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The other side of the Dragon


In historic archival documents, two researchers have found evidence of strong Sino-Indian cooperation in the fight against colonialism in the early decades of the 20th century, reports Mayank Singh
MAYANK SINGH | Issue Dated: June 9, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : China | Subhash Chandra Bose | 1962 | Indian Army | INC | NAI | |

Most contemporary research on China and India is focused on the 1962 conflict and its aftermath, or on the strategic and foreign policy issues in Sino-Indian relations. Few are aware of the substantial late 19th and early 20th century interactions between the two nations.

Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh and later Subhash Chandra Bose had the support of the Chinese government during the 1930s and early 1940s. This support was not just moral in nature. There was a full-fledged armed training institute for Indians in Shanghai.It was from the early decades of the 29th century, individual Indians began to travel to China, and some Indian groups and associations like the Hindustani Ghadar Party, the Indian National Congress and the Indian National Army established their presence there.

This phase of India-China exchanges was waiting to be unravelled in the National Archives of India (NAI). The exercise was undertaken by Dr. Madhavi Thampi and Nirmola Sharma, a PhD scholar at JNU. They both appreciate the hard work of National Archives of India in keeping the documents well preserved. There is a treasure trove of rare letters, diaries, news clippings, photographs and other materials related to China among the collected papers of individuals and organizations.

Dr Thampi and Ms Sharma have worked with the help of the Institute of Chinese Studies. The documents listed by them are part of the papers of the INA and of its political wing, the Indian Independence League, the Raja ahendra Pratap papers, the Subhash Chandra Bose papers and the papers of K.M. Panikkar, India’s ambassador to China from 1948 to 1952.

The unique items available at NAI include several letters, documents, newspaper clippings and magazines. There is one reply sent by the 13th Dalai Lama to the exiled Indian nationalist Raja Mahendra Pratap who wanted to visit Tibet with other Indian activists in 1926. Permission was denied because of the fear that it would be known to the British.

There also is a report of Netaji’s address to the Chinese during his visit to Nanking under Japanese auspices in 1943. In it, Bose declares that “the Indian people really sympathise with China and the Chinese people” and reminds the Chinese audience that it was he who, when he had been President of the Indian National Congress, was responsible for organizing the Indian Medical Mission to be sent to China “as a token of sympathy for the Chinese people and the Chungking Government.” There are photographs which reveal a totally different side of India-China relations.

Photographs speak louder than words. In the collection of papers of the INA and the Indian Independence League are registration certificates with photographs of hundreds of Indians who joined the latter organisation in China.

Dr. Thampi (Associate Professor in Delhi University) brings out hidden aspects. “Usually when we hear of INA we think of Japan and Singapore but here it clearly shows that INA had its training centre at Shanghai,” she says.

She adds, “I take a long-term view of things between India and China. Without characterizing things as positive or negative I can say that the India-China relationship is very long, enduring and multi-dimensional. This relationship is not going to go away and there is more than just diplomacy as students are travelling to and from and trade has been growing in leaps and bounds.”

Nirmola Sharma is doing her PhD from JNU and was associated with this project. She considers geopolitics as one of the primary reasons for the way things are today. She talks with palpable excitement about the extent of the Indian Independence League’s presence in China.

“There are files which clearly show the list of 2000 who applied to become members of the IIL. This list reveals precise details of the following that the IIL had among the Indians in Shanghai.”

She specifically talks about a Sikh Chinese. “This IIL member’s face is typically Chinese. He had a Sikh father and a Chinese mother and the address mentioned in the membership application is of Ludhiana,” she reveals.

The batch of documents clearly gives the address of the IIL office as 157, Peking Road, Shanghai. The headquarters were based at 330E Paoshing Road, Shanghai. It was from the latter address that IIL’s magazine Chalo Delhi was published. There are death certificates of the IIL members issued by the Shanghai Municipal Council, PHD, Vital Statistics Office. Interesting and equally important is a file from 1949 which has “Memoirs and INA activities in Shanghai, China” by Major B. Narayan, ex INA member, which is typed in English. This document refutes the claim that INA worked under the command of the Japanese. It even includes a clarification on the death of Subhash Chandra Bose.

The revelation is about the extensive activities undertaken by Raja Mahendra Pratap (RMP) and the amount of international attention he was drawing even when he was exiled and living in Japan, Afghanistan and China. There are letters that he got from George Bernard Shaw (1933), Robert Long, Premier, New South Wales (1932), and Krishna Menon (1936).  RMP wrote in World Federation magazine in 1932 and criticized the discrimination against Chinese by Westerners, and urged that the people of India and China should “present a united front against all kinds of social, political and religious injustice.”

In the numerous files on INA, its activities are very well detailed. One of the interesting files dated 12 November, 1945. Report No. 4 is described as: “This file contains a detailed report on the IIL/INA structure and organisation in Shanghai based on the interrogation of Capt. B. Narayan (B1211)”. It is a very important report as it throws light on the functioning of IIL/INA not only in Shanghai but also in other parts of China.

Among the papers on Subhash Chandra Bose, one that is of immense interest is Serial No 3.7. November 1, 1943 with Page Nos: 57-58 which is titled “Recognition by the Wang Jingwei government and the government of Manchukuo of the Provisional Government of Free India headed by Subhash Chandra Bose.”  

There is also collection of radio messages sent to India from Shanghai. These were radioed to India through courtesy of the China Broadcasting Corporation.

What Dr. Thampi and Ms Sharma have come across during their research is clearly a far cry from the current scenario in which India and China are trapped in an adversarial relationship. As the heat and dust refuses to settle down, the two researchers believe that the two countries might do well to look back and seek inspiration for peace and cooperation.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017