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The Indian National Army (INA) was formed in 1942 by Indian prisoners of war captured by the Japanese in Singapore. It was created with the aid of Japanese forces. Captain Mohan Singh became the INA’s first leader, and Major Iwaichi Fujiwara was the Japanese intelligence officer who brokered the arrangement to create the army, which was to be trained to fight British and other Allied forces in Southeast Asia. The Japanese had sent intelligence agents to Southeast Asia from the late 1930s onward, and they made contact with the considerable population of South Asians resident in Malaya, Singapore, Thailand, Burma, and other parts of the region. The Japanese aim was to use and benefit from the nationalism of Asian peoples in constructing what they called their “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.”
With the opening victories in the war, from December 1941 through the early months of 1942, the Japanese captured large numbers of Indian prisoners, particularly in their victory at Singapore in February 1942. Some 40,000 to 50,000 men were recruited for a training corps of South Asian residents in Southeast Asia.
With the help of Rash Behari Bose, an Indian nationalist long resident in Japan, the civilian Indian Independence League (IIL) was formed to support the INA and push for Indian independence. This organization provided vital support for the INA throughout the war period. For example, one member in Burma traded liquor for medical supplies desperately needed by the INA.
Tensions developed in late 1942 between Mohan Singh and the Japanese over terms of cooperation. The Japanese were determined to exercise control over the INA that Mohan Singh was not willing to accept. He was relieved of command and imprisoned. Rash Behari Bose was still in good standing with the Japanese, but he had no popular following. A more charismatic leader was needed. In May 1943 Subhas Chandra Bose, a leading Congress nationalist from Bengal who had been working in Germany, arrived in Southeast Asia via a German and then a Japanese submarine, and he provided the leadership that was needed. He became commanding officer of the INA and also set up a provisional government of free India, which was recognized by the Axis powers. The main training camp of the INA was in Singapore, and young women from the South Asian community in Southeast Asia were recruited for the women’s regiment, called the Rani of Jhansi Regiment. It was headed by a young medical doctor, Lakshmi Swaminathan, who also became minister for women’s affairs in the provisional government. Bose worked carefully to get soldiers from all communities—Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs—to cooperate for the greater good of Indian independence.
In late 1943, Bose persuaded the Japanese to attempt an invasion of India from Burma, with the INA as a small force working alongside the Japanese’s main invading force. This effort succeeded in breaking into India near Imphal in 1944. However, the Japanese overextended their supply lines and had no air cover. In their opening victories of the war, the Japanese had good air cover and succeeded in capturing British supplies as they advanced, but now the battles in the Pacific and elsewhere had deprived them of most of their air force. The Allied forces, headed by General William Slim of Great Britain, retreated at first, by design, but then attacked and drove the Japanese and the INA from India and back through Burma. Both the Japanese and the INA suffered greatly from disease and starvation as they retreated. Though the INA fought bravely overall, some men surrendered, and the remaining troops were eventually captured as the British, Indian, and American forces triumphed in Southeast Asia in the spring and summer of 1945.
Subhas Bose attempted to escape to Manchuria and was in a Japanese plane that crashed after take-off in Taiwan in August 1945. The evidence shows that he died of his burns and was cremated there. There was one Indian survivor of the plane crash, Habibur Rahman, and several Japanese survivors, in addition to the doctor who treated him, all of whom testified on several occasions to the story of the crash and his death. However, some Indians chose for decades not to believe the account for personal and political reasons. His ashes were taken to Tokyo and lodged in a Buddhist temple where they remain.
Three officers of the INA, Shah Nawaz Khan (a Muslim), Prem Sahgal (a Hindu), and G. S. Dhillon (a Sikh), were tried for offenses against the King-Emperor in 1945–1946 in the Red Fort in Delhi. The British miscalculated by putting an individual from each religious community on trial, however, and there were massive demonstrations throughout India. As a result, although they were convicted and sentenced to transportation for life, they were soon released. The support the public showed for these rebel military men was one factor in the British government’s decision to grant independence to India in 1947.
- Ghosh, Kalyan K. 1969. The Indian National Army. Meerut, India: Meenakshi Prakasthan.
- Gordon, Leonard A. 1990. Brothers Against the Raj: A Biography of Indian Nationalists Sarat and Subhas Chandra Bose. New York: Columbia University Press.
- Lebra, Joyce C. 1971. Jungle Alliance: Japan and the Indian National Army. Singapore: Asia Pacific Press.
- Toye, Hugh. 1959. The Springing Tiger: A Study of a Revolutionary. London: Cassell.
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