Neta ji

The secrets of Netaji’s secret service

The Indian National Army’s Secret Service men remain unrecognized, despite their sacrifices during the freedom struggle. We must revere them

While the Red Fort Trials of Shah Nawaz Khan, GS Dhillon and Prem Sahgal are widely known, the massive sacrifice of hundreds of Secret Service officers of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army (INA) remains a secret and an enigma.

One British military trial of the INA Secret Service that is known to some is the “Calcutta Conspiracy Case” of four patriots of the INA Secret Service. This secret trial for “waging war against the King Emperor” ended with the death sentence to the four by hanging. This came to the attention of some because Mahatma Gandhi intervened and their death sentences were commuted to life imprisonment. Writing to Lord Wavell, on September 14, 1945, Gandhi wrote, “It will be a political error of the first magnitude if this sentence of death is carried into effect.”

In March 1944, a fully armed Japanese submarine left the secure base in Penang, carrying four INA Secret Service officers, destined for the Puri beach of the Bay of Bengal. In the submarine were Pabitra Mohan Roy (leader), Sardar Mohinder Singh (bomb expert), Tuhin Mukherjee (coding expert) and Americk Singh Gill (radio expert). Just before departure came Netaji’s message to them directly: “Though few in number, your mission will strike a deadly blow at the entire British secret service. This base in Calcutta must be set up at all cost,” as chronicled by Gill.

Then came the deadly mistake. Against orders, Mukherjee went to meet his in-laws. His father in-law quickly handed him over to the Calcutta police and collected the considerable bounty on his head of 5,000 in 1944. Under torture, the vital radio code for transmissions to Netaji’s headquarters in Rangoon was revealed.

Soon after, Roy and Gill came into contact with Haridas Mitra and his wife Bela Bose, the daughter of Netaji’s elder brother Suresh Chandra Bose. Together they met Jyotish Bose, a close friend of Haridas Mitra and the rest of the trusted members of the underground. Luckily, the first trial of radio contact with a new code went through from the home of a dental surgeon, Dr Dutt. Now, they needed a permanent hide-out to set up the powerful transmitters.

The radio expert, Americk Gill, wrote, “Haridas Mitra lost no time and soon we were settled at Behala. We were furnished with the best radio receivers, organized and supported by Haridas Mitra, Jyotish Bose, Bela Bose and a valiant group of well concealed and trusted underground workers.”

Newly coded messages to the INA headquarters revealed among other information, vital British troop movements to Kohima, the assembling of heavy bombers at Dum Dum airport and as, Gill wrote, “…we made use of our powerful transmitters to jam naval and army signals and causing interference on their known frequencies.” (sic). These hundreds of coded messages were hugely helpful to the INA commanders on the battlefield.

Singh set up a strong base in Jalandhar. But alas, he was betrayed while in Phagwara for bounty and tortured to death in Lahore. This ultimate sacrifice of Mohinder Singh remains unrecognized till date.

The British intelligence was closing in and very soon Roy was arrested; so was Gill. And then Haridas Mitra and Jyotish Bose were arrested too. The summary military trial began in May 1945 and ended in a month. “King’s Witnesses” included 12 traitors who were trained in the INA Centre in Penang and had landed in Baluchistan and of course, there was Tuhin Mukherjee. The British judge Ormerod condemned to death by hanging Pabitra Mohan Roy, Americk Singh Gill, Haridas Mitra and Jyotish Bose.

It is believed that 10 such groups of INA Secret Service men, who had landed earlier in different parts of the country, had been condemned to death too and had been hanged. What a tragedy that this history is not known to our nation. British records must have been kept and lie buried in India or London. It is time that we draw them out to at least consecrate the ultimate sacrifices of these martyrs.

Amit Mitra is the finance minister of West Bengal. He is also the founder patron, with Anita Bose, of the INA Trust and the son of Haridas Mitra and Bela Bose, niece of Netaji. This piece is based on the memoirs of Roy, Gill, J Bose and Sumitra Mitra’s book with interviews with H Mitra