Shah Nawaz Khan [1914-1983] : freedom fighter
Shah Nawaz Khan was a Punjabi Muslim born in present day Pakistan on 24 Jan 1914. He served in an Indian regiment under the British Empire during the Second World War. He was captured by the Japanese in South Asia and handed over to the Indian National Army (INA), with the intention that he be commissioned as a soldier. Soon after he joined the INA, Subhas Chander Bose took over its leadership from Lieutenant-Colonel Bhonsle and galvanized his ranks to wage war against the British. It was BoseÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s or NetajiÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s, as he was known, optimism and leadership that transformed demoralized cynical officers into a fighting force to be reckoned with.
Shah Nawaz was both influenced by and loyal to Netaji until the tragic air crash in 1945 in which Netaji is said to have succumbed to injuries. It is interesting to note that Shah Nawaz, one of NetajiÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s top generals, was a Muslim. Other senior generals were Sikh and Hindu respectively, indicating that for Bose, the caliber of his personnel was of paramount importance, not their personal faiths.
After NetajiÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s death, even though many refused to believe it had actually transpired, INA officers were uncertain of their future as none other in their midst was as magnetic as Netaji and able to take over their leadership.
It was either surrender or death (suicide), the latter being a Japanese war tradition they were well exposed to ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ suicide being preferable to facing defeat. However, the decision that prevailed was surrender. The INA troops were disarmed and three senior officers, Shah Nawaz Khan, Prem K Sehgal and Gurbax Singh Dhillon were made to stand trial at the Red Fort in Delhi.
The British had perhaps not recognized this situation for what it was ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ an ideal opportunity for the Indian National Congress to rally support from the masses around the captured, disarmed soldiers and push for a free India. As the British did not want more trouble on their hands, the soldiers put to trial on charges of treason were eventually released.
But not before many senior Indian leaders had spoken out in their defense. Around this time, it is said that Jinnah offered to defend Shah Nawaz Khan if he stood separate from his comrades, but Shah Nawaz resolutely refused this offer. Jawaharlal Nehru, who was known to criticize the ways of the INA, stepped forward to advocate their cause.
Along with Nehru, Bhulabhai Desai also pleaded for the trio to save them from a death penalty, life imprisonment or fine. The defense team explained that the soldiers should be treated as prisoners of war as they were not paid mercenaries but bona fide soldiers of a legal government, the Provisional Government of Free India, or the Arzi Hukumate Azad Hind, which they recognized as their sovereign, even if this amounted to being misinformed patriots.
There are those who believe Nehru had vested interests in getting involved in this trial, that he had already identified Shah Nawaz as a Muslim who could be very useful as a politician. However, it must be said that though opportunistic, it was the prudent choice for Shah Nawaz ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ Netaji had died, the INA had been dismantled, the Indian National Congress had led the country to freedom, former INA members received no pensions at the time in free India and were debarred from entering the Indian Armed Forces. Against this, he had been invited to join the party. In spite of all that would be said against him, he had to think of his future.
After independence in 1947, Shah Nawaz was given a berth in the Nehru Cabinet. He fought three Lok Sabha elections under the INC banner, from Meerut (Uttar Pradesh). During his tenure, he was appointed Minister of State (railways) and later parliamentary secretary to the Minister for transport and railways.
In 1956, in response to public clamor to investigate the circumstances of Subhas Chander BoseÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s death, Nehru constituted a committee to delve into the matter. The committee was headed by INA Major General, Shah Nawaz Khan, and included Suresh Chandra Bose, elder brother of Netaji, and S N Mitra, a nominee of the West Bengal Government.
The Committee began its work in April 1956 and concluded four months later when all three members of the Committee signed a paper that stated that Netaji indeed died in the aeroplane crash at Taihoku (Japanese for Taipei) in Formosa (now Taiwan), on August 18, 1945.
The Committee also commented that the ashes kept at Tokyo's Renkoji Temple were of Subhas Bose. It recommended to the Government to bring the ashes to India with due honor and erect a memorial.
The Shah Nawaz Committee report drew heavily from the testimonies of many of NetajiÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s co-passengers on the ill-fated plane, such as the sole Indian witness Colonel Habibur Rehman, NetajiÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s trusted adjutant, who traveled from Pakistan to testify. The Committee also interviewed the doctors who tried to revive Netaji at hospital.
Diplomatic reasons prevented the Committee from visiting Taiwan but they did study reports of secret enquiries concerning Netaji, conducted by civil and military intelligence soon after the war.
Sadly, Shah Nawaz died on 9 Dec 1983 unremembered in Uttar Pradesh.
For more reading, refer:
My Memories of INA & its Netaji by Shah Nawaz Khan, foreword by Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru published by Rajkamal Publications, Delhi, 1946.
Shah Nawaz Speaks by Abdul Bari published in Lahore, 1946.