The Indian National Army was a major reason behind the British quitting India. It is also often said that the real reason behind the British deciding to leave wasn’t the non-violence movement by Mahatma Gandhi but Subhash Chandra Bose’s INA as the British believed it would be impossible to deal with a mutiny within the Indian Army.
Anyways. This article is about how the INA came into existence. Numerous campaigns were underway on Indian soil against the British in the 1940s. But one such campaign was starting to take root miles away from home.
As World War II began, around 70,000 Indian troops were stationed in the Far East by the British. One among them was Mohan Singh, then a battalion captain in the British Indian Army, who headed to Malaya (now Peninsular Malaysia) in 1941 with his unit.
When Japan occupied Malaya and most of Southeast Asia, many Indian soldiers of the British regiment were taken prisoners. But the Japanese worked to maintain a good relationship with Indian officers so that they could gain traction against the British.
Then, a Japanese officer, Major Fujihara, and Pritam Singh, who was a leader of an Indian organisation in Malaya, approached Mohan Singh to form an Indian army from the prisoners of war.
Doing this wasn’t easy for Mohan Singh. If he joined hands with the Japanese, then it essentially meant rebelling against the Crown, the very Crown whose army he’d been a part of since he was 18 years of age. But he was promised to be treated as an ally and not as a prisoner. He understood the potential of the Indian Army and began recruiting with the help of Pritam Singh and Fujihara.
Close to 4,000 prisoners from the fall of Kuala Lumpur in 1942 and over 40,000 from that of Singapore were placed under his charge. Volunteers from the British Indian Army were also called upon to join. Mohan Singh, who was now a General, was to command the first INA. It was later termed the Azad Hind Fauj.
Rash Behari Bose was another revolutionary who had fled to Japan in 1915. He was instrumental in raising Japanese interest in the Indian independence movement. Local organisations began merging into what would become the Indian Independence League (IIL), a political organisation that was the voice of the Indian population in Southeast Asia. The IIL was officially constituted in 1942. Rash Behari Bose chaired the council and Mohan Singh was one of the representatives of the INA.
The conference made certain demands to the Japanese government – 1) Ensure the integrity of the IIL and INA remained intact, 2) Publicly recognise India as an independent nation, 3) INA to be looked upon as an allied army and all prisoners of war to be released and, 4) Japanese must provide loans to the army and not impose any purpose on it other than the liberation of India.
But Mohan Singh realized that the Japanese government wasn’t fulfilling their demands. He felt that the government was purposely delaying public recognition of the Indian Army. This is when he got into trouble. He was removed from command and taken into Japanese military custody.
Mohan Singh was firm believer that Subhash Chandra Bose was the right person to lead the INA. Not only was it him who backed Bose, but even many soldiers insisted that they’ll join the Army if Bose lead them.
Inevitably, Bose was invited to lead the INA and the IIL, and he agreed. His impact was such that even civilians with no military experience were willing to join the force. The memberships of both the INA and IIL reached new heights as it was estimated that around one lakh civilians in South-East Asia took membership.
The most unfortunate aspect was that Mohan Singh along with many other members of the INA faced trials (few in India were averse to the growing might of Subhash Bose). This resulted in the severe depletion of the INA by 1945.
Yet, the contribution of the INA under Mohan Singh and Bose can never be forgotten. It’s sad that the names and contributions of these great men along with every single foot-soldiers have almost been erased from the annals of history only to keep the memory of some intact.