“Chaalis korodon ki awaaz
Sehgal – Dhillon – Shah Nawaz”
This soaring chant at Lahore’s historic Minto Park in December of 1945 was for three second-tier commanders of the Indian National Army (INA)—Prem Kumar Sehgal, Shah Nawaz Khan and Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon.
A month earlier, the trio were present at Red Fort under a military trial for leaving the British Indian Army to join the fight for independence. They were being tried under section 121 of the Indian Penal Code for “joining with rebels in an act of rebellion or with enemies in acts of hostility makes a man a traitor.”
Despite the stirring defence put forward by Congressman Bhulabhai Desai, who was Chief Defence Counsel (CDC), the court found all three men guilty of treason and one (Dhillon) guilty of abetment to murder. The sentence, delivered on 3 January 1946, did not mandate execution of the three officers, but they were dismissed from service, ordered to forfeit all their pay and allowances, and sentenced to transportation.
Although very few history books mention their names and the work they did in the war for independence, there are several interesting stories about them; one of which is connected to India’s superstar, Shah Rukh Khan.
According to several sources, Shah Nawaz was like a father figure to Khan’s mother, Lateef Fatima. In the late 1940s, Khan’s mother Fatima and her family were involved in an accident in Delhi. Shah Nawaz, who was in the same area, took them to the hospital.
Shah Nawaz remained in touch with Fatima’s family, and according to some sources, even adopted her. Fatima’s wedding with Meer Taj Mohammed Khan, who was also a freedom fighter, took place in Shah Nawaz’s bungalow, and the three of them remained close.
Shah Nawaz Khan’s Contribution to INA
Shah Nawaz was born in undivided India in Rawalpindi district in 1914. Like his father, Tikka Khan, Shah Nawaz too joined the British Army in 1935.
This was a time when the world was on the brink of witnessing a second world war. He fought in Singapore under the British army. The Japanese army won the battle and was among the 40,000 Indians, who were taken into prison.
As fate would have it, he met Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose in Singapore and was encouraged to join the INA to drive out the British.
His courage, intellect and unconquerable resolution helped him rise in the party. In no time he became the commander of the second division.
Impressed by his actions and prompt thinking, Netaji promoted Shah Nawaz in 1944 to lead the INA contingent in Mandalay. A year later, he took on the British in Kohima and was later captured in Burma.
The British charged him with abetment to murder along with Sehgal and Singh, which led to a public outcry.
Post the trial, Khan left the INA and began his political career. In 1952, he won the first Lok Sabha election from Meerut, Uttar Pradesh. For the next decade, he served as Deputy Minister with the Indian Railways, followed by other ministries like agriculture, labour, steel and mines.
One of his prominent roles in India’s political discourse came in 1956 when he was appointed as the head of the Shah Nawaz Committee that looked into the mysterious death of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. The committee interviewed an array of people in India and Japan, looked at multiple pieces of evidence and finally concluded that he died in the plane crash.
In 1983, Shah Nawaz passed away and was buried with full state honours near Lal Qila, the same place where he erased the ‘traitor’ tag and emerged as a freedom fighter.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)