Monday, April 16, 2018

The Nazi Role In Indian Independence

wikipedia |  The integral association of the Free India Legion with Nazi Germany and the other Axis powers means its legacy is seen from two viewpoints, similarly to other nationalist movements that were aligned with Germany during the war, such as the Russian Vlasov movement. One viewpoint sees it as a collaborationist unit of the Third Reich; the other views it as the realisation of a liberation army to fight against the British Raj.[31]

Unlike the Indian National Army, conceived with the same doctrine,[13] it has found little exposure since the end of the war even in independent India. This is because it was far removed from India, unlike Burma, and because the Legion was so much smaller than the INA and was not engaged in its originally conceived role.[31] Bose's plans for the Legion, and even the INA, were too grandiose for their military capability and their fate was too strongly tied to that of the Axis powers.[32] Looking at the legacy of Azad Hind, however, historians consider both movements' military and political actions (of which the Legion was one of the earliest elements, and an integral part of Bose's plans) and the indirect effect they had on the era's events.

In German histories of the Second World War, the Legion is noted less than other foreign volunteer units. Filmmaker and author Merle Kröger, however, made the 2003 mystery novel Cut! about soldiers from the Legion in France. She said she found them an excellent topic for a mystery because scarcely any Germans had heard of the Indians who volunteered for the German Army.[31] The only Indian film to mention the Legion is the 2011 Bollywood production Dear Friend Hitler, which portrays the Legion's attempted escape to Switzerland and its aftermath.

Perceptions as collaborators

In considering the history of the Free India Legion, the most controversial aspect is its integral link to the Nazi Germany, with a widespread perception that they were collaborators with Nazi Germany by the virtue of their uniform, oath and field of operation. The views of the founder and leader of the Azad Hind movement, Subhas Chandra Bose, were somewhat more nuanced than straightforward support for the Axis. During the 1930s Bose had organised and led protest marches against Japanese imperialism, and wrote an article attacking Japanese imperialism, although expressing admiration for other aspects of the Japanese regime.[33] Bose's correspondence prior to 1939 also showed his deep disapproval of the racist practices and annulment of democratic institutions by the Nazis.[34] He nonetheless expressed admiration for the authoritarian methods which he saw in Italy and Germany during the 1930s, and thought they could be used in building an independent India.[35]

Bose's view was not necessarily shared by the men of the Free India Legion, and they were not wholly party to Nazi ideology or in collaboration with the Nazi machinery. The Legion's volunteers were not merely motivated by the chance to escape imprisonment and earn money. Indeed, when the first POWs were brought to Annaburg and met with Subhas Chandra Bose, there was marked and open hostility towards him as a Nazi propaganda puppet.[36] Once Bose's efforts and views had gained more sympathy, a persistent query among the POWs was 'How would the legionary stand in relation to the German soldier?'.[36] The Indians were not prepared to simply fight for Germany's interests, after abandoning their oath to the King-Emperor. The Free India Centre—in charge of the legion after the departure of Bose—faced a number of grievances from legionaries. The foremost were that Bose had abandoned them left them entirely in German hands, and a perception that the Wehrmacht was now going to use them in the Western Front instead of sending them to fight for independence.[37]

The attitude of the Legion's soldiers was similar to that of the Italian Battaglione Azad Hindoustan, which had been of dubious loyalty to the Axis cause—it was disbanded after a mutiny.[7][8] In one instance, immediately prior to the first deployment of the Legion in the Netherlands in April 1943, after the departure of the 1st Battalion from Königsbrück, two companies within the 2nd Battalion refused to move until convinced by Indian leaders.[37] Even in Asia, where the Indian National Army was much larger and fought the British directly, Bose faced similar obstacles at first. All of this goes to show that many of the men never possessed loyalty to the Nazi cause or ideology; the motivation of the Legion's men was to fight for India's independence.[37] The unit did allegedly participate in atrocities, especially in the Médoc region in July 1944,[38] and in the region of Ruffec[28] and the department of Indre during their retreat,[39] and in addition, some elements of the unit undertook anti-partisan operations in Italy.

Role in Indian independence

However, in political terms Bose may have been successful, owing to events that occurred within India after the war.[7][8] After the war, the soldiers and officers of the Free India Legion were brought as prisoners to India, where they were to be brought to trial in courts-martial along with Indians who were in the INA. Their stories were seen as so inflammatory that, fearing mass revolts and uprisings across the empire, the British government forbade the BBC from broadcasting about them after the war.[28] Not much is known of any charges made against Free India Legion soldiers, but the Indian National Army trials that were initiated had the sentences they issued commuted or charges dropped, after widespread protest and several mutinies. As a condition of independence readily agreed to by the INC, members of the Free India Legion and INA were not allowed to serve in the post-independence Indian military, but they were all released before independence. Once the stories reached the public, there was a turnaround in perception of the Azad Hind movement from traitors and collaborators to patriots. Although the authorities expected to improve the morale of their troops by prosecuting the Azad Hind volunteers, they only contributed to the sentiment among many members of the military that they had been on the wrong side during the war.[40][41] According to historian Michael Edwardes, the "INA and Free India Legion thus overshadowed the conference that was to lead to independence, held in the same Red Fort as the trials".[40]

Inspired to a large extent by the stories of the soldiers at trial, mutiny broke out in the Royal Indian Navy, and received widespread public support. While the troops who fought for the Allies were being demobilised, the Navy mutiny was followed up by smaller mutinies in the Royal Indian Air Force, and a mutiny in the Indian Army that was suppressed by force. In the aftermath of the mutinies, the weekly intelligence summary issued on 25 March 1946 admitted that the Indian military was no longer trustworthy, and for the Army, "only day to day estimates of steadiness could be made".[42][8] The armed forces could not be relied upon to suppress unrest as they had been before, and drawing from experiences of the Free India Legion and INA, their actions could not be predicted from their oath to the King-Emperor.[43][44] Reflecting on the factors that guided the British decision to relinquish their rule in India, Clement Attlee, then the British Prime Minister, cited as the most important reason the realisation that the Indian armed forces might not prop up the Raj.[45] Although the British government had promised to grant dominion status to India at the end of the war,[46][47] the views held by British officials after the war show[citation needed] that although militarily a failure the Indians who fought for the Axis likely accelerated Indian independence. This is contrary to the usual narrative of India's independence struggle, which focuses only on the INC and Mahatma Gandhi.[citation needed]