Azaadi and the end of Empire.

Allegiance by Narayani Basu; Illustration by Akshaya Zachariah for

It is Week #78 at FiftyTwo. At the halfway point of our second season of stories, and to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the independence of India and Pakistan, we wanted to do something special. So we’ve published a book!

From practically the moment we began putting out stories, we’ve had hundreds of readers ask for a way to support our work. If you’re piqued by the synopsis and excerpt you see below, please go on over and place an order for ‘Allegiance’ here. We hope you enjoy Narayani’s book very much. Independence Day greetings to Indians, Pakistanis, and everyone for whom the history of the subcontinent’s tremendous 1940s means something.



n the morning of 5 November 1945, three soldiers stood trial for treason on the ramparts of the Red Fort. They were Shah Nawaz Khan, Prem Kumar Sahgal and Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon: three among the 40,000 soldiers of the Indian National Army, led by Subhas Chandra Bose.

The Second World War had been longer, more horrifying and more hopeful for them than for many others. They’d been abandoned by the British in the sweating jungles of Southeast Asia. The Japanese had offered a dubious hand of friendship. They’d known gnawing hunger and terrible despair. Their fellow Indians in the armed forces of British India were aghast at the choice these men made: to fight for country, but not for Crown.

‘Allegiance’ is the story of this momentous journey through the eyes of the three soldiers at the centre of it all. It sweeps through one of the most tumultuous and most poignant conflicts in modern Indian history, from the swamps of British Malaya to encampments in Singapore, Thailand, and Burma, all the way to the Red Fort—where the public trial of a Hindu, a Muslim and a Sikh drove a hard nail into the coffin of Empire.

Dhillon, Sahgal, Shah Nawaz. This is the intimate story of their freedom struggle.

A brief excerpt from the book


ver 57 days, between 5 November and 31 December 1945, the trials continued, with 12 witnesses. They included a delegation of five Japanese witnesses, men who had been involved with the INA. For this bunch of men who left Tokyo on 10 December 1945, it was a moment of profound anxiety. What posture should be adopted in a court of law? To be sure, the INA had fought under Japanese command in Imphal. But then again, there was the memory of Bose, who had always insisted that the INA was an independent army.

To be on the safe side, the Japanese opted to speak in legal and political support of the men on trial. More crucial to the defence was the subpoena of a man who’d been there at the beginning of the grand adventure: the officer Fujiwara Iwaichi. Severely ill with malaria at the time, the subpoena was presented to Iwaichi on his hospital bed in Fukuoka by Allied Army Headquarters in Southeast Asia.

He’d been waiting for the summons. He knew that the British would want revenge. And so, he asked the nurse on duty to bring him the cyanide he had kept on hand for such an occasion.

But the contents of the subpoena made him pause and change his mind. He decided to go to Delhi, ill as he was, to attest on behalf of his INA and F-Kikan comrades, to say that they had risen to fight for Indian independence, and not as puppets of another empire.

The arguments of both the prosecution and the defence were laid out in full for the people of India to read and draw their own conclusions. The circumstances put paid to the Raj’s hopes that the people would choose the Empire over their countrymen.