ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Indian National Army

Towards a Balanced and Critical Appraisal

The Indian National Army usually evokes passionate responses in India. Its Commander-in-Chief Subhas Chandra Bose is the subject of several hagiographies and the army is often eulogised as the second front of the Indian Freedom Struggle. It has also been vilified by historians and writers who argue that the INA was an insignificant chapter in India's military history. This article lays down some historiographical observations on the INA as a prelude to a balanced and critical analysis of the outfit.

As the disgraceful and pusillanimous pulling from Indian shelves of the American scholar Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History demonstrates,1 certain sections of the Indian public and Indian authorities like their shibboleths. On such matters, they will brook not even reasonable debate, citing antediluvian and colonial penal code legislation in their defence. One such shibboleth is the Indian National Army (INA), which rouses strong passions to this day. It was a force composed of expatriate Indians in Southeast Asia and the approximately 45,000 strong Indian personnel of the Indian Army2 whom the Japanese had captured during their lightning conquest of British Malaya in late 1941–early 1942. Formed during February–September 1942 by a Japanese army intelligence officer, Fujiwara Iwaichi (1983) and a captured Sikh captain of the Indian Army, Mohan Singh, its main purpose was to expel the British from India. It was thus an army of national liberation in exile.

The INA has been dealt with from a variety of angles. Hugh Toye (1959) looks at it through the life of Subhas Chandra Bose. Kalyan Ghosh (1969) conceptualises it, politically, as the second front of the Indian nationalist struggle. Joyce Lebra (1971) examines the INA’s sometimes fraught relations with the Japanese. Peter Fay (1993) sees the INA through two of its high-level members, who later married. Fay does look briefly at the INA’s military aspect, but tends to accept uncritically the hagiography generated in India. This author has tried to fill the breach by attempting a balanced assessment of the INA (Sundaram 1995). Robin Havers (2005) is another scholar to make such an attempt.

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