How Rashbehari and Subhas repeatedly outsmarted the British

Tales of how Rashbehari and Subhas managed to escape from right under the nose of the British

How Rashbehari and Subhas managed to repeatedly escape from right under the nose of the British
How Rashbehari and Subhas managed to repeatedly escape from right under the nose of the British

This article has been co-authored by Saswati Sarkar, Shanmukh and Dikgaj

In Part 1 of this series we covered the concept of Freedom and how to achieve it – as envisioned by Rashbehari and Subhas Bose. Part 2 looked at how the two Boses viewed Gandhi and Nehru. This is the concluding part of this series.

Neither Subhas Bose nor Rashbehari Bose  could  ever be captured by the British who had one of the best intelligence network ever known, after they declared open war on them (Subhas served several jail sentences while he was part of mainstream Congress politics but not after).  Subhas had in fact  told a young woman in INA “Don’t worry, the Britishers will never take me, dead or alive’’ p. 536 [2]. This is no mean achievement given that there has been no dearth of traitors and moles in every movement worth its name in India, and almost every revolutionary group had been infiltrated by the British intelligence. But, both the Boses were master deceivers. They observed some basic precautions, without fail, which included sharing information about their plans as little as possible and to as few as possible. It was due to the extreme secrecy they observed and subterfuge they employed in their plans that they could repeatedly best the formidable British intelligence machinery. This is the story we tell today.

We start with Rashbehari Bose. Immediately after he had organized the flinging of a bomb on Viceroy Hardinge on December 21, 1912, he had fled to Dehradun “and organized a meeting of the employees of the Forest Research Institute in which he vehemently condemned the criminal attack on the Viceroy. He adopted this policy even in public meetings also, the obvious motive being to hoodwink and befool the police, in this he was very much successful’’ pp. 109-110 [6]. Lord Hardinge has written about this incident at Dehra Dun: “when driving in a car from the station to my bungalow,  I passed an Indian standing in front of the gate of his house, with several others, all of whom were very demonstrative in their salaams. On my inquiring who these people might be I was told that the principal Indian there had presided two days before at a public meeting at Dehra Dun and had proposed and carried a vote of confidence with me on account of the attack on my life. It was proved later that it was this identical Indian who threw the bomb at me !!’’ p. 83  [8] As Uma Mukherjee has written, “On account of his pronounced pro-Government speeches and actions at Dehra Dun Rashbehari won very soon the favor of the police officers of the U.P. and the Punjab. One of them, Sushil Chandra Ghose, picked up intimacy with him, probably with the object of eliciting information from him about his relative Srish Chandra Ghose, the political suspect of Chandernagore; but Rashbehari also in his turn utilised this contact with the police for his own purposes. He pursued his policy with such an ability as to mislead even the spying Bengali police officer of Dehra Dun to report about Rashbehari that “it is the general belief there, amongst the Bengali community, that Rashbehari was a police spy and used to supply information to the C.I.D. officers’’ (The Weekly Report of the Intelligence Branch, Bengal, dated July 29, 1914). In the battle of wits Rashbehari obviously proved the stronger. The trying Judge in the Delhi-Lahore Conspiracy Case observed that “Rashbehari was an even cleverer man than he is supposed to have been, and that he made use of his connection with the police to further the ends of this conspiracy.’’ Rashbehari, by his speeches and actions, produced at that time such a favourable impression on police, as he was even allowed to enter the Circuit House at Dehra Dun when Viceroy Hardinge had come there for treatment following the Delhi outrage.’’ pp. 110-111 [6].

Rashbehari has himself recalled an incident in his memoirs on how he had deceived the police in 1915: “Arrests had started in Lahore, thinking that there was no point in living in Lahore any more, I decided to return to Banaras or Bengal. Then an old friend told me, police is watching every train this time, we will not let you walk towards danger. In response I told that because of police surveillance it would be easy to get out of Lahore. Previously too twice police was watching Delhi station like this, then I could get out of Delhi very easily. The police are somewhat thick. If someone appears to look around to find out if someone was following, then it would be difficult to avoid the police. But if someone behaves as a gentry, arriving in a carriage, tipping the driver four annas, proceeding straight to the booking office, purchasing ticket and sitting on a bench until the arrival of the train, reading a newspaper or a book, not even police’s father can suspect. Besides, police would now watch most passengers, so their attention would be dispersed rather than focused. This is our great opportunity. Explaining this to my friend, accompanied by a Marathi youth (Binayak Rao), exactly at evening time I arrived at Lahore station. I wore  a Punjabi dress, a large pugri on my head, and carried a loaded Mauser pistol. I had two tickets purchased already, within two minutes the train to Delhi arrived. We both boarded the train. I asked my companion to pretend as if he were asleep, and I started snoring as well. In a bit, the train started moving. When the train was leaving, I saw my old friend standing on the platform. He was very happy that I was leaving Lahore safely.’’ pp. 1-2 [4].

Rashbehari’s lieutenant Sachindranath  Sanyal (read about him in [5]) has written that very few knew the homes Rashbehari used to live in during his hideout, he never met others except his core group at those homes pp. 84, 90 [3]. From Japan, Rashbehari often corresponded with friends in India to plant information so as to throw the British police off his trail, as his letters were likely to be censored and read by the intelligence  before being delivered. In 1920-21, he  had written to his lifelong friend and fellow-revolutionary, Srish Chandra Ghose in India that he had  decided to eschew secret revolutionary conspiracies p. 576, [7], yet, in 1925, we find him working towards inciting revolution in all enslaved Asian countries p. 360, [1].

Both the Boses had executed legendary escapes from the British Indian State, successfully deceiving their elaborate intelligence machinery. Rashbehari  had escaped to Japan during the first world war in the disguise of Preo Nath Tagore, a relative of  Rabindra Nath Tagore [5] and Subhas had escaped to Germany during the second world war dressed first as a deaf and dumb Pathan, and later as an Italian, Orlando Mazzotta. Later, he reached Japan from Germany in a submarine.   Both times, he shared his plans with as few as possible, and in fact concealed them through elaborate guises. Leonard Gordon has written about his flight from India to Germany in 1941: “The memoirs of Bose’s confidants in the escape differ as to his expected ultimate destination, Bhagat Ram thought all along that Bose was aiming for Moscow and this fitted with his Kirti Party’s outlook. Asoke Bose (Asoke and Sisir were Subhas’ nephews  who had helped him in his flight abroad) thought he was headed for Moscow, while Sisir Bose wrote in his detailed account about twenty-five years after the events, “My brother (Asoke) had remarked that uncle appeared to be blazing the path of India’s old-time revolutionaries and was perhaps going to Russia. I agreed with him generally but added that I had no doubt in my mind that his ultimate destination for the present was Germany.’’ p. 426, [2]. So Subhas did not discuss his destination with either nephew who assisted him during the trip, and also kept another assistant Bhagat Ram in the dark.

Next, Subhas’ voyage from Germany to Japan was finalized in January, 1943. Subhas left Germany for East Asia  in a submarine on 8th  February 1943 p. 489, [2].  But, when he had celebrated his birthday with his Indian assistants on 23rd  January 1943, he had merely remarked that his next birthday would definitely not be celebrated in Berlin.  He intended to continue his fight from a place nearer to India p. 132 [24]. Thus, he prepared them for his departure, while The Japanese attaché in Berlin consulate, Syn Higuti,  has also described the secrecy Subhas observed about this trip: It was in January 1943 that it was fixed to send Mr. Chandra Bose by a German submarine after direct negotiations with Hitler. Mr. Chandra Bose was very much pleased. It was in the middle of Feb. 1943, that we arranged a lunch for Mr. Chandra Bose with a few intimate German friends, the Bishop Fusein of Syria, Mr. Gailain, ex-Premier of Iraq, the Ambassador of Afghanistan and me. We were twelve in all. But except Mr. Bose his assistant Nambiar and me, no one knew what Chandra Bose was going to do. Mr. Chandra Bose talked:-”There are some important revolutionaries in Wien (Viena). As we must fortify our movement at all cost, I should like to go to Witn (Viena) tomorrow: I shall be absent from Berlin for a month. p. 62, [7]. (Higuti may have got his dates slightly off as Subhas had embarked on his voyage on 8th February, 1943, itself).

One wonders if this is why so little is definitively known about what happened to Subhas Chandra Bose in the end.

References:

[1] T. R. Sareen, “Indian National Army – A documentary study,’’ Volume 5,   1944-45

[2] Leonard Gordon “Brothers against the Raj’’

[3] Sachindranath Sanyal, “Bandi Jiban’’

[4] Rashbeharir Atma-katha O dushprapya Rachana, edited by Amal Kumar Mitra

[5] Saswati Sarkar, Jeck Joy, Shanmukh, Dikgaj, “Rashbehari Bose’s second war from East Asia – battleground Japan and Singapore’’  http://www.dailyo.in/politics/rashbehari-bose-sachindranath-sanyal-japan-revolutionary-china-indian-freedom-struggle-second-world-war/story/1/9745.html

[6] Uma Mukherjee, “Two Great Indian Revolutionaries – Rashbehari Bose and Jyotindra Nath Mukherjee’’

[7] Rashbehari Basu – His Struggle for India’s Independence, Editor in chief, Radhanath Rath, Editor Sabitri Prasanna Chatterjee, Biplabi Mahanayak Rashbehari Basu Smarak Samiti

[8] Lord Hardinge “My Indian Years: 1910-1916, London, 1948

Saswati Sarkar and others

Saswati Sarkar is a professor in the electrical and systems engineering department of the University of Pennsylvania. She authors articles on socio-politics and history of India. Her articles on topics other than those related to her professional expertise are expressed in personal capacity.

Shanmukh is an engineering academic in North America, focussing on time frequency analysis, medical image analysis & computer vision.His hobby interests include modern Indian history, Sanskrit and demographics.

Dikgaj is an academic mathematician with research interests in game theory, computer science and quantitative applications in humanities, and blogs on history of subcontinent and politics of religion, imperialism, current affairs.

1 COMMENT

  1. Excellent article. Thanks to the team for bringing not so known facts to light. I hope GOI funds biopic or at least a TV series on Rash Behari Bose, may be Mamta Banerjee will also support it. If I had money, I would have done it.

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