From Dr Hamid Hussain
Forgotten Chapter of Indian Army: Indian National Army
Indian National Army (INA) was formed during Second World War from Indian Prisoners of Wars (POWs) captured by Japanese. Later, it was re-named Free Indian Army (FIA) but it remained known by INA name. Second World War saw rapid expansion of Indian Army to participate in another global conflict. On the eve of Second World War, the strength of Indian army was 189’000. During the war, it expanded to 2.3 million men. On the eve of Second World War, there were less than five hundred Indian commissioned officers and by the end of the war there were 9540 Indian officers. Nine thousand Indian officers were Emergency Commissioned Officers (ECOs) with only six months of training.
In Malayan theatre, British command quickly collapsed under Japanese assault. More than 60’000 British and Indian officers and soldiers were captured by Japanese. British officers were separated from Indian officers and soldiers and kept in a separate camp. A number of Indian officers and soldiers joined INA. Some volunteered for INA while others were coerced to join it to avoid hardships of captivity. Japanese soldiers wrote new chapters of barbarity for inhumane torture and execution of thousands of POWs.
Japanese motives for establishment of INA were different. They didn’t envision any significant role for INA in their grand strategy for Asia. Japanese military ethos was different where martial tradition was interwoven with racial superiority and a divine monarchy. Japanese soldiers very rarely surrendered and fought on till death or committed suicide rather than surrendering to the foe. They had very little respect for any soldier who surrendered. In this environment, a racially inferior Indian soldier who surrendered rather than dying for his cause put Indian POWs at a very low level in Japanese eyes. From practical military point of view, a soldier who surrendered and now offered to fight his former comrades was viewed with suspicion and Japanese were not ready to properly arm and equip such a lot as there was no guarantee that if the tide turned again, they may also shift their loyalty. Their main objective was to use INA for propaganda purposes and try to infiltrate Indian army and cause disaffection and tamper with loyalty of Indian troops. This was the main reason that only a handful of junior Japanese officers were attached to INA project. British called them Japanese Inspired Fifth Columnist (JIFSs).
There were two distinct periods of INA. First INA was formed under the auspices of Indian Independence League (IIL) headed by Rash Behari Bose. First INA was organized in September 1942 and Captain Mohan Singh (1/14 Punjab Regiment) was appointed General Officer Commanding (GOC). By the end of the year, INA strength was about 17’000. This force was organized as No: 1 Hind Field Force into three brigades;
- Gandhi Brigade commanded by INA Major H. S. Betar.
- Nehru Brigade commanded by INA Major Inayat Jan Kiani (5/2 Punjab Regiment)
- Azad Brigade commanded by INA Major Prakash Chand
A special service group headed by Captain Taj Muhammad Khanzada (5/11 Sikh Regiment), intelligence group headed by Captain Tajjammal Hussain and several small Motor Transport (MT), engineer and medical support units were also established.
In the first three months, main efforts were geared towards propaganda to enlist more POWs for INA and some rudimentary training. There was multipronged friction between main players on the scene. Several members of the council of action had no confidence in President Rash Behari Bose. IIL and INA had serious differences with Japanese occupation authorities as Japanese objectives were different. Indo-Burmese animosity was also at play. Indian laborers and business interests were dominant in Burmese economy. Burmese resented this Indian presence and were openly hostile. Those Burmese who were now cooperating with Japanese wanted to limit the influence of Indians. On 8 December 1942, senior most INA officer Naranjan Singh Gil (4/19 Hyderabad Regiment) was arrested by Japanese and Mohan was helpless to do anything. Mohan Singh sent a secret letter to all formation commanders of INA that if he was arrested, INA would stand dissolved. He was arrested on 29 December and first INA ceased to exist as a functional entity. Mohan Singh was later moved to Sumatra and he faded away from the scene. After Japanese surrender, he was brought back to India.
In February 1943, Rash Behari Bose after meeting with several officers and Non Commissioned Officers (NCOs) reformed INA but under his own control. A committee worked on re-organization and in April, a new organization named Directorate of Military Bureau (DMB) of IIL was established. Lieutenant Colonel J. K. Bhonsle (5/5th Mahratta Light Infantry) was appointed Director DMB and several officers including Captain P. K. Sehgal (2/10 Baluch Regiment), Captain Shah Nawaz Khan (1/14 Punjab Regiment), Lieutenant Colonel A. D. Loganadan (Indian Medical Service), Captain Habib ur Rahman (1/14 Punjab Regiment), Lieutenant J. C. Stracey (1/14 Punjab Regiment), Lieutenant Krishna Murti, Captain Mata ul Mulk (2/15 Punjab Regiment), Captain K.P. Thimmaya (2/10 Baluch Regiment) and Major B. C. Allagappan (Indian Medical Service) were assigned to head various departments of the bureau. Lt. Colonel A. C. Chatterji (Indian Medical Service) and Captain Ehsan Qadir (5/2 Punjab Regiment) were also given senior positions in IIL.
In July 1943, Subhas Chandra Bose took the leadership role of IIL and renamed INA as Azad Hind Fauj (Free Indian Army) in Singapore. This was the second INA. Earlier, when Bose was in Germany, he had tried to enlist Indian POWs. There were about 15’000 Indian POWs captured on North African front but only 800-1000 had been co-opted to join Free Indian Legion (FIL). The INA was now organized as No: 1 Division with four brigades;
- Subhas Brigade commanded by Captain (INA Major General) Shah Nawaz (1/14 Punjab Regiment)
- Gandhi Brigade commanded by Captain (INA Lt. Colonel) Inayat Jan Kiani (5/2 Punjab Regiment)
- Azad Brigade commanded by Captain (INA Colonel) Gulzara Singh
- Nehru brigade commanded by Captain (INA Colonel) Gurbakhash Singh Dhillon (1/14 Punjab Regiment)
Photograph: 1: 1st Row (L to R): Lt Col Chatterjee, Lt Col J K Bhonsle, Dr. Lakshmi Swaminathan, Chandra Bose, A. M. Sahay and S. A. Ayer.
2nd Row (L to R): Lt Col Gulzara Singh, Lt Col Shah Nawaz Khan, Lt Col Aziz Ahmed, Lt Col M. Z. Kiani, Lt Col N. S. Bhagat, Lt Col Ehsan Qadir and Lt Col Loganathan.
No: 1 Division was sent to Assam front and two more divisions were also formed. No: 2 Division was at Rangoon while No: 3 Division consisting mainly of civilians remained in Malaya. A special service group was named No: 1 Bahadur Group and commanded by INA Colonel Burhanuddin and No: 2 Bahadur Group was commanded by INA Major Fateh Khan. Intelligence group was under the command of INA Colonel Shaukat Ali Malik (Ist Bahawalpur Infantry). By early 1944, the second INA was 40’000 strong. In February 1944, INA had its first encounter with Indian army in Arakan campaign. Japanese used it mainly to cause confusion among British Indian army and try to subvert the loyalty of Indian troops. No: 1 Division was withdrawn from Imphal front in August 1944. No: 2 Division was later launched on Burma front. In the context of Second World War, the military aspect of INA was just a sideshow of a sideshow. Real clash was between a million men strong British 14th Army (Four Corps) and Japanese 15th Army.
Military performance of INA was not significant due to a number of factors. Total of 750 INA men were killed in action, 1500 died of disease, 3000 surrendered or deserted, 200 escaped to Siam and 9000 were captured after final Japanese defeat. In comparison, some Indian army battalions engaged in heavy combat suffered more casualties than the whole INA. In fact, 1/14 Punjab Regiment before the surrender lost one hundred and forty soldiers and officers killed in action. Bose and many in INA believed that as soon as they made contact with their Indian army colleagues, they would simply cross over and join them. This didn’t happen and Indian units fought very well against INA. Indian soldiers who were fighting INA considered them as traitors. There were several cases where INA soldiers were shot by Indian army soldiers rather than being allowed to surrender. This problem was significant enough that British high command had to issue a special order to Indian soldiers to prohibit this practice.
Bose was disappointed at the performance of INA. After hundreds of desertions, he lashed out at INA officers stating that it was ‘the loose conduct, luxury and corruption of the officers that had been responsible for the state of morale in which desertions were possible. The disaster had been a failure of leadership’. There is no question about Bose’s commitment to his ideals. He resigned from the coveted Indian Civil Service (ICS) position and forced out of the leadership of Congress party as he didn’t compromise with even Gandhi and Nehru; the icons of Indian leadership. He escaped from India via Afghanistan and dedicated his whole remaining life for armed struggle for freedom. His charismatic personality and charming manners won many adherents among Indian POWs. However, he was disappointed in INA project as he didn’t get enough committed volunteers from POWs who had similar zeal for the armed struggle.
Two Indian officers who played a prominent role in INA wrote about their experience in 1946 just before independence. These accounts are confusing as these officers tried to justify their actions but gave contradictory evidence about what they actually believed in. Captain Shah Nawaz Khan was serving with the 10th training battalion of 14th Punjab Regiment at Ferozpur when his own battalion embarked for Malaya. He arrived in Malaya on 29 January 1942, only two weeks before the surrender of British forces. He narrates in his autobiography that he felt let down as he was not allowed to fight against Japanese. He narrates about the surrender order ‘I resented this order, especially when I felt that I had not been given a fair chance to fight the enemy, and to have brought me to Singapore so late in the fight, only to be ordered to lay down my arms, which I considered a crime and an injustice to my honour as a soldier to lay down my arms and surrender’.
He also claims that during captivity he organized a block of Indian officers to resist enrollment in INA. He gives the following reasons for joining INA:
- Giving protection and help to P.O.W.
- To stop it being exploited by the Japanese
- To sabotage and wreck it from within, the moment we felt that it would submit to Japanese exploitation.
He claims that ‘personally I wished to get out of the I.N.A.’ but ‘I had committed myself too far and could not retrace my steps ‘. He claims that he worked hard to keep rank and file out of INA. He goes on to give the bizarre argument that ‘I set about to find such men for the I.N.A. as would be willing to fight the Japs if they were dishonest with us’. He elaborates on this theme by stating that ‘I also realized that if on going into India which was probable due to poor British defences, the Japs were dishonest, I would be much more useful to my country with a rifle in hand in India, than as a P.O.W. in Malaya’. He also claimed that he advised Mohan Singh to disband INA because Japanese were exploiting it. In defense of awarding death sentence to Sepoy Muhammad Hussain for desertion from INA, Shah Nawaz very eloquently described that ‘if in spite of voluntarily joining the organization and accepting its rules and regulations and given ample opportunities of staying behind, away from the front, the man still insisted on betraying his country and his comrades he well deserved the punishment he received’. He didn’t comprehend that the same rule applied to him when he deserted.
In May 1942, he joined first INA and in February 1943, he joined the second INA. Shah Nawaz in his statement during his court martial alluded to friction between Indian officers. Captain Mohan Singh was made commander of INA and Shah Nawaz resented this fact. He considered Mohan Singh an ‘average officer’ and too junior. There were many senior and more capable Indian officers with 15-20 years service compared to only eight years service of Mohan Singh. He also considered Mohan weak and that ‘he would not be able to cope with Japanese political intrigues’. After Japanese defeat, Shah Nawaz surrendered on 16 May 1945 to Second Lieutenant Tehel Singh of 2nd Battalion of Ist Punjab Regiment.
Captain Prem Kumar Sehgal was commissioned in 1939 in 5th Battalion of 10th Baluch Regiment. This was an Indianized battalion but next year, he was transferred to 2nd Battalion of 10th Baluch Regiment and sailed with the battalion to Malaya. He was captured by Japanese in February 1942. He states that ‘I felt terribly let down by the British, who had handed us over to the Japanese and told us to obey their orders same way as we had been obeying the orders of the British’.
He gives bizarre reasons of joining the INA. He claims that ‘if sincere and patriotic officers kept out of it, it would be quite easy for the Japanese to exploit their army’. He narrates that ‘I finally made up my mind to join the Indian National Army because I felt that the Japanese were absolutely determined to go to India and if they were accompanied by a really strong I.N.A. the Japanese would not be permitted to commit the same atrocities as they had committed in Malaya and other countries in East Asia and also if they did not honour their pledges regarding Indian independence, a well armed and organized I.N.A. would be in a position to put up an armed opposition against them’. It was naïve on his part to believe that a victorious Japanese army that had defeated the mighty British empire will be kept in check by a handful of Indian officers and soldiers who were essentially going to India as coat hangers of a military juggernaut.
A mere Lieutenant of Indian army with less than three years of service under his belt, Sehgal held some lofty positions in INA. He started as Military Secretary to Directorate of Military Bureau and then Assistant Chief of Staff, Deputy Adjutant General, Commanding Officer of 5th Guerrilla Regiment (later re-organized as 2nd Infantry Regiment) and ended up as temporary GOC of 2nd Division of INA. In April 1945, he surrendered to 4th Battalion of 2nd Gurkha Rifles.
Lieutenants and Captains became Brigadiers and Major Generals and VCOs became Captains and Majors in INA. Most had the actual experience of commanding only a platoon but now assigned to command battalions and brigades. They neither had the personal experience nor training for commanding higher formations. In addition, the formations existed mainly on paper with no proper equipment and no logistical support to sustain combat operations. The outcome was a foregone conclusion. On first contact with their former comrades of mainly Indian formations, INA disintegrated.
After Japanese defeat, former INA members were captured and interrogated. 3880 who were designated White were reinstated in the army without loss of seniority and 13’000 Greys were discharged with the loss of pay during captivity but with retention of pension. 6000 Blacks were scheduled for court martial but only less than two dozen faced court martial. Mohan Singh never faced the court martial. Later during INA trials, lead Defence Council, Sir Bhulabhai Desai claimed that 23,000 volunteered to serve as combatants for INA.
In November 1945, court martial proceedings were held at Delhi against three INA officers. There were seven members of the General Court Martial presided by Major General A. B. Blaxland. Indian members of the General Court Martial were Lieutenant Colonel Nasir Ali Khan (7 Rajput Regiment), Major Pritam Singh (IAC) and Major Banwari Lal (15 Punjab Regiment). Of three members in waiting, two were Indian; Major S.S. Pandit (1/1 Punjab Regiment) and Captain Gurdial Singh Randhawa (13th DCO Lancers). Congress had steadfastly opposed Bose and his INA. However, now it decided to take full political advantage of this crisis of the Raj. Congress provided seventeen top notch lawyers for the defense. The list included India’s top legal minds including three former justices of high courts. Main charges against three officers were waging war against the King and in case of Shah Nawaz also abetment in murder by passing death sentence to INA deserter solider. Defence argued that when the struggle for freedom reaches a stage where there is an organized government and organized army, and then it must be accorded all rights, privileges and immunities of a fighting army. In case of capital punishment, defense argued that these sentences were never carried out. All three were convicted and awarded various prison sentences. Later, their sentences were set aside by C-in-C due to enormous political pressure.
In July 1945, army conducted a survey of Indian soldiers and officers about INA. Field Security Section (FSS) and Criminal Investigation Department (CID) conducted the survey. In addition, regimental and battalion adjutants were tasked to inquire about the feelings of Indian rank and file about INA. In general, the opinion was that INA was nationalist but they had violated their oaths. However, they should be treated differently and not punished excessively.
After sentencing of some INA personnel, Congress and Muslim League members of Central Assembly demanded release of all INA prisoners. Congress decision to support INA officers was purely political. It wanted to use the trial to speed up British departure with the aim of getting the power without first solving their problem with Muslim League. An interview of one of the lead counsel of defense Committee Asaf Ali with a former POW Captain Hari Badhwar of 3rd Cavalry clearly proves this point. Asaf Ali told Badhwar that based on all the facts he had learned, ‘if Congress were in power, it would have no hesitation in removing all INA from the services’ and that ‘Congress would not hesitate to put INA leaders on trail when they come to power’. Badhwar asked Asaf that now that they knew all the facts they should not champion INA cause. Asaf replied that they ‘dare not take that line’ as they ‘would lose much ground in the country’. Muslim League stance was even worse. It first stayed aloof from the trial but when it saw that general public interest was aroused, it also jumped on the bandwagon. Muslim League decided to provide its own defense committee to one of the accused Captain Abdur Rashid. His defense gave the absurd argument that he didn’t join to fight British. He joined it to thwart the Hindu conspiracy of ruling whole India at the exclusion of Muslims with the help of Japanese. After sentencing, Muslim League claimed that Rashid was victim of religious discrimination.
Congress and Muslim League championed the cause of INA on their own terms but their later actions proved that it was only for political gains and had nothing to do with any specific principle. Once in charge of government after partition, neither Nehru nor Jinnah re-instated any INA officer. In early 1948, Prime Minister Nehru consulted with three people about the INA issue. Lieutenant General Srinagesh, Major General J. N. Chaudhuri and P.V.R. Rao of Defence Ministry were unanimous in their view that INA personnel should not be re-instated in the army. Nehru’s response was that of a politician stating that ‘I disagree with your reasons but I agree with your conclusions.’
Many ex-INA soldiers and officers became actively involved in militant Hindu and Muslim organizations. Some reports suggested that many incidents of organized violence against civilian population during mutual bloodletting of partition were committed by these ex-INA men. Once breach of discipline is tolerated and condoned then soldier is no better than a brigand. Ex-INA found no future and drifted towards their respective political or religious organizations. Many were responsible for participating in the killings of unarmed and innocent civilians during partition holocaust. In Pakistan, many ex-INA officers participated in 1947-48 Kashmir war. This operation was conducted outside the normal chain of command of the army in a very immature fashion with far reaching negative consequences. Use of ex-INA soldiers for Kashmir operations in 1947-48 had a negative effect on the discipline of Pakistan army. Three years later, several officers were arrested for the conspiracy to overthrow the civilian government. Most of these officers had participated in Kashmir operations.
Indian POWs joined INA for a variety of reasons. Rapid war time expansion of Indian army meant that majority of soldiers and Indian officers were inexperienced with few years and in many cases few months experience of military service. Surrender of large number of Indian and British soldiers in Malaya was a bewildering experience for everyone. Only few officers joined INA from patriotic motives. Most were either coerced or joined INA to avoid hardships of captivity. A large number of officers, VCOs and other ranks remained loyal to their oath and suffered horribly. INA consisted of POWs and there were very rare cases of actual desertion and almost no case of active effort to cross over to the Japanese held areas to join INA.
Regimental loyalty was a major factor of esprit de corps and if a regiment had a good set of officers and VCOs, then it had good discipline during captivity. This factor was not lost on their captors and resistant officers and VCOs were put in an ‘Officer’s Separation Camp’ to force them to join INA with the hope that Other Ranks (ORs) will follow them. If Indian officers and VCOs were steady, then rank and file followed their example.
Two Indian officers and VCOs of 3rd Cavalry set an example for the rest of the regiment and it stayed out of INA. Captain K. P. Dhargalkar, Captain Hari Badhwar and Subedar Major Ismail Khan of 3rd Cavalry set personal example and kept their men steady during captivity. On the other hand, 1/14 Punjab Regiment underwent several major changes in few years that eroded regimental bond. As process of Indianization, VCOs were posted out and more senior Indian officers had been milked away for newly raised war time battalions. Battalion had only junior Indian commissioned officers and no time tested VCOs to keep the soldiers steady. First shock of combat, quick collapse and surrender shattered the battalion and most of the Indian officers and soldiers joined INA.
2/10 Baluch Regiment was a non-Indianized battalion with British officers. Only three Indian officers not originally from the battalion were posted to the battalion during the war. Captain P.K. Sehgal with only two years of service was transferred to the battalion just before the war. Lieutenant Burhanudin was the scion of the princely family of Chitral. He was serving with Royal Indian Air Force (RIAF) and during the war attached to the battalion. Captain K. P. Thimayya was running his family’s plantation and was a reserve officer. He was posted to the battalion when war started. All three ICOs joined INA but they were not able to convince fellow battalion mates. In the absence of British officers, seasoned VCOs kept the battalion steady during captivity and three ICOs were not successful in convincing soldiers to join INA. In the absence of British officers, proud Punjabi Muslims, Pathans and Dogra VCOs and ORs remained loyal to their oaths.
Large numbers of 4/19 Hyderabad Regiment joined INA. This was an Indianized battalion and not a happy one. In 1940, battalion was in Singapore and old Commanding Officer (CO) was transferred. New British CO was unpopular and had problems with officers and men. British and Indian officers were not on talking terms. Uncontrolled drinking and brothel visits took the toll on battalion’s discipline. Lieutenant Zahir udin was on a detached duty with a company of Ahirs. He was living with a German woman strongly suspected to be a German spy. There was enough evidence that she was undermining the loyalty of Ahirs. Zahir was moved out of the battalion and Ahirs protested. CO asked for help and a Gordon Highlanders detachment disarmed Ahir guards, removed all arms and surrounded the barracks. It was tactful handling by Thimayya that open mutiny was avoided and crisis was resolved. However, Thimayya asked for transfer and only two months before war, one of the most effective and respected Indian officer was not with the battalion. It was no surprise that many soldiers of the unhappy battalion joined INA during captivity. On the other hand 2/15 Punjab Regiment remained steady during captivity. Legendry Subedar Major Sher Dil Khan was the tower of strength and in the absence of British officers held the battalion together during captivity. Subedar Makhmud Anwar was tortured to death for refusing to join INA. With the exception of few Sikhs, Punjabi Muslims, Jats, Sikhs and Pathans (Khattaks) remained loyal to their oaths.
The story of INA is a little known chapter of Indian army. Most post-independence work on the subject is polemic with very little insight or in depth analysis. A rapidly expanding army with a large number of junior officers and recruits was thrust in a global battlefield in the background of political awareness of India. Sudden collapse of Malayan command with surrender of thousands of soldiers en mass and removal of their British officers bewildered everyone. INA was viewed as a life line thrown by their Japanese captors and a number of officers and men joined it from different motives. In military terms, INA was not successful but it’s impact on British civil and military decision making process indirectly provided stimulus to the independence movement.
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Ram Singh Rawal. I.N.A. Saga (Allahabad: New Literature), 1946
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Philip Mason. A Matter of Honor (Norwich: Fletcher & Son Ltd.), 1974
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General J. N. Chaudhury Lecture at Cambridge Trust, 5 May 1973. https://www.cambridgetrust.org/assets/documents/Lecture_5.pdf
26 February 2017