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Posted at: Apr 12, 2016, 12:56 AM; last updated: Apr 12, 2016, 12:56 AM (IST)

Japanese hocus pocus & Andaman Islands

The latest 50 files on Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose released recently dwell on the Japanese offer to transfer the Andaman and Nicobar islands to Netaji's Provisional Government of Free India. However, the offer made by the then Japanese Prime Minister General Tojo, at the Greater East Asia Conference in 1943, was just specious fiction.

IN the latest 50 files of Netaji, we find that on August 22, 1969, Netaji's nephew, Amiya Nath Bose, MP, suggested to the government, that they should request the Japanese government to supply them all the relevant diplomatic documents and other records regarding the transfer of Andaman and Nicobar Islands to the  Provisional Government of Free India.

The then Foreign Minister asked our ambassador, in Tokyo, accordingly to communicate with his Japanese counterpart. On May 26, 1970, the Japanese sent a copy of the speech made at the Greater East Asia Conference on May 11, 1943, by General Tojo, the Prime Minister of Japan. In that speech, Tojo declared that his government was ready to transfer, in the near future, Andaman and Nicobar islands to Netaji's Provisional Government of Free India. Netaji, who attended the conference, hailed General Tojo's announcement and said that such a step would strengthen the free India movement. Later, Netaji said that Andaman was British penal colony, its freedom would be the beginning of the Indian revolution just like the storming of the Bastille was the start of the French Revolution.   

However, Tojo's announcement did not really start the process of the transfer of Islands. There was a slip between the cup and the lip. Nay, ultimately it proved that there was only an empty cup. Since no diplomatic documents were exchanged at that time, decades later the Japanese government had only a text of a speech of their late Prime Minister, who after the end of the war was hanged as a war criminal. The announcement by Tojo might have induced Netaji to think about the storming of the Bastille, but the hard-core civil and military officials of Japan thought of putting restrictions, which they felt were imperative because of the exigencies of war. So the Imperial General Staff deliberated for three months. M. Sivaram, a Press consultant and the broadcasting chief of Netaji's Provisional Government has noted the outcome of those deliberations in his book, The Road To Delhi, he writes, they did not want their government forced to make any serious commitments. They agreed that Subhas Chandra Bose might form a Provisional Government of Free India and the Japanese government would recognise it, but the instrument of recognition, however, would not be sent to the Privy Council of Japan for ratification.

There was also an understanding that the Free India Government would not press Japan for all the normal rights and privileges of an allied government. Japan would send an ambassador to the Free India Government which should not expect a reciprocal diplomatic representation, in Tokyo. The Free India Government was not to seek diplomatic representation at the capitals of the powers which might recognise it. Bose should not attempt any official contact with any foreign government or any military authorities without the knowledge and approval of the Japanese military authorities. In the publicity campaign, Bose and his Government would have unlimited powers, subject to the approval of the Japanese censors. All these stipulations were conveyed to Bose by Colonel Nagai at Singapore, in September and discussed in detail for about a fortnight. 

How was the life under the Japanese? N. Iqbal Singh's The Andaman Story gives the details. The cruelty and torture were unprecedented. Besides, as the imports of almost all things became scarce, the prices went skyrocketing. Ghee was  Rs 200 per seer and rice was practically unobtainable. 

Politically we find that Netaji went ahead with his plan to strengthen the base and the reach of his Provisional Government.  He arrived in Port Blair on December 29, 1943.  His objective was to appoint an Indian Chief Commissioner who would be in charge of the administration of Andaman and Nicobar. The Japanese admiral, in charge of the administration, agreeing to the appointment of an Indian Chief Commissioner, told Bose that for cogent strategic reasons there would be no complete handover during the war, but if the Commissioner cooperated a few departments could be transferred. It seems that Netaji neither rejected any of those conditions nor did he say that he would approach General Tojo to get any amendments. 

Hugh Toye, in The Springing Tiger, called this transfer of Andaman and Nicobar Islands to Netaji's Provisional Government a "specious fiction". During Netaji's three-day stay, he was always surrounded by the Japanese officials. There was pomp and ceremony but complete lack of enthusiasm in the local populace. Selected Japanese officials and a few Indians accompanied Netaji. One of them was Mushtaq Ali. In the evening, when the Japanese officials were quite high, Mushtaq had the opportunity to whisper into Netaji's ear about the state of affairs in the Andamans. He requested Netaji that during his visit to the Cellular Jail, the next day, he should ask to be shown the sixth wing of the jail. He singled out the case of Diwan Singh and the torture he was subjected to. However, though Netaji visited the Jail, he did not go to the sixth wing. Bose renamed Andaman as “Shahid Dweep” and Nicobar as “Swaraj Dweep”. Loganathan, appointed by Bose as the Chief Commissioner, did not have any effective power. He visited Singapore and reported to Netaji about what had happened to Diwan Singh and others and how the Japanese were treating the Provisional Government. Unmindful of the conditions under the Japanese, some people in India continued to believe that the Andaman and Nicobar Islands were independent under the Japanese dispensation. 

On August 22, 1969, the question of changing the names of Andaman and Nicobar islands to Shahid Dweep and Swaraj Dweep came up.  K. R. Ganesh, Deputy Minister, elected from the same constituency, reacting sharply replied that, three-fourths of the island had been completely annihilated by the Japanese fascists. Thousands were thrown in the sea, thousands were decimated and hundreds were jailed. Samar Guha 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 1857. The name of Andaman is in our soul and we are not going to allow you to change it. Thus, while the independence of Andaman, Nicobar Islands was all Japanese hocus pocus, the assertion of Ganesh had the solid backing of history and the emotions of the people. 


The writer is a former Editor of  “Maharashtra Times”. The views expressed are personal

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