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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2678

LTTE, Sri Lankans and Subhas Chandra Bose

By Janaka Perera

January 23rd marks the 110th birth anniversary of an Indian hero who would have altered the destinies of both India and Sri Lanka, had world history taken a different course. He was the charismatic Bengali patriot Subhas Chandra Bose better known as Netaji whose fate remains a mystery to some people to this day.

The Netaji Research Bureau to mark its Golden Jubilee is holding an international conference on `The Second World War and Asian Independence' at the Netaji Bhawan, Kolkota, India on January 21-23. West Bengal Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi will preside at the traditional Netaji Birthday ceremonies at the NB on Tuesday. The celebrations will include a special Netaji Birthday Concert.

Among those who had first hand experience of the Sri Lankan connection with Bose's anti-British military campaign was the late Christie Seneviratne, Sports Editor Daily News who was in Singapore and Malaya (now Malaysia) during the World War II Japanese occupation. A detailed story of it is given in Professor S.N. Arseculeratne's book, Sinhalese Immigrants in Malaysia and Singapore (1860 -1990) based on photographs, letters from Bose in his own hand and other memorabilia of great relevance, importance and interest.

Looking from the perspective of Sri Lanka's current national crisis, we need to examine Bose's career and goals to expose the contradictions and falsehoods of the scum here who claim that his politics inspired them. In 1984 Velupillai Prabhakaran told Indian Journalist Anita Pratap that Bose was the Indian freedom fighter who attracted him most. This amusing claim is hardly surprising since LTTE propagandists have been likening VP at different times to such historical figures as George Washington and Mao Ze Dong.

Subhas Chandra Bose first and foremost was a staunch advocate of a unified India. Despite the fact that before the British conquest, India was under the rule of several kingdoms, he did not call for a separate Bengali State, once European rule ended. (It is worth noting here that the LTTE proxy the Tamil National Alliance rejects even the present Indian Constitutional model for Sri Lanka as a solution to the prevailing crisis).

"There will be a strong Central Government." declared Bose during the world war, explaining his political vision for free India.

Had events been in Netaji's favour, there would have perhaps been no Pakistan and no Kashmir problem. Also his success would have led independent India to experience multi-party politics much earlier since his Forward Bloc would have posed a challenge to the Congress party (which dominated post-independence India's political scene for around 30 years).

Bose search for a religious philosophy led him to explore the teachings of Swami Vivekananda and the writings of Aurobindo Ghosh. The latter made a lasting impression on his mind, providing his political activism with a religious side. His faith in Hinduism formed the core of his Indian identity.

The world war spurred anti-colonial feelings in Asia 's European colonies, especially after Japan's entry to the conflict. No doubt he made a serious miscalculation on the war's outcome, which doomed his plans. But Bose, like other Asian Leaders such as Myanmar's Aung San in and Indonesia's Soekarno (both of whom were luckier than Bose in ending on their terms Western colonialism) was pushed into a situation where he had to make a choice between cooperating with his European masters and taking up arms against them with their enemies' assistance. It was a political gamble he had to take.

Even Sri Lanka's J.R. Jayewardene and Dudley Senanayake were in secret contact with the Japanese until Dudley's father D.S. dissuaded them from seeking help from Tokyo to throw out the British (Conversations with JR - Lanka Guardian August 15, 1990).

Despite Bose having pursued the path of armed resistance to British rule it was never his policy to deliberately slaughter defenceless ordinary civilians (European or Indian) who did not share his views - unlike Prabhakaran.

Although Netaji had a deep understanding of Hindu philosophy, he was never a Hindu zealot. He was compelled to seek assistance from Nazi Germany and Japan but he did not necessarily endorse their Fascist political ideologies or the atrocities they committed. This was conclusively established by V.S. Patil in his book, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: His Contribution to Indian Nationalism – a remarkably unbiased study of India's most intrepid soldier in the battle for freedom. He argues that Netaji was too dedicated a nationalist to have any real faith in Nazi Germany or Japan both of which earned a notoriety for wartime atrocities.

Following the Japanese occupation of the Malay Peninsula in 1942, Sri Lankans there were persuaded to join the Indian Independence League. They were absorbed into the IIL's Ceylon Department and the Free Lanka Unit formed under Netaji's guidance. The league's military wing was the Indian National Army (INA) which comprised the British-Indian Army's Indian soldiers who became prisoners of war after the British surrender. The Japanese later released around 30,000 of them on condition that they join the INA.

On October 21, 1943 Germany, Japan, Italy and their Southeast Asian allies recognized Netaji's Provisional Government of Free India, operating from Japanese-occupied Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which were renamed Shahid and Swaraj respectively.

The Ceylon Department's Secretary-General was a young businessman Gladwin Kotalawala, who later became UNP MP for Bibile. Another prominent member was Wimalatissa Indrasoma, later first Honorary Trade Commissioner for Ceylon in Singapore (1962-64). The IIL's Sri Lankans who all wore INA uniforms also designed a Lion Flag with the Indian Tricolor in the background to be raised in Sri Lanka in the event of a Japanese victory over the British in World War II.
The Free Lanka Unit was entrusted with the task of broadcasting in Sinhala to Sri Lanka from Singapore . The man in charge was Dodwell Cooray who had the honour of introducing Netaji twice when the latter broadcast in English to India.

During the war years the Japanese changed the year to their emperor's year. For example 1943 became 2603. Singapore was renamed Syonan and Malaya was called Malai. On October 31, 2603 in a statement to the Perak Times Netaji stressed the need for cooperation between Indians and Sri Lankans for the liberation of their mother countries from British bondage. He said:

"During the last few weeks I have had informal talks with prominent Sinhalese residents of Syonan and Malai and discussed with them in a general way the interest taken by the Sinhalese of East Asia in the future of their country. I gather from these talks that Sinhalese community out here shares with nationalists at home strong anti-British sentiments and aspirations for the freedom Ceylon from British rule. Like their compatriots at home the Sinhalese in Syonan and Malai are fully conscious of the century-old bonds of racial, cultural and spiritual unity between India and Ceylon. They are vitally interested in the Indian freedom movement in East Asia as without Indian independence there can be no freedom for Ceylon. I have given them the assurance that the Indian Independence League organization would extend whatever assistance they might need in carrying on work among the Sinhalese with a view to stimulating the already existing anti-British feeling and devising ways and means of crystallizing that feeling."

"It is expected that these prominent Sinhalese will begin to establish personal contact with members for their active co-operation in giving a definite shape to the struggle for the emancipation of Ceylon. I can assure my Sinhalese friends that we areas much interested in the independence of Ceylon as we are in that of India. We are confident of the liberation of India from the British yoke. We must work together now and hereafter. United we stand, divided we fall." (Sinhalese Immigrants in Malaysia and Singapore 1860-1990)

But events moved in a different direction, dashing the hopes of Netaji. Italy surrendered to the Allies in 1943 and the tide of war was fast turning against Germany and Japan on which the INA depended for food and arms. Nevertheless the army traveled as far as Kohima now in Nagaland in northeast India, in March 1944. But British resistance in Imphal was strong and unyielding.

Consequently, the INA was forced to retreat into the jungles of Myanmar. As the British thrust forward heavy monsoon burst on the combatants. This further hampered INA's movements, eventually leading to its capitulation. On August 16, 1945, the Japanese surrendered to British-American forces. The following day Netaji boarded a Japanese plane with Col. Habibur Rahman of the INA for Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City). Bose's followers persuaded him to do so to avoid capture by the British.

It was later reported that the plane crashed in Formosa (now Taiwan) killing Netaji and other occupants and that his body was cremated. His ashes were taken to the Renkoji Buddhist Temple in Tokyo. In his memory, the Japanese erected a four-foot pagoda made of jade. In January 1992, the Indian Government posthumously conferred Bharat Rathna (Jewel of India), India's top civilian award on Subhas Chandra Bose.

However, in West Bengal, Bose's birth place, his reported death is an emotionally loaded issue. And some of his Indian admirers still refuse to believe that Netaji died in a plane crash.

- Asian Tribune -

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