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“Laal Qiley se aayi awaaz __ Sehgal, Dhillon, Shahnawaaz!” The story of the Red-fort trials.

In an attempt to prove how Netaji Subhash Bose and his army were "traitors and cowards," the British dug their own grave by proving their own hypocrisy.

After Japan’s surrender and the defeat of the Axis powers in the Second World War, the Indian National Army (INA) could see their doomsday approaching. With Netaji’s mysterious disappearance following the Taihoku plane crash on August 18th, 1945, the leaderless INA got obliterated by the world-war victor British army and sixteen-thousand INA troops were captured and sent to various detention camps in India.  

However, the smug colonisers riding high on their victory in the Second World War failed to foresee how the nation which they had exploited for over 200 years, had started to lose patience. On November 12th, 1945, in an attempt to display their self-righteousness and to illustrate how Netaji Subhash Bose and his army were traitors, cowards, and Japanese sympathisers, decided to conduct the first ‘public trial’ at the Red Fort for three INA officers:

  • Colonel Prem Sehgal;
  • Colonel Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon;
  • Major Shahnawaz Khan.
"Laal Qiley se aayi awaaz __ Sehgal, Dhillon, Shahnawaaz!" The story of the Red-fort trials.

However, this attempt at power shown by the British completely backfired as instead of proving how INA was disloyal to the Indians, they ended up proving their own hypocrisy. Today, on November 12th, let us learn how the British Raj dug its own grave by conducting the publicised INA trials! 

History of the Azad Hind Fauj (Indian National Army):

The Second World War had brought with it a severe sense of unease for the British. As the European meadows got drenched with the blood of Nazi expansions, the British did not refrain from shamelessly dragging India into a war in which we had nothing to gain. Though the Congress had initially protested Lord Linlithgow’s decision to integrate India in the war against the Axis powers (Japan, Germany, and Italy), the party did not carry out any referendums initially.

Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, who was turning the tides within the congress owing to his charismatic leadership and convinceful attitude, had presented the idea of making the most out of the Britisher’s predicament and using their misery to India’s advantage. However, due to ideological and methodological differences with Mahatma Gandhi, Netaji resigned from the Indian National Congress despite the popular mandate going in his favour.  

In 1940, Netaji’s vigorous protest against the British via the Holwell Satyagraha got him detained, where he continued to suffer until his health got the better of him, and he was placed under house arrest. On January 17th, 1941, Netaji Bose left India in disguise in his attempt to augment the cause of India’s liberation with the astounding progress made by the Axis powers. In May 1942, he met with the German dictator Adolf Hitler and took a submarine to Japan in 1943. 

While Japan kept making staggering progress in capturing one Southeast Asian British colony after another, the seventy-thousand Indian troops stationed in these regions, most of them along the Malayan coast, were captured and rendered as prisoners of war. The Japanese decided to create an auxiliary Indian army out of them to fight the British. 

A former officer of the British Indian Army captured during the Malay campaign named Captain Mohan Singh was endowed with the role to convince and organise this army, and thus, when many prisoners of war decided to volunteer to fight the British, the Indian National Army was created on December 15th, 1941. However, due to some disagreement between Captain Mohan Singh and the Japanese, the army was temporarily disbanded in 1942. 

Rash Behari Ghosh negotiated with the Japanese, and the INA got revived as the Indian Legion in 1942. On July 4th, 1943, Rash Behari Bose invited Netaji to swear himself in as the supreme commander of the INA. Netaji used his diplomatic prowess to forge a strong alliance with the Japanese Premier Hideki Tojo. Thus began the armed quest for an Independent India!

Aided by the Japanese military prowess, Netaji raged on with his iconic war cry, “Delhi Chalo!” In October 1943, the INA liberated the Andaman and Nicobar islands and renamed them “Shaheed and Swaraj.” Netaji founded the Arzi Hukumat-e-Azad Hind Government (the provincial government of free India in Singapore) in Singapore and swore himself as its first President, Prime Minister, and Chief of Army Staff. Nine foreign countries including Germany, Japan, Italy, the Philippines, Korea, China, Manchuko, and Ireland, ratified its authenticity. 

The INA captured Burma and hoisted the tricolour for the first time on the Indian turf on April 14th, 1944, at Moirang (modern Manipur). However, as Japan surrendered after the nuclear annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the spirit of INA waned as their resources dried up. With the death of Rash Behari Bose and the sudden disappearance of Netaji in 1945, the INA lost the gruesome battle of Kohima with the British, and sixteen thousand troops of the INA were captured by the victorious British side and sent to India.

How the Red Fort trial compiled India’s resentment:

The British decided to conduct the INA trials in ten phases, the first being in the monumental Red Fort. When the news of public trials for Colonel Prem Sehgal (a Hindu), Colonel GS Dhillon (a Sikh), and Major Shahnawaz Khan (a Muslim) reached Indian households, a wave of sympathy and resentment surfaced. Contrary to what Britishers had expected, almost every political party, including the Congress and Muslim League, united in their protest against the trial.

On the day of the trial, eminent Indian lawyers like Bhulabhai Desai, Asaf Ali, Jawaharlal Nehru, Tejbahadur Sapru, and Kailash Nath Katju deliberated hard with the public prosecutors through a detailed discourse on international law, military law, constitutional law, and politics. Bhulabhai Desai stood out as this 68-year-old man argued before the council for ten hours (for two days), armed without any notes but only passion!

Desai, during the discord, maintained, “Under the International Law, every man has the right to fight for their freedom. The Azad Hind Fauj had assimilated because of their loyalty to this nation. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose formed the Azad Hind Government to liberate India, and its authenticity stands recognised by nine foreign powers. The Azad Hind Fauj has its own constitution and therefore, the British government cannot try these officers based on the Indian Code of Law.” 

The British initially court-martialed the INA officers with the sentence of deportation for life. However, when the resentment among the Indian junta grew, the Britishers realised that their plan to assert dominance had severely backfired. As the words of the INA trials and the quantum of their punishment went around, rampant protests mushroomed in the nooks and corners of the country.

Even the Royal Indian Navy mutineered under the newly found wave of resentment against the British. There were instances where the infuriated Indian crew on naval ships flung their British counterparts into the sea! An Indian sailor organised a strike at the HIMS Talwar and wrote on its deck, “Angrezo, Bharat Chhodo!” (Britishers, Quit India!) Horrified by the uprising, the British acknowledged the danger looming over their lives and squashed the quantum of punishment that they had announced against the detained INA officers and troops.

Back in Westminster, the Conservative Party under sitting PM Winston Churchill got defeated by the Labour Party. Clement Attlee, the newly sworn PM, wasted no time arranging the withdrawal of the British Raj. Decades later, Clement Attlee acknowledged what the government of India did not. While speaking to Justice PB Chakraborthy (Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court), Attlee observed how Netaji’s INA and the Naval Uprising were the predominant reasons that compelled the British to leave India! Hence, on this auspicious day, we commemorate the Azad Hind Fauj and the priceless sacrifice by its brave personnel who had stormed the British territories singing “Kadam Kadam Badhaye Ja.” Although the INA had failed in liberating India, the INA had successfully liberated the Indian minds, forcing the British to withdraw from our sacred soil.

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