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Asia Rising: Bose Gets Support for India’s Liberation at 1943 Greater East Asia Conference

“The role for the government and the people of Nippon was carved out by history as early as 1905 when, for the first time, an Asiatic nation stood up to resist Western aggression.”

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The Greater East Asia Conference (1943) in front of the National Diet Building, Tokyo. The conference brought together the leading collaborators and Japanese administrators for their conquered territories. (public domain)

Fourth of 5 parts

Part 1: How the Revolutionary Netaji Bose Eyed Japan’s Help to Break India Free from Britain

Part 2: Get Bose to Tokyo: Why Wartime Japan Wanted an ‘India for Indians’

Part 3: From Japan, Bose Called on Indian Masses to Revolt Against British Rulers

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By November 1943, delegates from many East and Southeast Asian nations assembled in Tokyo at the invitation of the Japanese government. The occasion was the inaugural Greater East Asia Conference, which had been planned much earlier, during an Imperial Conference on May 31, in order to “establish the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere to complete the war.” 

The Greater East Asia Conference was presided over by Japan’s foreign minister, Mamoru Shigemitsu, with Prime Minister Hideki Tōjō, Navy Minister Shigetaro Shimada, and Greater East Asia Affairs Minister Kazuo Aoki all present in the assembly.

Image courtesy of World War II database.

The Tokyo Broadcast

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was invited to the conference, although he attended it as an observer rather than a delegate. Japan had not announced that India or the Azad Hind (Free India Provisional Government, FIPG) were to be included in the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. 

Shortly after his arrival in Japan, Bose addressed a broadcast in the Hindi language on November 3, 1943, informing the Indian audience of his arrival in Tokyo. In it he thanked the Japanese government for its recognition of the Free India Provisional Government, and for its promised support in the Indian struggle for liberation. 

Bose’s personal connection with the Japanese government was proof to the world of the friendship between Japan and the FIPG. In his perspective, the broadcast also substantially foiled what he viewed as enemy propaganda misrepresenting Japan’s attitude towards India.

Representatives invited to the Greater East Asia Conference (public domain).

Free India, Free Asia

The conference in Tokyo continued for several days, with the theme of Indian independence reverberating largely throughout. Speeches by delegates from East Asian governments were prominent. 

In one speech on November 6, Ba Maw of Burma spoke eloquently in support of the FIPG, stating: “In my view, Asia cannot be free unless India is free…. If we wish to destroy anti-Asiatic imperialisms, we must drive them out of their Asiatic stronghold, which is India. The British Empire cannot be broken unless and until British domination of India is broken.” 

Delegates unanimously passed a motion introduced by Ba Maw to give moral and material support to India in its fight for independence.

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Netaji Bose spoke next and reviewed India’s struggle for liberation and his own role in it. He narrated how he had been imprisoned — and finally managed to escape — India in his determination to seek outside help in the struggle against the British. 

Subhas Chandra Bose speaking at the Greater East Asia Conference in Tokyo, November 1943 (public domain).

Rousing Asian Nationalism

Bose thanked nations of Greater East Asia for their sympathy and support. He additionally cited the precedents of Buddhist and Pan-Asian ties, referring then to Japan’s leading role by saying:

This is not the first time that the world has turned to the East for light and guidance…. I believe that history has ordained that in the creation of a new, free, and prosperous East, the government and people of Nippon should play a leading role. The role for the government and the people of Nippon was carved out by history as early as 1905 when, for the first time, an Asiatic nation stood up to resist Western aggression…. The establishment of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere will pave the way towards a Pan-Asiatic Federation.

The fate of all Asia was interlinked, and India’s fate was linked with Japan’s, Bose reiterated. This was the opportunity India had been awaiting, and it might not come again for another thousand years. 

Assured of Japanese support, Bose concluded, “We shall go to battle fully confident that the day of our salvation is at hand.” 

The delegates at the Greater East Asia Conference issued the Greater East Asia Declaration on November 1943, condemning Anglo-Saxon domination and calling for the restoration of Asia to Asiatics. Asia was to rise, creating a new East Asia of sovereign and independent countries while condemning race prejudice.

A Year Later

In his third and what was to become his final visit to Tokyo, Netaji Bose arrived on October 31, 1944, in what was interpreted as the preparation for a new India offensive. He was welcomed by Lt. Gen. Saburo Isoda, head of the Japanese-INA liaison organization Hikari Kikan, Shigemitsu, and a delegation of representatives of the Indian Independence League

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On his first day of arrival in Tokyo, Bose called on Japan’s new prime minister, Kuniaki Koiso (1944-1945), who hosted a state dinner for Bose and reaffirmed Japan’s pledge to aid the cause of Indian independence. This renewed his predecessor Prime Minister Tōjō’s promises that Japan sought no territorial, economic, or military gains from India. 

Notably, Koiso ended his toast at dinner by stating that Japan was repaying an ancient cultural debt to India.

Continues in Part 5

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Author: Dr. Monika Chansoria

Dr. Monika Chansoria is a senior fellow at The Japan Institute of International Affairs in Tokyo. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the JIIA or any other organization with which the author is affiliated. She tweets @MonikaChansoria. Find other articles by Dr. Chansoria here on JAPAN Forward.

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