The aim of the army was to overthrow the British Raj in colonial India, with Japanese assistance. Initially composed of Indian prisoners of war captured by Japan in her Malayan campaign and at Singapore, it later drew large numbers of volunteers from Indian expatriate population in Malaya and Burma.
Initially formed in 1942 immediately after the fall of Singapore under Mohan Singh, the first INA collapsed in December that year before it was revived under the leadership of Subhas Chandra Bose in 1943 and proclaimed the army of Bose's Arzi Hukumat-e-Azad Hind (The Provisional Government of Free India). This second INA fought along with the Imperial Japanese Army against the British and commonwealth forces in the campaigns in Burma, Imphal and Kohima, and later, against the successful Burma Campaign of the allies. The end of the war saw a large number of the troops repatriated to India where some faced trial for treason and became a galvanising point of the Indian Independence movement.
After Indian independence, the ex-INA members, with some exceptions, were refused service in the Indian Army. However, a number of notable members later became involved in public life in India and in South East Asia.
The legacy of the INA is controversial given its associations with Imperial Japan, the course of Japanese occupations in Burma, Indonesia and other parts of South east Asia, her alliance with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, as well as Japanese war crimes and alleged complicity of the troops of the INA in these. Also, its relative insignificance in military terms, its obvious propaganda value to the Japanese, as well as war time British Intelligence propaganda of cowardice and stories that associated INA soldiers in mistreatment of captured allied troops, to a large extent mires the history of the army. However, after the war, the trials of captured INA officers in India provoked massive public outcries in support of their efforts to fight the Raj, eventually triggering mutinies in the British Indian forces. These events in the twilight of the Raj are accepted to have played a crucial role in its hasty end.
Within the Indian independence movement, the origins of the concept of an armed force fighting its way into India to overthrow the Raj goes back to the First World War, when the Ghadar Party in February 1915 planned to initiate rebellion in the British Indian Army from the Punjab through Bengal to Hong Kong with German assistance. This plan failed after the information was leaked to British Intelligence, but only after the Singapore Garrison had rebelled. Further German assistance in the form of arms, ammunition and trained cadres (both European and Indian) came too late to make a difference. During the Second World War, this plan found revival, with a number of different leaders, units and movements formed over the duration of the war. These included "liberation armies" formed in and with the help of Italy, Germany as well as in South-east Asia. Local movements also formed within India which guerrilla tactics significantly hindered the British war effort by sabotage, civil unrest and propaganda. The south-east Asian theatre saw the concept of the Indian National Army initiated by the Indian Independence League, which came to be acted out in two phases: the formation and subsequent disbandment of the Indian National Army under Capt. Mohan Singh, and the formation of the Arzi Hukumat-e-Azad Hind under Subhash Chandra Bose and the reformation of the INA as its army. The concept of INA as the Azad Hind Fauj that lives in Indian Public Memory, and indeed as it is analysed by historians, as a fighting force is essentially the INA as the army of the Azad Hind Government under Netaji Subhash Bose. Both these phases saw extensive support from the Japanese Government, militarily as well as politically.
Japan, as well as South East Asia was a major refuge for Indian nationalists living in exile before the start of World War II who formed strong proponents of militant nationalism and also influenced Japanese policy significantly. Although Japanese intentions and policies with regards to India were far from concrete at the start of the war, Japan had sent intelligence missions, notably under Major I Fujiwara, into South Asia even before the start of the World War II to garner support from the Malayan Sultans, overseas Chinese, the Burmese resistance and the Indian movement. These missions were successful establishing contacts with Indian nationalists in exile in Thailand and Malaya, supporting the establishment and organisation of the Indian Independence League.
At the outbreak of World War II in South East Asia, 70,000 Indian troops were stationed in Malaya. After the start of the war, Japan's spectacular Malayan Campaign had brought under her control considerable of Indian Prisoners of War, notably nearly 55,000 after the Fall of Singapore. The conditions of service within the British Indian Army as well as the conditions in Malaya had fed dissension among these troops. From these troops, the First Indian National Army was formed under Mohan Singh and received considerable Japanese aid and support. It was formally proclaimed in September 1942 and declared the subordinate military wing of the Indian Independence League in June that year. The unit was dissolved in December 1942 and Mohan Singh was arrested and exiled to Pulau Ubin after apprehensions of Japanese motives with regards to the INA led to disagreements, distrust and subsequently open hostility between Mohan Singh and INA leadership on one hand, and the leagues leadership, most notable Rash Behari Bose and the Japanese military command on the other. A large number of the initial volunteers chose to revert to Prisoner of War Status and large number of these were subsequently sent to work in the Death Railway or in New Guinea. From the end of December 1942 to February Rash Behari Bose struggled to hold the INA together.
In a series of meetings between the INA leaders and the Japanese in 1943, it was decided to cede the leadership of the IIL and the INA to Subhash Chandra Bose, since a number of the officers and troops who had returned to PoW camps, or had not volunteered in the first place, made it known that they would be willing to join the INA only on the condition that it was led by Bose. Bose had, at the start of the war in Europe, escaped from house arrest to make his way to Germany, reaching Berlin on 2 April 1941. In Germany he convinced Hitler, in a series of conferences, to support the cause of Indian Independence, forming the Free India Legion and the Azad Hind Radio By early 1943, Bose had turned his attention to Southeast Asia. With its large overseas Indian population, it was recognised that the region was fertile ground for establishing an anti-colonial force to fight the Raj. In January 1943, the Japanese invited Bose to lead the Indian nationalist movement in East Asia. He accepted and left Germany on 8 February. After a three-month journey by submarine, and a short stop in Singapore, he reached Tokyo on 11 May 1943, where he made a number of radio broadcasts to the Indian communities, exhorting them to join in the fight for India’s Independence.
On 15 February 1943, the Army itself was put under the command of Lt. Col. M.Z. Kiani. The former ranks and badges were revived. A policy forming body was formed with the Director of the Military Bureau, Lt. Col Bhonsle, in charge and clearly placed under the authority of the IIL. Under Bhonsle served Lt. Col. Shah Nawaz Khan as Chief of General Staff, Major P.K. Sahgal as Military Secretary, Major Habib Ur Rahman as commandant of the Officers' Training School and Lt. Col. A.C. Chatterji (later Major A.D. Jahangir) as head of enlightenment and culture.
On 4 July 1943, two days after reaching Singapore, Subhash Chandra Bose assumed the leadership of the IIL and the INA in a ceremony at Cathay Building. Bose's influence was notable. His appeal not only re-invigorated the fledgling INA, which previously consisted mainly of POWs, his appeals also touched a chord with the Indian expatriates in South Asia as local civilians- ranging from barristers to plantation workers – had no military experience joined the INA, doubled its troop strength.
An Officers’ Training School for INA officers, led by Habib Ur Rahman, and the Azad School for the civilian volunteers were set up to provide training to the recruits. A youth wing of the INA, composed of 45 Young Indians personally chosen by Bose and affectionately known as the Tokyo Boys, were also sent to Japan’s Imperial Military Academy to train as fighter pilots. Also, possibly the first time in Asia, and even the only time outside the USSR, a women's regiment, the Rani of Jhansi regiment was raised as a combat force.
There were 45,000 Indian troops from Malaya captured and assembled in Singapore when the Japanese captured it. Of these, about 5,000 refused to join the First INA. The INA at this time had 40,000 recruits. The Japanese were prepared to arm 16,000. When the "first INA" collapsed, about 4,000 withdrew. The Second INA, commanded by Subhash Chandra Bose, started with 12,000 troops. Further recruitment of ex-Indian army personnel added about 8,000-10,000. About 18,000 Indian civilians enlisted during this time. In 1945, at the end of the INA, it consisted of about 40,000 soldiers.
Fay's account of the INA gives the following account.
The 1st Division was lightly armed. Each battalion was composed of five Companies of infantry. The individual companies were armed with six antitank rifles, six Bren guns and six Vickers machine guns. Some NCOs carried hand grenades, while men going forward on duty were issued British stocks of hand grenades by senior officer of the Bahadur groups attached to each unit. Mortars were available, but Fay points out these were not available at battalion level.
Prem Kumar Sahgal, an officer of the INA once Military secretary to Subhas Bose and later tried in the first Red Fort trials, explained that although the war itself hung in balance and nobody was sure if the Japanese would win, initiating a popular revolution with grass-root support within India would ensure that even if Japan lost the war ultimately, Britain would not be in a position to re-assert its colonial authority, which was ultimately the aim of the INA and Azad Hind.
The only Indian territory that the Azad Hind govt controlled were the Indian territories that fell during the Imphal offensive, and the islands of Andaman and Nicobar. However, the latter two were bases for the Japanese Navy, and the navy never really fully relinquished control. Enraged with the lack of administrative control, the Azad Hind Governor, Lt. Col Loganathan later relinquished his authority to return to the Government's head quarters in Rangoon. The Japanese forces is said to have carried out torture on thousands of local inhabitants during the occupation, and some historians inexplicably apportion the blame to Subhas Bose's provisional government.
As the Japanese withdrawal from Burma progressed, the other remnants began a long march over land and on foot towards Bangkok, along with Subhas Chandra Bose. The withdrawing forces regularly suffered casualties from allied airplanes strafing them, clashes with Aung San's Burmese resistance, as well as Chinese guerrillas who harassed the Japanese troops. At the time of Japan's surrender in September 1945, Bose left for Manchuria to attempt to contact the advancing Soviet troops, and was reported to have died in an air crash near Taiwan.
By July 1945, a large numbers had been shipped back to India. At the time of fall of Japan, the remaining captured troops were transported to India via Rangoon. Large numbers of local Malay and Burmese volunteers including the recruits to the Rani of Jhansi regiment returned to civilian life and were not identified. Those repatriated passed through transit camps in Chittagong and Calcutta to be held at detention camps all over India including Jhingergacha and Nilganj near Calcutta, Kirkee outside Pune, Attock, Multan and at Bahadurgarh near Delhi. Bahadurgarh also held prisoners of the Indische Legion. By November, around 12,000 INA prisoners were held in these camps, from which they were released according to the "colours". By December, around 600 whites were released per week. From amongst the rest, the selection for those to face trial started.
These trials attracted much publicity, and public sympathy for the defendants who were perceived as patriots in India. The Indian National Congress and the Muslim League both made the release of the three defendants an important political issue during the agitation for independence of 1945-6. Beyond the concurrent campaigns of noncooperation and nonviolent protest, this spread to include mutinies and wavering support within the British Indian Army. This movement marked the last major campaign in which the forces of the Congress and the Muslim League aligned together; the Congress tricolor and the green flag of the League were flown together at protests. In spite of this aggressive and widespread opposition, the court martial was carried out, and all three defendants were sentenced to deportation for life. This sentence, however, was never carried out, as the immense public pressure of the demonstrations and riots forced Claude Auchinleck, Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army, to release all three defendants. Within three months, 11000 soldiers of the INA were released after cashiering and forfeiture of pay and allowance. On the recommendation of Lord Mountbatten, and agreed by Nehru, as a precondition for Independence the INA soldiers were not re-inducted into the Indian Army.
Within India, the INA continued to have a strong hold over the public psyche and the sentiments of the armed forces till as late as 1947. Some have said that Shah Nawaz Khan was instrumental in organising INA troops to train Congress volunteers on Nehru's request in late 1946 and early 1947. After 1947,some accounts suggest that the INA-veterans were involved in training civilian resistance forces against the Nizam's Razakars prior to the execution of Operation Polo and annexation of Hyderabad. There are also mentions of some INA veterans leading Pakistani irregulars during the First Kashmir war.
INA-veterans were not allowed to join the Indian Army after India's independence in August 1947. However, a few ex-INA members, notably the most prominent members or those closely associated with Subhas Bose or with the INA trials later have seen prominent public life or held important positions in independent India.
Shah Nawaz Khan served as a Minister of State for Rail in the First Indian Cabinet. Lakshmi Sahgal, Minister for Women's affairs in the Azad Hind govt,is a well known and widely respected public figure in India. In 1971, she joined the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and was later elected the leader of the All India Democratic Women's Association. In 2002, she was also nominated by the Communist bloc's for the post of President of India, when she lost to the candidature of Abdul Kalam. Abid Hasan, Subhas Bose's sole Indian companion in the U-Boat from Germany to South-east Asia, joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1948 and served as the Indian Ambassador to a number of countries including Egypt and Denmark. Mohan Singh served for two terms in the Rajya Sabha of the Indian Parliament as a member of the Indian National Congress. Ram Singh Thakur, composer of a number of songs including the INA's regimental march Kadam Kadam Badaye Ja, later composed the tune for the Indian National Anthem.
Amongst the very few ex-INA members who joined the Indian Armed Forces after 1947 was R S Benegal, a member of the Tokyo Boys who was allowed to join the Indian Air Force in 1952 and later rose to be an Air Commodore. Benegal saw action in both the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pak war, earning a Maha Vir Chakra, India's second highest award for valour.
A few members, including Gurubaksh Singh Dhillon and Lakshmi Sahgal were later awarded civilian honours of Padma Vibhushan by the Indian Government in the 1990s. Subhas Bose himself was posthumously awarded Bharat Ratna in 1992 but this was later withdrawn over the controversy over the circumstances of his death.
Outside India, the Malaysian Indian Congress was founded in 1946 by, amongst others, notable members of the INA and of which John Thivy was the founding president. Janaky Athi Nahappan, Second in Command of the Rani of Jhansi Regiment was also a founding member of the MIC, and later was to become a noted welfare activist and a distinguished senator in the Dewan Negara of the Malaysian Parliament. Rasammah Bhupalan, also of the Rani of Jhansi Regiment, later became a noted welfare-activist and a widely respected champion for Women's Rights in Malaysia.
Later, during the Japanese U-GO offensive towards Manipur in 1944, it played a crucial and successful role in the diversionary attacks in Arakan as well as in the Manipur Basin itself where it fought with Mutaguchi's 15th Army. It qualified itself well in the Battles in Arakan, Manipur, Imphal, and later during the withdrawal through Manipur and Burma. The commanders like L.S. Mishra, Raturi, Mansukhlal, M.Z. Kiyani, and others attracted the attention of the Japanese as well as the British forces. Later, during the Burma Campaign, it did play a notable role in the Battles of Irrawaddy and Meiktilla especially in the latter, supporting the Japanese offensive and tying down British troops. Fay also notes the published accounts of several veterans, including that of William Slim that portrays INA-troops as incapable fighters and untrustworthy, and points out the inconsistencies and conflicts between the different accounts to conclude that intelligence propaganda as well as institutional bias may have played a significant part in the portrayed opinions.
It is however noted that the INA did indeed suffer a number of notable incidences of desertion. Fay notes the significant ones amongst these were not during the offensives into Manipur and the subsequent retreat through Burma, when incidences of desertion did occur but at a far smaller numbers than the fourteenth army told its troops. The significant desertions, Fay notes, occurred around the Battles at Irrawaddy and later around Popa. During the fall of Rangoon, 6000 INA troops manned the city to maintain order before allied troops entered the city. Nevertheless, Fay argues, the INA was not significant enough to militarily beat the British Indian Army, and was moreover aware of this and formulated its own strategy of avoiding set-piece battles, garnering local and popular support within India and instigating revolt within the British Indian army to overthrow the Raj. Moreover, the Forward Bloc underground within India had been crushed well before the offensives opened in the Burma-Manipur theatre, depriving the army of any organised internal support.
It was however, the INA trials that attracted more attention in India than the war time activities of the unit, and coupled to the decisions to hold the first trial in public, these became a rallying point for the independence movement from Autumn 1945, so much so that the release of INA prisoners and suspension of the trials came to be the dominant political campaign in precedence over the campaign for Freedom. Newspaper reports around November 1945 reported executions of INA troops, which deteriorated already volatile situations. Opposition to the trial of the officers for treason became a major public and political campaign, and the very opening of the first trial saw violence and series of riots in a scale later described as sensational. It also saw a campaign that defied communal barriers.
Increasingly violent confrontations broke out between the police and the mass rallies being held all over India, culminating in public riotings in support of the INA men. The Raj also observed with increasing disquiet and unease the spread of pro-INA sympathies within the troops of the British Indian forces. In February 1946, while the trials were still going on, a general strike ratings of the Royal Indian Navy rapidly deteriorated into a mutiny, incorporating ships and shore establishments of the RIN throughout India, from Karachi to Bombay and from Vizag to Calcutta. Amongst the rallying cries of the ratings the central one was the INA trials and slogans invoking Subhas Bose. Significantly, the mutiny received massive militant public support. At some places, NCOs in the British Indian Army started ignoring orders from British superiors. In Madras and Pune, the British garrisons had to face revolts within the ranks of the British Indian Army. Another Army mutiny took place at Jabalpur during the last week of February 1946, soon after the Navy mutiny at Bombay. British troops suppressed this by force, using bayonets. It lasted about two weeks. After the mutiny, about 45 persons were tried by court martial. 41 were sentenced to varying terms of imprisonment or dismissal. In addition, a large number were discharged on administrative grounds. Fay records Auchinleck as having sent a "Personal and Secret" letter to all senior British officers as having explained the remissions of the sentences in the first trial as
...practically all are sure that any attempt to enforce the sentence would have led to chaos in the country at large, and probably to mutiny and dissension in the Army, culminating in its dissolution
Later historians have pointed out that the INA trials and its after effects brought the decisive shift in British policy. The viceroy's journal describes the autumn and Winter 1945-45 as "The Edge of a Volcano". Intelligence reports at the time noted widespread public interest and sympathy that turned into what has been described as "Patriotic Fury" that was beyond the communal barriers in India at the time. Particularly disturbing for the British, was the overt and public support for the INA by the soldiers of the Indian army. In addition, the use of Indian troops for the restoration of Dutch and French rule in Vietnam and Indonesia also fed growing resentment within the forces. The Raj had every reason to fear a revival of the Quit Indian movement, especially given the Congress rhetoric preceding the elections. and rapidly realised that the Indian army, unlike in 1942, could not be used to suppress such a movement owing largely to nationalistic and political consciousness in the forces which was ascribed to the INA. Some historians cite Auchinleck's own assessment of the situation to suggest this shortened the Raj by at least fifteen to twenty years.
The political effects of the INA trials was enormous and were felt around India as late as 1948, much to the chagrin of the then Indian government. Clement Atlee, the then British Prime Minister, reflecting on the factors that guided the British decision to relinquish the Raj in India, is said to have cited the effects of the INA and Bose's activities on the British Indian Army and the Bombay Mutiny as being the most important.
After the war ended, the story of the INA and the Free India Legion was seen as so inflammatory that, fearing mass revolts and uprisings—not just in India, but across its empire—the British Government forbade the BBC from broadcasting their story.
The INA's interactions with the British Indian Army occurred over two distinct phases. The first of these was December 1942-March 1943, during the First Arakan offensive at a time that the morale of the sepoy was low and the knowledge about the INA was minimal. The INA's Special Services agents led a successful operation during this time in encouraging the Indian troops to defect to the INA, while those who returned to India beaten in the field took back horrific if unbelievable stories of Japanese troops using their parachutes not only to drop from the skies, but to go back up again. The threat of the INA at this time was significant and successful enough for the British intelligence to begin the Jiffs campaign as well as engage in campaign to improve morale and preserve the loyalty of the sepoy. General newsban on reporting the INA allowed the British Indian Army to consolidate and prepare for defense of Manipur, which it successfully did. By the end of March 1945, the sepoy of the British Indian Army was reinvigorated and perceived the men of the INA little more than savage turncoats and cowards. Bayly and Harper mentions that a number of times, the sepoys in the field units shot captured or wounded INA men, relieving their British officers of the complex task of formulating a formal plan for captured men. After Singapore was retaken, Mountbatten ordered the INA's war memorial to its fallen soldiers to be blown up.
However, the INA's most significant interaction with the British Indian Army occurred not in the battle field, but after the end of the war. The lifting of the newsban after the fall of Rangoon led to the INA story breaking in India which, within a matter of months if not weeks, had captured the public imagination within India. This nationalistic euphoria swept through the armed forces as well, generally destabilising the Sepoy's loyalty to both the Raj and his regiments. Fay notes that even before Japan surrendered preparations were underway for the trial of selected INA men. The predominant feeling in the Indian officer corps at this time was a resentment was that so few were being tried. This changed dramatically over the following months as the further information on the INA began emerging in the press and its true extent, as well as the stories of its campaigns came to be known. The general feeling within the British Indian army at this time is described by some is that of guilt for having fought for the British and against the INA. The revolts and mutinies within the armed forces in early 1946, during the trial and in a situation of volatile nationalist public mood, are held to be a significant factor in precipitating the end of the Raj.
Although the British Indian Army remained the largest volunteer force during the World War II and saw action from the theatres of North-Africa to Europe and New Guinea to Manipur, in India today, the stories of the INA form a much more prominent aspect of both appreciation as well as analysis of her role in World War II.
A number of different views and controversies surround the history and records of the Indian National Army, bourne especially by its integral associations with Imperial Japan, and the course and history of Japanese occupation of South-East Asia during the War. These include views especially among British troops that the recruits were traitors, that they were Axis Collaborators, as well as allegations that INA troops engaged in or were complicit in wide-spread torture of Allied and Indian prisoners of war. Fay concludes in his 1993 history of the army that the allegations were largely products of the British propaganda campaign and points out that the allegations were not borne out by the charges against the defendants in the Red Fort trials. Fay also points out that war-time press releases as well as the field counter-intelligence directed at the sepoy portrayed the INA as a small group and attributes to the Jiffs campaign the promalgamation of the view that INA recruits were weak-willed and traitorous Axis collaborators motivated by selfish interests of greed and personal gain. He further notes over the records of Shah Nawaz Khan's trial that officers of the INA had described to their men the possibility of having to fight the Japanese after having fought the British in order to prevent Japan from exploiting India.
Controversy also exists in India with regards to the treatment of the ex-INA soldiers by the post-independence government of India and of historical records of the period leading up to Indian independence in 1947, with some alleging that official histories of the independence movement largely omit events surrounding the INA especially the Red Fort trials and the Bombay Mutiny and ignore their significance in terms of rejuvenation of the independence movement and guiding the British decision to relinquish the Raj. Further criticisms have been made in recent years for the general hardships and apathy surrounding the conditions of ex-INA troops including, for example, the circumstances surrounding the death and funeral of Ram Singh Thakur, the composer of India's National Anthem.These have been compounded by a number of conspiracy-theories and news reports in the past on agreements between the Indian political leadership to hand over its leader Subhas Chandra Bose as a War Criminal if he was found to be alive. Other historians have suggested a systemic bias of the. Later historians have, however, argued that given the political aim and nature of the entire Azad Hind movement especially the Indian National Army, Nehru's decisions may have been to prevent politicisation of the army and assert civilian authority over the military.
Historical literary works on the INA includes
In music, Kadam Kadam Badaye Ja..., the INA's marching song, has since become a famous patriotic song in India. Today, it is in use as the Regimental quickmarch of the Indian Army as well as its Para Regiments. The music was composed by Ram Singh Thakur, from whose composition was later derived the tune for India's national anthem Jana Gana Mana.
Other mentions of the INA in popular culture abound through India, including