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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 37, September 4, 2010

A United Struggle for United India-Azad Hind Fauj

Wednesday 8 September 2010, by Ajeet Jawed


September 1 this year marked the sixtyeighth anniversary of the formation of the Indian National Army (INA). The following article, bringing out the detailed history of the INA, is being published on that occasion.

In the history of India’s freedom struggle, the INA occupies an important place. At the time when there were all round divisions on the Indian national scene, the INA exhibited complete national unity. The Indian soldiers fought unitedly for a united India. This armed struggle of the INA forced the British to realise that they could no longer depend upon the loyalty of the Indian Army for the maintenance of their rule in the country. Besides, the countrywide support and sympathy of the Indian masses for the INA and the opposition of the Indian section of the British Indian Army to the INA trials led the British to transfer power through a negotiated settlement. Thus the INA revolt hastened the end of British rule of India.

The INA was organised during the Second World War on September 1, 1942. It was first raised by Captain Mohan Singh and Mohammad Akram, both from Punjab. The two were cut off from the British Indian Army and were wandering in the jungles of Malaya when they came across Giani Pritam Singh, an Indian revolutionary and Secretary General of the Indian Independence League of Thailand and Malaya, with some Sikhs and Major Fujihara from the Japanese forces. Giani Pritam Singh informed them that if they took up the cause of their motherland, the Japanese would welcome it and render all assistance to them. Captain Mohan Singh seized the opportunity without hesitation. He with Japanese help contacted Indian soldiers and persuaded them not to fight for the British Empire but to utilise the opportunity presented by the war for the liberation of India. This plan was started by the end of December 1941 and by the end of August 1942, more than 45,000 Indian soldiers, who had been taken as prisoners of war by the Japanese, had joined the INA. To materialise the plan of India’s freedom, it was decided by the Indian and Japanese Army officers and civilians in Malaya and Thailand to send a select team to Tokyo for consultations with the Japanese High Command as well as with well-known revolutionaries residing there, namely, Raja Mahendra Pratap and Rash Behari Bose. The team included Captain Mohan Singh, Mohammad Akram and Niranjan Singh Gill from the Army side and K.P.K. Menon, N. Raghvan, S.C. Gopi and N.K. Ayer, all leading lawyers, and Giani Pritam Singh and Swami Satyanand Puri from the civilian side. Along with the Japanese team, they flew to Tokyo in two planes in March 1942. Unfortunately the plane carrying Mohammad Akram, Giani Pritam Singh and Swami Satyanand Puri crashed, killing them all. They were thus the first martyrs of the INA movement.

At Tokyo, the Indian team met General Tojo, the Japanese Premier, Raja Mahendra Pratap and Rash Behari Bose. The latter had founded the India Independence League first in Japan and then in all the areas of South-East Asia occupied by Japan that had small pockets of Indians. It was at Tokyo that the decision to form the INA was taken. It was also decided to hold a conference at Bangkok to seek the co-operation of three million members of the Indian community living all over the East. This was held from June 15 to 20, 1942 and attended by 150 Indian delegates. The conference commenced with the raising of the tri-colour flag by Rash Behari Bose. Captain Mohan Singh spoke for several hours emphasising the importance of and need for Indian freedom. The Conference decided to set up the INA comprising Indian troops and civilians of East Asia with Captain Mohan Singh as the Commander-in-Chief with the objective of fighting for the freedom of India. According to A.C. Chatterji, who was also present at the Conference, a question was asked by one of the military representatives as to what would happen if the President did not act faithfully or select a suitable successor. Rash Behari Bose replied that as the whole movement was revolutionary therefore if the President failed in his duty and was unfaithful, he could be legitimately shot by his followers. A Council of Action was formed with Rash Behari Bose as its President, Major General Mohan Singh-head of the INA and in charge of Defence Affairs, Lt Col A.Q. Gilani-Military Training, K.P.K. Menon -Publicity and Propaganda, N. Raghavan-Organisation of Independence League and Niranjan Singh Gill-Chief Advisor to the INA. By September, three Brigades were formed. The Gandhi Brigade was commanded by Lt Col M.Z. Kiani, Nehru Brigade by Lt Aziz Ahmed Khan and Azad Brigade by Col Prakash Chand. The INA was non-communal with Muslims quite prominent among its officers and ranks. The members of the INA were exhorted to adopt three principles, that is, Unity, Faith and Sacrifice. The Conference, in one of its resolutions, invited S.C. Bose to East Asia to lead the INA movement.

After attending the Bangkok Conference, all the members returned to their respective areas and started establishing India Independence Leagues, raising funds and recruiting members. The INA opened its headquarters at Mount Pleasant in Singapore, the place where no Indian or Asiatic was allowed even to walk. Papers were published to rouse the Indians living abroad for the cause of the INA. Voice of India and Azad Hind in English, Awaz Hind and Azad Hind in Hindustani and Swatantra Bharat in Tamil, published from Singapore, were quite popular. An INA Officers’ Training School was opened with Lt Col Shah Nawaz as the first Commandant. Besides, an institution was established under Lt Col Ehsan Quadir for imparting military training to volunteers. The Qaumi song was ’Sare Jhan Se Acchha Hindostan Hamara’. The first parade of the INA was held in August 1942; the tri-colour flag was hoisted and a revolutionary speech was delivered by Captain Mohan Singh. However, differences arose between the INA officials and the Japanese. Captain Mohan Singh wanted the Japanese to recognise Indian independence immediately while the Japanese officials were reluctant to do so. Mohan Singh became suspicious of the Japanese motives and on December 21, he announced the dissolution of the INA.

However, on Februry 15, 1943 with the help of Rash Behari Bose the INA was reorganised with Lt Col Bhonsle as the Director of the Military Bureau, Lt Col Shah Nawaz as the Chief of the General Staff, Major P.K. Sehgal as the Military Secretary, and Major Habibur Rehman as the Commandant, Officers Training School, Major Mata-ul-Mulk [brother of Lt Col Burhan-ud-Din] as the Reinforcement Commandant, Major A.D. Jahangir, in charge of Enlightenment and Culture. Lt Col Ehsan Qadir was appointed Secretary of the Recruiting Department; he had earned wide popularity by putting up thrilling and patriotic programmes from Saigon Radio, especially in Punjabi. Apart from this policy-forming body, there was the Army itself under the command Lt Col M.Z. Kiani. This was the organisation which held the INA together until the arrival of Subhas Chandra Bose from Berlin six months later.


BOSE was a disciple of C.R. Das in politics. He was a secularist and an uncompromising enemy of the foreign rule and had been jailed eleven times. Unlike Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, he was not provided any facility or comfort but was beaten and tortured in jail. Once he was kept in Mandalay jail. Within the Congress he belonged to the Left Group and was no less popular than Pandit Nehru. However, Gandhi preferred Nehru than Bose as he could win over Jawaharlal with love despite the latter’s differences with him but not Bose. Besides, Bose earned his wrath when he stood and won the election second time for the post of President in 1939 despite Gandhi’s opposition. He defeated Gandhi’s candidate, Dr Sitarammaya. In spite of winning the election Bose had to resign because of Gandhi and his supporters’ displeasure. He was also suspended from the Congress, A non-elected Congressman, Babu Rajendra Prasad, was appointed as the President of the Congress. When Second World War broke out the British put Subhas in jail and later under house arrest due to his opposition to the war efforts. Bose’s desire to liberate India led him to seek support and help of the Axis powers. He escaped from Calcutta in January 1941 and reached Berlin via Peshawar and Kabul in March 1941 with the help of Akbar Shah, Mohammad Shah, Abad Khan and Bhagat Ram Talwar. In Berlin he founded the Free India Centre and created the Indian Legion consisting of 45,000 soldiers out of the Indian prisoners of war. In the first official meeting of the Free India Centre on November 2, 1941 he was conferred the title of Netaji. ’Jai Hind’, was introduced as the national greeting and Jana Gana Mana was adopted as the national anthem and Hindustani, the most widely spoken language, as the national language of Independent India. Azad Hind Radio too started functioning by the end of the year and Azad Hind, a bilingual journal, was published regularly. Bose met both Hitler and Mussolini but resented the attack on Russia by Germany. However, he was enthused on hearing the phenomenal success of the Japanese against the British. He accepted the request to lead the INA and proceeded to Japan along with Abid Hasan of the India Independence League of Germany as his sole companion.
Bose reached Japan by a German submarine accompanied by Abid Hasan.

The day after his arrival, Bose was invited by Japanese Premier Tojo to the Japanese Parliament [Diet] where, in his presence, the Japanese Premier made an official declaration affirming full and unqualified support to the cause of Indian independence. Bose spoke from Tokyo over the radio of his firm determination to launch an armed fight against the British from India’s eastern border. The overseas Indians were thrilled with delight at the prospect of participating in this venture.

Bose arrived in Singapore on July 2, 1943. There he was welcomed as a man of destiny. On July 4, Rash Behari Bose handed over the leadership of the India Independence League and INA which still existed despite its dissolution by Captain Mohan Singh. On July 5, Bose took the salute of the INA soldiers, himself dressed in military uniform. He addressed them:

Today is the proudest day of my life. Today it pleased the providence to give me the unique privilege and honour of announcing to the whole world that India’s Army of Liberation has come into being. Comrades, let your battle cry be "To Delhi!" How many of us will individually survive in this war of freedom, I do not know. But I do know this that we shall ultimately win and our task will not end until our surviving heroes hold the victory parade on the graveyard of the British empire, at the Lal Qila, the Red Fort of ancient Delhi.

On August 26, 1943, he become the supreme commander of the INA renaming it as Azad Hind Fauj. He issued the following order:

...when we stand, the Azad Hind Fauj has to be like a wall of granite, when we march, the Azad Hind Fauj has to be like a steam roller.
With the slogan "Chalo Dilli!" on your lips, let us continue to fight till the national flag flies over the Viceroy’s House in Delhi and the Azad Hind Fauj holds the victory parade inside the ancient Red Fort..

Then he visited various centres in Malaya, Penang and Bangkok to spread this message and was given huge funds for the cause of the motherland. At one such gathering Bose’s garland was sold for five lakhs dollars. Bose had asked for 30 million from South Asia. More than double that amount was donated by the Indian public. At Burma one Mr Habib donated his whole property including land, houses and jewellery valued at over one crore of rupees and himself placed his life at Bose’s disposal. Mr Ram Das Khanna gave all his belongings, valued at about one million dollars, and offered his life too for the cause. Mr Bashir gave half a million, Mr Nizami half a million, Mr Madha half a million. Mr Pitchai, a local Muslim merchant, gave three of his printing presses and his entire property. All of them were personally decorated by Netaji with the medal of Sewak-i-Hind. It was there that Bose gave a clarion call to the youth: ’Tum mujhe khoon do, mein tumhein azadi doonga. [Give me blood, I will give you freedom.]’ Bose also visited the tomb of the last Indian Emperor of free India, Bahadur Shah, to pay his humble homage to the great soul.

In September a new brigade, known as the Guerrilla Regiment, was raised. Shah Nawaz was appointed its Commander. The soldiers themselves gave it the name Subhas Brigade. With Bose taking over the command, the INA’s number rose to 60,000. He addressed several women’s gatherings, exhorted them to come forward for the service of the country. ’He reminded us,’ writes Laxmi Sehgal [previously Swaminathan], ’of Rani Laxmi Bai of Jhansi and the other valiant women who had opposed the British with arms and then he made special mention of young women revolutionaries of Bengal, Shanti, Suniti of Comilla, Kalpana Dutta and Pritilata Wadedar of Chittagong... there was a moment of silence followed by a thunderous applause and thousands of women rushed to the dais offering to volunteer then and there.’ Thereupon a regiment of women was organised on October 23 under Captain Laxmi Swaminathan, a doctor. She left her lucrative practice and gave her rich dispensary for use as the INA hospital. The regiment was named after Jhansi Ki Rani Laxmibai. A nursing unit of women too was formed and it was named after Chand Bibi.


ON October 21, 1943 Bose announced the formation of the Provisional Government of free India ’Aarzi Hakumat-i-Azad Hind’ with himself as the Head of the State and Supreme Commander of the Azad Hind Fauj. The members of his Cabinet were: Captain Laxmi Swaminathan, Col A.C. Chatterji, Mr S.A. Ayer, Lt. Col Aziz Ahmed, Lt Col N.S. Bhagat, Lt Col M.Z. Kiani, Lt. Col. A.D. Logananthan, Lt Col Ehsan Qadir, Shah Nawaz Khan, Messers A.M. Sahay, A. Allapa, A.N. Sarkar, Lt Col A.N. Raju, Dev Nath Das, Karim Gani, D.M. Khan, J. Jhivy and Ishwar Singh. Rash Behari Bose and Bashir Ahmed were appointed Advisors. Then the ceremony of taking the Oath of Allegiance commenced. Subhas read out the oath: ’In the name of God, I take this sacred oath that to liberate India and 38 crores of my countrymen, I, Subhas Chandra Bose,
will continue this sacred war of freedom till the last breath of my life...’ According to Col A.C. Chatterji, ’at this point Subhas was visibly moved. His eyes glistened and filled with tears and his voice failed.’

The government was immediately recognised by the Axis powers and countries under their control. The Japanese also handed over the Andaman and Nicobar Islands to Subhas. Bose visited the Islands in November 1943 along with Major Hasan and Sahay. He renamed the Islands as ’Shaheed’ and ’Swaraj’ and appointed Lt Col Loganathan as the Chief Commissioner of these Islands and Major Alwi as his second-in-command.

Indians, irrespective of their caste, creed or religion, united under his inspiring leadership. In the beginning of the INA formation, some Muslims had raised objection to singing the Bande Mataram song as its last two stanzas were anti-Muslim. The matter had been deferred. After taking over the INA, Bose, in order to remove any kind of antagonism and barrier in the way of unity, appointed a committee to suggest a new song acceptable to all. Finally, a song, Subha Sukha Chainki Barkha Barse, composed by a Muslim named Hussain, was approved. It was most willingly accepted by all concerned and became extremely popular. The national salutation was changed from Bande Mataram to Jai Hind. Bose also decided that the tri-colour flag should be retained but without the charkha. Thus the two communities completely integrated and there was no antagonism, animosity or suspicion.

Bose had written to the trustees to the Chettiar temple, located at Tank Road, Singapore, for contribution. They replied that they were willing to contribute provided Bose visited their temple and spoke there. Netaji did not like going to a temple as he believed that state matters and religion should not be mixed. On the repeated requests from the trustees, Netaji agreed on the condition that he would take with him officers irrespective of caste, creed or religion. The trustees agreed and Netaji took with him Muslim, Sikh and Christian officers. They went not only into the inner courtyard of the temple but also close to the door of the sanctum sanctorum where only Brahmins could set their foot. The Brahmin priest put tilak over the forehead of all the officers. Bose’s leadership greatly promoted fellow-feeling among all his followers. On Eid all the Hindu officers went to the mosque and listened to the khatam dawa on that day. According to A.C. Chatterji, who was also present at the occasion, they all
participated in the festivities and enjoyed the food served to us on the occasion... Similar was the case with the Muslim officers on the Diwali day. Likewise, Hindu and Muslim officers along with their Sikh brother officers went to the Sikh Gurdwaras....Thus gradually a sense of tolerance, love and respect for each other increased more and more.

That is how Subhas’ secular outlook, selfless patriotism and inspiring leadership instilled the feeling of Indian-ness among all the Azad Hind Fauj men. No one thought in terms of Hindu, Muslim or Sikh. There was no communal or separatist feelings and the number of Muslims in the Fauj was predominant. There was a common kitchen and complete harmony.

To liberate India an action plan was drawn up and accordingly the headquarters of the Provisional Government were shifted to Rangoon in January 1944. The Azad Hind Bank was also opened. The Subhash Brigade, with a strength of 3000 soldiers under the command of Shah Nawaz Khan, reached Burma to take part in the battlefield first. So much was the enthusiasm among the soldiers to join the first batch that all the sick and physically unfit soldiers, whom the doctors had ordered not to join, went to the station and lay down in front of the railway engine and refused to allow the train to start unless they too were permitted to go to the front.

In the middle of March 1944, the INA soldiers inflicted a defeat upon the much praised Negro-troops from Africa in the British Army while engaged in constructing a bridge over the Kaladan river. The INA troops, reinforced by Japanese troops, then advanced towards the Indian border. The INA was in action on two fronts-one in the Arakan areas and the other along the Imphal Road. The nearest British post on the Indian side was Mowdok. It was captured in May 1944. The entry of the INA on Indian territory was a most touching scene. Soldiers laid themselves flat on the ground and passionately kissed the sacred soil of their motherland which they had set out to liberate. A regular flag-hoisting ceremony was held amidst great rejoicing and singing of the Azad Hind Fauj national anthem.

Under the inspiring leadership of Bose the INA moved towards Kohima and along with the Japanese forces captured Kohima in March 1944. But by the end of May the Allied forces were well prepared for the offensive. The INA men at Kohima held their post and gallantly fought the British forces. It is said that soldiers tied explosive bombs on their back and hurled their bodies under the heavy British tanks to explode them. In these operations the INA lost nearly 4000 men. Torrential rains cut off the supply of ration and ammunition. The British forces then moved towards Burma. The Japanese retreated. Rangoon, which was left in the hands of the INA, was occupied by the British in May 1945. The women of Jhansi Ki Rani Regiment fought alongside the men, suffering equally high casualties. When the Army was forced to withdraw, the women along with men marched for more than 1000 kilometres. In Europe, Italy had fallen and Germany was collapsing. There was no alternative before the INA than to surrender. They were disarmed and made prisoners and brought back to India.


BUT Bose, the head of the INA, still hoped to continue the fight. He left Burma for Singapore where in early July he laid the foundation stone of the INA Memorial. The words inscribed upon the Memorial were Ittefaq [Unity], Etmad [Faith] and Qurbani [Sacrifice]. Later it was destroyed on Mountbatten’s orders when the Allied forces reoccupied the city. Japan surrendered after the bombing of its cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Bose then planned to go to Russia. But before his plan could materialise it is alleged that he died in a plane crash. [In 1941 when the British learnt that Bose had sought the support of the Axis powers, they ordered their agents to intercept Bose and assassinate him before he reached Germany. An Allied news agency had declared Bose dead in a plane accident in March 1942.] His death brought an end to the INA movement. According to Nirad Choudhury,

For the Gandhian Congress, S.C. Bose provided a windfall by his death. Had he lived and come back to India, he would have swept public opinion in the whole of the country to his side and for the Congress not to have identified itself with him would have been suicide. But going to him would hardly have been much better. He would have left only a minor role to play for the Gandhi and Nehru leadership and could have dictated his terms.

Bose’s death ended the INA fight for India’s independence. However, their sacrifice did not go in vain. The entire country unitedly rose against the British when the INA soldiers were brought to India and put on trial. Jawaharlal Nehru, who had earlier said that he himself would go carrying a sword to fight Bose if the latter came to India with his INA, and had not laid a wreath on the INA Memorial at a public function in Singapore, sensing the mood of the masses and demise of Bose, his rival, changed his tone. He not only glorified the INA now but also took over its whole cadre as his lieutenants in the elections. He also adopted Bose’s slogans ’Dilli Chalo!’ and ’Jai Hind’. Heavily garlanded photographs of S.C. Bose in the Presidential chair, from where he was mercilessly removed and suspended from the Congress, were displayed in all its public meetings to get votes. The INA trials roused the entire country including the Indian sections in the armed forces. The ageing Congress leaders saw success slipping out of their hands; so while they apparently took up the INA cause, they were only biding their time for a safe transfer of power in their hands even at the cost of partition of the country. On the recommendation of Lord Mountbatten agreed to by Nehru as a pre-condition for independence, the INA soldiers were not re-inducted into the Indian Army.

There were strikes and violent demonstrations against the British and these exhibited complete unity. In Bengal, the protestors destroyed military lorries, removed the Union Jack when seven years rigorous imprisonment was announced for Captain Abdul Rashid. The British opened fire on protestors killing 53 and injuring more than 500. On November 20, 1945 in a confidential report, the British Indian Government admitted:

There has seldom been a matter which has attracted so much Indian public interest and it is safe to say sympathy...this particular brand of sympathy cut across communal barriers.

The virus of communalism had not affected the INA. B. Shiva Rao, a well-known journalist, visited the Red Fort prisoners and reported that there was not the slightest feeling among them of being Hindus and Muslims. He also stated that the majority of the men awaiting trial in Red Fort were Muslims. By uniting the Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs under one banner for not only independence but also the unity of the country, Subhas had achieved what the Congress had failed to accomplish. The INA struggle had also shown that the Muslims were no less aspirants of the freedom of India than their Hindu brethrens. Had the INA succeeded or Bose remained alive, the country would not have perhaps been divided.

Dr (Mrs) Ajeet Jawed is an Associate Professor, Satyawati College, University of Delhi.

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