An account of Netaji’s visit to the islands in 1943 reveals the drama enacted by the Japanese to keep the atrocities committed on the Indians under wraps.

Netaji and hoisting of tricolour in the Andamans What really happened in 1943Wikimedia Commons
news History Monday, December 31, 2018 - 18:18

Amidst the celebrations surrounding the 75th anniversary of the tricolour national flag hoisting held in Port Blair on December 30 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, an account of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s three-day trip to the islands gains relevance in getting an overview about what actually happened in 1943.

The Prime Minister opportunely avoided mentioning the atrocities committed by the Japanese, and those brutally tortured and killed, especially members of Netaji’s Indian Independence League (IIL). One name that stands out is Dr Diwan Singh, head of the IIL, who was lodged in the sixth wing of the Cellular Jail and being tortured to death when Netaji was on a visit to the jail.

Modi also conveniently forgot the freedom history of the islands, which began way back in 1858, not with the construction of the Cellular Jail in 1896, and continued during the Japanese occupation. The selective homage being paid to only those who were lodged in the Cellular Jail seemed like half-hearted patriotism.

When Modi asked the gathering to take out their mobile phones and wave the flash lights to the frenzied chanting of ‘Netaji Zindabad’, it looked more like a rock concert than a sober moment remembering those who laid down their lives in the struggle for attaining freedom from foreign yoke.

There is a need to recollect the events during Netaji’s visit to the Andamans to put things into perspective. The Ramakrishna Report on the Andaman Islands under Japanese gives a minute-by-minute account of Netaji’s visit to the islands.

Ramakrishna, who wrote this report, was born in Port Blair in 1896, and was closely associated with the civil administration of the Japanese and was appointed the Deputy Commissioner. He edited the Japanese propaganda daily, Andaman Shimbun, published from Port Blair. He got on the blacklist of the Japanese on espionage charges and was incarcerated several times for interrogation. He was the chairman of the Andaman branch of the IIL under Bose. His report on the drama enacted by the Japanese to keep the atrocities committed on the Indians under wraps reveals how they used Bose to fulfil their imperialistic plans.

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose visited Port Blair during the last three days of December 1943. He landed at the Lamba Line airport on December 29, 1943 and left in the early hours of January 1, 1944. At the airport, a select band of officials were made to stand in two rows ostensibly to welcome Netaji. They were all picked overnight as the news of Bose’s arrival was kept from the public on account of war exigencies. He met them without speaking to any of them as if he were inspecting a guard of honour.

During his visit, Bose was put up at the Chief Commissioner’s abandoned residence on the hill-top at Ross Island. After the evacuation by the British, all government offices were shifted to Aberdeen, as the Japanese feared bombardment by the Allied Forces. The objective of the Japanese was apparently to isolate Bose from the local population. When he arrived at Ross Island, the Japanese had ordered men, women and children to line up at the jetty. He thought that the crowd had come to pay him homage, and the fear that the Japanese had instilled in them made them dare to dispel the impression.

Netaji was very cautiously taken out from Ross Island on two occasions, once on a pre-arranged tour of outlying villages after visiting the Cellular Jail and the second time, ceremoniously to a crowded meeting at the only maidan in Port Blair. Netaji’s visit was prominently covered on the full front page of the Andaman Shimbun.

A dinner party was given by the Admiral-in-charge to Netaji and his staff at the Government House at Ross, but not at the residence of the Admiral at Aberdeen. The dinner was attended by some of the Japanese military and civil officers. Half a dozen Indian heads of departments were also invited. Netaji was always surrounded by Japanese officers. When he was talking to the Indians after the dinner, one or two officers from the Intelligence department were always present, whom the Indians knew very well.

Netaji’s itinerary was well-planned. He was taken to certain villages with a number of army and naval officers surrounding him. When the news reached the villages that Netaji was visiting them, the general feeling was that they would get a chance to speak to him and tell him about their suffering. But that chance never came. Some villages he saw from a distance and some he had a closer view. At some places, he was made to meet the villagers in a crowd. The moment the Japanese thought that someone would stand up to talk to him, the meeting was abruptly ended. He spoke to the public, but in fact he spoke to no one in particular, nor did he hear anyone.

On December 30, Netaji came from Ross Island in a ceremonious procession made up of Japanese officers in a number of cars. No Indians were included in this procession. A large number of people were ordered to attend the function held at the Gymkhana Grounds in front of the Andaman Club. On arrival, he went up the rostrum and unfurled the Indian national flag, the first to be hoisted on Indian territory. Ramakrishna presented a purse for the Indian National Army (INA). Later, Netaji addressed the audience for nearly an hour and a half. After the function, without any meeting with the residents, he was again ceremoniously driven back to Ross.

Netaji’s visit to the Cellular Jail was well-orchestrated by the Japanese. Though he was visibly moved when he visited the Cellular Jail, he was carefully kept away from those parts of the jail where the Japanese had lodged Indians on the pretext of spying and tortured to death. He was, in fact, taken to those parts where core criminals were lodged, who were engaged in routine jobs like clearing the garden, planting vegetables and sweeping the compound. No Indian from the administration was allowed to accompany him.

The same night, Netaji gave a return dinner party to the Admiral and a number of Japanese officers. In this party too, the same Indians attended who were earlier invited. Ramakrishna, who attended the dinner, suggested that Netaji visit the IIL headquarters and meet the working committee before he took off for Singapore. Netaji readily accepted the invitation. This turn of events visibly perturbed the Japanese. They were perplexed momentarily, but their ingenuity gave birth to a novel idea to stall any kind of revelation of facts.

On the same night, the Japanese went house to house, woke up sleeping women and children and drove them to the hall at 2.00 am. Netaji’s arrival was timed at 8.00 am on December 31. Those gathered had no clue about the meeting. When Ramakrishna arrived there to arrange for Netaji’s reception and ordered those people out, he was politely told by an Inspector of Police that the Japanese had gathered the crowd. When members of the working committee arrived a little later, they found the hall filled to capacity and could not enter. There was utter confusion with sleep-deprived women and children shouting and crying. Netaji arrived at the appointed time with a retinue of Japanese naval and army officers. Members of the league were lost in the crowd. With difficulty, a way was found for him and others to enter the hall. He saw the crowd but couldn’t see anyone in particular. The way the meeting was organised, Netaji couldn’t speak to anyone individually. The chairman of the league gave the welcome address and then Netaji addressed the crowd formally.

The purpose of meeting Netaji with the members of the league fell flat, with the members not getting an opportunity to inform him about the reality on the ground. During the speech, the chairman informed Netaji to immediately take over the rule of the islands completely, which he agreed to at once.

In a month, Lt Col Loganathan was sent with three officers to take charge as the Chief Commissioner. Even after his arrival, there was no visible change in the administration as the Japanese kept the control of the islands in their hands. During this time, Lt Col Loganathan became aware of his lack of any genuine administrative control and resigned in protest, later returning to the government’s headquarters in Rangoon.

Like his death, the life of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and his visit to the islands remains an enigma.

The fact remains that the islands reeled under the dreadful occupation of the Japanese during the period that Netaji visited. It wasn’t a free territory as presumed by Bose. After the Japanese surrendered to the Allied Forces on October 7, 1945, there was jubilation among the islanders and they lined up on the shores to welcome another colonial power, the British.

On August 22, 1969, when the question of changing the names of Andaman and Nicobar Islands to Shahid Dweep and Swaraj Dweep came up in Parliament, KR Ganesh, Deputy Minister, elected from the Andamans, reacting sharply replied that three-fourths of the island population had been completely annihilated by the Japanese fascists.

When Samar Guha, a close associate of Netaji, asked whether this happened before or after Netaji, Ganesh categorically replied: “My answer is – before, during and afterwards.” He then firmly said that the history of the islands did not start in 1943, but in 1858.

He further added, “The name of Andaman is in our soul and we are not going to allow you to change it.”

Thus, while the independence of the islands was all Japanese show-off, Ganesh’s assertion had the solid backing of history and the emotions of the people. 

The islands got freedom from Japanese occupation on October 7, 1945 and from British colonial rule on August 15, 1947.

While Prime Minister Modi has announced renaming of three islands – Havelock, Neil and Ross Island to Swaraj Dweep, Shaheed Dweep and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Dweep – the demand had come from the BJP state president of West Bengal and not from the islanders. It is seen as a political ploy to appease voters in Bengal, while there have been protests by the tourism and hotel industry.

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