Some Myths of The Indian National Army
POW's as Freedom Fighters
The Indian National Army is supposed to have fought for Indian Independence with decisive results. Many Indians have some romantic notions of the INA as a creation of Subhas Chandra Bose the fiery Indian nationalistic leader who had sided with the Japanese in fighting for Indian Independence.
The INA was actually formed much before Bose appeared on the scene. When the Japanese advanced against the British and occupied vast colonies of the British, the Japanese higher military echelons thought of harnessing Indian POW’s to help them further their war aim. At the outbreak of the war the British had about 70,000 Indian troops in Malaya and after a spectacular campaign, the Japanese were able to make 55,000 Indians as POW.
The First INA
In September 1942 the first INA was formed under General Mohan Singh (Captain in British Indian Army). The Japanese agreed to arm about 16000 Indian troops who had joined the INA. The INA was an extension of the Indian independence league whose mentor was Rash Bihari Bose. But differences between the Japanese Military command and Rash Behiri Bose on one side and Mohan Singh on the other side cropped up and the result was that the Japanese arrested Mohan Singh and imprisoned him on the island of Palau Ubin. The INA was disbanded and many Indian soldiers reverted back to POW status. The Japanese were ruthless and sent these soldiers to work on the death railway in Siam or in New Guinea.
Revival of INA and Bose
Subhas Chandra Bose landed from Germany in 1943 and he along with Rash Bihar Bose revived the INA. Thus the INA was again formed in mid-1943 and this time under Bose it sided completely with the Imperial Army. Romantic notions of the strength of the INA was just about 45,000. This a small number compared to the Indian strength fighting for the British which was over 2 million. Thus the fact is that the vast majority of Indian soldiers never wanted to join the Japanese or the INA of Bose.
Contribution of INA
A force of about 45000 is just a little more than 2 divisions and surely anybody can realize that this was a woeful strength to liberate India. So the result was that INA rode piggy bank on the back of the Japanese army. The INA traveled along with the Japanese army and surrounded Kohima. Here again, the appeal and magnetism of Bose failed and despite intense propaganda by Bose and the Japanese, asking the Indian soldiers to defect and turn on their British officers it never happened. The Indian soldiers remained loyal to the British and did not join the INA.
The siege was lifted and the Indian national army and the Japanese were pushed back. There were some counter dissertations and many Indian soldiers escaped back to the British lines. It is not well-known that the only place where the INA was able to set foot was in the Andaman and Nicobar islands. Here Bose proved himself ineffectual and records show that the Japanese tortured and executed the local Indians. So much for the INA, which in real terms turned out to be a force with more smoke than substance. The biographers of Bose have never been able to explain this inaction on the part of Bose to the massacres of the Indians by the Japanese.
But popular notions die-hard and it is one of the myths of history that the INA had any significant role to play in the Second World War or Indian independence. But perhaps what caught the imagination of the general public is the trials in the Red Fort of the leaders of the INA by the British. They were sent to transportation for life, but the sentence was never carried out.