The fate of the Penang ISI's 5th column

The stories of TP Kumaran Nair and Abdul Khadir  Contd..

To recap, the INA had been built up in Malaysia by Mohan Singh and a few others with Fujiwara’s guidance. Getting it recognized by the Japanese was proving difficult and the top brass were quarreling. Raghavan had started his Swaraj institute where young Indians were trained in spy craft, such as opening letters, tapping phones, making secret ink, forging documents and so on. Iwakuro however had other ideas. Before Raghavan could do anything, he spirited away the first batch of 20 cadets and sent them off to India. The first two batches were sent by submarine to the West Coast, the next two overland through the Burma border. Raghavan resigned in a huff and that was the end of new Indian recruitment to the ISI. Meanwhile the four groups had landed and curiously they proved to be very ineffective, since every single one of them were picked up within no time by the British who were lying in wait. But then again what could you achieve in a month’s training?  These people had no local contacts and stood out like sore thumbs. Anyway they were all caught quickly and sent off to Madras for trials.

The first Madras trial in April 43 was supervised by Judge Elmar E Mack, a tough burly burgher of Dutch Afrikaner origins from Ceylon, legally trained at Oxford. As S Muthian put it…

Of him it was said, “Mr. Mack often behaved in court as if he was on the golf course, intensely human every minute of his life.” Informal in court almost to a fault, his sympathies always lay with those he thought had been charged wrongfully or were not willfully guilty of the crime charged with.

That was exactly what Mack thought from the beginning. That they should not have been charged so severely and that the rule of ‘putting all of them to death’ should not be enforced. Anyway they were so charged and his task was to determine if they were indeed enemy agents by definition, if they planned to commit espionage and other terrorist acts in India and if they had been paid to do so by a foreign country, an enemy. It was easily possible to establish the last aspect since they had Indian money from the same source (Rs 10 notes evenly numbered, presumably stolen by the Japanese from a British treasury). It was however difficult to establish that all of them were agents since most were simpletons with no real aim or purpose. What worked completely for the British and against the Indians was the fact that one of the group turned approver and provided complete details of the entire operation. That was the Malabar subject named KP Balakrishnan Nair (Balan) from Tellicherry who for doing it (at the Calicut court on 6th Jan 1943) got a pardon in Feb 1943. He named 33 of his team mates and outlined the full workings of Raghavan and the ISI, to the authorities.

The defendants had only one thing to say, that they just wanted to come back home and were in no position to do anything else as they were afraid of the Japanese in Penang. They had just nodded and gone along with the plan to drop them in India as that was the only way they could get back to their families.

Anyway let us quickly trace the movements of the four teams. Khadir’s group landed at Tanur in two rubber dinghies on 27/8/42 after midnight. Tanur was mostly awake as it was Ramzan. Poker a local Moplah who was relieving himself on the beach saw the group was given a Rs 10 note and asked by the group to go to Tanur and get them food. This kind of money is not usually seen and the alert shopkeeper Syed Ali Kutti reported this to the police. The police sent food to the beach and found one of the team digging a hole at the beach claiming they were looking for a lost watch. The group then bluffed the police that they were on a pleasure trip from Travancore and had landed in Tanur since there was a hole in one of the rubber boats. The police found close to 500/- on them and took them to a room above a shop. During further interrogation, Khadir admitted that he was trained in the ISI and had come to do propaganda work. The others also maintained similar stories, but with some changes here and there. Anand Thanu pillai however tried to keep himself separate and tried other tactics (In fact he knew about all the other 19 members). He wanted to write down what he said and wanted to discuss with the police and the authorities in private. Khadir in the meantime talked to two local men and exhorted them to join his cause and work against the British and that they would be paid for the same by the Japanese. This event was to play against him.

The second batch had meanwhile landed at Okhamandi in Gujarat. Only one spoke Hindi and he asked a local laborer who saw them, to get them food. They were taken to a local choultry and while they were resting, the local police arrived. Again the Rs 10 note was to become the cause of suspicion since it was a large note which could not be easily exchanged for annas & paise. The police recorded that the group was headed to Karachi for subversive activities. The only person who stated his real name was KP Balan the approver, who was part of the 2nd group and turned approver.

Balan of course gave a lucid account of the ISI, the days spent at Penang and the 27 days of training. After they were bundled into the subs, they were given typewritten instructions and the money. They were to scatter, find out details about troop movements and meet up with their partners at predesignated places such as the Meenakshi temple or the Tajmahal. In fact the instructions were somewhat stupid and required these chaps to travel the length and breadth of India. Balan knew all the others and he accounted for them in his confession.

The third group were taken to Rangoon, given money and the typed sheets and then inserted at Akyab (Sittwe) in Burma, south of Chittagoing. They were picked up by the police at Girjiana. In this group we see Govindan from Cochin (who was represented by Damodara Menon) and the curious case of a well-qualified CGK Reddi, INS Dufferin trained. They all claimed they were escaping the Japanese. Many of them got into further trouble by stating they earned the money they had in their possession and thus lied.

The fourth group also moved up the Burma mainland towards the Manipur border and were picked up by the British, failing to slip through. In fact they had even been instructed to separate out and act as mad men if captured. Also the Japanese had informed the Indian groups that the civil administration had broken down and that they would therefore have no problems with the police etc. Eventually the plan was to get them all back to the Burma border with the information that had gathered, to be used when operation 21 was executed, i.e. the Japanese surge into India. But was that really so? Judge Mack used his sleuthing mind efficiently to come to a conclusion which I will detail later.

TP Kumaran Nair
Photo courtesy Vijay Balakrishnan
The judgement file of Madras case 1 makes interesting reading and the arguments look sound in most respects. Mack did not agree that all of them should be put to death but found only five of the 19 accused, guilty. But he did not want them hanged. He also concluded that Thanu Pillai was the kingpin for he alone knew the exact instructions of the Japanese. In a review judgement by Judge Wadsworth, Boniface was sentenced to five years RI on a technicality since he a Travancorean was arrested in Baroda and not in English territory. The case went for appeal, with V Rajagopalchari arguing for Khader. The appeal was rejected as it was groundless and a further appeal to the Governor General also failed. The guilty five were hanged on 10th Sept 1943. This therefore covers the fate of 20 people from the first batch.

The ordnance was strict in making sure that nobody breathed a word of what was going on, and the trials were secret (in camera). The first time any information hit the press was when the Statesman reported on Oct 21st 1943 that Jap agents were foiled by villagers at Tanur. Following this the Home secretary JA Thorne was questioned and came out with some obscure answers.

But how did Kumaran Nair get into this sordid mess? We still do not have a clear answer as to when he was pulled out of the ISSI bungalow and sent to India by Iwakuro. We also do not know if he went on his own accord to find out what happened to his compatriots or if N Raghavan sent him to track them down and help them. From the records of KAK Menon we see that the people of Malaya considered him alone a martyr, not anybody else from the first 20. So it is very possible that he set out on his own for KAK Menon says Kumaran vanished from the school many days after the first 4 batches had left.

Now let us pick his story from the court trial records of what is known as Madras case 2, relating to the enemy agents. We see that three people are named in the trial, that they were TP Kumaran Nair, Ramu Thevar and Sethu Sankaran Nair. The last named had already killed himself in jail at Bengal. We also note that in all 26 people had been sent, 20 in the first four groups after a ‘short course’ in the ISI and then there were these two, and a final four tried in the Madras case 3. The additional person tried in case 2 was Kumaran Nair and it is recorded that he is considered as part of the same parcel only due to the confession by KP Balakrishnan Nair or Balan.

Kumaran Nair was unfortunate in a way that he was tried separately, and not together with the other 20, for Judge Mack was perhaps a little bit more lenient. This case came up separately since it came to light much later that three others Ramu Thevar, Kumaran Nair and Sethu Nair were being held in Bengal. Sankaran Nair (Sethu) however committed suicide in the jail and so there were only two brought over to Madras, based on their identification and role at Penang revealed by the approver Balakrishnan Nair. So a fresh trial was ordered and ND Krishna Rao ICS presided as special judge and the high court Judge Wadsworth as the reviewing judge. The date of their entry into India is not clear but it was sometime between end Nov and early Dec 1942. Kumaran Nair was represented by V Rajagopalachari and the trials started on 13th March 1944.

In the trial, it was established that Ramu was part of the original 26 and that four others were presumed missing or still in Penang, after accounting for the dead Sethu. But why was Kumaran Nair tried in this group? The home department (Jenkin, 8-9-43) opined that it is better to wait and find out what Nair was upto, however the Madras CID were firmly in favor of prosecution based on the information provided by the approver. The home ministry stated that they did not wish to continue to oppose opinion so firmly held! The public prosecutor was VL Ethiraj.

Nair was interrogated many times and from the results, it appears Nair staged an elaborate event to get into India and escape detection. He claimed that he was jailed by the Japanese at Pokokku and that he escaped, after which he met three Indians (Sethu, Ramu and XXX). On 1st Dec he was shot at and hit on the knee at the Chin Hills. Later Sankaran Nair and Ramu Thevar were arrested at Cox bazar. A number of lies told by the two were checked and proved false. They also got an admission from Thevar that the Iwakuro Kikan people at Akyab had helped them.

The findings state that Kumaran Nair, assistant drill teacher at ISI was deputed to supervise the teams sent earlier, after making contact with them and was caught while attempting to cross the border between Gaugaw and Haba on 1st Dec 1942. When caught at the Chin hills, Nair went on say, he was fleeing Singapore via Rangoon and that he had been a Japanese POW briefly from which detention he escaped. This was established as a lie since he had tutored others in the group of 3 to say the same, if questioned. Rajagopalchari argued that these were only acts preparatory to espionage, but the court decided that Nair became an enemy agent as soon as he agreed to conduct espionage for Iwakuro and accepted his money. Acharya also argued that while taken, Nair was actually in Burma and so fell outside the purview of the act. This fell flat since he was from Malabar and hence a British Indian subject. Also the currency notes which Nair had were of the same series as the ones with the others and finally he had in his possession some Japanese propaganda material (notices, posters etc). This trail was also held ‘in camera’ or in other words was a secret trial.

Krishna Rao judged thus – I find that both the accused are enemy agents, they conspired with each other and other members of the ISI to do acts of espionage. Their intention was undoubtedly to aid the enemy state of Japan although their ultimate object might have been to secure Indian independence with Japanese assistance. For the offence under section 3 of the ordinance, I have no other alternative but to sentence both the accused to be hanged by the neck till they are dead.
The judgement was passed on 13th March 1944. One the main witnesses for the prosecution was the approver KP Balakrishnan Nair. An appeal to the governor general failed.

The last letter written by Nair was addressed to his brother. It said thus
Courtesy KAK Menon'

TP M Nair esq, Nellikode, PO Puthiyara, Via Calicut, Malabar

My Dear brother,

I have just received information that the Governor General has refused to interfere in the sentence passed on me. I never counted on it and so am not at all disappointed. I am extremely happy I will soon be rid of this brutal world and its treacherous ways. I am commending all to the almighty and wish you all goodbye. 5/7/44.

PS. I am to swing on to the other world on 7/7/44 early morning s.d. TP Kumar

The handwriting is meticulous and the grammar precise, which is a bit unusual for an SSLC educated young man. Perhaps he was very well read and his stay at Singapore and Malaysia may have augmented his skills, but of that, I am not sure.

Accordingly both men were hanged on 7-7-1944. Curiously nobody came to claim their bodies, and for that reason they were not cremated, but buried in the public cemetery at Ottery outside the jail. It is surprising that Nair’s brother and wife did not turn up at Madras to claim his body. Did they know in time? I don’t think so for the above letter should have taken a couple of weeks to reach Calicut.

In the Madras case 3 which took place later, Unniram, Rathnam, Muthumani and Krishnan were tried and all sentenced to death in March 1945 for the same reasons. One later prisoner who also trained in the ISI and was sentenced to death, Americk Singh Gill, escaped while being transported under police guard in Calcutta, in a crowd. He lived to tell his tale.

The Swaraj institute was bound to fail (after Mohan Singh and Raghavan left) for unbeknownst to them was the existence of a 6th column (Gill and Durrani) within the school, passing on information to the British. All other cadets sent to India were captured by the British.

Raghavan was threatened with arrest and forced to resign from the IIL/INA on health grounds by Feb 1943. The Japanese had decided on handing over INA command to the incoming Subash Chandra Bose and did not want any dilution of authority. Eventually Raghavan rejoined the INA at the behest of Bose as finance minister and continued on dealing with the Penang chapter and the fund collection for the INA.

Iwaichi Fujiwara served as Intelligence Officer on the staff of Fifteenth Army in Burma. He reconnoitered the border to prepare for Operation U-Go, the offensive into British India. Following the failure of this offensive, Fujiwara was reassigned to Japan, in December 1944. He survived the war and is sometimes known as the ‘Lawrence of Arabia of SE Asia’.

N. Raghavan too survived the war and served as Indian Ambassador in Indonesia, Brussels and Germany until 1952. The next posting was in China where from 26 September 1952 to 2 October 1955, he served as the Indian Ambassador. It was during his tenure that India and China agreed to the Panchsheel Treaty. From 1956 to 1959 he served in Argentina and Chile before zigzagging to Europe. He was ambassador in Paris until 1962. In 1963 returned for a lecture tour of Malaysia, and Ceylon.

Judge Mack had in his judgement concluded with remarkably lucid reasoning behind the sordid affair involving all these men from the ISI. He believed that Anand Pillay alone knew the real reasons and that the team was sent out simply for its propaganda value, to be captured and publicized so that the rest of India knew that many of their counterparts were working with the Japanese and willing to lay down their lives against the British. But the British did not publicize the arrests until much later.

According to Mack, Pillai’s plan was to become the approver and condemn the rest as soon as he got caught, but Balakrishnan did it even before he could. As for Kumaran Nair who set out to find out what happened, well, he had no idea of all this and simply walked into a trap. And because of Balan’s becoming approver, he lost his life.

Judge Mack continued to make a name for himself, became a popular person in Bellary and went on to sue Air India for damages when his wife slipped and broke her leg while disembarking from one of their flights. He was a fair man and in his fine judgment states that he does not believe any of the nationalists should be hanged, but then the law was the law and took its course.

Of Balakrishnan Nair’s fate, nothing is known in detail, but his ancestral house in Tellicherry is still around, so I could gather. We do note that all the acquitted including Balan served jail terms until 1945.

Iwakuro continued his stint in Burma, but left back for Japan as his kikan did not do well after the acts of the 6th column in the ISI. But he too rose up the ranks, survived the war and was one of the founders of the Kyoto Sangyo University.

The Madras penitentiary which was built in 1837 to house the Kaala Paani convicts, became the Madras central jail. This was where all the ‘enemy agents’ were housed. It became the central Jail and was finally closed in 2009 to make way for other buildings. The Ottery burial grounds (I am not sure if this was also a public burial ground, for Kumaran Nair and Thevar were actually buried in the Public grounds) still exist at the St Mary’s Church and Kumaran Nair’s bones still lie there, unclaimed.

Who built the road after him? Was it due to the benevolence of Raghavan or was it because of KPK Menon? I do not know, but the road is mute testimony to the efforts of small men like Nair who strived for a change.

In many ways it was a sad effort, tracing the story of Nair and Khader. They were all beset with homesickness, did what they did for a few hundred rupees and the feelings of patriotism and nationalism, goaded on by local leaders, but at the wrong moment chose to believe the words of Ikamuro instead of Raghavan and rushed into action. Perhaps they really had no choice, for they had already been quartered in a Japanese bungalow and were perhaps coerced into taking the trip to India, like proverbial pigs led to the slaughter house, all for the sake of the propaganda value and success desired by the I Kikan.

So the next time you go to Calicut and by chance traverse the TP Kumaran Road, spare a thought for that poor soul.

Indian national Army Secret Service – Motilal Bharghava, Amerik Singh Gill
Towards freedom: documents on the movement for independence in India, 1943-1944, Volume 3
TPK Nair’s last letter – Courtesy Kavungal Anat K Menon

Why did I write this article? Well, it started with the Hindu report by Maleeha Raghaviah and in it there was a mention of a retired school teacher named Sulochana who was TPK Nair’s niece. It reminded me of one of my school teachers at Ganapati School in Chalappuram. She has since then always remained in my mind. I am not sure if she was the same person mentioned in the Hindu article, but if it is, this is my tribute to her.

Kumaran Nair’s role in the taxi case is not quite clear. It may have been another Kumaran Nair.

Vijay, my friend (I did not known until after I uploaded part 1 that he was TPK Nair’s grandnephew) explained the difference between the terms ‘in camera’ and ‘on camera’ to me. ‘In camera’ is a legal term that means ‘in private’. The same meaning is sometimes expressed in the English equivalent: ‘in chambers’. Generally, in-camera describes court cases, parts of it, or a process where the public and press are not allowed to observe the procedure or process. I was initially under the impression that the trial was filmed ‘on camera’ which was not the case.


The Indian Swaraj Institute (ISI) and the 5th column

The stories of TP Kumaran Nair and Abdul Khadir

Part 1

Each of the 5 Indians in the Japanese submarine prowling under the Indian Ocean waters, of which four were Malayali’s, had Rs 500 with them in crisp Rs 10 notes, an astronomical sum in 1942. They were after a long sojourn in Malaysia, destined for the shores of Tanur near Calicut, to be precise. Though all the Malayalees were from Travancore, they were bound for the shores of their motherland, and so joy filled their hearts. Somewhat groggy with the seasickness pills and the many deep dives the U boat took at sea to avoid allied ships, the boys were still in good shape. The little training they had received in the swimming pools helped, but it had been many years since they left Indian shores and the five were unsure of what to expect when they reached the shores…

Retracing the days of the Indian freedom fighters in SE Asia is not too easy and the fragmentary stories left by them, the evolution of the INA from the IIL and so on are not very easy since a good amount of spin and nationalist fervor can be seen in those accounts. Separating fact from fiction is quite complicated and sources not easy to come by. But then, this forgotten story of the actions of a group of Malayalees at the very onset of the INA would be interesting to some readers, who have so far mainly seen and read about only the highly publicized moves of NSC Bose. Stories of people like Kumaran Nair, Raghavan and Khader fell by the wayside and never got recounted, but they were all people who gave it the right impetus at the outset.

By 1930, the demand for Purna Swaraj (Full independence) had been made and the non-co-operation movement had started to gain traction. The salt satyagraha followed, and congress became a resourceful power. In 1939, the British declared India's entrance into the Second World War without consulting provincial governments and by 1940 Jinnah promulgated the two nation theory. Back in Kerala the Kallara Pangode struggle resulted in the hanging of Kochappi and Krishnan, one of the 39 such events against the British. In 1942 the Quit India resolution was passed and the anti-British activities strengthened.

On the war front, the Japanese were victoriously marching through SE Asia and Malaya, Singapore and Burma had fallen by Dec 1941. The British retaliated by imprisoning Gandhi and banning the INC. Violence erupted and with Gandhi in jail, the leaderless masses resorted to many attacks on British interests. Earlier NSC Bose had escaped from India and gone to Germany, but gained no real support from the Nazi’s. His next destination was Japan where revolutionary Resh Bihari Bose had launched the IIL or Indian Independence league. Resh Bose found support in Malaya and Singapore, with Mohan Singh in Malaya and KP Keshava Menon in Singapore. The INA was formed in Malaysia and they were supposed to march through the Burma border with the Japanese army with an aim to free India. Penang had become the Japanese submarine base and some of those I class U boats would feature later in this story.

The British, not sure how the eastern border would hold up, focused a lot of attention on the boiling cauldron called SE Asia. By 1931 there were 640,000 Indians in Malaya and Singapore and interestingly they even outnumbered the native Malays in the state of Selangor that year. They were predominantly adult males who were single and with family back in India and moved because there was work at hand and the situation benign compared to Malabar where poverty was strife.

Zoom in to Today - If you go on the Mavoor road in Calicut and deviate to the right to go to the Presentation convent, you will note that the road is named the TP Kumaran road. If you asked somebody who this Nair is, they would have no earthly idea. If you asked somebody in the bureaucracy or the PWD, they would blink. Members of the his family would mention that he was involved in building the road many years ago to reach the Nellikode Ganpat school (now Presentation school). We note that this Kumaran’s parents were Krishna Panickar and TP Kalyani Amma, and that he studied first at the Ganpat School at Nellikode and later at the Zamorins School Tali. His wife Malu Amma no longer lives to tell Kumaran’s hair raising tale.

And so we go on to tell his story- Nair was just that, one such person who moved to Singapore in 1939 in search of a new life. In the Hindu newspaper report, we read that he was a jamadar in the MSP and that it was circumstance which caused his move to Singapore, resulting from his resignation from service after refusing to stop a patriotic procession protecting the death of Bhagat Singh. We also note that Kumaran, was born around 20 September 1906 at Calicut, passed his S.S.L.C. examination and eventually joined the Indian National Congress.

While we see from the Hindu article that Nair was in the MSP, we also see from trial records that Nair perhaps served in the RAF or the Bengal air force as a clerk for some time before proceeding to Singapore. We can guess that he must have been aged 34 when he moved abroad. Tracking Kumaran Nair proved tough and we get a first notice of him right after he reached Singapore and took up the job as a Taxi driver. In fact he soon landed up in court, accused or murder. On May 22nd, 1939, his car, passing a parked bus, hit and killed a Chinese woman Ong Ah Yit, crossing the Sembawang road. CH Witton the judge acquitted Nair, after reviewing evidence and analysis of the brake marks, concluding that his car was too slow and that the woman was perhaps at fault by running into the oncoming vehicle.

His next brush with the British law system was unfortunately not so fortunate, for it would lead him to the gallows. How did this turnabout happen and why did he end up in the courts again? Trail records leave a sorrowful tale of treachery, homesickness and patriotism, as well as a show of heroic valor and leadership.

I would assume that Nair continued to work in Singapore till 1942, not really making a mark, perhaps the typical frustrated overseas Malabari, itching for action. Life was actually a total mess in those parts by 1941 especially in Malaya, where in reality the situation was somewhat different. While the marauding Japanese were somewhat partial to Indians, they still showed a marked racial attitude towards the Indians whom they held in low esteem. Many stories of them using Indians for menial work had been reported and even at more influential levels, Japanese officers held Indian counterparts in contempt. R Bose and AM Nair had the right connections in Japan, but rapidly moving events did not allow that goodwill to filter down the ranks to the common man.

Malaya's major ethnic groups, the Indians and Malays, generally escaped the worst of this treatment while the Chinese bore the brunt of it. The Japanese wanted the support of the Indian community to invade and free India from British rule. As the war progressed all three ethnic communities began to suffer deprivations from increasingly severe rationing, hyper-inflation, and a lack of resources. Both the Malay and Indian communities gradually came into more conflict with the occupying Japanese.

Japanese intelligence officer Major Iwaichi Fujiwara had persuaded Major Mohan Singh of the 14th Punjab to form the INA with defecting and Indian soldiers (POW’s from the battle of Jitra). By 1942, the INA had 40,000 members with Mohan Singh as CInC.

In Singapore, we now see the proclamation of the All-Malayan Indian Independence League. The League was headed by Nedyam Raghavan, a Penang Barrister and a prominent Malayan Indian. Joining him at the board was another Malayali, K.P.Kesava Menon from Singapore and S.C Goho (head of Indian Passive defense in Singapore and a lawyer himself). Indians flocked to join the IIL and membership was estimated to be around a hundred-thousand at the end of August 1942. The IIL card helped them when accosted by a Japanese soldier for the League's membership card identified the holder as Indian (and thus an ally), it was needed to collect rations from Japanese depots.

Kumaran Nair but naturally joined the IIL like others at the exhortation of Raghavan and we see him next moving to Penang. But as he still is somewhat obscure and out of harm’s way, let us meet the other prominent Malayali whose name we saw a little while ago.

Nedayam (Nediyamveetil) Raghavan, what an interesting person he was, and like many others, you
will hardly see an article about this influential diplomat. This person from Shoranur/Guruvayoor, had paternal links to the Kottakkal Zamorin family and lived in Cochin and Madras (studied at MCC) before he moved to Britain to become a barrister. He relocated to Penang in 1920 or so, became a dignified and popular person there, soon to head the Malayali and Indian associations. By 1936, this splendid orator was also well known to the congress leaders in India and Nehru was as associate, a connection which would stand him in good stead later in life.

KP Keshava Menon on the other hand was from Palghat, hailing from the Tharoor region and a member of the Palghat royalty. He was like Raghavan, a London educated barrister, but had actually moved to Singapore from Calicut where he used to practice earlier. Keshava Menon established the popular Malayalam newspaper Mathrubhumi in 1923 and was its Chief Editor from the beginning till his death, except for the brief period when he went to practice law in Malaysia and Singapore and got actively involved in the nationalist movement.

These gentlemen were some of the people in SE Asia who organized finances for the nationalist movements, with the benevolent Nattukottai Chettiars in Malaya, Burma and Singapore contributing lavishly to the INC.

Soon, the paths of all these people from Kerala were to cross and remain intertwined. Even more coincidental is the fact that the fates of some of them, such as Abdul Khader and Kumaran Nair were to a certain extent in the hands of the organization headed by another person so well known to Calicut, none other than the Hon A C Thorne, the home secretary.

The dashing Japanese officer who fostered goodwill for the Indians in 1941 (at Bangkok) and the one who personally promoted Mohan Singh into limelight was one Iwachi Fujuwara who went on to form the network called the F Kikan or the Friendship Kikan. He was the person who with the help of POW Captain Mohan Singh, the one who created the first rag tag INA after the Jitra debacle. The Singapore prisoners joined the INA, so persuaded by Mohan Singh. Mohan Singh then became a general commanding the IN army, much to the disgust of the senior officers. But soon the ‘Indian friendly’ Fujiwara was transferred back to Japan and his place was taken by a rigid intelligence officer Hideo Iwakuro who was not too particular about Indians of their independence. He was a spy maker and this was the reason why Iwakuro sponsored the school for spies in Penang.

That was how N Raghavan decided to head what is known as the Hind Swaraj vidyalaya (Indian Swaraj institute) or the Nakano Gakko at the Free school building (now the state museum) on the Green line road in Penang on 3/8/42. The school was formed to provide crash courses for people of Indian origin, in espionage, intelligence gathering, photography, use of firearms and surveying. The intention of course was to create a 5th column and send them to India. Did they join due to the lure of adventure or was it just to get a ticket back to India? Other units were also being trained, namely the Osman group with Sikhs, the Gilani group with Muslims, a group destined for Ceylon and finally a group with Gurkhas.

The cadets were perhaps never aware of the Enemy ordnance act which had been passed in India. In fact the rule of the law was stretched to the fullest in some of these cases against the defendants, and perhaps the spy school should have concentrated on such matters, but then again, perhaps not, for these were simple lower middle class people with little education.

Needless to say that the British had their eyes and ears in Malaya and Rangoon, for they knew quite a bit of what was going on. In fact Dewan CP Travancore also had his informers in Malaya reporting events as they progressed. The British and the Travancoreans were on the watch, waiting for action.

The first ISI batch had a number of Malayalees (13/26) , VMA Khader, Surveyor from Vaikom, Anand Thanu Pillai, foreman from Trivandrum, KA George, teacher from Ambalpuzha, CP Eapen, Stenographer from Tiruvalla, Leon D’Cruz, Salesman from Trivandrum, Boniface Periera, draftsman from Kazhakuttam, K Mamman Mathai chemist from Tiruvalla, Kochugovindan from Tiruvillwamala, KM Cherian from Airoor, M Gangadharan from Palghat, TP Kumaran Nair from Calicut, Sethu Sankaran Nair and KP Balakrishnan Nair from Tellichery. So you see that two were from Malabar, one from Cochin and 8 from Travancore. This is of particular importance since Malabar was British territory while Cochin and Travancore were independent states at that point of time. Except for the senior Anand Thanu Pillai (aged 39) and another named CGK Reddy who were well employed even before joining the ISI, all others were low level employees and aged under 30.
The curriculum comprised history & geography, history, Revolution, nationalism, British acquisitions first aid, Physical & military training etc were imparted by instructors Keneko, Dallal, Alagappan, Raghavan, Kaneko and Ichiunna. TP Kumaran Nair served as the drill instructor, perhaps due to his familiarity with task from his MSP days in Malappuram (Dare we say - trained by Hitchcock?). KNS Iyer was the superintendent.

However matters started to take a change for the worse in the military circles at Malaysia, mainly due to ego clashes and internal squabbles. Iwakuro had other ideas in mind which Raghavan refused to agree with, Mohan Singh had clashes with Iwakuro and the Japanese high command, Fujiwara’s intervention proved useless, Resh Behari did not agree with Mohan and so KP Keshava Menon and others resigned from their posts. The INA was not accorded the due status (The Japanese believed the lack of unity among the units with low morale, cast issues and so on would never suit the creation of a unified army) by Japan and Mohan Singh was exiled.

During all this turmoil, Iwakuro forcefully moved the first batches totaling some 26 of these cadets into a nearby bungalow one night in Nov 1942 and made them undertake intensive courses on subversion and guerrilla activities. He decided to deploy them out with immediate effect, into India in line with independent Japanese plans.

Kumaran Nair however continued as drill instructor at ISI Penang. His fate had still not been decided. That it would be decided by one of his own compatriots from the first batch is the tragedy of the story.

Iwakuro decided to send the first batches into India by submarines and overland. The first group comprising Anandan, Khader, Abdul Ghani, Eapen and George started on 26th Sept 1942 and were destined for Tanur near Calicut. The second group Bonifice, Baradan, Decruz, Mammen and Balakrishnan Nair left Penang on 27th Sept 1942 and were dropped off near Okhamadi on the Gujarat coast. The British trackers even had code names for each of these groups. The Calicut group was called Hat trick, the next two were called Audrey and Doubtful. In fact the British were lying in wait to catch them at an opportune movement and turn them around against the Japanese as double agents, so sure where they of Indian duplicity. But then again did Iwakuro have other ideas with his pawns which only he and his Japanese circle knew? We will soon find out.

The submarine carrying Khader (Anand Thanu Pillai at 39 was the senior most) and party reached the Calicut shores in the evening of the 27th. Due to RAF planes patrolling the shores, the submarine surfaced only in the early hours of the 28th. The Tanur town having a substantial Moplah population was busy with Ramazan fasting and so there were many people awake and alert when the rubber dinghies carrying the five landed on their shores.  Abdul Khader was to make a fatal mistake, for he met the Moplah leaders in Tanur and secured from two brothers, a place to stay. During the night the villagers passed on information to the Calicut police about the agents from Penang. Khader tried to persuade the two brothers to join him in the Indian independence movement.

In the meantime, Gangadharan, Dufferin trained CGK Reddi, Kochugovindan, Santa Pillai, Pal, Mathew, Andrews and Faulja Singh had also been deployed as the 3rd batch. The 4th batch had Unniram, Rathnam, Muthumani, Mazumdar, Ramu Thevar.  A total of 26 agents had been deputed by now, including TP Kumaran Nair who was sent later overland with Sankaran Nair.

When Raghavan at Penang heard of all this (in fact he had known that a plan was afoot and had warned the Japanese to wait for a decision by the Council of action), he was furious and resigned from the ISI without further negotiations (he and his family were threatened of death) on 29/11/42. He had enough of the high handed Iwakuro and was aghast at the timing of the deployment and the way the whole thing was done. As Raghavan was to recount later, his instructions to the cadets were, as patriots, to report to the local INC personnel after reaching India, not to do spy work for Japan, but to work for the Azad hind.

Meanwhile the second group who landed in Gujarat were apprehended and soon enough the rest of the motley team were also arrested.

The complete story would come out only at two trails held in Madras called the Madras Enemy Agents trials 1 and 2. The first covered the 20 and the second the case of Kumaran Nair and Ramu Thevar. While the former was under the special justice Elmar Mack, the latter was judged by Krishna Rao ICS. All prisoners were provided Indian lawyers by the court, except for one who hired his  own lawyer, that being Damodara Menon. Khader and Kumaran Nair were represented by V Rajagoplacharya. Did they have a chance? We will find out in the next part of the article.

Hindu article - Remembering an unsung hero June 19, 2007
N Raghavan: A Malaysian freedom fighter in South-East Asia – Suja Sugathan, JOKS Vol 32
From the diary of a freedom fighter – K A K Menon
Indian national Army Secret Service – Motilal Bharghava, Amerik Singh Gill
The Indian National Army and Japan - Joyce Lebra
Devil's Circle - Walter Woon
British intelligence in the 2nd WW – Vol 5, Michael Howard
Forgotten Armies: The Fall of British Asia, 1941-1945 - Christopher Alan Bayly, Timothy Norman Harper
The Springing Tiger: A Study of the Indian National Army and of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose-  Hugh Toye
Towards freedom: documents on the movement for independence in India, 1943-1944, Volume 3

Note: The agents code named Audrey, Hattrick and Doubtful belonged to a 1944 group, so corrected..

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