In 1912, a
group of Indian revolutionaries in San Francisco founded a newspaper ‘The
Ghadar’ (Revolution), which was distributed to the large Indian communities
of the Pacific ports and regularly smuggled into India. In 1914, the Ghadarites
were able to induce several thousand Sikhs to return home and create trouble
for the British. Even as they landed in India, war broke out in Europe. The
British had information about this movement and the Ghadar project failed
The Ghadar Party leadership now
moved to Berlin. One of the most prominent of these revolutionaries was Rash
Bihari Bose. Bose had earlier been involved in hatching plots to assassinate
the Viceroy, Lord Hardinge in 1912. The Germans made a determined bid to
instigate rebellion in India and prevent British and Indian forces from being
moved out of India towards the various theatres of that war.
Later, Rash Bihari Bose escaped to
Shanghai. Here he assisted the Germans in two other plans for an Indian
Revolution in 1915. In fact, there was a German Plan in the First World War to
raise an Indian Revolutionary Force to march to India from the East, much like
the manner the INA would do later during Second World War.
In 1916, Rash
Bihari Bose had to flee to Japan. He came under the protection of Toyama, the
Head of the secret Black Dragon Society. Rash Bihari Bose then married Toyama’s
daughter and became a Japanese citizen. He founded the Japanese Branch of
Congress “Indian Independence League”, which was still active in 1941 and
helped raise the first INA and lay the grounds for the second.
Japanese Offensive in Malaya, December 1941- January
Maj. Gen. Kiani, later the GOC of
one of the INA Divisions under Netaji Subhas Bose has left behind an excellent
eyewitness account of the Blitzkrieg style Japanese invasion of Malaya.
Besides, a contingent of the Australian Expeditionary Force was deployed in the
South and East Coast of Malaya. The entire plan for the defence of Malaya was
mired in confusion from the very beginning. It was anticipated that the
Japanese attack could come via Thailand, which was then neutral.
The Japanese Blitzkrieg in Malaya
began on December 08, 1941, under the command of Gen. Yamashita (nicknamed
‘Tiger’). By January 1942, the entire British forces were bottled up in
Singapore Island and had blown up the Jehore causeway. On February 14, 1942,
the Malay High Command called a conference and decided to surrender Singapore
unconditionally on February 17, 1942. Gen. Yamashita took the surrender of Gen.
Percyval’s Malaya Command.
The British had rushed in
reinforcement towards the end. These did not delay the Japanese advance. The
Japanese 5th Imperial Guards Division just sliced through Malaya.
The reinforcements only added to the number of prisoners in the Japanese bag.
About 80,000 troops in total surrendered in Singapore. Almost 50,000 of these
prisoners were Indians. The British and Indian prisoners of war (POWs) were
Mohan Singh’s Surrender
noteworthy that at the very start of the Japanese offensive, 1/14 Punjab had
been deployed on the Jitre line to guard the approach to North Malaya. It was
attacked by Japanese tanks and the battalion was split. Most of the unit fled
into the jungle. This was where Pritam Singh met Capt. Mohan Singh and talked
him to surrendering. The two men talked at length for hours. Pritam then took
the two Indian officers to meet Major Iwaichi Fujiwara.
was the Japanese “Lawrence of Arabia”. He told the Indians that the Japanese
were determined to crusade against the colonial powers. They wanted to
establish a Greater Co-prosperity Sphere, which would ensure “Asia for the
Asiatics”. He really swayed the Indians. Pritam Singh now appointed Mohan Singh
as the head of the armed component of the IIL and exhorted him to save the
lives of Indian soldiers now fleeing in the jungles. Collection centres were
set up behind the rapidly advancing Japanese lines, where Indian POWs were
collected. Soon the Indians began to trickle in and Mohan Singh started work on
raising a military force for the Indian Independence League (IIL), sponsored by
the Japanese. Thus, the foundations of the First INA were laid.
When Singapore fell, the Japanese handed over to Capt. Mohan
Singh all the 45,000 Indian POWs captured there. He persuaded them to join the
fledgling INA. His team of volunteers went to all the Indian POW camps and
spoke of British exploitation and racial bias and the need to free India. Gen.
Kiani writes that they were fairly successful. However, Mohan Singh did face
some initial problems. The Indian troops were dazed and disoriented. They had
been let down badly by their British leadership and had lost the battle. Many
were then demoralised and intent on self-preservation. While raising the First
INA Brigade, he appointed the Senior Subedar Majors as Brigade and Battalion
Commanders and asked the Indian officers to serve as their staff officers.
The racist attitude of the British
officials and their recent abandonment of their Indian soldiers however, had
put off many officers and men and they were amenable to persuasion. Mohan Singh
however, did raise the first INA and that is a tremendous plus to his credit.
He showed surprising qualities of leadership and some had even begun to call
him the “Eleventh Guru”. This itself is a great tribute.
Mohan Singh, the British said, lost
patience in some cases and possibly used coercion and strong arm methods as per
subsequent British claims. Most of this was pure propaganda designed to demonise
the INA hierarchy and cook up cases against them after the war. It was also to
justify themselves that they had lost the faith of the Indian sepoy only due to
coercion and trickery.
However, such rumours and reports of
coercion did put off some Indian POWs who had qualms about violating their oath
of allegiance to the British Army. Also, all of them had faced the shock of
defeat and most of them now just simply wanted to survive and get back home.
It was the instinct of self-preservation and not so much lofty questions of
loyalty to an oath to the British that led some of them to decline undertaking
further combat. Cowardice can always masquerade as principle after the event.
Their initial experience of Japanese captivity had till then been relatively
benign and some thought it would be safer to be POWs and survive, rather than
get pitch-forked into more uncertain battles with unfamiliar leaders and new
and untested organisations.
At the instance of Fujiwara, the
Japanese now sought a Tri-partite Axis Declaration on Indian Independence and
invited Subhas Bose to leave Germany and come to the Far East to assume the
leadership position of the INA. At that stage, Bose’s energies in Europe were
entirely being consumed towards getting a Tri-partite Declaration favouring
Indian independence, for which he was campaigning vigorously in Germany.
Bose had his meeting with Hitler and
received a final refusal to support Indian independence. Only after this
setback did he firmly set his eyes on the East. Meanwhile, in August 1942,
great political unrest had broken out in India due to the launch of the Quit
India Movement by Mahatma Gandhi and its brutal repression by the British. The
Main League Secretariat was set up in Bangkok and Territorial Branch HQs were established
throughout Japanese held territory in Asia. Members of the Council of Action
took charge of their departments. Propaganda via radio broadcasts was now
intensified under central directions and agents were recruited for espionage
and subversion in India.
The Eleventh Guru
Meanwhile Gen. Mohan Singh had
gradually gained confidence and stature. He told the conference that about
25,000 Indian volunteers had joined the INA. By August 1942 about 40,000
POWs had signed a pledge to join the INA under Mohan Singh. In August 1942,
the Japanese agreed to the raising of the first Combat Division of the INA. By
September 10, an armed force of 16,300 officers and men was ready. Gen. Mohan
Sigh now asked for a second combat division to be raised from his force of
24,000 men (former POWs). He also wanted to recruit civilians and train them in
training centres established for this purpose.
hesitation in expanding the INA led to increasing friction with Mohan Singh’s
INA. There were also instances of Japanese interference with Indian propaganda
broadcasts in Singapore under K.P.K. Menon. Since the Bangkok resolution had
asked that the property of absent Indians be entrusted to the League as a
source of revenue, this led to increased acrimony and friction and the Japanese
at one stage declared that the Bangkok Resolution had never been accepted and
the Council of Action had no legal status. It was all at the discretion of the
local Japanese commanders. Agent provocateurs served to egg on the Indian functionaries
in the INA and IIL (especially the latter) and questioned their patriotism and
accused them of selling out to the Japanese, whom they painted as a new
colonising power. This aroused deep, latent insecurities in the First INA’s
Later, the Bangkok Resolutions were
scrapped. Lt. Col. J.K. Bhonsle, a relatively senior Officer was now given
temporary command of the INA. It was now clear that Netaji Subhas Bose would
have a freehand. His friend Col. Yamamoto, the former Military Attaché in Berlin,
had been appointed to succeed Col. Iwaguro. He would have full authority over
the League and the INA would be subordinated to the IIL.
Bose was the
promised one, the chosen one destined to lead the March for India’s Freedom.
Bose was an established leader of the Indian National Congress. He had twice
been its President. He had been treated like an acknowledged national leader by
the Italians and Germans and treated with great respect and deference in all
countries of Europe that he had visited.
Excerpted from Chapter 4
An Indian Samurai. Netaji and the INA: A Military Assessment
Gen (Dr) G D Bakshi SM, VSM (Retd)
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