Gandhiji’s rare letters seeking pardon for INA activists on death row recovered

The letters have been published in the Bengali book ‘Phasir Mancha Theke Phire’, written by Jyotish Chandra Basu, one of the four accused, and will be released on the eve of Gandhiji’s 147th birth anniversary October 2 this year. The book, published by Parul Prakashani, has raised great interest among Gandhian scholars.

Gandhiji wrote the first letter to Lord Archibald Wavell on September 14, 1945 from Nature Cure Clinic in Pune. “Dear Friend, I am sorry that I have to worry you almost immediately on your return from London. My only excuse is that my mission is purely humanitarian,” the letter begins.

It further states: “Shri Haridas Mitra, an MA of the Calcutta University and the husband of Shri Subhas Chandra Bose’s young niece aged 22 years, is under sentence of death over what appears to be an untenable ground. I have pursued the petition for mercy by the uncle of the condemned as also of Advocate Carden-Noad. I suggest that they furnish cogent grounds for the exercise of mercy. In any event, the case of mercy becomes irresistible in that the war with Japan is over. It will be a political error of the first magnitude if this sentence of death is carried into effect. My attention was drawn to the case by the petitioner’s wife as she has often sung at my prayer meetings when I had the honour of being a guest of Advocate Sarat Chandra Bose, who I am happy to learn the Government of India has ordered to be released.”

Incidentally, Haridas Mitra is the father of state Finance Minister Amit Mitra. The Viceroy’s House immediately contacted Gandhiji; but, as no prompt action was taken, Gandhiji wrote six more letters making the same request.

Gandhi, being a barrister-at-law, went through the copies of the petition filed by the accused as well as the charges framed by the British government. His letter created ripples in British administration. On October 19, 1945 he again wrote to Sir Evan Jenkins, private secretary to the Viceroy, requesting him to take up the issue to pardon the death sentence of the four prisoners.

On November 1, 1945 Jenkins wrote a letter to Gandhiji, which read: “His Excellency has considered these petitions together with petitions from two others who were sentenced to death at the same trial, and has commuted all four death sentences to transportation for life.”

Mitra was released in July 1946 along with four others. The four were active members of the secret service of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army. They set up their office at 6A, Bipin Pal Road in Kolkata and passed on information through code language. Mitra, along with Pabitra Roy, were posted outside the house as guards.

On December 31, 1944 Jyotish Chandra Basu was arrested. Soon, Mitra, Roy and Amar Singh Gill were arrested as well. They were taken to Lord Sinha Road police station and subjected to inhuman torture, which included caning and electrocution. Soon, their trial began and all were sentenced to death. Gill and Basu were kept in Presidency jail, while Mitra and Roy were kept in the condemned cell of Alipore Central jail.

The rare letters shed new light on Gandhiji’s role in the freedom struggle, as he had regularly opposed armed struggle and felt strongly against those who were working as secret agents of INA. The letters also demolish the general view that Gandhi was opposed to Netaji and did not support INA.
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