Was Subhash Chandra Bose the First Prime Minister of India?

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Was Subhash Chandra Bose the First Prime Minister of India? Blog Image

What’s in today’s article?

  • Why in News?
  • The Azad Hind government
  • Azad Hind – Not the first provisional government
  • Provisional governments - Acts of defiance & political necessity, not actual governments

Why in News?

Recently, an actress, who is also contesting this year’s Lok Sabha election, claimed that Subhas Chandra Bose, not Jawaharlal Nehru, was the first prime minister of independent India.

After being criticised for the historicity (or lack thereof) of her comments, she cited the provisional government setup by Bose in 1943 as evidence of her claim.

The Azad Hind Government

  • Provisional govt in 1943
    • Subhas Chandra Bose proclaimed the formation of the Provisional Government of Azad Hind (“Free India”) in Singapore on October 21, 1943.
    • Bose was the Head of State of this provisional government and held the foreign affairs and war portfolios.
    • A C Chatterjee was in charge of finance, S A Ayer became minister of publicity and propaganda, and Lakshmi Swaminathan was given the ministry of women’s affairs.
    • A number of officers from Bose’s Azad Hind Fauj were also given cabinet posts.
  • Authority of the govt
    • The Azad Hind government claimed authority over all Indian civilian and military personnel in Britain’s Southeast Asian colonies.
      • These colonies primarily included Burma, Singapore, and Malaya which had fallen into Japanese hands during World War II. 
    • It also claimed prospective authority over all Indian territory that would be taken by Japanese forces, and Bose’s Azad Hind Fauj, as they attacked British India’s northeastern frontier.
  • Steps to gain legitimacy
    • To give legitimacy to his government, Bose chose the Andamans. 
    • The Azad Hind government obtained de jure control over a piece of Indian territory when the Japanese handed over the Andaman and Nicobar islands in late December 1943.
      • Although de facto military control was not relinquished by the Japanese admiralty.
    • The government also handed out citizenship to Indians living in Southeast Asia.
      • As per a historian, 30,000 expatriates pledged allegiance to it in Malaya alone.
    • Diplomatically, Bose’s government was recognised by the Axis powers and their satellites.
    • These included Germany, Japan, and Italy, as well as Nazi and Japanese puppet states in Croatia, China, Thailand, Burma, Manchuria, and the Philippines. 
      • Immediately after its formation, the Azad Hind government declared war on Britain and the United States.

Azad Hind – Not the First Provisional Government

  • Provisional Government of India was formed in Kabul
    • 28 years before the Azad Hind government came into existence, the Provisional Government of India was formed in Kabul by a group known as the Indian Independence Committee (IIC).
  • Formed during World War I
    • During World War I, Indian nationalists abroad, along with revolutionaries and Pan-Islamists from India, tried to help India gain independence. 
    • They sought aid from the Central Powers, much like Bose did with the Axis powers in World War II. 
    • The IIC, with support from the Ottoman Caliph and the Germans, aimed to start a rebellion in India. 
    • They focused on Muslim tribes in Kashmir and the northwestern frontier of British India.
  • Government-in-exile in Kabul
    • The IIC established a government-in-exile in Kabul under the presidency of Raja Mahendra Pratap.
    • Maulana Barkatullah was appointed as the Prime Minister.
      • Barkatullah was revolutionary freedom fighters who spent decades outside India trying to gather international support for Indian independence.
      • Barkatullah was also one of the founders of the Ghadar movement, which began in California in 1913, and aimed to overthrow British rule in India.

Provisional governments - Acts of defiance & political necessity, not actual governments

  • Part of resistance movements
    • Setting up provisional governments, and governments-in-exile, has long been a way for resistance movements to gain political legitimacy. 
    • E.g., the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) in Dharamshala.
    • The very purpose of this government-in-exile is to challenge the legitimacy of the Chinese occupation of Tibet.
    • Similarly, both the 1915 and 1943 provisional governments were, more than anything else, symbolic acts of defiance against British rule in India.
  • Azad Hind govt of 1943
    • Bose proclaimed the Azad Hind government in order to legitimise his armed struggle against the British. 
    • By proclaiming a provisional government, he gave his army legitimacy in the eyes of international law — they were not just mutineers or revolutionaries, but soldiers of a duly constituted government. 
    • Crucially, citizenship oaths taken by Azad Hind Fauj officers were produced during the 1945-46 Red Fort trials as evidence of legality of their actions.
  • The Kabul provisional government of 1915
    • The Kabul provisional government was, on the other hand, proclaimed to establish the seriousness of IIC’s intentions.
      • It hoped that this would help gain the support of the Afghan Emir, who remained neutral.
    • In 1917, it even reached out to the Soviets, and as a government-in-exile right on India’s borders, posed a looming threat to the British.
  • Neither of these two governments can be called the Government of India
    • Both these governments failed to gain widespread international recognition. 
      • While some countries did recognise and support them, they did so for their own motives.
      • After the World Wars (in which the British emerged victorious), this support swiftly vanished.
    • Both these governments never controlled Indian territory. 
      • While Bose did officially hold the Andamans, effectively, the islands were still under Japanese occupation.
      • The Kabul government never set a foot on Indian soil, and, was a government only on paper until its dissolution in 1919.

Q.1. What is Indian Independence Committee (IIC)?

The Indian Independence Committee (IIC) was established in 1915 by Indian expatriates in Berlin, Germany. The committee's purpose was to promote Indian independence and was part of the Hindu-German Conspiracy.

Q.2. Who was Maulana Barkatullah?

Maulana Barkatullah (1854 - 1927) was a freedom fighter and Prime Minister of the first Provisional Government of India. He was a journalist, orator, scholar, and author who fought for India's independence from outside the country.