Azad Hind Sarkar (The Government of Free India) and its armed forces, Azad Hind Fauj (Indian National Army) formed and led by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose presented a model of India envisaged by our freedom fighters. It was an India where Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, and Christians fought side by side for a common goal, the liberation of the motherland. At a time when petty politicians had formed political formations serving religious interests Azad Hind Sarkar, under Netaji, united all Indians under a national ideology. Since the 1930s, Netaji had expressed his opinion that the British government would try to divide India along religious lines before leaving it. He believed that the British would ensure that the Indians remain divided even after they leave. A prophecy that came true on 15 August 1947.
In present times when it has become glamorous to ask Indian Muslims about the contributions of their fore-parents in the Indian freedom struggle, I feel compelled to write this piece highlighting the role of Muslims in Azad Hind Sarkar. Netaji would be agitated to know that today I have classified his Azad Hindustanis according to the religious faiths they professed. But, he should know that petty politicians have succeeded in pushing us to a point where I am compelled to profile the soldiers of Azad Hind Fauj by their religion to prove that the movement was truly secular and all Indians, including Muslims, were behind Netaji.
There were thousands of people who followed Netaji in Azad Hind Fauj and among them, thousands professed Islam as their religion. It is impossible to write about all of them but I will be trying to list a few of these Muslim soldiers of Azad Hind Fauj.
Abid Hasan Safrani: Abid Hasan was an Indian student from Hyderabad studying engineering in Berlin when Netaji reached Germany during the Second World War. He met Netaji in Berlin, joined his movement, and became his secretary and interpreter. When Netaji undertook a three-month-long submarine journey from Germany to Japan, he was the only Indian to accompany him. Later, as an officer of the Fauj, Abid served as a personal adviser of Netaji and also led battles on the Burma front. He coined the popular slogan, “Jai Hind”.
Habib ur Rahman - Colonel Habib ur Rahman was a co-founder of Azad Hind Fauj with Gen. Mohan Singh & became in charge of the Administration branch at Headquarters. He led an expedition to Burma. After Netaji overtook the command of the Azad Hind Fauj, he was appointed as Officer in charge of the training school. On 21 October 1943, when Azad Hind Sarkar was formed, he also took an oath as a minister. Later, he was also appointed as the Deputy Chief of Army Staff and accompanied Netaji during his last known flight on 18 August 1945.
Maj. Gen. Mohd Zaman Khan Kiani: During the initial formation of Azad Hind Fauj by General Mohan Singh, Mohd. Zaman Khan Kiani was the Chief of the General Staff. After Netaji took over the movement, he was appointed as a minister and commander of the 1st division of Azad Hind Fauj. The division he headed had three regiments, Nehru, Azad, and Gandhi. The Fauj was led by him at the Burma front. When Netaji left Singapore with Habib with his last known flight, Kiani was given the charge of the Chief of Army.
Col. Ehsan Qadir: When General Mohan Singh formed Azad Hind Fauj, Ehsan Qadir was appointed the Director of Azad Hind Radio. In 1943, when Rash Behari Bose handed over the leadership of the movement to Netaji, Qadir joined Azad Hind Sarkar, appointed as military secretary, headed the volunteer group having more than 30,000 members, and Azad Hind Dal. Netaji also formed a Communal Harmony Council to promote Hindu-Muslim unity and Qadir was made the head. The Council ensured that religious differences did not arise in Azad Hind Fauj. When someone told him that Netaji was killed in a plane crash, Qadir did not believe and lost his mental balance.
Col. Inayatullah Hasan: Inayatullah Hasan was appointed as the director of Azad Hind Radio by General Mohan Singh. He wrote popular patriotic radio dramas which forced All India Radio to broadcast a counter-narrative in India. Later, Netaji appointed him as the Incharge of the training department where he gave arms training to women, children and civilians.
Maj. Gen. Shahnawaz: Major General Shahnawaz Khan was appointed by Netaji as the commander of the force which attacked the British-controlled Indian territories. He led the offensive in Arakan, Nagaland, and other frontiers. Indian Soldiers of the British Indian Army who were kept as Prisoners of War were cajoled by him to join Azad Hind Fauj. After the war when Azad Hind Fauj officers were arrested and court-martialled, the whole nation rallied behind them with cries of “Lal Qile se Aai Awaz, Dhillon, Sehgal Shahnawaz”.
Col. Shaukat Ali Malik: Colonel Shaukat Ali Malik holds the distinction of hosting the first national flag on free Indian territory. On 14 April 1944, Malik, the commander of Bahadur Group of Azad Hind Fauj, hoisted the national tricolour at Moirang in Manipur. A civilian government was set up and intelligence units were sent into enemy lines from there. Netaji decorated him with Tamgha-e-Sardar-e-Jang, one of the highest military decorations of Azad Hind Fauj.
Col. Mehaboob Ahmad: Colonel Mehaboob Ahmad was a liaison officer between Azad Hind Sarkar and Azad Hind Fauj. During the wars at Arakan and Imphal, he was the advisor of Major General Shahanwaz Khan.
Karim Ghani: Karim Ghani was a Tamil journalist living in Burma, who headed the Indian Independence League before Netaji arrived from Germany. When Azad Hind Sarkar was formed he took oath as one of the six advisors. D.M Khan was another Muslim advisor of the Sarkar. After the war was over, both of them were among the five declared individual enemies of the United Nations.
Abdul Habib Yusuf Marfani: Abdul Habib Yusuf Marfani was a wealthy Gujarati businessman settled in Rangoon. Speeches of Netaji woke up the nationalist in himself. He started donating two to three lakh rupees at a time regularly till 9 July 1944, when Netaji called for funds at a public meeting where he was present. Marfani walked with a silver tray, which had jewelry, papers of properties, and currencies. The value was estimated to be Rupees One Crore at that time. After donating every penny of his fortune, he asked for a Khaki uniform of Azad Hind Fauj for himself. Netaji decorated him with Tamgha-e-Sevak-e-Hind, the highest civilian award of Azad Hind Sarkar, and said, “some say, “Habib has gone mad”. I agree. I want every one of you Indians to become mad. To achieve victory and freedom for our country, our Motherland, we need such men and women.”
During the wars, more than 50 soldiers were decorated with the gallantry awards of Azad Hind Fauj. These awards were Tamgha-e-Sardar-e-Jang, Tamgha-e-Vir-e-Hind, Tamgha-e-Bahaduri, Tamgha-e-Shatru Nash, and Senad-e-Bahaduri. Several Muslim soldiers won these awards from Netaji.
Col. S.A. Malik
Major Sikander Khan
Major Abid Hussain
Capt. Taj Mohammad
Lt. Asharfi Mandal
Lt. Inayat Ullah
Hav. Ahmed Din
Hav. Hakim Ali
Hav. Ghulam Haider Shah
Hav. Pir Mohd.
Hav. Hakim Ali
Naik Faiz Mohd.
Sepoy Ghulam Rasul
Naik Faiz Baksh
Hav. Mohd. Aaghar
Hav Gulab Shah
The list is limited and still misses people like Bashir Ahmad and Munawar Hussain, who were the ministers in Azad Hind Sarkar; Aziz Ahmad Khan and Inayat Kiani, commanders of two of the three regiments of Azad Hind Fauj, Nazir Ahmad who was killed while defending an attack on Netaji; or Sheikh Mohammad, who headed India Independence League in Vietnam. The list is long. It is also true that it is foolish to prepare a list of Muslim soldiers of a nationalist and secular movement. However, it’s also a harsh truth that in present times people want to know the contribution of Muslims in the making of modern India.