Moment the convoy had left Rangoon, Netaji's only concern was to ensure safety of the Rani of Jhansi girls, among them was feisty Janaki Thevar, whose diaries also provide valuable information about the journey. Thevar notes that Netaji never rested, he looked into the minutest details of the planning and arrangements himself, issued instructions and ensured that all his men and the Ranis were safe. Thevar remembers for instance how she observed Netaji limping, and when he was forced to open his boots by the girls, they were horrified to see his feet all swollen and painful from blisters, yet not a single moment he had rested or complained of any pain. Netaji carried his own pack, like his girls, who carried their own heavy packs and rifles as well. Ayer says, "I saw Netaji in his unique greatness, combining the highest qualities of soldier, statesman, leader, man and greatest of all, humanitarian, in those unforgettable three weeks of peril in the jungles on the Burma-Thai border. He never, even for a moment, cared for his own life. All the time he thought only of the safety and minimum necessary comfort of the men who were marching with him. He attended to every little detail about the lorries and cars in the convoy, about the ration of rice and dal available at each halt, about the drinking water from the nearest well or pond, in fact every little detail that mattered. " They crossed the Sittang river safely as the thousands of Japanese crowding for the ferry had given priority to them, possibly as they had Major General Isoda of Hikari Kikan with them. On the other bank INA men were waiting to take them to a nearby shelter. Bhaskaran, Netaji's confidential steno from his Singapore days, was there too. They dreaded both the day time and moon lit nights because of the advantage both offered to the enemy bombers. There were mistakes too. A Japanese civilian diplomatic officer, who was a true friend of the Indian independence and an ardent admirer of Netaji, was bayoneted by mistake by the INA soldiers and Netaji was very upset about it. The Anti Aircraft battery station in which Netaji and his men were resting, was targeted by heavy machine gun fire. Netaji had yet another miraculous escape, but Nazir Ahmed, ADC to Maj. General Chatterjee, was injured in the thigh. Despite all attempts to take utmost care of him, he died in Moulmein hospital ten days later. As almost all cars were on the other bank of Sittang river, Netaji and his team decided on a forced march to Moulmein, en route to Bangkok. Major General Zaman Kiani was in charge of the party. Kiani later recollected that after giving him the charge, Netaji became a willing follower of his commands, thus confirming Swami Vivekananda's quote, "He who knows how to obey knows how to command."
The Forced March and Ordeal of 21 days
It is to be noted that Netaji had the option of taking a plane ride to Bangkok as he had a private aeroplane at his disposal. But instead he chose to undergo a forced march with his troop and colleagues, and shared their pains and ordeals, completely oblivious of his own suffering.
Netaji and his party were joined en route by Japanese General Isoda and Ambassador Hachiya, followed by about forty Ranis and about hundred soldiers. Every half and hour there were air raid alarms and the troop dispersed quickly and retook their positions immediately after, in a disciplined way. They took shelter in a jungle, with Major General Bhonsle joining them with the remaining Ranis. Reminisces Ayer, "The Head of the State, Premier and Foreign Minister of the Provisional Government of Azad Hind, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, on the historic retreat from Rangoon to Bangkok, sat under a tree on a blanket that was spread on the ground full of dust and dead leaves." He continued, "All these days he showed a wonderful poise and equanimity of mind and rarely lost his temper. He was completely unruffled and quite cool even in the face of the most provocative foolishness on the part of someone or the other." The Ranis had helped the men in cooking and serving. They had carried a heavy luggage themselves on their back and walked, shoulder to shoulder, with their male comrades, like true revolutionaries. Few lorries were available for transporting them from Kyauktaw village and Ayer, Chatterjee and few others hopped on but Netaji did not. Says Hugh Toye about Bose's decision to travel with his men, ‘Do you think,’ he burst out at the Japanese walking with him, ‘that I am Ba Maw of Burma that I will leave my men and run for safety?’ On the moonlit night again enemy bombers flew past them but could not see them. A Company of soldiers led by Major Surajmal, the hero from the Modawk battle, also arrived. The lorries had missed their appointed rendezvous points and Netaji lost his temper as he was extremely concerned about the welfare of the men. On the way, the Burmese National Army guerrillas, had fired on a troop of Japanese soldiers, but they did not touch Netaji's team. The party safely reached Moulmein on the eastern bank of the Salween river. Crossing the river was a dangerous experience for Ayer and the Ranis. Chatterjee and Kiani had arrrived in Moulmein a day earlier to make arrangements. They had encountered massive bombing and machine gun attacks but had escaped injuries. Netaji arrived by crossing the Moulmein river during daytime despite heavy enemy aeroplanes sorties and bombing, on May 3. During the course of their stay in Moulmein, Netaji gathered all the party members and gave a morale boosting speech, asking them to think about the future tasks that lay ahead in Bangkok. Chatterjee proceeded to Siam by train with a contingent of the RJR girls. Netaji was to come by car. The local Indian population had requested him to leave some Azad Hind army behind for protection and he made arrangements for the same. The Ranis and the accompanied men were packed in the trains like sardines. The trains moved by the night and during the daytime remained in the sidings in the jungles. Also in between they had to walk ten to fifteen miles at a stretch as the bridges were destroyed. Major General Bhonsle had accompanied about thirty people, including Ayer, in another train. Netaji reached Bangkok a day ahead of his men, on May 15. He got himself a cup of tea and immediately got onto work, instructing the League members to meet his men who were struggling to find their ways to reach Bangkok. Pandit Raghunath Shastry, Shewakram Mehtani and other prominent businessmen and League members had willingly given up their own cottages for the stay of Netaji and his men. There they were joined by approximately six hundred men from X Regiment, led by Col. Thakur Singh, who were force marched from Pyinmana to Moulmein and then traveled by the railroads.
In Bangkok - Responding to the changed circumstances
The theater of the world was changing rapidly. Germany had surrendered to the allied forces on May 7. Mussolini was executed on April 28 and Hitler committed suicide on 30th April, with Goebbels following him. Japan had not given up. It had continued to fight despite the debacles and defeat in Philippines, in Leyte, in Burma, in Iwo Jima, and in attacks in the mainland Japan, including Tokyo. However Japan still hoped to enter an agreement with Russia and continue to fight and help liberate the Asian nations. Thailand was still an ally. Netaji established the Head Quarters of the Provisional government and the Azad Hind Fauj and Indian Independence League in Bangkope, near Bangkok. Cabinet was established and major decisions were undertaken regarding the battle readiness. Cabinet decided that in the event Japan surrendered, Netaji was to ask Japan to establish contacts with Russia and in the event of Thailand falling, would be flying out to a safer country for continuing with the struggle. Funds had to be raised for continuing the operations. Isher Singh was entrusted to negotiate with the Thai authorities on a loan. Ayer and Chatterjee went to Saigon to raise funds on 6th June. Finance Minister Raghavan was summoned from Singapore with all assets. Anand Mohan Sahay was despatched to Hanoi. On 21st May Netaji gave a speech in Bangkok. "The conflict between the Russians and the West, he said, had already begun at San Francisco: That time is not far off when our enemies will realise that though they have succeeded in overthrowing Germany they have indirectly helped to bring into the arena of European politics another power — Soviet Russia — that may prove to be a greater menace to British and American Imperialism than Germany was. The Provisional Government of Free India will continue to follow international developments with the closest interest, and endeavour to take the fullest advantage of them. Tho fundamental principle of our foreign policy has been and will be — Britain’s enemy is India’s friend". As a geopolitical expert, Bose could envision the role of Russia and the fall of Britain and France from being world powers to becoming subservient to the cause of America. He knew that soon Russia would become a world power and would have conflicts of interest with Britain and America. He perhaps even thought of establishing a provisional Government in Russia or Manchuria and continue with his fight in the event Japan surrendered. He had also hoped that the British Indian soldiers who had come in close contact with the INA members would be indirectly influenced by them and could, in effect, be inspired to declare a mutiny. He told the Indians in South East Asia, "We may not travel to Delhi via Imphal, but we shall get there all right. The British were no longer of any account without American support, the tide of opinion was turning in India itself, even in the Indian Army at heart large sections sympathise with the I.N.A. Far more would do so when, in Burma, they came to realise that the Provisional Government and Indian National Army were not puppet organisations as they had been told, when they heard the national greeting ‘Jai Hind’ freely used, and the National Anthem freely sung." He expressed hope that the defeat in Burma would prove to be a blessing in disguise.
Situation in India - Failure of the Simla Conference
Meanwhile in India Archibald Wavell, the Viceroy, had invited the leaders to a conference in Simla to discuss the new arrangements that could be granted in view of the allied victory in the war. Gandhiji was released from prison in 1944 on account of ill health. In Britain the Labour Party won the general election. Writes Dr. R.C Majumdar, "It did not take Britain long to realize that she had after all won a Pyrrhic victory. She saved herself and her empire by inflicting a crushing defeat upon Germany and Japan, but this fight to a finish exhausted her manpower and economic resource to such an extent that she could never hope to recover her old power and prestige." The Labour Government was headed by Clement Attlee, and Pethick Lawrence was the Secretary of State for India. Labour had indicated that they would rethink Britain's policy towards India and would grant her self Government. Writes Leonard Mosley, "After Singapore, Burma and the sinking of her finest ships by the Japanese, Britain would never again be able to demonstrate in Asia the background of strength and influence—the macht-politic—which had for so long enabled her to rule a million people." Wavell's Simla conference was bound to fail as both Muslim League under Jinnah and Congress, were at loggerheads with each other. Wavell proposed to reconstitute the Viceroy’s Executive Council so that all the members except the Viceroy and the Commander-in-Chief would be Indian politicians.
Subhas Bose speaks out strongly against Wavell's plan
Subhas Bose was certain of the British insincerity as they had not freed up the political prisoners. He was worried that Congress under Gandhi would accept the compromise formula as the Congressmen had done before. He made a series of broadcasts in June 1945 from Singapore to reject any overtures on the part of Britain to come to a negotiated settlement. However, his propaganda secretary and journalist M. Sivaram, who was responsible for the newspaper Azad Hind and acted as his spokesperson, resigned over what he perceived as Netaji's attempts to denounce Gandhi over the meetings with Jinnah to arrive at a compromise. Subhas knew better than Sivaram. Any compromise would have meant partition sacrificing and endangering lives and properties of millions. How prophetic he was would be proved a year down the line. On 18th June Subhas broadcasted the following message with stark warning to his countrymen - "Only motive of the British Government is to mobilize India's support in the war against Japan. British people are war weary." He continued, "They want others to fight their battle while they themselves reap the fruit of the victory." He further said, "it is vital for the British to make the Indian people pour out their money and shed their blood for the preservation of the British Empire." He considered Wavell's plan as Sir Stafford Cripp's "old offer in a slightly altered garb." He reminded Indian leaders that, "Any acceptance of Lord Wavell's offer will be tantamount to a voluntary shedding of the precious Indian blood and draining our resources in fighting Britain's imperialistic war. But what would India gain in return? Nothing except a few jobs in the Viceroy's executive council." He wanted to make the point clear that, "British are cunning politicians and they have chosen the proper psychological moment for aiming this offer at India. British politicians are hoping that the Indian people are now overawed by the recent Anglo American victories. The Indian people may, therefore feel that, we stand no chance of achieving independence during the course of the present war and might as well make the best of a bad bargain and take whatever is being offered by the British." He also thought that the British Government's attitude of treating Congress as one among the parties exposed their sinister motives. He also pointed out that the Viceroy did not intend to set free those who were interned in 1939 and 1942. He reminded that a constitutional change in a democratic country is heralded by an amnesty to all political prisoners. He pointed out that the "British plea is completely hollow and is intended to delay and deny the Indian demand. If the British really want to set up a responsible Government, they would lose no time in declaring India a self-Governing nation and handing over power to the people's representatives." He elaborated that the best way for achieving liberation of India was to carry out armed struggle from outside India "to the last man and to the last round", take helps from international friends to advocate for India's cause in the international forum and, lastly the countrymen must be prepared to "launch a revolution at the opportune moment which will spread like the wild fire of the prairies and may even be supported by the British Indian forces." He concluded by saying that "there is no earthly power that can stop the Indian people from achieving their goal of freedom." He again broadcasted on 19th June and reminded the leaders that the outcome of accepting Wavell's offer would be that "Congress leaders will have to take the responsibility of sending atleast half a million Indian troops to fight Britain's imperial war..in the regions beyond Burma and in the Pacific." He told them that the British Government was on the verge of bankruptcy, that Britain's industries which were drawn into war production had lost their pre war markets and those markets were now in the hands of America. He opined that it was impossible for Britain to start peacetime activities and fight another war with Japan in the Pacific. He implied that Britain was trying to use Indian soldiers as proxy in their final war to reoccupy the erstwhile colonies in Asia and Pacific. He reminded the Congress leaders that they were still pledged to the Quit India or the Do or Die slogans adopted three years ago. "No Congressman can, consistently with his principles, therefore look at Lord Wavell's offer." He thought that the Congressmen were looking at Lord Wavell's offer despite all these, because a "wave of defeatism has swept over India since the Anglo American successes." He narrated the international geopolitical situation and said that "some of these developments will not be favourable to our enemies, and they will afford India further opportunities for achieving her independence." He cited the examples of Syria and Lebanon, who despite the allied victories, "were utilizing the international situation for their independence." He opined that the British politicians wanted to make India domestic issue of the British empire and therefore planned to deny her the international spotlight that she deserved for her legitimate demands. He made an appeal to Mahatma Gandhi, to the president and the members of the Congress working Committee and the members of the Congress, to not to misjudge the international situation and thereby take wrong steps in the domestic politics. He pleaded again and again not to compromise India's interests by giving up the demand of independence. He said that India's star was definitely on the ascendant. He told them, "We have suffered long and have suffered much. Let us suffer a little more a little longer. But by all means let us stick to our guns still the end of the war." He also reminded them that Lord Wavell's gesture had to do with the domestic politics of Britain where a regime change was in the cards. He therefore begged off the Indian leaders not to commit before July 5, the day of conclusion of the general elections in England which might see a majority for the Labour Party. To set the tone of the future India along the secular lines he reminded Hindu Mahasabha and the other political parties that "Our objection should not be to Muslims getting a majority of seats on the Executive Council. The most important question is what type of Muslims come into the executive Council. If we have the type of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Asaf Ali, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, the destiny of India will be safe." He said, "There is no difference between a patriotic Muslim and a patriotic Hindu." He correctly interpreted that the British intention was to give all the Muslim seats to the nominees of the Muslim League. He surmised that the Muslim League would cooperate with the Viceroy in fulfilling his war obligations for exploiting Indian manpower and resources for fighting the imperialistic war. In conclusion he thanked the Hindu Mahasabha for their outspoken opposition to the Lord Wavell's plan. He said in conclusion that it would be the duty of every right thinking and patriotic Indian to start "a raging and tearing campaign all over the country against Lord Wavell's offer." Again on 20th June he spoke on the same subject. He asked those who were willing to consider the proposition of Lord Wavell, "What has happened to our goal of independence to which there is not even a partial reference in Lord Wavell's offer? Does Purna Swaraj mean only Indianization of the Viceroy's council, or does it mean complete independence and total severance of the British connection? Why did the congress ministries resign in 1939? What has happened to our slogan of Do or Die? Why did we reject Congressmen like Sri Aney and Dr. Khare for accepting jobs on the Viceroy's executive Council (in the past)?" He again spoke over radio on 26th June, that some of the political leaders in the country were furious with him (Netaji) for pointing out the obvious flaws of Wavell's plan and opposing their compromise with the British Government, and also pointing out that the Congress Working Committee did not represent the opinions of the countrymen. He said that the Imperialist leaders were abusing him for taking the help of Japanese. He pointed out that his cooperation with Japan was on the basis that Japan recognized India's complete independence and that she had formally recognized the Provisional Government of free India. He now told them how Indian National Army was the armed forces of free India, that had its own arms and equipment, own Indian officers, carried Indian National flag, trained by Indian instructors and fought under its own Indian commanders, in contrast with the Imperial Indian army that was governed by the British and fought under British officers for the sake of Britain's interests. He reminded them that not a single Indian had been promoted to the rank of a General and only a minuscule section of the 2.5 mn strong Indian contingent were selected as worthy recipients of the highest honour, the Victoria Cross, thereby exposing the blatant discrimination in its ranks. He reminded the political leaders that even Britain took the help of America to fight the war, that if Japan happened to surrender, Azad Hind Government would take the help of other world powers to achieve their goal and therefore it was no puppet of Japan as was widely believed by these leaders.
The End Game of INA - Surrender of Japan
Netaji left Bangkok in the second week of June to inspect the works of the third division in Malaya whose commander was Col. G.R Nagar. In Saigon, Major General A.C Chatterjee and S.A Ayer reorganized the IIL, established branches and increased staff. Ayer, as the propaganda minister also strengthened the work from the radio station at Saigon. Pamphlets were written addressing Indian community in Indo China. Chatterjee also carried out discussions with the Japanese for the possibilities of taking the help of the Chinese and the Russians. He sent his report to Netaji on the discussions which were not very encouraging. Also Japanese representatives from Tokyo and Southern Region Army HQ met with Netaji to discuss further plans of action with him in Singapore. In the week of July 4 to July 11, Netaji week was celebrated across South East Asia. All Indian houses were supposed to fly the Tri Colour atop their houses. Lectures, patriotic film shows and sports meeting with the school children in Hanoi, were held. With the support of the Annamite people a procession was organized carrying Netaji's photo, with active participation from the prominent members of the Indian community. There were also some unfortunate incidents. A British spy, Ghulam Ahmed joined the finance Department as an accountant. He accompanied A.M Sahai to Hanoi along with another spy called Tora Khan. A great man had said years later (extracted from book Oi Mahamanab Ase), "Indian Independence League became meddled with British spies and traitors. Chandramall and his friends Golam Ahmed and Taru Khan, all of British intelligence service, all joined IIL, Tokyo. Golam Ahmed and Taru Khan were employed in the Finance Dept. Gen. Chatterjee (Finance Minister) was fooled by Anand Mohan Sahay, Secretary of the Azad Hind Government. Golam Ahmed and Taru Khan were friends of A.M Sahay."
In Singapore, Netaji laid the foundation stone of a war memorial to the martyrs of the Azad Hind Fauj on 8th July. The monument was completed by August. After reoccupying Singapore, British forces destroyed the memorial with dynamite and forbade anybody to lay any wreathe on the rubble. However locals, mostly Indian communities continued to defy that order and placed their homage on a regular basis. They were intimated and were even arrested by the British from doing so but despite the stern measures, they could not be stopped.
At the end of July Netaji traveled to Seramban and Kua Lumpur. On August 6 and August 9, American fighter bombers dropped the Atom Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, obliterating the two cities and their residents and putting millions into risk from health and radiation hazards. Japan, which could not be made to surrender through a conventional war, was brought to its knees by the brute force. An investment made in the Manhattan project to the tunes of billions of dollars had to be justified to the American tax payers and Harry Truman ensured that the justification was achieved on the Asiatic "Japs" rather than on the fellow Caucasians in Europe. I.J Kiani called up Netaji in Kuala Lumpur to inform him that Soviet Union had declared war on Japan. Next he got the news of Japan's intention to surrender. Chatterjee had started for Singapore with the finances that he had secured in Saigon. But his plane did not reach Singapore and the Japanese could not offer him an alternate transport. Therefore by the time he had reached Singapore from Kuala Lumpur with the help of Kiani and others, Netaji had left for an unknown destination. In Singapore he handed over the money to M.Z Kiani and a committee for the relief of the Indian community, and set out for Saigon where he hoped to find Netaji.
Accoring to S.A Ayer in "Unto Him a Witness", Meanwhile Major General Kiani had called Netaji to be back in Singapore as soon as possible, avoiding night journeys to evade the Chinese guerrillas. Netaji did not think that Russia attacking Japan had affected the plan of Azad Hind. He attained to some urgent matters in Seramban regarding a serious breach of conduct and addressed about two thousand men in the Azad Hind Training Camp in Seramban. Lakshmayya and Ganapathy, Secretaries of the Publicity department of Indian Independence League HQ in Singapore, had come all the way from Singapore to Seramban by car and met Netaji at 2.00 AM in the morning. They brought the news that Japan had surrendered. Netaji took it calmly. He was very clear that Japan's surrender was not Azad Hind's surrender. Netaji wanted Raghavan and Swami from Penang to come down and meet him as soon as possible in Singapore. He also asked for John Thivy. S.A Ayer who received these instructions duly communicated to I.J Kiani to send a car to Penang, stop en route at Ipoh for Thivy and drive back to Singapore. Netaji had not slept all through the night. He anyway was a very hard worker and usually slept very little and still woke up very early to perform his regular japam. Despite having no or little sleep he was fresh and ready for a twelve hour long car journey to Singapore. Captain Shamsere Singh, Netaji's ADC, was with him. Major General Alagappan, Col. Nagar and Col. I. J. Kiani were there in another car following Netaji's.
Travel Plan for an Unknown Destination
On reaching Singapore at 7.30 PM an urgent conference followed and Major Gen. Kiani and Habibur Rahman were called. The conference continued till 3 AM in the morning post dinner. S.A Ayer states, "There was complete agreement on all the steps to be taken as a consequence of Japan's collapse—the instructions to he issued to Divisional Commanders on the military side and to the Chairmen of the branches and sub-branches of the IIL throughout East Asia except Burma where the British troops were already in occupation, the distribution of sufficient money to the troops as well as the civilian officials to last them for at least six months." It is to be noted that Japan officially surrendered on August 15, 1945. Netaji and his team had a hectic three days, conferencing and listening to news items until 14th August. Urgent and important instructions had to be sent to all the IIL branch offices and INA units across SE Asia and also to Bangkok and Tokyo. Netaji had chalked out every possible details, instructions to be issued, manner of surrender, what should be done with the Rani of Jhansi camps which had about five hundred girls in Singapore, and how the civilian organizations should look after its workers after British landed in Singapore. Of all the problems, Netaji accorded priority to two, the fate of the Rani of Jhansi girls and that of his 45 Tokyo cadets. Netaji was also in touch with Capt. Janaki Thevar to ensure the rehabilitation of the RJR girls to their homes with sufficient money and other necessities to help them tide over the days of anguish to follow. Writes Ayer, "After receiving the news of Japan’s surrender Bose he was all energy and good cheer, “cracking jokes” with his staff, up to all hours, busy all the time." In fact whosoever had met Netaji, admitted that Netaji was a very warm and friendly person. That was one of the reasons why he had an intrinsic appeal. Even his enemies grudgingly admitted his quality of being kind and warm-hearted to all and sundry. On the August 14, Netaji had one of his teeth pulled out and despite the obvious discomfort he went out to watch a drama put together by the Ranis on the life of their symbol, Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi, written by Lt. P.N Oak of the INA., ADC to Maj. Gen. J.K Bhonsle. When the performance was ended three thousand members of the audience sang Subh Sukh Chain. A.N Sarkar had arrived from Bangkok by plane and joined the conference. Before Sarkar had come it was decided that Netaji would be staying back in Singapore with all the ministers and face the British when they landed on the island. Netaji's fate in the hands of the British was also frankly discussed. They had decided that if Netaji were taken prisoner and sentenced to death by the British, India would instantly erupt and British rule would come to an end. If Netaji were released, he would continue fighting for Indian independence. Consensus among the members of the cabinet was that Netaji should not be taken prisoner. Netaji opposed this idea and said that he wanted to remain with his ministers and his army in Singapore and share their fate. After listening to Sarkar, Netaji had some inclination to reconsider his decision. Decisions had been taken on all matters except for the one concerning Netaji. Netaji sent for Col. Stracey in the morning of 15th August. Col. Stracey had come with the designs of the war memorial for the Azad Hind soldiers. It was a dogged determination to set up a memorial right in the place where enemy would probably land, of soldiers who had so heroically fought against them for more than a year. Netaji foresaw what was going to happen. In the words of Ayer, "Netaji examined model after model and truned to Stracey and said: " Colonel Stracey, I want this memorial to' rise on the sea face of Singapore before the British forces make a landing here. Do you think vou will be able to do it?" Stracey rose to the occasion. He replied: " Certainly, Sir." It was a very difficult task as nobody knew when the British would be landing. Once they landed there could not be any further work. Still Stracey had committed and he was determined to achieve. "Stracey had worked night and day and completed the work on the memorial in less than three weeks", continued Ayer. As soon as British landed, the civilized British, the Imperial British, the race of the gentlemen and aristocrats, destroyed the memorial - an act that was nothing short of vandalism and hooliganism. The Forgotten Army mentions further, "Stracey had designed it (the memorial) himself: a rectangular shaft perhaps eight feet across and some twenty-five feet high, bearing in large block letters the words ittefaq, itmad, and kurbani—unity, faith, sacrifice. He had hired a contractor and was supervising the work. Just when it was finished is not clear. What is certain is that when the unbelievable news of Netaji’s death reached Singapore, a service was held at this memorial. A photograph shows it banked with flowers, Zaman Kiani and Stracey stiffly at attention in the foreground. Then on the 5th of September the first British troops landed. The memorial was instantly noticed. On the 8th sappers appeared, placed charges, and blew it to bits." Providence, the silent witness, smiled a wry smile. Exactly 34 years later, Mountbatten's body was blown off in a similar fashion by a bomb in his boat, planted by the I.R.A. It is worthwhile to mention here that de Valera, the Irish president, was a great friend and admirer of Subhas Chandra Bose.
On the night of the 15th August, the cabinet finally persuaded Netaji to get out of Singapore. the question was where he would be going. He himself dubbed it as an adventure into the unknown. Netaji decided that Maj. Gen. Kiani would be assuming the full charge of the affairs of INA in Singapore on behalf of Netaji and Maj. Gen Alagappan and A.N Sarkar should also stay behind in Singapore. Netaji also took with him Col. Habibur Rahman, Col. Pritam Singh, Major Abid Hasan and Debnath Das from Bangkok. Major Swami was also expected to join him. Ayer was also supposed to accompany him. At 9.30 AM Netaji left Singapore by a bomber and Kiani and other officials came to bid him adieu. The flight reached Bangkok by 3 PM. Nobody knew about his arrival and they had to wait until Maj. Gen Bhonsle turned up with a transport. The news spread of his arrival and until 17th morning he had a steady but unending stream of visitors, officials of INA and IIL, Indian community members, who wanted to know about Netaji's plans. The departing party included along with Netaji, Col. Habibur Rahman, Col. Pritam Singh, Col. Gulzara Singh, Major Abid Hasan, Debnath Das and S.A Ayer. The farewell was affectionate and tearful as Netaji embraced each one of the members present - Paramanand, Isher Singh, Bhaskaran, Pandit Raghunath Shastry, Captain Rizvi and others. From Bangkok the flight started on 17th morning at 8 AM and landed in Saigon at 10 AM. There were two planes, one carrying Netaji, Ayer, Habibur rahman, Pritham Singh, and the Japanese liaison officer and in the other General Isoda, chief of Hikari Kikan, Mr. Hachiyya, Gulzara Singh, Abid Hasan and Debnath Das. There was a solitary Indian in the distance, it was Chandra Mall, secretary of the transport department of IIL in Saigon. According to the words of a great man as stated earlier, he was a British intelligence spy planted by a prominent IIL member.
Preparations for the Journey
Netaji and the Japanese officials had a hurried consultation and it was decided that General Isoda and the Japanese would fly to Dalat, the HQ of Field Marshall Count Terauchi and would ask for transportation for Netaji and his party. Netaji stayed for the night in Saigon in the house of Narain Das, secretary of the housing department in the IIL Saigon. Netaji had barely 30 min of rest when Liaison Officer Kiano told him that a plane was ready to leave and had only one seat. Netaji did not want to leave until he knew the destination of the plane. So Kiano had to go back and the top Japanese officials, including General Isoda, Mr. Hachiyya and Field Marshall Terauchi came to meet Netaji. There was a conference in one of the rooms in which Habibur Rahman was asked to join. Ayer and others from INA or IIL were not allowed or not present. Ayer in his Unto Him a Witness writes, "When the talks were still going on behind closed doors in that room, Netaji came out with Habib, leaving the Japanese.behind in the room. Netaji motioned Habib, Abid, Debnath and me into his room and asked us to close the door and bolt it- Gulzara Singh and; Pritham Singh who had moved to the next house were immediately called. I have rarely seen Netaji so impatient. In five seconds he wanted to know whether Gulzara Singh and Pritham Singh had been sent for and why they had not yet come. He said : " Tell them not to bother about their dress, but to come at once. I have no time to lose. We have to take important decisions and that without a moment's delay- Come along, hurry up." Actually they took only a few minutes to come, but it looked like ages. The door was closed and bolted from inside. Netaji stood in the middle and we stood around him. He looked at each one of us and said : " Look here, there is a plane ready to take off in the next few minutes and we have got to decide something important right now. The Japanese say there is only one seat to spare, and what we have got to decide now, in a few seconds, is whether I should go even if I have to go alone, I have tried my best to get at least one more seat but there is very little hope. Shall we take that one seat and shall I go alone ? " His men, not willing to let him go alone, pleaded him to request the Japanese for one more seat. According to Ayer nobody knew where the plane was bound for but he could guess that it was for Manchuria. Netaji and Habib went back to the room and after a hectic discussion Netaji came back and told his men that Japanese had agreed for one more seat and he wanted Habib to accompany him. In any case Netaji asked Ayer and Gulzara Singh to pack and come along in case they get more seats. Netaji, Habib and Ayer were in a car to aerodrome while Debanath Das, Gulzara Singh, Pritam Singh and Abid Hasan were in the second car. The second car got delayed and the Japanese were impatient to leave. Lt. Gen Shidei was also going to accompany them. Tsunamasa Shidei incidentally was the Vice chief of Staff of the Kwantung army based in Manchuria. Netaji had decided to wait as there were important pieces of luggage in the second car. Netaji bade farewell to his men with a poignant Jai Hind and stepped onto the Sally bomber. At 5.15 PM on 17th August the plane took off from Saigon aerodrome. That was the last time Netaji was seen by his men.
The rest is either history or a concocted story.