Why did Subhas Chandra Bose feel the need to acknowledge Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar?

On the occasion of the birthday of Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last ruler of the Mughal Dynasty, let us throw light on a crucial document that was published and distributed by the Indian National Army whilst their leader, Subhas Chandra Bose made his second visit to the grave of Shah Zafar in 1944 to pay homage to his tragic legacy and to remind Indians to unite and fight in the continued eighty-year struggle that these fighters are keeping up with to win, once and for all their homeland from foreign hands. And that it is only possible together as brothers and not as Muslims or Hindus.
The original document is currently housed at the National Archives of India. The Heritage Times team has made no changes to it to give the reader a first look at the same.
This Distributed by the I.I.L. Hqrs, on the 11th July, 1944 at a Memorial Parade by the Indian National Army at Bahadur Shah’s Tomb in the presence of the Supreme Commander Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.

Memory Of Bahadur Shah


The Englishmen had succeeded by 1856 to swallow India piece-meal because of the state of disunity which prevailed in India then. The Mughal Dynasty was existing then merely in name and the domain of Last of the Moguls, Bahadur Shah, was only in Delhi. At this juncture came the realisation in the hearts of a few patriots that unless the people of India unite as a whole and rise, India was doomed to slavery. These patriots also realised that in addition to mobilising their intrinsic strength and putting up a United Front, favourable world conditions were also essential for success because the enemy had become strong while disunited India under the enemy’s influence and domination had become weak. One of these patriots, Nana Sahib, toured in Europe to get foreign help but in vain. They longed that England should be involved in some other Front when they rose in India but this longing of theirs did not materialise. However, they carried on their movement to wage a War of Independence and Bahadur Shah, the Last of Moguls came forward to lead this War. The War failed because, firstly, the Enemy had at that time no other fronts to occupy his attention; and secondly, because the effort of the patriots who led this War to create a united front of Indians failed. On the one hand, destiny was not with India then and India had to make her bid for Independence at a time when world conditions were not favourable to her. On the other hand, as Bahadur Shah himself realised and wrote in one of his letters, India was not fortunate then in having its Man of Destiny, a Dynamic Leader who could create and lead a United Front.

But though this War failed, Indians can never forget Bahadur Shah and the other patriots who led that First War of Independence. And, especially now, when the Last War of Independence is being waged, we who are engaged in this cannot but remember and have communion with the spirits of the Leaders, patriots and martyrs who fought in 1857. And as the present week is being celebrated on the one hand in the whole of East Asia as “Netaji Week” as the first anniversary week of the assumption of Leadership of our Hero in the present War of Independence, and on the other hand, celebrations of the “Death Anniversary Week” are going on at the Tomb of Bahadur Shah at Rangoon, it is only fit and proper if we go back in our memory to the historic events of 1857.


Indian sepoys in British regiments mutinied and the civilians also joined the colours. The Army of Independence thus formed elected their Leader Bahadur Shah as the Emperor of India and the War of Independence against the Englishmen started with great fury.

We give below some extracts from the Proclamations issued to Bahadur Shah during this War: –

“The residents of Hindusthan have so long been deceived by the Englishmen and have cut their necks with their own swords. So, now, we must repair this sin of treachery to our country. The Englishmen will try now their old work of deception: they will try to incite the Hindus to rise against the Mussulmans and the Mussulmans to rise against the Hindus. But brethren, do not fall into their nets. It is hardly necessary to tell our brethren that the English never keep their promises. They are adepts in the art of trickery and deceitful imposture! In this holy War, he who fights himself and helps others to fight by means of money will attain earthly and spiritual freedom. But if anyone will oppose this Swadeshi War, then he will be striking at his own head and committing suicide” (Proclamation posted at Rohilcand)

“Hindus and Muslims of India! Arise! Brethren! Arise! Of all the gifts of God the most gracious is that of Independence. Will the oppressive Demon who has robbed us of it by deceit be able to keep it away from us for ever? Can such an act against the will of God stand for ever? No. No. The English have committed so many atrocities that the cups of their sins is already full. Are you going to remain idle even now? God does not wish that you should remain so, for he has inspired in the hearts of Hindus and Muslims the desire to turn the English out of our country. And by the grace of God and your valour, they will soon be so completely defeated that in this Our Hindusthan there will not remain even the least trace of them! In this our Army, the difference of small and great shall be forgotten and equality shall be the rule, for all who draw the sword in this holy War are equally glorious. They are brethren, there is not rank among them. Therefore, I again say to all my Indian brethren. Arise and jump into the battlefield for this divinely ordained and supreme duty.” (Proclamation issued at Bareilly).

“Why has God given wealth, land and power? They are not for individual pleasure, but they are given for the object of Holy Wars.” (Extract from Proclamation issued at Delhi).



Old and weak, Bahadur Shah felt that it was beyond his capacity to effect the mobilisation that was necessary to win the War; he formed a Committee of Six with three Generals to manage military affairs and three civilians to work for mobilisation. But, after all, it is men which count and not Measures and this Committee also proved ineffective. He appealed in vain for co-operation of Indian princes and in a letter written with his own hands to the Rajahs of Jeypore, Jodpur, Bikaner, Alwar, etc. he expressed his yearning for the coming of a Dynamic Leader who could yet save the situation. The following is the text of that historic letter–

“It is my ardent wish to see that the English is driven out of Hindusthan by all means and at any cost. It is my ardent wish that the whole of Hindusthan should be free. But the revolutionary war that has been waged for this purpose cannot be organised with success unless a man capable of sustaining the whole burden of the Movement, who can organise and concentrate the different forces of the nation and will unify the whole people in himself, comes forward to guide this rising. I have no desire left in me of ruling over India after the expulsion of the English, to my own aggrandisement. If all of you Rajahs are ready to unsheathe your sword to drive away the enemy, then I am willing to resign my Imperial powers and authority in the hands of any confederacy of Indian Rajahs who may be chosen to exercise it”.


As Bahadur Shah had himself anticipated, the Army of Independence without favourable world conditions, without a united front and without Dynamic Leadership began to be worded in the battle. And Delhi fell. Bahadur shah left his Red Fort and took refuge in the tomb of his ancestor Humayun. The British Officer who came there to meet him was interested in Urdu poetry and taunted the Emperor with the verse:

Dumdamein Mein Dum Nahin Khair Maango Jaan Ki
Aey Zafar Thandi Hui Shamsheer Hindustan Ki.

“There is no strength or life left now in India. The only thing that you can do now is to plead for life. Oh! Zafar! The Sword of India has become lifeless!”

Bahadur Shah was himself a great poet and on hearing the mocking couplet instantaneously replied in Verse and uttered a couplet which has been ringing in the ears of all Indians during the past eighty seven years and which is ringing today with more emotion than ever. Said he:

Gajiyon Bein Boo Rahegi Jab Tak Imaan Ki
Tab To London Tak Chalegi Teg Hindustan Ki  

“As long as there is Faith left in the hearts of freedom fighters, till then shall it not be impossible for the Sword of India to strike at the heart of London.”


The merciless atrocities perpetrated by the Britishers in 1857 and the barbarity with which Britishers tries to suppress Indian spirit can never be forgotten by Indians for generations to come. And especially what the brutal Britishers did in Delhi at its fall has been and is still in the memory of Indians as an Act of Barbarity which has to be avenged.

The sons of Bahadur Shah were mercilessly butchered and their bodies were thrown in front of the police station so that vultures could feed on their corpses. The English officer who killed the princes brought their blood and compelled the old Emperor to drink that blood. About the general massacre which they perpetrated at Delhi, a poem by Bahadur Shah written while at Rangoon as prisoner gives a vivid description, reading which there can be no true son of India who will not swear vengeance:

“Delhi was a land of fairies. But with the entry of Englishmen lakhs of human heads were guillotined and the Silvery way (Chandni Chauk) was flowing with streams of blood. Delhi was a paradise on earth at which even Angels were various but today it has become an Ujda Diyar, a Ruined House”. Since that massacre of 1857, Delhi has been crying for vengeance! The Red Fort at Delhi—the palatial mansion of Indian Emperors—now used as a cantonment by the Britishers—has also been crying for liberation!


The Britishers brought the Emperor Bahadur Shah in chains to Rangoon and kept him in a garage attached to the bungalow of a junior English officer at the place where his Tomb now stands. The Emperor spent his time in writing poems and passed away in 1862, and his body was buried within the compound. Subsequently, a few local Indians carried on an agitation and ultimately secured the piece of land where the tomb lay and a small thatched hut was erected where year after year for a week in the Lunar month of Rajab there has been Anniversary Week Celebrations. It was but yesterday that he was the Emperor of India living at the Red Fort but today lies there away from his country in what was a thatched hut, now a small wooden structure.

But recently great transformations have taken place. The faith of freedom-fighters has been kindled once again and the Sword of India has again been unsheathed. And Burma where lies the buried Emperor has become the base of the present War of Independence. Last year in September Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose who leads the present War of Independence visited the Tomb of Bahadur Shah. It was then a great day for the soul of Bahadur Shah because the Supreme Commander of the Indian National Army had come to his Tomb to pay homage to him in the company of the Head of the State of Free Burma. And when the soldiers of the Indian National Army assembled there that day rent the skies with their War Cry “On to Delhi” as Netaji stood there, who can portray what the feeling of the spirit of Bahadur Shah would have been?


God has now brought about such a set of favourable circumstances that a mighty Indian Army has come into existence in East Asia to take the place of the Army which was wiped out of existence by the Britishers in 1857. In his letter to the Indian princes Bahadur Shah has expressed the crying need for the right type of Leader and God has produced in Netaji the man of India’s Destiny, the man who is definitely “capable of sustaining the whole burden of the movement, who can organise and concentrate the different forces of the nation and will unify the whole people in himself”. And that Man was standing there at Bahadur Shah’s tomb, laying wreath in homage. Nana Saheb had travelled to the West to get foreign help in 1856 and failed, but here was the great son of India who had travelled to the West and to the East and succeeded in getting the support of nine Independent Nations of the world as well as the active support of Nippon and other Asiatic Nations for the cause of India’s Independence.

Netaji’s War Cry of “On to Delhi” not only inspires the hearts of the soldiers of the Indian National Army but also the Indians of East Asia today. The cry has its echoes in the hearts of thirtyeight crores of Indians now living in India. Nay, the cry has its further reverberations among the spirits of Bahadur Shah and the martyrs who gave their lives in the war of 1857.

We failed in 1857 only to win in 1944-45. We shall not fail this time because the prayers of generations of Indians have been responded to by Destiny. Thanks to God, we now have favourable world conditions, a mighty Army backed by a united people in East Asia and last but not the least, a Man of Destiny to lead us on to Delhi and further on towards the establishment of a Golden Era in India’s history.

On the 6th of this month, the feeding at the Tomb of Bahadur Shah was done by Netaji. And Netaji himself visited the Tomb. The Trustee of the Tomb showed to Netaji the plan of a structure which they desired to erect in future over the Tomb, Netaji replied, “A Free India will erect a Mausoleum here far grander than this plan, because India can never forget Bahadur Shah.”

The soldiers of the Indian National Army have already stormed the frontiers of India and are now fighting in Indian soil itself. The days are not far off when India shall be free and the Indian Tri-color Flag will fly over the Red Fort at Delhi. We are marching on towards that goal under Netaji and with us is the spiritual support of the martyrs of 1857 and Bahadur Shah.



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