The Indian National Army (INA) had roots in the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Prior to the rebellion, the British Indian Army was governed by the East India Company, a powerful British trading and political organisation, and its soldiers
The recruits included Muslims from the Bengal Presidency, which consisted of Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, and Hindus, mainly from the rural plains of Oudh.
were known as Sepoys
In 1857, the Sepoys
staged a mutiny
Following Mangal Pandey’s execution, some Sepoys at Meerut refused to use the cartridges and were sentenced to long prison terms. This angered the other troops who shot their British officers on May 10.
, sparked by a rumour that the rifle cartridges they were using were greased with pigs’ and cows’ lard
According to their respective religions, Muslims are forbidden to eat pork or use any products made with any part of the pig, while Hindus do not eat beef, as cows are considered sacred.
. A Sepoy
named Mangal Pandey tried to get the rest of the soldiers to rebel, saying he would shoot any Europeans he saw. He was arrested and executed for his murderous attempt. His execution stirred a mutiny which spread across India and was only quelled after a bloody, year-long struggle. Following these events, control of India was handed over to the British Crown
Before the mutiny, the Governor-General was picked by the Council of Directors of the East India Company, the powerful British trading company. Post-mutiny, the office reported directly back to the British Parliament. Worried by the series of events, the British realised that they had to be more respectful towards Indian culture.
During World War I
Between 1914 and 1918, the Allied Forces sent Muslim, Sikh and Hindu men from regions such as Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, as part of the Indian Expeditionary Force to fight on the Western Front in Europe, Africa, Mesopotamia and the Middle East.
, the British sent Indian soldiers to fight their enemies and used money from India to fund the war. In return for their part in the war, the British promised to grant India self-rule once the war ended but that did not happen.
By the early 20th
century, Imperial Japan was out to conquer Asia, including Singapore. Exploiting anti-British sentiment, the Japanese and the Indians teamed up. Major Iwaichi Fujiwara
Major Iwaichi Fujiwara was based in Bangkok and had established a Japanese special operations unit called F Kikan. Its purpose was to develop and assist independence causes. For example, he sent agents to sow discord among the Indian troops in northern Malaya.
and Giani Pritam Singh
Giani Pritam Singh was a Bangkok-based missionary and revolutionary who was actively involved in the Indian independence movement.
discussed the idea of allowing captured Indian soldiers to fight against the British. They wanted Captain Mohan Singh
Captain Mohan Singh was a senior officer of the British Indian Army, which he had been serving in since he was 18. He explained his reasons for joining the enemy, saying “I felt it was my duty to contribute my humble share to the service of my country…I was now going to raise an army for India’s liberation.”
to lead the rebellion. He named the force the Indian National Army.
Two days after Singapore fell on 15 February 1942, about 65,000 Indian prisoners of war listened to speeches at Farrer Park in Singapore. Captain Singh told the crowd that colonisation had reduced India to a state of “abject poverty, degradation and humiliation”. Fujiwara tried to convince the crowd that the British surrendering Singapore was a good opportunity for India to gain independence. Despite their stirring speeches, only 25,000 joined the INA.
Captain Singh soon realised that the Japanese were using the INA to fight for their own cause. He attempted to disband the INA but the Japanese stopped him and put him under house arrest. Without a leader, the INA disbanded.
The army was revived when Subhas Chandra Bose
The son of a prominent Bengali lawyer, Subhas Chandra Bose was an Indian revolutionary who fought for the independence movement. He studied at the University of Cambridge to become a civil servant but gave it up to support the nationalist cause. He was also a peer of Mohandas K. Gandhi, the activist who led India to independence. Unlike Gandhi’s push for a peaceful resolution, Bose favoured a militant approach and pushed for socialist policies.
came to Singapore on 2 July 1943. A fiery and passionate orator, Bose made speeches
Subhas Chandra Bose declared the formation of Azad Hind, a provisional government in exile that was supported by the Axis powers of Imperial Japan, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.
that lifted the morale of Indians in Singapore. He called Singapore the “graveyard of the British Empire”. In his speech, he asked Indians in Southeast Asia to join the cause. Inspired by Bose’s vision, many of them—even those without military experience—volunteered
Many civilians and prisoners—who did not want anything to do with the first army—signed up for Subhas Chandra Bose’s army. They went to Singapore to enlist. Others contributed money and gold to the INA Fund, and donated food and clothes for supplies.
In February 1944, Bose moved the headquarters of his government to Rangoon (present-day Yangon, Myanmar). While the INA was successful at first, they eventually suffered many defeats. They also lived in poor conditions and were afflicted by diseases. News that the Japanese were losing the war led many INA men to defect.
After hearing news of the impending Japanese surrender, Bose planned to form an alliance with the Soviet Union. However, he died in a plane crash on 18 August 1945, while en route to Russia from Taipei.