With its beginning in Singapore during World War Two, the Indian National Army (INA) was formed to liberate India from British rule. Although the military campaigns did not lead directly to India’s Independence, the postwar trials of INA officers served as a catalyst for India’s Independence.
The Indian National Army (INA; Azad Hind Fauj; lit.: Free Indian Army) was an armed force formed by Indian nationalist and freedom fighter Rash Behari Bose in 1942 in Southeast Asia during World War II. Its aim was to secure Indian independence from British rule. It formed an alliance with the Empire of Japan in the latter’s campaign in the Southeast Asian theatre of WWII.
The army was first formed in 1942 under Rash Behari Bose, Mohan Singh, by Indian PoWs of the British-Indian Army captured by Japan in the Malayan campaign and at Singapore. This first INA collapsed and was disbanded in December that year after differences between the INA leadership and the Japanese military over its role in Japan’s war in Asia. Rash Behari Bose handed over INA to Subhas Chandra Bose. It was revived under the leadership of Subhash Chandra Bose after his arrival in Southeast Asia in 1943. The army was declared to be the army of Bose’s the Provisional Government of Free India. Under Bose’s leadership, the INA drew ex-prisoners and thousands of civilian volunteers from the Indian expatriate population in Malaya (present-day Malaysia) and Burma. This second INA fought along with the Imperial Japanese Army against the British and Commonwealth forces in the campaigns in Burma, in Imphal and at Kohima, and later against the successful Burma Campaign of the Allies.
Declaring its Formation
On 21 October 1943, Bose announced the formation of the Provisional Government of Azad Hind (Free India), with himself as the Head of State, Prime Minister and Minister of War.
The Provisional Government not only enabled Bose to negotiate with the Japanese on an equal footing but also facilitated the mobilisation of Indians in East Asia to join and support the INA. Soon after the announcement, the Provisional Government received recognition from various countries.
|Members of the Cabinet:|
|Lt Col A C Chatterjee||Minister of Finance|
|Dr (Capt) Lakshmi Sahgal||Minister of Women’s Organisation|
|Shri A M Sahay||Secretary with Ministerial Rank|
|Shri S A Ayer||Minister of Publicity and Propaganda|
|Lt Col J K Bhonsle||Representative of INA|
|Lt Col Loganathan||Representative of INA|
|Lt Col Ehsan Qadir||Representative of INA|
|Lt Col N S Bhagat||Representative of INA|
|Lt Col M Z Kiani||Representative of INA|
|Lt Col Aziz Ahmed||Representative of INA|
|Lt Col Shah Nawaz Khan||Representative of INA|
|Lt Col Gulzara Singh||Representative of INA|
|Rash Behari Bose||Supreme Advisor|
|Karim Giani||Advisor from Burma|
|Debnath Das||Advisor from Thailand|
|Sardar Ishar Singh||Advisor from Thailand|
|D M Khan||Advisor from Hong Kong|
|A Yellappa||Advisor from Singapore|
|A N Sarkar||Advisor from Singapore|
Background and Objectives
Many exiled Indian nationalists took refuge in Japan and other parts of South-East Asia before the start of the ‘Second World War’ in 1939. In September 1941, Major Iwaichi Fujiwara was sent by the Japanese with intelligence missions to recruit as many soldiers as possible from British Malaya (present-day Malaysia), British India, and British Burma. Fujiwara’s military intelligence operation, which was named as ‘Fujiwara kikan,’ succeeded in establishing cooperative ties with various Malay sultans, members active in Indian independence movement, and even with the overseas Chinese from all over South-East Asia. The Japanese were also successful in recruiting Burmese nationalists and Indian nationalists who were in exile in Thailand. At the onset of ‘World War II,’ 70,000 Indian troops were stationed in Malaya. During Japan’s ‘Malayan Campaign,’ a host of Indian soldiers were captured. These prisoners formed a part of the ‘First Indian National Army,’ formed under the leadership of Mohan Singh.
Mohan Singh himself was captured during the Malayan campaign when he was serving as an officer in the British-Indian Army. People of Indian origin had formed various local leagues in Malaya, which had come together to form a political organization called the ‘Indian Independence League’ (IIL) under the leadership of Subhas Chandra Bose. The Indian Independence League made Indian National Army its subordinate and together the organizations formed a working council which was to decide if INA should go to war. Fearing that they would look like puppets in the hands of the Japanese to the outside world, the Indian leaders decided that the INA would accompany Japan in wars only when the Indian National Congress instructs it to do so.
In April 1942, Mohan Singh assembled his officers to frame the ‘Bidadary resolution,’ which promised to raise an army to fight for the independence of Indian. The resolution also stated that the army would go to war only when it is asked to do so by the people of India and by the Indian National Congress. This irked the Japanese, which created a rift between them and the INA. Just before the end of 1942, the INA and the IIL had various disagreements, which made Mohan Singh to dissolve the INA in December 1942.
Many prominent volunteers and soldiers, including those who were a part of the INA, and the ones who had not joined the Indian National Army before, made it clear that they were willing to join the army if it was led by Subhas Chandra Bose. In 1943, a series of meetings were held between the Japanese and the leaders of the Indian National Army, post which it was decided that Bose would henceforth lead both the IIL and the INA. Bose reached Tokyo on May 11, 1943, and met the general of the Imperial Japanese Army, Hideki Tojo. In July 1943, Bose visited Singapore, where he made use of radio broadcasts to exhort Indians living in Southeast Asia to join the fight against the British Raj in India. Since the sole objective of the newly formed INA under Subhas Chandra Bose was to fight for the independence of India, the number of volunteers willing to serve the army was more than ever. Though the exact troop strength is unknown as the records were later destroyed, an Australian author named Carl Vadivella Belle estimated that the membership of the Indian Independence League had peaked at 350,000 under Bose’s leadership. These included commoners like plantation workers, traders, and barristers as well as experienced military men. Under the leadership of Lakshmi Sahgal, an all-female unit was created, which subsequently drew female volunteers as well. In October 1943, Netaji, as Bose was fondly called by the INA members, proclaimed the formation of ‘Provisional Government of Free India’ (Azad Hind) and declared INA as the official army of ‘Azad Hind.’
“Time has come for three million Indians living in East Asia to mobilise all their available resources including money and manpower. Half-hearted measures will not do. …Out of this total mobilisation I expect at least three hundred thousand soldiers and three crores that is thirty million dollars.”
Subhas Chandra Bose speaking at the Padang on 9 July 1943.
With the formation of the Provisional Government of Azad Hind, mobilisation of the Indian communities for armed struggle was stepped up. Many Indian civilians from Malaya, Thailand and Burma responded enthusiastically. Others contributed money and gold generously to the INA Fund. The gold came mostly from women who readily gave up their jewellery while wealthy Indian families donated large sums of money after attending Bose’s rallies and meetings. Other forms of contributions included clothing, foodstuffs and other supplies that the INA could use.
By April 1944, the Azad Hind Bank was established in Rangoon to manage the overwhelming donations from the Indian communities.
Operations of the INA
Under the leadership of Subhas Chandra Bose, the provisional government of free India declared war against the British and the United States. Bose also convinced the Japanese to allow the INA to be an integral part in Japan’s offensive against the British Empire in Manipur. In the ‘U-Go Offensive,’ which was a military operation aimed at capturing Manipur and the Naga Hills from the British, the INA played a major role. However, the INA lost a large number of men, which weakened the army considerably. In 1945, the INA was part of the Japanese deployments during the ‘Burma Campaign,’ which was a series of battles held in the British colony of Burma.
End of the INA
A total of 16,000 soldiers belonging to the INA were captured by the British from various places. By July 1945, a host of them were shipped back to India, while a number of volunteers, who had come from Malaya and Burma returned to their respective civilian life. By November 1945, around 12,000 INA soldiers were kept at transit camps in Chittagong and Calcutta. By December, the process to choose those who would be sent to face the trials had started. The British-Indian Army wanted to execute internal disciplinary action against the British-Indian Army soldiers who had joined the INA. The British administration had also selected a few of its soldiers, who would later be subjected to trials, and a few others were punished for their acts. In November 1945, it was reported that the British had executed a number of INA soldiers, which led to violent confrontations between the police and the protesters.
Approximately ten trials were held in the Red Fort against a number of officers and soldiers from the INA. Since the trials were held in Red Fort, Delhi, these trials also came to be known as the ‘Red Fort trials.’ In the first of these trials, Colonel Prem Sahgal, Major General Shah Nawaz Khan, and Colonel Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon, who had previously worked in the British Indian Army, were charged on multiple counts, including severe charges of treason. Though the public did not support the defendants initially, British’ decision to hold the trials publicly backfired and the defendants later gained public sympathy, which led to riots and protests. The Muslim League and the Indian National Congress pressed the British government to release the INA soldiers. Hence, citing unrest within the armed forces of the British Raj, the then Commander-in-Chief Marshal Claude Auchinleck decided to mitigate the sentences of the three defendants.
Though the achievements of the INA were ignored by historians, but the impact it had on the independence of India was massive. The first INA trial became a rallying point for the Indian independence movement in 1945. British historian Christopher Bayly later stated that the INA had become a much more powerful enemy to the British after its fall in 1945. Also, the political effects of the trials were massive and were felt as late as 1948.