Orlando Mazzotta, the name seems to be of a person of Italian origin. However, Mazzotta happens to be one of the most influential and important personalities in the Indian history because of the simple reason that Orlando Mazzotta was actually a pseudonym adopted by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, affectionately and respectfully addressed as Netaji.
It was under the name of Orlando Mazzotta that he managed to travel to Germany after escaping from British administered India where he was under house arrest in 1941. Actually, the journey involved two parts. First, he escaped to Afghanistan disguised as an Afghan Pathan, Mohammed Ziauddin and later entered Europe by the name of Count Orlando Mazzotta. Netaji intended to raise an army consisting of Indian prisoners of war (POWs), captured by the Axis powers, in the battles of the Second World War. For this reason, he first tried to negotiate with Germany for the purpose.
In Germany, Netaji sought to create a “Free Indian legion” or Legion FreiesIndien consisting of 45,000-50,000 Indian troops who had been captured by the German Afrika Corps in the African theatre of the World War. It was envisaged that the legion would be trained by the regular officers of the Wehrmacht or the German Army. However, things didn’t go according to the plan for several reasons. To start with, recruitment proved difficult. The allegiances of the army had to be shifted dramatically which was very difficult considering the notions of honour and loyalty, deeply embedded within the Indian Army since that time.
Secondly, the Germans themselves weren’t too keen on it. They were interested in using Netaji as a tool of propaganda against the British Empire rather than overseeing the Indian legion envisioned by Netaji. By 1943, it was clear to Netaji that the legion wouldn’t work and he realised that the best bet for creating an army against the British Raj lay closer home in the South East Asian region where the Japanese were on a roll having defeated and driven out the allied forces from Burma, Malaya, and most importantly from Singapore and its fall was a huge loss of face for the British Raj.
The difference between Germany and Japan was that Indian nationalists like Rash Bihari Bose had already made contacts with Tokyo and the groundwork to create an Indian National Army was already in place. Also, the manner in which the Japanese forces had won quick victories added an element of fear in the allied forces. The Japanese were thought to be invincible. They also were more aware politically and the feeling of nationalism was relatively more in comparison to their counterparts in Africa.
All these factors made the recruitment easier than the Indian legion in Germany. However, Netaji was crucial in increasing the ranks of troops in the INA. His charisma and stirring speeches attracted a lot of people and convinced even those who were earlier apprehensive of joining the INA. His sincerity for the Indian cause was visible to one and all. He was able to create three divisions within the INA and a provincial government for free India or the Azad Hind government was formed with Netaji himself being the head of the state. As the head of the Azad Hind government, he declared war against Britain in October 1943.
Netaji felt that the loyalty of Indian Army (IA) would be put to test in case they faced off against their fellow countrymen who were now the part of Indian National Army. He believed that the IA was the bedrock on which the British Raj still had power. If the IA was dismantled, it would be the first step towards Indian independence. But this didn’t happen immediately in the war as the battles on the Burma front and that of Imphal and Kohima showed. The IA and the allied forces were able to overcome the Japanese forces and the INA too was defeated and many were arrested.
But Netaji didn’t give up. While disbanding the INA in the aftermath of the Japanese surrender, he declared “The roads to Delhi are many. And Delhi still remains our goal.” On 18th August 1945, while travelling on a Japanese aeroplane which crashed on Formosa or Taiwan as it is now known, Netaji is believed to have died in the crash although several conspiracy theories do exist regarding this. Meanwhile, between November 1945 and May 1946, Netaji’s earlier prediction about the INA questioning the loyalty of Indian armed forces personnel and thereby ending the British Raj in a way turned out to be correct.
The highly publicized trials which were held at the Red Fort drew the attention of masses, leaders, and soldiers alike. One big difference between the IA and the INA was that unlike the IA which was mainly built on the theory of “martial races”, the INA was built to be all inclusive and cut across religion, caste, and race lines which were viewed positively by all. The unquestioning loyalty of the Indian armed forces was undermined due to the INA trials. Although they had fought against each other just a few months back in the Burma theatre, the Indian armed personnel sympathized with their countrymen belonging to the Indian National Army.
As far as the political leadership within the country is concerned, the Congress and the Muslim League, both could not ignore the popular image, the INA had created. It was also the event that triggered both the heads of the parties, Jawaharlal Nehru and Mohammed Ali Jinnah to don their barrister gowns after a long time and plead on behalf of INA personnel. As the three INA officers, Sahgal, Dhillon and Shahnawaz faced trials, the mood of the nation turned overwhelmingly against the British and in February 1946, it became clear to the British that their time was up.
On 18 February 1946, the famous Royal Indian Navy mutiny or the RIN mutiny took place as a result of discrimination faced by the Indian ratings at the hands of their British officers. Key demands of the mutineers included the release of all INA personnel and the condition that only Indians should be their superior officers. The mutineers also took out a procession in the streets of Bombay, carrying a portrait of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Also, the general public of Bombay, especially the working class population supported the mutineers. Soon, the movement spread to other cities such as Karachi and Calcutta.
The mutiny ended only on February 23 as the ratings surrendered after the intervention of the Congress and the Muslim League whose leaders Sardar Patel and Mohammed Ali Jinnah pacified the mutineers. It was this event that convinced the British that they could no longer rule India and ultimately, independence was achieved on August 15, 1947. Netaji’s contribution as we can realize was enormous and the Indian National Army even in the face of defeat in the battlefield emerged victorious. It is for these exact reasons that Baba Saheb Ambedkar famously declared in an interview to the BBC that India had won freedom not because of Gandhi but because of Bose, revealed further by the former Prime Minister of Britain, Clement Atlee in 1956.
What set Netaji apart from other leaders of that time was his pragmatism and incredible foresight. At a time when most leaders spoke of non-violence and were far too idealistic in their approach towards things, Netaji dared to take on the might of the British Empire by forming a separate army. The alliance with Germany and Japan was based on the notion of “enemy of an enemy is a friend”. He was right in judging that the day when the unquestionable loyalty of the Indian armed forces would be dismantled; the British would no longer be able to rule India. Most importantly, he understood the armed forces really well. Even after all these years, now more than ever, Netaji remains relevant. At a time when the world is ever changing and India is rightfully asserting its position, Netaji’s pragmatism is important to be inculcated.
India’s ‘Look-East’ policy becomes crucial in today’s context especially considering the rise of China. The evidence of the importance of ‘Look-East’ policy was clear when Prime Minister Modi invited the heads of the ASEAN countries as chief guests in the Republic Day celebrations this year. In 2007, the then External Affairs Minister had highlighted the importance of Netaji by naming him as one of the inspirations behind the ‘Look-East’ policy. The more powerful and important India becomes in today’s world, Netaji’s relevance will only continue to go up.