Subhas Chandra Bose
An undated portrait of Netaji Subhas Chandra BoseReuters

In the midst of strong speculations about conferring Bharat Ratna on Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, there is new focus on the freedom fighter's association with fascist Japan and its military notorious for war crimes. 

The article, on The Times on India, speaks about how Netaji's Indian National Army (INA) was manipulated by imperial Japan and how the soldiers from the British-formed Indian Army who refused to move to INA faced extreme torture and even 'cannibalism'.

The article titled 'Japanese ate Indian PoWs, used them as live targets in WWII', published on Monday, goes back to news reports from 1944-46 to burnish a story retold over the last several decades.

It states that Indian Army soldiers who refused to join the INA were used as live targets for shooting by the Japanese Imperial Army and were even killed and eaten by the Japanese. TOI has also published several photos that support these reports.

The article surfaced at a time when the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is expected to posthumously honour Netaji with Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian honour in the country. There have been accusations that BJP's move is a partisan reply to Congress's alleged preference for freedom fighters from its ilk. 

Bose's family members have themselves questioned how Netaji could be given the honour after 43 others including Congress leader Rajiv Gandhi were conferred with it. They have, in fact, refused to accept the award, and are instead demanding to know the exact circumstances around Netaji's disappearance and death, widely believed to have happened in a 1945 air crash. 

Much has been written about the Congress governments' efforts in pushing the air crash theory instead of investigating about other versions of Netaji's disappearance. 

Journalist Anuj Dhar, who released a book on the controversy, called 'India's Biggest Cover Up', had said in an interview to Zee News that the Congress, under then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, had perpetuated the alleged myth of the air crash, and had "obstructed justice by concealing information that went against the air crash theory".

Dhar had also said that Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee himself had "supported the air crash theory to the hilt, disregarding the facts on records".

Ironically, Mukherjee, who is now the President, would be conferring the Bharat Ratna on Bose if the government does recommend his name.

The TOI report indirectly throws light on another aspect of Bose and his ideologies, and those of the Indian National Army. It reveals the fascist nature of the INA, a rub-off from its association with the Japanese. Both armies have often been written about negatively in the Western media, especially the British ones.

A BBC article refers to the initial troops set up by Bose in 1942 to fight the British, before he formed the Indian National Army' as 'Hitler's secret Indian Army'.  

It states that 'thousands of Indian soldiers who had joined Britain in the fight against fascism swapped their oaths to the British king for others to Adolf Hitler'.

It goes on to state that 'Bose, who had been arrested 11 times by the British in India, had fled the Raj with one mission in mind. That was to seek Hitler's help in pushing the British out of India...... by August 1942, Bose's recruitment drive got fully into swing. Mass ceremonies were held in which dozens of Indian POWs joined in mass oaths of allegiance to Adolf Hitler.'