Wednesday, July 27, 2022





Maj Gen VK Singh


Twice during the last one week, the Chief Justice of India has spoken about the trustworthiness of our newspapers and news channels. There was a time before the advent of TV and smart phones, when newspapers and radio were the only source of news for the citizenry. Right up to the middle of the 20th Century, before transistors began to used, radios were expensive and could be afforded only by the upper classes. For the common man, the only source of news was the newspaper. It had the advantage of being inexpensive, light in weight and unbreakable. It was also dependable and trustworthy, when compared to news one heard from friends, relatives and shop keepers, often referred to as bazaar gossip.  

In recent years, there have been several instances of fake news being circulated by the electronic as well as print media. This has severely dented their dependability and trustworthiness. Surprising as it may seem, the relationship between newspapers and the truth has always been an uneasy one. In fact, the genesis of the secrecy laws in India, culminating in the Official Secrets Act, 1923, which is still in force, was the news report in the Amrita Bazar Patrika in 1889, which led to the enactment of the Indian Official Secrets Act, 1889. 


In September 1889 the Official Secrets Act was passed in Britain. It was applicable to India, but since it was considered unsuitable to the Indian legal system, it was decided to enact a separate law for India. The Army wanted certain changes to be introduced in the Indian version and a bill to ‘Prevent the Disclosure of Official Documents and Information’ was intended to be enacted separately in India. The Viceroy’s Council met at the Viceregal Lodge, Simla, on Thursday, the 17th October, 1889. After the bill had been introduced by Mr Scoble, the President of the Council, Lord Lansdowne made some interesting comments which are reproduced below:

Extract from the Abstract of the Proceedings of the Council of the Governor General of India, assembled for the purpose of making Laws and Regulations under the provisions of the Act of Parliament 24 & 25 Vict., Cap. 67.


His Excellency THE PRESIDENT said-

“Our hon’ble colleague, Mr. Scoble, on moving for leave to introduce this Bill, expressed his opinion that a measure of the sort has long been required in India.  That opinion I entirely share: I have seen enough during the comparatively short time which I have spent in this country to satisfy me that, unless legislation of this kind is resorted to, the interests of the public are likely to suffer materially.  It is scarcely necessary to enlarge on the consequences which must ensure if the kind of treachery which is involved in the disclosure of official documents and information, and in the procuring of such information by persons interested in publishing it, is allowed to remain unpunished; and I believe that it is absolutely necessary for the Government of India to hold in its hand a weapon which can, if necessary, be used with exemplary effect against those who are guilty of such practices.


            I trust, however, that I shall not be understood as suggesting that, in my opinion, it is upon punitive measures such as this that the Government of India should rely for the maintenance of the degree of secrecy which is indispensable for the proper conduct of certain classes of public business. I rejoice to think that those whose opportunist—I mean than members of the public service—deserve, as a general rule, the high reputation which they have earned for trustworthiness and discretion. The opportunities enjoyed by such persons for obtaining access to public documents, and for making known their contents, are almost unlimited. Such information has, as all know, an appreciable, and sometimes a very high, commercial value. We are well aware that persons are at all times to be found ready to encourage breaches of official confidence, and to throw serious temptation in the way of those who are in a position to commit then. It is, moreover, a matter of notoriety that is sometimes spoken of as the enterprise of the public Press has of recent years, and not in India only, led to the encouragement of such misconduct.  Under such circumstances it would be strange indeed if occasional breaches of good faith on the part of those whose daily duties afford them the means of acquiring official knowledge did not occur.  This Bill will give us the power of punishing both the parties to such transaction, - the thief and the receiver of stolen goods, - and there is every reason to expect that the passage of the measure will have a salutary and deterrent effect.

            I may perhaps be permitted to enforce what I have said by referring to a recent case in which a particularly scandalous disclosure of official information has taken place.  A Calcutta journal, the Amrita Bazar Patrika, in a recent issue published what professed to be the text of a document described as one ‘the original of which His Excellency will find in the Foreign Office,’ and as containing ‘the real reason why the Maharaja of Kashmir has been deposed.’

            The document purports to be a memorandum submitted to the then Viceroy, Lord Dufferin, by Sir H. M. Durand, the Foreign Secretary, in May, 1888, and runs as follows :-


   ‘To HIS EXCELLENCY, - I do not agree with Mr Plowden, the Resident in Cashmere, in this matter.  He is too much inclined to set Cashmere aside in all ways and to assume that if we want a thing done we must do it ourselves.

   ‘The more I think of this scheme the more clear it seems to me that we should limit our overt interference as far as possible to the organization of responsible military force in Gilgit.  So far we can hope to carry the Durbar thoroughly with us.  If we annex Gilgit, or put an end to the suzerainty of Cashmere over the petty principalities of the neighbourhood, and, above all, if we put British troops into Cashmere just now, we shall run a risk of turning the Durbar against us and thereby increase the difficulty of the position.  I do not think this is necessary.  No doubt we must have practically the control of Cashmere relations with those principalities, but this we already have.  Indeed, the Durbar has now, since the dismissal of Lachmun Das, asked Mr. Plowden to advise the Gilgit authorities direct without reference to them.  If we have a quiet and judicious officer at Gilgit, who will get the Cashmere force into thorough order and abstain from unnecessary exercise of his influence, we shall, I hope, in a short time, have the whole thing in our hand without hurting any one’s feelings.’


            “Up to this, the document is a substantially accurate reproduction of a minute actually written upon the above date by Sir Mortimer Durand, so much so that there can be no doubt whatever that it must have been communicated to the Press by a person who had had an opportunity of copying or committing to memory a part at all events of Sir Mortimer Durand’s minute.  A few words only have been misquoted, but they are not of material importance.  I think the Council will agree with me in considering that there is nothing in the passage which I have read which could be legitimately construed as revealing iniquitous designs upon the State of Kashmir on the part of the Government of India.  It will no doubt be within the recollection of hon’ble members that, at the time when the minute was written, there had been considerable disturbances on the Gilgit frontier, that the Chiefs of Hunza and Nagar were in revolt against Kashmir, that Chaprot had been captured, and other places within the territories of the Maharaja threatened by the insurgents, who had defied the Kashmir authorities.

            “These events had shown in so striking a manner the insufficiency and weakness of the frontier administration of the Kashmir Durbar, that proposals were submitted by the then Resident for the purpose of coming to its assistance.  With this object Mr. Plowden advised the appointment of an English Political Agent at Gilgit, and he was further of opinion that it might be desirable to send British troops into Kashmir.  These were the proposals to which the Foreign Secretary, in the document of which I have just read a part, took exception, and in the passages which follow in the original minute, which I have lately examined, I find that his objections to the Resident’s proposals were throughout based upon the reason which he assigned at the outset, namely, that Mr. Plowden was disposed to rely too much upon British intervention, and not enough upon the efforts of the Durbar.  Sir Mortimer expresses his belief that we should ‘be able to improve and strengthen the position of the Kashmir authorities’; that any officer whom we send up ‘should act with the consent and assistance of the Durbar’; that ‘he should not take command of the Kashmir troops or get up any military expeditions’; and he was to ‘give advice to the Governor in his present military difficulties’ only ‘if the Durbar wishes it’.


            “Will it be believed that the whole of the portion of the minute from which I have taken these extracts has been omitted or suppressed, and that in lieu of it has been inserted the passage which I shall now proceed to read :-

   ‘Altogether I think our first step should be to send up temporarily and quietly a selected military officer (Captain A. Durand of the Intelligence Department) and a junior medical officer.  Both of them will have the support of the Durbar when and where it will be necessary, and they will not display any indiscretion, so that the Durbar may not have any hint of the work they are about to undertake, and they will have to obtain the consent of the Durbar in matters concerning military difficulties.  Once we can establish a belief that our undertaking is nothing but the welfare of the Durbar, we are surely to attain our object.  Time will show that my view is not a wrong one.  In it lies, I venture to hope, the safe realization of that object which was once contemplated in Lord Canning’s time and afterwards it was abandoned after deliberation’.

            “This extract, with the exception of the first line and a half, in which it is recommended that an officer should be sent up temporarily to Gilgit, is a sheer and impudent fabrication.  Not only is it not to be found in Sir Mortimer Durand’s minute, but is misrepresents him in all the most essential particulars.  It has thus come to pass that, on the one hand, important passages of Sir Mortimer Durand’s minute have been altogether suppressed, and, on the other, words have been ascribed to him which he not only never used, but which convey a meaning absolutely inconsistent with those which he actually wrote.

            “I have already called attention to the suppression of those parts of the minute which most strikingly illustrate the moderation of the policy which found favour with the Foreign Secretary and which was approved by the Viceroy.  When we come to the passages for which the writer has drawn upon his own imagination, we find a series of unfounded statements expressed in language which those who are familiar with Sir Mortimer Durand’s style would not for a moment mistake for his, and abounding in suggestions to the effect that our policy in regard to Kashmir was governed by motives of the most sinister kind.  Of such a description are the passages in which it is said that the officers sent to Gilgit are to conduct themselves ‘so that the Durbar may not have any hint of the work that they are about to undertake’, and the statement that, ‘once we can establish a belief that our undertaking is nothing but the welfare of the Durbar, we are surely to attain our object’, - an object which is subsequently described as that ‘which was contemplated in Lord Canning’s time, and afterwards it was abandoned after deliberation’.

            “The newspaper version of the minute ends with the following words:-

   ‘Eventually Major Mellis should go to Cashmere on the part of the Durbar and submit a mature scheme for the better administration of the State, which is at present very badly managed indeed.  This scheme should include the outline of our arrangements for strengthening the Government policy.

   ‘After the expiry of six months we will be in a position to decide whether the permanent location of a Political Agency at Gilgit, also a contingent of troops for the defence of the frontier for which the Durbar have already agreed to put their resources and troops at the disposal of the British Government.

                                                                                       (Sd.)   H. M. DURAND,

                                                                                                               6th May.

‘Very well,

                           ‘(Sd.) DUFFERIN,

                                                   10th May.’


            “Upon these passages I have only to observe that the earlier portion is rendered with complete inaccuracy, Sir M. Durand never having recommended that Major Mellis should submit a scheme for the administration of the State, but merely that that officer should at a later date go to Kashmir in order to confer with the Durbar in regard to its offer of aid for the defence of the frontier.  The concluding sentence is a pure fabrication, none of the words after ‘policy’ appearing in the original minute.  The latter, I may add, received the Viceroy’s approval, although not in the terms mentioned in the fabricated version.


            “I have shown already what were the objects with which the Government of India proposed, in 1888 to intervene in the affairs of Kashmir, and within what narrow limits Sir Mortimer Durand, with the Viceroy’s approval, was prepared to restrict that intervention; and it is unnecessary for me to point out how full of mischievous and misleading suggestion are the passages which I have quoted from the spurious portions of his supposed minute.


            “The responsibility which rests upon those who are ready not only to give to the public documents which they are well aware could not have been obtained except by a distinct and criminal breach of trust, but who are not even at the pains to satisfy themselves that these documents are genuine, is a very serious one.


            “In the present instance the spurious information can have been published with no other object than that of persuading the people of this country that the recent action of the Government of India in Kashmir has been prompted by motives which have been repudiated in official documents of the first importance as well as by the public statements of the Secretary of State in the British Parliament.  Not content with persistently misrepresenting the Government of India, the publishers of the article have not scrupled to present to the public a garbled version of a confidential note, written more than a year ago, in order to give an entirely distorted account of the then view and actions of the Government.  Neither then nor at the present time has it been the desire of the Government of India to promote its own interests at the expense of those of the Kashmir State; then, as now, it was our desire to see that State well and wisely governed, with a minimum of intervention on our part, and without any ulterior designs upon its independence.  I am not without hopes that the sincerity of our motives will in process of time come to be understood even by those who have been misled by the persistent misrepresentation which has taken place in connection with these matters, and I believe that an exposure of the practices to which our critics have not scrupled to resort in the present instance may have the effect of, in some degree, opening the eyes of the public as to the methods which have been adopted for the purpose of prejudicing its judgment in regard to this important case.


   “I have thought it my duty to bring this matter to the attention of the Council, both for the purpose of affording an illustration of the kind of malpractice against which the Bill on the table is directed, and also because I think it should be generally known that the new law is intended to be put in force in such cases, and that those who publish official documents without authority will come within its scope, whether the persons by whom those documents have been divulged are discovered or not, and whether the documents themselves are published in their entirety or, as in the present instance, reproduced in a garbled and truncated form.”1

1.   Legislative Department Proceedings, – October 1889, No. 237, APPENDIX A35.

National Archives of India (NAI).


Wednesday, June 8, 2022





Maj Gen VK Singh


In recent years, there has been a lot of debate on the correct manner of addressing officers of the Armed Forces who have retired from service. Some recommend that the word ‘Retired’ or abbreviation ‘Retd’ should be used after the rank e.g. Colonel (Retd) AB Singh. Others feel that the correct method is to write ‘Retd’ after the name e.g. Colonel AB Singh (Retd).  Army HQ tried to remove the confusion and issued a circular on 21 July 2021 clarifying that the latter option is correct, and the name should be written as Colonel AB Singh (Retd). Unfortunately, this has only confounded the confusion.

Army officers are granted commissions that are signed personally by the President of India. Under British rule, officers commissioned in the Indian Army before 1935 were known as Kings Commissioned Indian Officers (KCIOs). Their commissions were signed by the King or Queen of England. Most of these officers were granted commissions after undergoing training at Sandhurst or Woolwich in the UK, except for a few like KM Cariappa who was trained at the Daly Cadet College, Indore. After being commissioned, Army officers were earlier granted the rank of Second Lieutenant. This rank has now been abolished in India and officers are being commissioned in the rank of Lieutenant, which was earlier granted after two years’ service as a Second Lieutenant.  Thereafter officers continue to get promotions until they retire or are released. The highest rank in the Army is that of General, which is held by the Chief of Army Staff. A few who are exceptionally deserving are promoted from General to Field Marshal, who never retires. In India only two officers have reached the rank of Field Marshal – KM Cariappa and SHFJ Manekshaw.

In India, Army officers are entitled to retain their rank even after retirement, as per privileges given under the Constitution which was adopted in 1950, when India became a Republic. However, the practice of military ranks being retained after retirement was in vogue earlier also under British rule. This tradition is followed by most countries, including the UK and the USA. The confusion about the manner of writing ranks after retirement was not there in the initial years after Independence. Old timers will recall that KCIOs such as Cariappa, Nathu Singh, Maharaj Rajendra Sinhji, Thimayya, Thorat etc. did not use the word ‘retired’ after hanging their uniforms. I am not sure when and why this practice started. Lately the word retired has been replaced by veteran, following the custom in most countries. In fact, the Retired Officers Identity Card issued to officers after retirement has now been replaced by the Indian Army Veteran Card, which has the officer’s photograph in uniform as well as civil dress. Since this card is also issued by Army HQ, I wonder if there was a need for the circular issued on 21 July 2021.

According to article 18 of the Constitution ‘No title, not being a military or academic distinction, shall be conferred by the State’. Titles are used before names, in formal correspondence as well as on invitation cards and during normal conversation. Many professions carry titles, either by usage or as a result of a professional or academic qualification. Medical practitioners including dentists are universally referred to as doctors, as are those with post graduate degrees such as Ph.D. Judges of the Supreme Court and High Court also carry their titles, even after they retire, though this is from usage and custom rather than any written rule. Similarly, many people who have held the post of ambassador are now using this as a prefix, which is technically incorrect. A person holds the appointment of ambassador in a foreign country for a few years. It is not a title that should be used for life. In smaller countries, the position if often held by a relatively junior member of the Indian Foreign Service.  Sometimes the appointment of ambassador is held by a person who is not from the Indian Foreign Service. S Radhakrishnan, VK Krishna Menon, MC Chagla, Karan Singh, Nani Palkiwala and General KM Cariappa have held the appointments of Ambassador or High Commissioner. None of them was from the Indian Foreign Service. And none of them used the prefix Ambassador with their names.


            As regards the All India Services such as the IAS and IPS, very few of them use these abbreviations as a suffix after their names. Some use the designation or last appointment held. So you may find names such as AB Singh, IAS; AB Singh, DIG, or AB Singh, DG BSF and so on.  These are all incorrect. The day an IAS or IPS officer retires, he ceases to be a member of the service. Of course, there is nothing wrong in mentioning his last appointment, e.g. former Cabinet secretary; ex-DGP Haryana and so on. Again, it is a matter of individual choice and if someone wants to add IAS or IPS after his name, it is for the particular service or their association to take a call.


Coming back to the question of Army ranks, my view is that it is a matter of personal choice. Once an officer has retired, it is entirely up to him how he writes his name. He can write only his name or his rank and name. Considering the ethos of the Army and the pride most of us feel, no one would like to hide his rank. If he prefers to write Retd or Veteran after his name, so be it. A name is a precious possession and an heirloom given to us by our parents. The rank is sacrosanct symbolising the nation’s trust. Nothing else is important.


Sunday, June 5, 2022






Maj Gen VK Singh


Change is part of life. With time rules and trends change in every walk of life. In almost all cases, these changes are for the better, and make our lives easier and more comfortable. Fifty years ago, the only way to communicate with family members and friends was the letter sent by post or telegram, unless one had a telephone. Today, even those living in remote areas have mobile phones. Very few people had cameras and one had to rely on professional photographers during important occasions such as weddings and family gatherings. The only medium to get news of what is happening in the World was the radio and newspaper, which only the privileged few could afford. Most of the rural population did not have access to banks and had to keep their savings in cash or gold ornaments. Even in cities and towns, depositing and withdrawing money was a tedious process. ATMs and online banking changed all this. Earlier, when a migrant worker wanted to send money to his family in the village, he had to send a money order, which took days if not weeks to reach it destinations. Today the migrant labourer transfers money to his wife online and it reaches her instantly.


            Another change concerns the identity of the citizens. The only people who had identity cards were members of the Armed Forces, Police and Government departments. A person without a job had virtually no identity.  One could vote, provided his name was in the electoral rolls. With the passage of time the use of identity cards has grown exponentially. Fifty years ago, the only card an Armed Forces veteran had was the identity card issued by the Service HQ or Records Office. These granted him access to almost every place including military establishments, offices, hospitals, canteens and so on. These were valid for life and did not have to be renewed. Of course, if one owned a weapon or a car, one had to get a licence for its use, which needed to be renewed from time to time. The same applied to passports for foreign travel.


When I retired twenty years ago, my identity card was withdrawn and I was issued a Retired Officers identity card. A few years back this card was withdrawn and I was issued a Veterans Card. With time the number of cards kept increasing. Today a veteran officer has literally dozens of cards. There is the veteran card, the ECHS card, the canteen card, the DSOI membership card, the golf course membership card, the PAN card, the Aadhaar card, the voter card, the driving licence, and so on. In addition, you have debit cards for withdrawing cask from your bank account and credit cards for purchasing items in shops or online. In recent years some more have been added such as the ESM identity card from the Zila Sainik Board.


            The plethora of cards have created a number of problems, with regard to their safe custody and renewal. As one grows older, keeping track of where each card is kept and when it is due for renewal becomes a hassle. The issue that troubles elderly veterans the most is the process of renewal. Almost all other agencies, government and private, have switched over to online renewal. This applies even to the life certificate one had to submit for his pension from the bank or annuity. Earlier, one had to submit these certificates in writing after getting them countersigned by a gazetted officer or the bank manager. Since the last couple of years, ICICI Prulife which earlier insisted on a physical life certificate now does it on line. After you log in the camera of your phone or laptop takes the photograph and the process is complete.  


For some reason, the Armed Forces have still not switched on to the online mode. The ECHS card has undergone two changes. Each time, one had to collect it in person. The Veteran card also had to be collected personally from Station HQ. The Zila Sainik Board also insists that you must visit their office to collect the ESM card identity. One might ask, once you have a veteran card, why should you need an ESM card to prove your identity as an ex-serviceman?    Credit and debit cards for banks are also renewable. But the new ones are sent by post. If the banks can do it what prevents our military establishments such as Station HQ, ECHS and Zila Sainik Boards from doing the same? Consider the plight of elderly and disabled veterans who find it difficult to make personal visits. Some living in remote villages have to spend a lot of time and money to travel to these establishments just to collect a card. Can we not make their lives somewhat easier by adapting to change and adopting new practices being followed by others?

Wednesday, January 26, 2022





Birth of the INA

            The INA was formally created in December 1941 by Captain Mohan Singh of 1/14 Punjab Regiment and Major Fujiwara Iwaichi of the Japanese Army. Mohan Singh claims that after his capture by the Japanese in Malaya on 11 December 1941 he was inspired by a sudden burst of patriotic feeling that had lain dormant until that time.  According to him, he was encouraged by Japanese propaganda that exhorted all Asian races to ‘kick out the white devils from the East’, and thought that if he approached the Japanese to help him in starting a movement for India’s independence, he would be able to attract a large number of soldiers. At that time, Mohan Singh felt that his force ‘would provide India with a new weapon, an organized and patriotic army to back up the non-violent struggle being carried from within by the Indian National Congress’.1

1.         Maj. Gen. Mohan Singh, Soldiers’ Contribution to Indian Independence, Army Educational Stores, New Delhi, 1974, p.67


            In fact, the creation of the INA was part of a well-planned strategy evolved by Japan even before the commencement of the war in the Pacific. Indian nationalist movements had taken root in Thailand, Malaya, Burma and Sumatra, under the leadership of Baba Amar Singh and Sardar Pritam Singh. In Japan, Rash Behari Bose, Raja Mahendra Pratap and AM Sahay formed the nucleus of the Indian nationalist movement. Even before Japan entered the war, the Imperial General Headquarters in Tokyo sent Major Fujiwara Iwaichi to Bangkok to enlist the support of the Indian nationalist elements in South East Asia and induce the defection of Indian soldiers of the British Army, should war break out. An agreement was signed between Amar Singh and Colonel Tamura of the Japanese Army, according to which the Indian Independence League (IIL) agreed to collaborate with the Japanese by inciting and undermining the loyalty of the soldiers of the Indian Army. Leaflets in English, Gurmukhi and Hindustani were kept ready to be thrown among them exhorting them to disobey the orders of their English commanders if asked to fight against the Japanese.2

2.         T.R. Sareen, Japan and the Indian National Army, pp. 51-52


            On 8 December 1941 the Japanese invaded Malaya. Captain Mohan Singh’s battalion, 1/14 Punjab, was part of 15 Indian Infantry Brigade, then deployed near Jitra. After a preparatory bombardment with mortars, Japanese tanks attacked the position on 11 December 1941. The battalion literally disintegrated, with most of the personnel being captured immediately or during the course of the next few days, while trying to escape southwards towards Singapore. Mohan Singh was part of a group that included his CO, Lieutenant Colonel LV Fitzpatrick, who was wounded.3    

3.     Joyce C. Lebra, Jungle Alliance – Japan and the Indian National Army, pp.16-18. (Lebra erroneously writes that Mohan Singh was the second-in-command of the battalion. In fact, there were several officers senior to him, including Major VDW Anderson, the 2ic).


On 15 December 1941 Mohan Singh’s group met Major Fujiwara and Giani Pritam Singh, who had been following the Japanese as they advanced through Malaya. Pritam Singh and Fujiwara explained to Mohan Singh their plans for raising an army to fight for Indian independence. Mohan Singh was highly impressed with Fujiwara, who was a genuine idealist and a great believer in the concept of the Greater Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. With arguments backed by phrases such as ‘Asia for Asiatics’ and India’s ‘shackles of slavery’, Fujiwara convinced Mohan Singh that India was not going to be free by non-violent methods being advocated by Mahatma Gandhi. If Indians wanted freedom, they would have to fight for it. He told Mohan Singh, ‘If you really want freedom for your country you must aspire to do something active. You must raise an Indian National Army’. 4

4.         Hugh Toye, The Springing Tiger, p.3.


            After detailed discussions with Fujiwara, Mohan Singh agreed to raise the INA according to the model suggested by the Japanese. It soon became apparent that the role that the Japanese government was ready to allot to the INA was marginal. Instead of a fighting force, the Japanese intended to use the INA for propaganda purposes, particularly to foster anti-British feeling among Indian soldiers and the Indians in the region, for controlling prisoners of war and for maintaining law and order among the Indian population. Though Mohan Singh found Fujiwara to be a well-informed person, he felt that his knowledge of the strength and position of the Congress in India was poor. Whereas he had great regard for Mahatma Gandhi as a saint, he had not the slightest faith in his glorified weapon of non- violence. Mohan Singh tried to convince Fujiwara that under the prevailing conditions in India, the Congress method of fighting the British was the only practical one.5

5.         Mohan Singh, p.78


It took less than 15 days for Mohan Singh to change his opinion about Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress, and fall in line with the stance of the Japanese. After discussions in Taiping on 30-31 December 1941, during which the Japanese handed over a memorandum on the role of the INA, Mohan Singh wrote to Fujiwara on 1 January 1942, agreeing to accept the leadership of Subhas Chandra Bose and modifying his views with regard to the Congress: “The day Mr. Subhas Chandra Bose’s name comes before us, we promise that if it suits our purpose we will openly condemn the Indian National Congress”. 6

6.         Mohan Singh, p.86


            After the battle of the Shin River on 7 January 1942, three Indian infantry brigades were dispersed. Many Indian prisoners of war, after being subjected to intensive propaganda by Mohan Singh and his men, agreed to transfer their allegiance to the Japanese. Singapore fell on 15 February 1942, and a large number of Allied soldiers surrendered. Different figures have been given by historians about the total number of Allied prisoners, the number of Indian soldiers and the number that agreed to join the INA. According to Mohan Singh, 45,000 Indian soldiers were handed over by Lieutenant Colonel Hunt to Fujiwara at Farrer Park on 17 February 1942, who handed them over to Mohan Singh. However, Menezes gives the figure of Indian soldiers as 60,000, which is also the number mentioned by Cohen, relying on Winston Churchill’s History of the Second World War. After Mohan Singh spoke to the assembled Indian prisoners at Farrer Park, most of them cheered enthusiastically. They were then sent to the Bidadari Camp, but the officers were separated from the men and not allowed to talk to the latter. During the next few days, the prisoners were asked to volunteer for the INA, with implied threats by the Japanese that the non-volunteers would be ill-treated, and the leaders in any non-cooperation would be shot.7

7.         Lt. Gen. S.L. Menezes, Fidelity and Honour – The Indian Army from the Seventeenth to the Twenty First Century, p.382


Estimates vary as to the actual numbers that joined the INA when it was formed. Mohan Singh writes that 42,000 men volunteered, while 13,000 remained non-volunteers.  According to him, approximately one third of the officers and one fifth of the VCOs did not join. Gerard Corr writes that out of the 55,000-60,000 Indian prisoners, probably about 20,000 enlisted immediately.8 Approximately the same figure is given by Joyce Lebra, who writes that close to 25,000 of the 45,000 Indians taken prisoner at Singapore did not volunteer.9  

8.         Gerard H. Corr, The War of the Springing Tigers, p. 116

9.         Lebra, p.83.


Mohan Singh promoted himself from captain to general, and became the GOC (General Officer Commanding) of the INA.  He set about organizing the newly formed Army, using novel techniques. All subedars and subedar majors were given the rank of captain, while jemadars were made lieutenants. To gain the confidence of these newly promoted officers, who were much older than the Indian Commissioned Officers (ICOs), Mohan Singh decided to give them command of battalions and brigades, using the ICOs to fill staff appointments such as brigade major, staff captain, adjutant etc. The command of the brigade was given to Subedar Onkar Singh of 5/4 Punjab Regiment.


            The first INA division was raised on 1 September 1942. Mohan Singh wanted to raise two divisions, but the Japanese agreed to only one. The division had three brigades, which were commanded by Lieutenant Colonels IJ Kiani (Gandhi Brigade), Aziz Ahmed Khan (Nehru Brigade) and Prakash Chand (Azad Brigade). Lieutenant Colonel JKT Bhonsle was given command of No. 1 Field Force Group, which had three infantry battalions and a heavy gun battalion. Lieutenant Colonel Burhan-ud-din commanded the Bahadur Group. The other functionaries were Major Jaswant Singh (Intelligence Group); Colonel MS Brar (Propaganda and Welfare Group), Lieutenant Colonel Kulwant Rai (Medical Group), Major SA Malik (Reinforcement Group), Lieutenant Colonel Shah Nawaz Khan (Officers Training School) and Major AB Mirza (HQ POWs).


            Gradually, Mohan Singh began to realize that the Japanese had no intention of building up the INA into a strong military force. They wanted to use the INA more as a political pawn than a military weapon. In fact, the role that they had envisaged for the INA was propaganda, fifth column duties and minor military operations. They hoped that when they marched into India with the INA ‘they would be acclaimed as liberators of India and Indians would automatically join them and the plum of victory will fall into their lap, ripened by the heat of their own activity. Thus they intended to use us as spies, euphemistically calling us patriots and freedom fighters’. 10

10.       Mohan Singh, p.201


Disillusioned by the Japanese attitude and his differences with Rash Behari Bose, the President of the IIL, Mohan Singh decided to dissolve the INA. On 21 December 1942 he signed a Special Order of the Day formally dissolving the INA. The Japanese promptly arrested Mohan Singh, and placed the INA under the IIL, headed by Rash Behari Bose, an Indian revolutionary who had married a Japanese and lived in Tokyo. He was under the influence of the Japanese and Mohan Singh had earlier refused to accept his authority over the INA, leading to differences between them. Though Mohan Singh had taken a pledge from his officers that the INA would not be raised again, this was soon forgotten. JKT Bhonsle became the new Commander of the INA, with the title of Director, Military Bureau.


The Arrival of Subhas Chandra Bose

Subhas Chandra Bose was then in Germany, having reached there after his dramatic escape in January 1941 from Calcutta, where he had been placed under house arrest by the British authorities. With the support of the Germans, he had tried to raise the Indian Legion from the Indian prisoners of war in North Africa. However, he met with limited success, and only about three thousand prisoners agreed to join him. It was only after a year that Bose was able to have an audience with Hitler, and request him to recognize his movement or at least announce that India would be granted independence after the war. Hitler felt that such a declaration was premature, and asked Bose to wait until German forces had advanced far enough. After German losses at Alamein and Stalingrad, it became clear that this would not happen. Bose then requested the Germans to arrange his move to South East Asia, where he had already been invited to take over the IIL and the INA. On 8 February 1943 Bose left Kiel in a German submarine, accompanied by Abid Hasan. On 28 April 1943 he was transferred to a Japanese submarine near Madagascar, reaching Sabang in Northern Sumatra on 6 May and Tokyo on 16 May 1943. This was not the first, or indeed the last time that Bose left his followers to their fate, moving to greener pastures. In the words of Fay: “Bose left behind three thousand Indian men in Wehrmacht uniforms whose future would be half-hearted participation in the manning of the Atlantic Wall and then a British prisoner of war cage – three thousand men and a wife and child”. 11  

11.       Peter Ward Fay, The Forgotten Army, p.200


            On his arrival in Tokyo, Bose found the Japanese more accommodating than the Germans. Prime Minister Tojo received him soon after his arrival, and was quite receptive to his project of forming a provisional government in exile. On 16 June 1943 Tojo made a declaration in the Diet that Japan was firmly resolved to extend all help to India to achieve full independence. This was music to the ears of Bose, who had tried for almost two years to get a similar commitment from Hitler, without success. He made a series of radio broadcasts, publicizing his presence in South Asia, calling Japan India’s greatest friend.  He received a tumultuous welcome when he reached Singapore on 2 July 1943, followed by week-long celebrations that were later commemorated annually as ‘Netaji Week.’ On 4 July he accepted the Presidency of the IIL and the allegiance of the INA, which he reviewed on the next day, giving it the battle cry ‘Chalo Dilli’ (To Delhi).  Two days later, another parade was held, at which Tojo himself took the salute.


            On 8 August 1943 Subhas Chandra Bose assumed personal command of the INA. Unlike Mohan Singh, who had taken the rank of general, Bose held no military rank – he was just the Supreme Commander. However, he wore a uniform that was neither Indian nor British, but was similar to what he had seen in Italy and Germany – breeches, tunic and jack boots. (The only other member of the INA to wear breeches was Captain Lakshmi Swaminathan, who commanded the Rani of Jhansi Regiment). The uniform was not the only thing Bose took from the Germans and Italians.  Hitler and Mussolini had titles – Fuehrer and Il Duce – and deciding that he too must have one, he settled on ‘Netaji’ (The Leader). On 21 October 1943 Bose announced the formation of the Arzi Hukumat-e-Hind, or the Provisional Government of Free India, which was recognized by Japan, Germany, Italy and some other countries that were under Axis domination. A few days later, the Provisional Government declared war on Great Britain and the United States. Bose made the declaration of war at a rally of fifty thousand Indians, who were asked to ratify it, by standing up and raising their hands if they were prepared to lay down their lives. The audience rose instantly, cheering, raising their rifles in the air, and shouting, “Netaji Ki Jai! Inqilab Zindabad! Chalo Delhi!” The declaration proved to be a windfall for the new government – during the next few days over thirteen million dollars were collected from Indians in Singapore and Malaya. The money was spent as soon as it poured in.12   

12.       Lebra, p.130;  M. Sivaram, The Road to Delhi, p.158


In November 1943 Bose was invited to Tokyo for the Greater East Asia Conference, which he attended as an observer. During his visit, he met Prime Minister Tojo and requested that Japan formally hand over to the Provisional Government of Free India the Andaman and Nicobar islands in the Bay of Bengal, which the Japanese had occupied in early 1942. This would give his government a measure of legitimacy, he reasoned. Tojo demurred, since the islands were strategically important, and the Japanese Navy was bound to object strongly. Finally, a compromise was reached. Tojo announced that Japan was ready to hand over the islands shortly, as the initial evidence of her readiness to help in India’s struggle for independence.  This was a declaration of intent, not a de facto transfer. The distinction was significant, for the next step – the actual transfer of administration – was never taken by the Japanese Government.13

13.       Lebra,  p.133


Military Operations Conducted by the INA                     

From the day of its inception, Mohan Singh had been pressing for the INA to be sent to the front to take part in actual operations and wanted to raise two divisions. However, the Japanese agreed to only one. Mohan Singh soon realised that the Japanese were not serious about making the INA a strong force that could conduct regular military operations. After the ‘dissolution’ of the first INA in December 1942, its strength had dropped to 12,000. After the arrival of Subhas Chandra Bose, about 10,000 prisoners agreed to join and it was decided to raise two more divisions. The first operational exposure of the INA was in a minor role in the Arakan, where it was employed in small detachments.  This was followed by two operations in Imphal and on the Irrawaddy, for which Bose was able to convince the Japanese to allot specific sectors to the INA, instead of using it in penny packets. Bose repeatedly stressed that advance into India must be led by the INA, and ‘the first drop of blood to be shed on Indian soil should be that of a member of the INA.


In the Arakan offensive in February 1944, INA special groups comprising espionage and propaganda elements totalling about 250 men were part of the Japanese offensive against the 5th and 7th Indian Divisions. These men were organised in small parties that had mainly nuisance value, shouting propaganda or confusing orders in encounters with British-Indian troops, leading them sometimes into Japanese ambushes and spying out their defensive positions. One of these parties led by Major LS Misra managed to subvert an Indian outpost held by a platoon of Gwalior Lancers. This was touted as major success by the INA, Bose calling it an ‘active and important’ part in a great Japanese victory, which alas never materialized, the Arakan battle ending in a shattering defeat for the Japanese.14

14.       Toye, p. 105.


The next operation in which the INA took part was the Japanese offensive against Imphal in March 1944. A group of about 150 irregulars of the INA Special Forces was attached to each of the three divisions that the Japanese employed in Imphal. The only regular INA division available was the 1st INA Division, under Colonel MZ Kiani – the 2nd Division was in Malaya - which comprised the 1st (Subhas) Regiment with a strength of 3,000 men, and the 2nd and 3rd Regiments, each two thousand strong. (The regiments were akin to brigades, and were sometimes referred to as such). The first to be mobilized was the Subhas Regiment, under Lieutenant Colonel Shah Nawaz Khan, which was sent to the front with great fanfare, after a farewell speech by Bose himself on 3 February 1944. No. 1 Battalion, under Major PS Raturi was despatched to the Kaladan Valley, while No. 2 and 3 Battalions (Majors Ran Singh and Padam Singh) were to proceed to Haka and Falam area in the Chin Hills.


No. 1 Battalion reached the Kaladan Valley on 24 March, as the 81st West African Division was withdrawing.  It had several skirmishes with the rear guards, suffering a few casualties. It remained there intact, without further encounter, until September, posting a company at Mowdok in the Sangu Valley, on Indian soil, during the monsoon. The crossing of the border was accompanied by great jubilation. According to the Japanese plan, Imphal was to be captured by 10th April 1944. The 2nd and 3rd Guerilla Regiments reached Rangoon only in March, when the offensive was well underway and there was little chance of them playing a role in the battle. However, Bose had persuaded General Kawabe to let them at least enter Imphal on the heels of the Japanese.  In any case, nobody expected   that these men would have to fight. They were to line the route at Bose’s entry into Imphal and assist in the formation of the new divisions there.15  

15.       Toye, p. 106


The 2nd Guerilla Regiment (Lieutenant Colonel IJ Kiani) together with the headquarters of the 1st INA Division commenced their move from Rangoon on 25 March. On his arrival at Maymyo on 28 March the Divisional Commander, Colonel MZ Kiani, was told that if he wished to be present at the fall of Imphal, he should immediately rush his force to Tamu and join the Yamamoto Force, which was part of the Japanese 33rd Division. 2nd Regiment moved post-haste, leaving behind all its heavy baggage, mortars and machine guns at Kalewa, with the men carrying only a blanket, a rifle and fifty rounds of ammunition. The Regiment reached the village of Khanjol towards the end of April, and was informed that it would take part in the attack on Palel airfield, in conjunction with the Japanese thrust, which was planned for 1 May. With great difficulty the Regiment was able to muster 300 ex-Indian Army soldiers, who were grouped in a task force under the command of Major Pritam Singh, a staff officer at divisional headquarters who volunteered to lead the assault. The force left Khanjol on the night of 30 April, but took almost two days to travel the twelve miles to the assembly area, reaching there on 2 May. The Japanese attack had gone in a day earlier from the East, but Pritam Singh decided to attack from the South on his own.


The attack was launched on the night of 2 May. At about 2230 hours the leading company, moving in extended order, ran into a platoon of 4/10 Gurkha Rifles, about five miles short of the objective. The INA soldiers had been assured that neither British nor Indian troops would fire on them, and were talking and smoking as they walked, with no semblance of discipline.  The Gurkhas, forewarned of their approach, waited for them to reach a suitable position and then opened fire. The INA soldiers panicked and scattered, but Pritam Singh rallied some of them and approached again, this time more cautiously. He tried to parley with the Gurkhas, asking them not to fire. When this failed, the INA column attacked the platoon, but was beaten back. Pritam Singh launched seven attacks, before deciding to call it off. He ordered a withdrawal, sending a patrol to carry out reconnaissance for a new attack and calling his regimental commander for help. Two INA officers and many soldiers were killed; about thirty-five more surrendered or were captured. The Gurkhas lost two killed. Shortly afterwards the regimental headquarters was attacked by a company of the Frontier Force Rifles, followed by an air strike, in which fifty INA soldiers were killed and about the same number wounded. An artillery concentration severely shook the morale of the rest, and Kiani ordered the 2nd Regiment to withdraw to Khanjol. The reconnaissance patrol sent by Pritam Singh had also surrendered.16

16.       Toye, p. 226.


The failure at Palel and the casualties were a severe jolt to the morale of the INA, which had come to believe the assurance given by Bose that propaganda and not firepower would decide the result when they would face Indian troops. Even for the Japanese, the battle was not going according to plan. By the first week of May the offensive of the Yamamoto Force had lost steam. The INA continued to hold Khanjol and Mittong Khunue in spite of frequent attacks and temporary withdrawals.  Rains throughout May and June restricted activity on both sides to patrolling and the 2nd Guerilla Regiment did not fight any more battles. But the effects of climate, hunger and malaria took a heavy toll and by the beginning of July, the strength of the Regiment was down to 750 men. On 3 July an Indian battalion, the 4th Mahratta Light Infantry, attacked and cleared Khanjol, which was held by just 50 men, and occupied Mittong Khunue. The Indian battalion did not advance further, and continued to hold the end of the Mombi track until it finally withdrew in the third week of July.


The 3rd Guerilla Regiment, under Lieutenant Colonel Gulzara Singh, did not play any significant part in the Imphal battle. The Regiment reached Tamu on 26 May after the monsoon had broken and was ordered to occupy a defensive position around Narum. One battalion was used for transport duties with the other two occupying the villages of Lamyang, Keipham and Khosat. The Regiment was already depleted by sickness when it arrived in the battle area. The rains and irregular supplies added to their woes, reducing the strength of the battalions to almost half. Both the 2nd and 3rd Guerilla Regiments and the remnants of the 1st Regiment began to withdraw on 18 July 1944.


Though the campaign ended in July, by the end of April 1944 it had become clear that the offensive against Imphal was not going well. However, INA headquarters in Maymyo, without any means of communications with the forward troops, was unaware of this development, and in mid-May, Bose sent three senior ministers of his cabinet - Chatterji, Alagappan and AM Sahay – to Tamu, partly in order that they might be at hand when Imphal was entered, and to buy up supplies, relieve the INA difficulties and bring back an accurate report. Their report reached Bose towards the end of June, but he was still unaware of the actual state of affairs. Even on 10 July, when the Japanese officially informed Bose that the Imphal campaign was being abandoned, he appeared to have no inkling of the magnitude of the disaster. (No one has been able to explain the reason for lack of communications between Bose and his field commanders. There must have been hundreds of wireless sets in the equipment captured from the British at Singapore. Bose also had a secret radio link to Germany, on which he sometimes spoke to Nambiar, and also his wife). Netaji Week was celebrated in Rangoon with customary gusto, including parades, speeches and cultural events. Bose issued a statement on the year’s progress, and finalised the government organisation that would be needed once Imphal was captured. He broadcast messages to the people of India, including those who worked for the government, and to soldiers of the Indian Army, assuring them that they would be taken into the INA after victory, and their service would count towards their INA pensions!


The decision to suspend the Imphal campaign was made public on 26 July, the day the Japanese Prime Minister Tojo resigned. It was only in August when survivors from the front began arriving in Rangoon with tales of horrible deaths due to disease and starvation that Bose was enlightened of the magnitude of the tragedy that had befallen his soldiers. On 19 August there was a desperate appeal from Colonel Kiani to intervene with the Japanese to save hundreds of sick men stranded by floods on the withdrawal route. Bose was helpless, for the Japanese were themselves in dire straits and could do little to help the INA. Bose blamed the Japanese for the debacle, by denying essential supplies to the INA, and recommended the dissolution of the Hikari Kikan that had been responsible for this task. In future, the INA would look after all their administration themselves, he declared. He was enraged when he came to know of the large number of desertions in the INA and publicly berated the officers for their lack of leadership, which resulted in low morale of the troops. Of 6000 men that had been sent the front, at least 1500 had deserted or been captured.


In October 1943, Bose received an invitation to visit Tokyo from the new Japanese Prime Minister, General Koiso. Bose found the Japanese still receptive to his demands, which included the appointment of an ambassador to his government, increase in the size of the INA by at least 50,000, a loan agreement, better weapons including tanks, planes and guns to supplement captured British stores, distribution of propaganda literature written by himself and transfer of all Indian POWs to the INA. At this time, American bombers were already paying frequent visits to the Japanese capital, and many of these demands appeared to be meaningless, which is probably the reason for the Japanese conceding them. However, in return for sending a diplomat to his government, the Japanese asked for a quid pro quo – Bose agreed to put the INA under Japanese command during the defence of Malaya and Burma.17

17.       Lebra, p.143,  Sivaram, p.230


Though the writing was on the wall, Bose continued to exhibit his confidence that the Japanese would win the war. In an article in the Azad Hind on 6 November 1944, after the retreat from Imphal, he reiterated his firm conviction that the final victory would belong to Japan and Germany. ‘A new phase of war was approaching’, he wrote, ‘in which the initiative would again lie in the hands of the Japanese’. Not surprisingly, Professor Joyce Lebra was constrained to write: “Bose’s constant repetition of this faith throughout and even after the Imphal campaign raises the question of the soundness of his military judgement”. 18

18.       Lebra, p.191


After spending a month in Japan, Bose returned to Singapore in December 1944. He spent over a month in Malaya, reviewing the functioning of the training camps at Seletar and Kuala Lumpur, and going over the finances. On both counts he found the outlook dismal. The number of new recruits barely matched those who were shedding their uniforms and slipping away. The income of the Indian Independence League was drying up, and when persuasion failed, draconian measures were adopted to increase collections.


At a press conference in Rangoon the day after his arrival, Bose asserted that the war had now entered the third phase, which would be decisive, and Indians must play their rightful part. “Had the rains not intervened,” he said, “we should by now have occupied the Manipur basin”. During a rally in October, he had given a new war cry – khun (blood). In the days that followed, he repeated it at every opportunity. He no longer talked of the march to Delhi, but blood. It was Indian blood that he wanted, and he asked for it because the old slogan did not sound convincing now. The war was not over, but Bose knew that his men were not going anywhere near Delhi. Yet, the fight must go on. Freedom, he observed, carries a price – blood. And since blood was all that his young recruits had to offer, it became his constant refrain in the months that followed. “Tum mujhe khun do, main tumhen azadi dunga (give me blood, and I will give you freedom)”, he said. As 1945 opened, this was all Bose had to offer. 19

19.       Fay, p.315.


After their defeat at Imphal, Japanese forces had withdrawn to the Irrawaddy River, where the next major battle was to take place. Two INA divisions, the 1st and the 2nd, were to take part in the battle. In the event, only one regiment of the 2nd Division, the 4th Guerilla Regiment under Major GS Dhillon could take part, the rest still waiting in Rangoon for their stores and equipment to arrive from Malaya. Mutiny and desertion had become a serious problem in the INA, and troops were screened before being sent to the front. About 150 men from Dhillon’s regiment were sent back as suspect, leaving him with 1,200 men to defend twelve miles of the river. Bose ordered several measures to raise the morale of the troops. They were protected from contact with Imphal survivors and encouraged by glowing accounts of INA heroism in battle. Gallantry awards were presented and there were accelerated promotions, including four major generals, one of them being Shah Nawaz Khan, the newly appointed commander of the 2nd INA Division.  


The 7th Indian Division began to cross the Irrawaddy on 14 February 1945 at Nyangu and Pagan, where the 4th INA Regiment was deployed. The attacking troops suffered some casualties from medium machine guns in the INA defences, but managed to cross the river. About a hundred men of the 7th INA Battalion under Lieutenant Hari Ram surrendered at Nyangu and one hundred and forty of the 9th INA Battalion under Lieutenant Chandra Bhan showed a white flag and laid down their arms at Pagan. Shah Nawaz has chosen to gloss over these surrenders, mentioning only the gallantry of the INA troops and the casualties they inflicted on the enemy. ‘Our men having used up all their ammunition resorted to bayonet charges, but eventually most of the men of the 7th Battalion were overpowered and had to surrender’.20 

20.       Maj Gen Shah Nawaz Khan, My Memories of INA and its Netaji, p. 190


 However, Bose was deeply pained when he heard of the surrenders, and wrote to Dhillon: ‘I have heard with grief, pain and shame of the treachery shown by Lieutenant Hari Ram and others. I hope that the men of the 4th Regiment will wash away the blot on the INA with their blood.’ Worried by the desertions, Bose wrote another letter to an officer of the INA Police at Mandalay, ‘According to my information the men who recently deserted from Mandalay … are still in the Mandalay area. These men must be arrested and sent down to Rangoon under escort. If you cannot arrest them, they must be shot at sight.’ 21

21.       Toye, p. 139


On 17 March 1945 there was another action at Taungzin where Dhillon’s troops are said to have redeemed their reputation, according to INA accounts. A British motorized column attacked an INA company under the command of Second Lieutenant Gian Singh Bisht, in which the company lost about forty men, including the company commander.  Shah Nawaz has described the action thus: ‘In the name of India and Indian independence they charged the enemy trucks. The enemy immediately debussed and hand to hand fighting ensued which lasted for full two hours, but our heroes would not give in. Forty of them sacrificed their lives after inflicting heavier losses on the enemy. The enemy was so impressed by their determination that they beat a hurried retreat’.22 A more down-to-earth version of the action has been given by Fay, who writes: ‘Near Taungzin one day a company of his let itself be trapped in the open by light tanks, armoured cars and infantry in trucks, tried vainly to break out with the bayonet and lost several score men dead or captured. ……But Dhillon was also prone to heroics. When the publicity people at Rangoon heard about the Taungzin disaster, they transformed it into a sort of latter-day Charge of the Light Brigade, and Dhillon was pleased’. 23

22.       Shah Nawaz, p. 195

23.       Fay, pp. 342-343.


The next action occurred at Mount Popa on whose western slopes the 2nd INA Regiment under PK Sahgal was occupying defences.  Headquarters 2nd INA Division was also at Popa, under its newly appointed commander, Major General Shah Nawaz Khan. In February Bose decided to visit Mount Popa himself, to get a first-hand account of the conditions there. His first visit to the front line had to be cut short because the enemy got there first. He was in Meiktila on 25 February when news came that British tanks had reached Mahling, just twenty miles away. When Shah Nawaz advised that they should turn back, Bose refused, saying “England has not produced the bomb that can kill Subhas Chandra Bose.” However, reason finally prevailed over bravado, and he fled from Meiktila, accompanied by a very anxious Shah Nawaz in the only staff car that they had. Everyone was armed to the teeth and ready for the worst, Bose sitting with a loaded tommy gun across his lap with Shah Nawaz beside him, his personal physician next to the driver and the liaison officer on the running board. The scene is now a key element of the Bose legend. 


Soon after his return to Rangoon Bose received the shocking news that five staff officers of 2nd INA Division – four majors and one lieutenant - had walked across to the British lines. Soon afterwards, British aircraft dropped leaflets signed by one of them, advising others in the INA to surrender. The shameful desertions soon became a topic of conversation in every Rangoon household and the subject of laughter in every Japanese mess.  Bose was rattled by the treachery, and said that he would take his own life if such a thing happened again. He announced the observance of a ‘Traitors’ Day’ in each INA unit, when deserters would be publicly dishonoured. He issued two special orders, outlining a number of measures to deal with the problem. One of these specified that ‘every member of the INA - officer, NCO or sepoy - will in future be entitled to arrest any other member of the INA, no matter what his rank may be, if he behaves in cowardly manner, or to shoot him if he acts in a treacherous manner.24.

24.       Toye, p. 142. Special Order of the Day, 13th March 1945


Unfortunately, the desertions did not stop. Late in March, one of Dhillon’s battalion commanders deserted. On the night of 2 April, just before a full-scale attack on the 2nd INA Regiment at Legyi, three staff officers and some NCOs deserted. The attack came at mid-day and the INA defences soon collapsed, even the administrative area being overrun. Sahgal ordered a counter attack but the two platoons concerned deserted. A second counter attack after nightfall succeeded, but Sahgal then came to know that the whole of his 1st Battalion – the CO, company commander and about three hundred men - had deserted. The remainder could not face another attack and Sahgal withdrew them on his own initiative during the night. What followed was a rout. Except for an odd occasion when they decided to stand and fight, the 2nd INA Division disintegrated and virtually ceased to exist. By the end of April, only fugitives remained at large. On 13 May 1945, Shah Nawaz, Dhillon and about fifty men surrendered at Pegu.


The End of the INA


Rangoon fell to British forces on 4 May 1945. A day earlier, the senior British officer who was a prisoner in the Rangoon jail had ordered the disarming and concentration of the INA, which was now under the command of Major General Loganadhan, the Supreme Commander having left about ten days earlier along with a few senior officers, about fifty League workers and the last contingent of women of the Rani of Jhansi regiment. In his last message before leaving Bose declared ‘I do not leave Burma of my own free will. I would have preferred to stay on here with you and share with you the sorrow of temporary defeat.’ But his advisers had overruled him, he had other responsibilities in Siam and Malaya that nobody else could fulfil, and for Indians this defeat was only an incident in their struggle. ‘Go down as heroes’, he said, ‘go down upholding the highest code of honour and discipline’.25

            25.       Toye, p. 146


Bose’s last words to his men were to ‘uphold the highest code of honour’, which he was even then violating, perhaps unknowingly.  Not being a professional soldier, he can be forgiven for not being aware of the time honoured code that a captain always goes down with his ship and a commander with his troops, be it death or captivity. (Percival surrendered with 85,000 of his men when Singapore fell in 1942 and Niazi with 93,000 troops in 1971 in East Pakistan. Captain Mulla went down with the INS Khukri in 1971). However, most of the senior INA officers had spent long years in uniform, and it appears strange that they advised him to escape, leaving more than ten thousand of his men to their fate.


It has been suggested that Bose wanted to go to Russia and carry on the struggle from there, but there appears no concrete proof of this. Another reason put forward is that the British authorities would have executed him if he had been captured, but this appears unlikely. Bose was never a member of the Indian Army and could not have been tried for treason under the Indian Army Act, like Shah Nawaz, Sahgal and Dhillon. His stature and prestige in India would have deterred the British from even contemplating such a step. In fact, the wave of sympathy that swept the country after the INA trials would have multiplied manifold and united the Indian people against the British. Who knows, with Bose being present at the final parleys, India may not been partitioned.


            The INA ceased to exist after its remnants surrendered to British forces on 4 May 1945.  The Supreme Leader of the INA, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose died in a plane crash shortly after this. But the legend of Bose refuses to die. Anton Pelinka has a very interesting and plausible reason for this ‘mythos’ as he calls it. He writes:-

Whatever Bose had in mind when his plane crashed on August 18, 1945, he could no longer realize it. But in the imaginations of millions of people in in India (and likely also in Pakistan and Bangla Desh), Bose lived on. Above all, there remained the fact that independence did not come to mean a high standard of living for the many but rather expulsion and death for millions and the still unsolved problem of mass poverty. In the face of all these disappointments, Bose embodied the hope that remained unfulfilled.

And for that reason, he was not allowed to die. The Bose mythos begins with the doubt that Subhas Chandra Bose actually perished in the plane crash of August 18, 1945 in Taipei. Many people were willing to believe in a cover-up of mass proportions, regardless of who might have carried it out. Bose was alive, it was said, or had been seen somewhere, he was alive in a Soviet camp, he was a high ranking member of Mao’s People’s Liberation Army and would soon, very soon, in fact, return to India. He would come, like a messiah, to eradicate all evil and thus, to fulfill the unfulfilled promises of independent India. (Bose, M, 1982, p.251).  

Numerous commissions of the Indian government have examined the circumstances surrounding his death. They all arrive at the same conclusion: Bose died on August 18, 1945 in Taipei from severe burns sustained in the plane crash. Bose’s family also subscribes to this interpretation (Bose, Sisir, interview 1999: Bose, Sugata, interview, 2001). But the legend refuses to die. The hundredth anniversary of his birth was celebrated intensively in India, particularly in Calcutta. The city administration in Calcutta, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation, published a detailed report on Bose’s life works. In this special edition of the Calcutta Municipal Gazette, Bose’s death is reported in lapidary fashion: “The mysteries concerning his death remain unsolved till date” (Calcutta Municipal Gazette 1997:344).

The fact that Calcutta was and continues to be the place where Bose’s mythos is cultivated points to a further function of this mythos. Bose stands for Bengal’s disappointments. Around 1900, Bengal was the most important part of British India, and Calcutta was the capital of the empire’s crown jewel. But then Bengal lost more and more of its importance. The British moved the capital to Delhi, and Bengal seldom played an important role in the Indian national congress. Bose was the exception to this rule. And then came the partition. After Punjab, Bengal was the second of India’s traditional regions to be divided, with all of the terrible consequences for both sides.

Bose is the protest against the loss of significance, especially for the Bengali sense of self, against the dominance of Delhi, and that of Uttar Pradesh, against the predominance of Hindi. For Bengal, Bose could not be allowed to die. In the ongoing memory of him, Bengal celebrated self-pity and nostalgia (Chaudhuri 1987:799). Bose’s mythos is also Bengal’s attempt to demand recognition of its importance within India.26 

 26.         Anton Pelinka, Democracy Indian Style –Subhas Chandra Bose and the Creation of India’s Political Culture, Routeledge, 2003, pp.8-9.