Book Title: The History of the Indian National Army: Soldiers’ Contribution to Indian Independence
Author: General Mohan Singh
ONE important and somewhat unrecognised feature of India’s struggle for Independence was that a significant part of it was fought from outside the Indian borders. The Ghadar Party in USA, India League in London and the Indian National Army (INA) in Japan and South-east Asia, all made significant contributions. The republished books deserve to be re-read for they tell the story of INA’s role in the freedom struggle. The story of INA is both glorious and tragic. It is glorious because the INA soldiers fought for India’s freedom under extremely adverse circumstances in Burma, Imphal and Kohima on India’s north-eastern frontiers. It is tragic because the INA served the cause of Indian freedom mainly by its failures. But that does not take away anything from the soldiers’ indomitable courage and selfless commitment. This story has been told in minute detail by General Mohan Singh, the founder of the INA and an important actor in the INA saga.
The first book describes the history of the INA from its inception in December 1941 in Malaya, till its dissolution in 1945 at the end of the Second World War. The second book is the prison diary of General Mohan Singh when he was confined at the Red Fort during January-May 1946. He was one of the last INA officers to be released.
Mohan Singh had the unique distinction of starting his military career as a simple soldier and then going on to occupy the highest position of General. As an officer in the Indian army under the British rule, he fought in the battle in Malaya against the Japanese during the Second World War and his battalion lost the battle. While surrendering to the Japanese, an unusual idea occurred to Mohan Singh that he could raise an army of the surrendered Indian soldiers and, with the help of the Japanese, fight against the British for India’s liberation. The Japanese promptly agreed and the INA was born. Mohan Singh was thus involved in a unique military experiment, in which he along with his INA fought the battle from the British side against the Japanese, and then from the Japanese side against the British. This could be seen as a clear violation of the army ethic. But Mohan Singh’s justification was that whereas in the first venture he was simply a mercenary, in the second, he was fighting for the liberation of his motherland.
As he writes in his memoirs: “It was indeed a long drawn out struggle between two loyalties — one to my commission, which meant allegiance to the British crown, and the other, unwritten but much more binding, my duty to my beloved country.” Eventually, he followed the dictates of his conscience.
Unfortunately for him and the INA, on both occasions they ended up on the losing side. The INA, this time under Subhas Chandra Bose’s leadership, fought against the British in the North-East and lost again. One major reason for the second defeat, according to Mohan Singh, was the most unhelpful attitude of the Japanese. Soon after creating a unit of the INA in 1941, it had become clear to him that the Japanese were not very keen on using the INA for purposes of war. They only wanted to use it for non-combat functions and propaganda against the British. Let down, Mohan Singh decided to disband the INA as he could clearly see that the Japanese army was coming in the way of the INA performing its cherished task of fighting for Indian Independence. This led to a confrontation between him and the Japanese officers, resulting in his arrest. Mohan Singh remained in a Japanese jail till the war ended.
It was at this point that the Japanese decided to invite Bose, then in Germany, to come, revitalise the INA and take over its reins. Bose came to Singapore in 1943, took over command of the INA and gave it a new name, Azad Hind Fauj. However, his experiences with the Japanese were not very different from those of Mohan Singh. The INA suffered from an acute shortage of supplies, discriminatory treatment, lack of independence and an indifferent attitude from the Japanese. The INA was a still-born experiment, destined not to succeed.
Once the INA officers and soldiers surrendered to the British in 1945, they were kept in custody at the Red Fort and tried for sedition and disloyalty to the army. Their offences were divided into three categories — white, grey and black. The ‘whites’ whose offences were considered to be mild, were taken back in the army with their seniority intact. The ‘greys’ and ‘blacks’ were removed from service and their salaries and allowances for the period of their Japanese partnership, confiscated. Some with serious charges of espionage and coercion against other Indian soldiers were imprisoned. They were released after Independence. It was finally in 1972, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Independence, that their pensions were restored.
However, the most glorious chapter of the INA saga was the groundswell of support and solidarity shown by the Indian people during their trial at the Red Fort. Contrary to British expectation, the INA men were not seen as traitors, but as great patriots who fought for their motherland, albeit in different ways. It was largely because of the great support shown by the Indian people and by the Congress leaders that the British decided not to pursue cases against them and drop the charges. The INA soldiers received a hero’s welcome from the people. This was nothing short of a shot in the arm for an army unit that had experienced the inglorious distinction of losing the battle from both the sides of the divide.
The story of the INA, as narrated in these books, is one of all-round failure. But this failure played no insignificant role in the eventual achievement of freedom by the Indian people.