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Updated: Oct 9, 2023

"It is blood alone that can pay the price of freedom. Give me blood and I will give you freedom" - Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose

Subhas Chandra Bose cannot be dubbed as just another leader in the Indian National Movement. He was a maverick who developed his own conception of nationalism, alternative to that of M.K. Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. He believed that the non violence movements of Mahatma Gandhi may have a paralyzing effect on the administration but it would be inadequate unless it is accompanied by an armed struggle.


Illustration by The Geostrata

He was a patriot of towering personality who joined the Indian National Movement in 1921 under C.R. Das. He went to jail several times for his anti imperial activities in Bengal. His foremost political goal was to liberate India from British rule. In this regard, he envisioned that in 'the complete political and economic liberation of the Indian people' use of force would be inevitable. He clearly expected that, under his leadership, the British would be driven out in an armed struggle and which would in turn give rise to a revolution among the Indians when British rule would be under attack in India itself.

Composition of the Indian National Army

The Indian National Army is often termed as the 'army born in exile'. The history of the establishment and development of the Indian National Army was initiated in the Far East under the leadership of Shri Rash Behari Bose. When Japanese Imperial Forces advanced in the British territories of Southeast Asia, Bose organised the Indian civilians and Indian soldiers in the liberated areas to help in their struggle for Indian Independence.

All the soldiers were the prisoners of war who were stationed in the British Southeast colonies before the occupation of Japan. Later, the army strengthened under the leadership of Captain Mohan Singh but was disbanded in 1942, following disagreements between Capt. Mohan Singh and the Japanese Imperial Forces as the former grew suspicious of the intentions of the latter.

Some of the soldiers opposed the decision. The Japanese also realised that if they really wanted the INA to fight with them, they would have to treat the army with respect and as an honourable allied army with equal status and not as a puppet. At the Bangkok Conference, a demand was raised to request that Subhas Chandra Bose come to East India and lead the Indian Independence Movement. Henceforth, the history of Subhas Chandra Bose and the valour of the Indian National Army began.

Formation of Azad Hind Fauj

Subhas Chandra Bose arrived in Singapore on July 2, 1943 and Rash Behari Bose handed over the direction of the Indian Independence movement in East Asia to him on July 4, 1943.

On August 25, Netaji assumed Supreme Command of the Army and the Directorate of Military Bureau became his headquarters.

Due to the great influence of Subhas Chandra Bose on Southeast Asian people, civilians also joined the Indian National Army along with prisoners of war and many provided financial support. On October 21, 1943, a Provisional Government of Azad Hind was formed by Netaji with the financial, military and political support of Japan. It was recognised by all the Axis powers. Thus, the Indian National Army became the army of the Azad Hind Government to fulfil its declared policies.

On October 22, 1943, Netaji inaugurated a fighting unit of India's women warriors called the Rani of Jhansi Regiment of the Azad Hind Fauj. It was headed by Captain Lakshmi Swaminathan. It was perhaps the first female infantry fighting unit in military history.

Advancing against the British forces

In 1943, Japan captured the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and gave its nominal authority to the Azad Hind Government. To move into action against the British forces, plans were initiated to form a new regiment called No. 1 Guerilla Regiment with the selection made from all other units of INA. It was to be out under command of General Shah Nawaz Khan and sent to the front. The regiment was put through intensive training and deployed to Burma by the overland route.

On arrival, different battalions gave a magnificent account of themselves in the Kaladan Valley, Hakka Falam area, Ukhurul and finally in Kohima.

By the middle of 1943, reliable information had been received about the preparation of a massive invasion of Burma by the British and their Allies. To deal with this invasion, Netaji stressed that the INA and Japanese Army must advance together to create unrest among the units of the British as well as instigate a revolt in the country. They prepared a plan to invade the Manipur plain.

In the beginning of 1944, diversionary attacks were carried out by the Japanese troops in the Akyab area. The 5th and 7th divisions of the British forces were mauled badly. After this, proclamations were issued by the Japanese Government and the Provisional Government of Azad Hind that the march on Delhi had begun.

In the spring of 1944, Manipur sector was attacked by the Japanese 15th Army alongwith No.1 Division of the INA. These forces were brilliantly successful. British forces left their transport and equipment and retreated along the road of Tamu Imphal and Tiddim Imphal. There was a boost in the morale of the INA soldiers and the Indians as they unfurled the tricolour on the free lands of Moirang. Col. P.K. Sahgal, in his work "The Indian National Army" stated that "from the ordinary mortals of clay he (Netaji) created many thousands of heroes".

Thereafter, the situation reversed for the Azad Hind Fauj. Heavy rains in Burma submerged the supply lines of the army, which rendered the army without any logistics support, arms and ammunitions, not even the food resources.

Taking advantage of the situation, the British forces conducted air raids on the occupied areas which forced the forces to retreat.

In 1945, Germany surrendered to the Allied Forces but Japan still continued the fight. But, Japan had to surrender after the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima. The Soviet Union also declared war on Japan. In these circumstances, the INA had no other option but to stop its activities. Subhas Chandra Bose still tried to issue instructions to the army wings and the civilians about what should be done from Singapore.

On August 22, 1945, Tokyo Radio made a disastrous announcement that Netaji had died in a plane crash in Taiwan on August 18, 1945. With his death, the idea of a classless society and state socialism also died. The economic framework of India would have been a stronger one as he already had policies similar to the planning commission and five-year plans for his works. National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval, also remarked that "India would not have been partitioned if Subhas Chandra Bose was there."

The selective approach to historiography and biased opinions of the historians show him as an unsuccessful leader but with the development of different ideologies, Netaji is now considered the main reason which compelled the British to leave India.

Impact of Azad Hind Fauj on India's Freedom Struggle

The trials against the captured soldiers on INA began in November 1945. They were held publicly. The main charges of waging a war against the British were levied on three top leaders - Prem Sahgal, Shah Nawaz Khan, and Gurbaksh Dhillon. The proceedings of the court and the story of INA created an electrifying effect in the country.

Millions of Indians realised that the British were not invincible, they could be defeated and crushed by a strong rebellion.

This strong sense of pride and strength permeated the Indian Armed Forces. It resulted in revolts in the Indian Navy, certain units of the Indian Air Force, and the Indian Army. There was a huge wave of nationalism among the Indian Armed Forces which made the British Government realise that they could no longer sustain themselves in India. The will of the British to continue their rule in India was completely shattered.


It was tragic that Azad Hind Fauj could not drive the British out of India before the end of the Second World War and prevent the partition of the country. But, in the final analysis, Azad Hind Fauj succeeded in accomplishing Netaji's strategic objective of awakening the people and creating hostile conditions which made the British realise that their rule could no longer continue.

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