Not Gandhi but Japan Kicked out Britain from India

Mass desertions of loyal Indian soldiers to the Japanese-trained INA precipitated Britain’s withdrawal from India….

Mass desertions of loyal Indian soldiers to the Japanese-trained INA precipitated Britain’s withdrawal from India.

On 15 November 1941, less than a month before Pearl Harbour, the Japanese leadership approved a “Plan for Acceleration of the End of the War with America and Britain.” Among other things, the plan called for the “separation of Australia and India from Britain” and “stimulation of the Indian independence movement”.

Prime Minister Hideki Tojo mentioned India in a string of speeches in the Diet, the Japanese parliament, calling Indians to take advantage of World War II to rise against British power and establish an India for Indians.

Shortly after the capitulation of British forces in the Battle of Singapore in February 1942, Tojo said: “Without the liberation of India there can be no real mutual prosperity in Greater East Asia.” On 4 April 1942 he said: “It has been decided to strike a decisive blow against British power and military establishment in India.”

Japan’s problem was that Mohandas Gandhi’s Indian National Congress was not favourably disposed towards it. Indian leaders feared Tokyo would make India a vassal state. They were mistaken. “Japan at no time planned a major invasion of India or actual incorporation of India into the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, contrary to the suspicions of many Indians in the independence movement,” writes Joyce C. Lebra, American historian of Japan and India, in The Indian National Army and Japan (June 2008).

Congress Miscalculation

The Congress leaders had made a strategic miscalculation, for it prevented Tokyo from planning a major invasion – despite stated declarations by Tojo – of India. If over 300 million Indians were under the spell of a hostile Congress, then Tokyo reckoned it would have a major problem on its hands.

Hidkei Tojo

Hidkei Tojo

It was in this backdrop that the Japanese applied a unique policy towards India. The Indian National Army (INA), comprising Indian POWs captured by the Japanese military, was the spearhead of Tokyo’s thrust into the subcontinent. In February 1942 Japan had acquired 50,000 Indian POWs after routing the British forces in Singapore, and these soldiers were asked to join the INA.

Japan was primarily interested in using the INA for propaganda purposes. Army HQ in Tokyo fussed a great deal about how far Japan should go in support of Indian independence. Japanese military officers assigned to train and equip the INA, such as Major Iwaichi Fujiwara, wanted Japan to offer total support in preparation for a quick and blistering attack on British India, but Tokyo had reservations.

For the Japanese brass, India remained on their periphery as Russia and the United States remained their biggest concerns.

The best time to attack British India was shortly after the initial Japanese victories in Asia. “At several points it was conceivable a Japanese invasion of India might have succeeded had it been planned,” writes Lebra. “The optimum time was in the spring and summer of 1942, following Japanese successes in Malaya and Burma, when Japanese air, sea and land power could not have been checked by the British. But Japan passed up the opportunity.”

Bose arrives

During the months when Japanese forces were toppling European bastions in Asia, Subhas Chandra Bose, who had quit the Congress because of Gandhi’s reluctance to push for freedom, was camped in Berlin. He was trying to get the German Army to allow the Indian Legion that he had established in Germany with Indian POWs to fight the British alongside Rommel’s Afrika Korps. Bose’s plan was brilliant: when the soldiers of the British Indian Army would see their former comrades in the German lines, it would create confusion and possibly mass desertions.

However, Bose’s maxim “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” did not apply to Rommel and Hitler. The Indian Legion did not find much support with the Nazis. “The vulgar racism and Eurocentricism there, particularly Hitler’s brand, prevent the Axis powers from fully believing in the Indian independence movement,” writes Anton Pelinka in Democracy Indian Style: Subhas Chandra Bose and the Creation of India’s Political Culture (2003). “Hitler holds fast to the myth of the superiority of the white man and shies away from allying himself with the non-whites against the white Albion.”

At the same time, the German Foreign Ministry was reluctant to release a potentially valuable bargaining instrument in dealing with the British. When Bose finally arrived in Tokyo by the end of May 1943 the impact was electric. Of the more than 50,000 Indian POWs, only half had volunteered to fight under the INA, but once Bose’s showed up nearly all of them were ready to fight the British.

Bose’s charisma also appealed to the Japanese. Army Chief of General Staff Sugiyama Gen and Tojo developed a special sympathy for him.

Varying War Aims

However, the INA-Japan relationship was never a smooth affair. Tokyo was completely unequivocal about the fact that the INA was a black project – a secret war involving the weapons of espionage, infiltration, psychological warfare and guerrilla attacks.

Bose, on the other hand, insisted the INA be used as a single army that would lead the offensive into India. “For Bose the first drop of blood shed on Indian soil had to be Indian,” writes Lebra.

A compromise was reached, with the INA remaining under Japanese command throughout the offensive but fighting in Indian units directly under Indian officers. But like all compromises, it didn’t work very well. “For Bose there was the single goal of liberation of India throughout the combined action of the INA and Japanese forces, while for Japan, Imphal was a limited holding operation subordinate to the high-priority campaigns in the Pacific,” writes Lebra.

“Bose requested increasing support in military supplies, while Japanese capacity to support her campaigns steadily diminished. The two positions could never basically be reconciled, and the differences caused constant daily friction during this military phase of the cooperation.”

War in India

In January 1944 – by which time the momentum of victory had considerably diminished – Japan finally mounted a military offensive on British India. Still, the instructions from Army HQ in Tokyo signalled the limited objective of “securing strategic areas near Imphal and in Northeast India for the defence of Burma”.

In June 1944 when the Japanese forces crashed into the British Indian Army at Imphal and Kohima, only 15,000 INA soldiers took part in the fighting. The rest were assigned tasks of intelligence gathering and guerrilla attacks.

Subhas Bose

Subhas Bose

Recalling his warfront experiences as a havildar of an engineering company of the INA, V. Vaidhyalingam, secretary and treasurer, Tamil Nadu Indian National Army League, told The Hindu (2 August 2004): “The battle of Imphal turned out to be a long-fought one – for which the INA’s timing was too late in summer. Soon monsoon, not the British army, became our biggest adversary.”

Had Bose been able to attack British India and in full strength two years earlier, the outcome may well have been different. Perhaps no Gandhi or Nehru. No Partition. It will forever remain one of history’s biggest ‘what ifs’.

The weather and the tide of war were turning against the INA. Japan’s game was up after the US dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Russia occupied Japan’s northern territories. With its primary backer gone, the INA was effectively disarmed.

INA’s Lasting Impact

What the Japanese managed to do with the INA was exactly what they had planned all along. The INA was truly a secret weapon that fired up Indian revolutionary activity and drove a stake of fear in British hearts. It was the Indian soldiers that had for over two centuries ensured the security of the British in India. It was the loyalty of the military that was the ultimate sanction for British rule in India. With that assurance gone, the British knew their time was up.

As Leo Tolstoy, the great Russian writer had written in a letter to the Indian revolutionary Tarak Nath Das in December 1908:

“When the Indians complain the English have enslaved them it is as if drunkards complained that the spirit-dealers who have settled among them have enslaved them….What does it mean that thirty thousand people, not athletes, but rather weak and ordinary people, have enslaved two hundred millions of vigorous, clever, capable, freedom-loving people? Do not the figures make it clear that not the English, but the Indians, have enslaved themselves?”

Like Tolstoy’s drunkards, the INA soldiers initially balked when confronted with the prospect of fighting Britain for independence, in cooperation with the Japanese. It was a volunteer army comprising professional soldiers and many belonged to families that had long served the British.

This loyalty held true despite the British policies which discriminated against Indian officers and soldiers. For instance, Indian Navy officers of all ranks were barred from using the common swimming pools which were for exclusive use of the ‘gora’.

For the British, in ideal conditions, the colonial government would have hanged most of the tens of thousands of INA returnees. After the Indian defeat in the First War of Independence of 1857, the British slaughtered 100,000 Indian soldiers in savage reprisals. But then followed an “untold holocaust” which caused the deaths of almost 10 million people over 10 years beginning in 1857, writes Amaresh Misra, a Mumbai-based historian in War of Civilisations: India AD 1857.

Bombay Naval Mutiny

Bombay Naval Mutiny

But post-World War II, India was an incendiary place. Serving Indian military officers and men keenly watched the INA trials in Delhi. So did more than two million soldiers who had returned from Europe after World War II, having experienced firsthand poor British soldiering. Most of these battle hardened Indian soldiers were ripe for revolutionary activities. The British quietly released all INA soldiers.

“Despite the military defeat of Japan, and with it the INA, popular support for the INA finally precipitated British withdrawal from India,” writes Kalyan Kumar Ghosh in History of the Indian National Army (1966).

Japan’s role in India’s independence was catalytic and seminal. “In all, Japan trained 353,000 soldiers in Southeast Asia,” writes Hilary Conroy in Japan Examined.

It was these soldiers who prevented Europe from recolonising Asia.

Rakesh is a journalist at New Zealand’s leading media house. He mostly writes on defence and foreign affairs.
His articles have been quoted extensively by universities and in books on diplomacy, counter terrorism, warfare, and development of the global south; and by international defence journals.
Rakesh’s work has been cited by leading think tanks and organisations that include the Naval Postgraduate School, California; US Army War College, Pennsylvania; Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington DC; State University of New Jersey; Institute of International and Strategic Relations, Paris; BBC Vietnam; Siberian Federal University, Krasnoyarsk; Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi; Institute for Defense Analyses, Virginia; International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, Washington DC; Stimson Centre, Washington DC; Foreign Policy Research Institute, Philadelphia; and Institute for Strategic, Political, Security and Economic Consultancy, Berlin.
His articles have been published by the Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi; Foundation Institute for Eastern Studies, Warsaw; and the Research Institute for European and American Studies, Greece, among others.
  • Hell5x5x2 .

    Your Article is Great But YET YOU HAVE ADDED POINTS from People WHO WROTE BOOKS Depending on the BRITISH LIES………..

    Which is HITLER was RACIST because RACISM didnt Exist in GERMANy but only in USA and UK
    Because AFRIKA CORP had BLACK SOLIDERS with GERMANS in it……….

    HITLER Could Help BOSE because USSR is Much Greater Threat to EUROPE and GERMANY is TOO FAR Putting Resource into INDIAN INDEPENDENCE is not of GERMAN CONCERN(which is what you are mentioning RACISM)………..


  • SuchindranathAiyer

    Germany lent Japan more than a hand in India’s independence. The Indian National Khangress had nothing to do with it. They were a creature of Alan Octavian Hume and consisted entirely of British stooges. Indeed, the Cambridge, Columbia, Oxford, Elphinstone and Presidency educated British Stooges who succeeded the British and knew nothing whatsoever of India’s History, traditions and culture, adopted, in toto, the British born mythology of the Periyar-Ambedkar-Nehru-Gandhi-Imported Religions-Communist (Pangolin) Consensus and condemned India to a perpetual state of low intensity civil war by plagiarizing the Government of India Act (1935) and George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” to conjure up the grotesque Constitution and the sewage of laws and courts that flow from it. After turning the descendants of those who were “Hindu” prior to 1921 into Third Class Citizens in 1949, , they confiscated the Commonwealth of Temples, irrigation tanks, grazing and agricultural fields educational institutions and treasure to exterminate Brahmanism and complete the task the British began in 1921 to eradicate Hinduism. The Birish Stooges took the credit and re wrote History to suit their ends.

  • Stotri Thavanesh Huthesh

    One other point not mentioned is the condition set by Mountbatten that formerly INA soldiers be cashiered meaning stripped of rank and pay and thrown out. They were not to be allowed to join independent India’s army.

    Nehru gleefully agreed.

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  • MG

    While you have appreciated the role of the INA, I find it surprising that the article came to an end without a single mention of the person who created the Indian National Army. Due credit should be given to General Mohan Singh who initiated the process and spent a considerable amount of time in jail. Subhas Chandra Bose came on to the scene much much later.

  • IndiannotAmused

    The biggest tragedy for NetaJi Bose was that he was incredibly ahead of his times,his compatriots and his colleagues. Maybe that is why he was so LONELY. Maybe that is the reason why not a single one of the current political groups in India can grasp [ let alone act ] on his vision.The closest I have seen anyone come near him in sheer vision is APJ Abdul Kalam. Who is going to provide the rudder or steerage to the nation now???? [ Modi is a strong possibility but he looks tired by the relentless attacks …….] Also will he come back to his original platform and rejuvenate the Hindutva movement? Power seems to have slowed him down.

  • Vineet Menon

    Meh! I was happy with Bose or at least Gandhi… If it’s Japan then it implies that we aren’t responsible for our independence.

  • IndiannotAmused

    Excellent article. Netaji Bose and his INA [ admittedly with lots of Muslims in it] did what no Hindu Majority army within British India could have done.This is because the entire Indian politico-military-intelligence-diplomatic-administrative corp was under the IndraJal magic that the British were supermen and they were the only thing standing between total chaos in India and stability.NetaJi Bose and his INA completely destroyed this notion because of the following –
    1.They operated from OUTSIDE India and brought the global perspective-geopolitical and geostrategic -in solving a relatively local problem-British occupation of India.
    2. They had clearly seen the British being driven like sheep before Asian military action-a facet very carefully hidden from the millions more Indian soldiers and officers ,police,intelligence forces within India.
    3. These men learnt that brown men fighting under brown officers could defeat white man-white officer and brown man-white officer combinations.The limited number of conflicts they fought,they showed exemplary service.
    4. The INA had representations from ALL OVER India……Punjab,Tamil Nadu,Andhra,Assam,Maharashtra,Rajasthan,U.P.,Bihar and Bengal …….all fought and bled together. This forged national feelings that permeated the post-war India.
    5. The victory was not strategic,tactical or operational but motivational.This was far more deadly to British than any on-ground theater victory could have been.
    BJP celebrating Netaji Bose has NOTHING to do with wooing Bengal…..or appeasing Muslims……sad to see factions of Sangh Parivar using criticism for the sake of criticism.
    NetaJi Bose and his INA liberated India……..period.

    • Jishnu

      “BJP celebrating Netaji Bose has NOTHING to do with wooing Bengal…..or
      appeasing Muslims……sad to see factions of Sangh Parivar using
      criticism for the sake of criticism. ”

      BJP ralllying after Netaji is an idea that comes from within sangh parivar. So if one is seeing through it, it is not necessarily a sangh parivar or hindutva criticism but a criticism against it. Lets leave “this allegation is baseless” kind argument to politicians 🙂 I said what my homework says, and if you know their strategy behind this rallying I am willing to learn.

      As for INA’s actual contribution we can blow it out of proportion just the way cong did with Gandhi’s contribution. That would be a neutralizing argument against cong at best, but if one were to get a proper sense of relative proportion of each of these causes they all need to be put in place for their timing, impact, quantity etc. Koenraad Elst’s Saffron Swastika does it well with respect to WW2 & independence time.

      • IndiannotAmused

        Well lets put it this way………..NetaJi Bose is above congress,BJP.Sangh Parivar,Gandhi[Gandu]-Nehru dynasty buffoons, Samajwadis, Mamata-TMC……the entire pig circus we have running in India.NetaJi Bose does NOT need any propping by anyone.
        As for his contributions, Koenraad Elst is not ideally positioned to judge them [ for that matter anyone else who is not in Military History,International Relations or Intelligence]. The ACTUAL breadth or depth of his contributions are beyond the scope of an article in this web-magazine or in any open platform [ YES, this after seven decades of his exploits] ,which is part of the reason his files are not made public……they are sensitive above and beyond the reasons the government or sundry ” NetaJi enthusiats” let out. The man planned [and executed] a hundred and fifty years ahead of his time and independence of India was …….lets say the beginning of bigger things. [Think about it].
        I do not deem your or anyone else’s allegations as baseless……after all Communists of India called this man ” Dog”……..lets not lag behind and come up with more creative aspersions against him. Maybe he was a ” Dog” or a ” False blown up idol” or a ” glorious failure” as smart people tell. Here is the problem………STUPID PEOPLE LIKE ME ……..after having read and analyzed geo-political and geo-economic dynamics from 1920-1952 [roughly] refuse to believe the above allegations.To my stupid mind ,NETAJI BOSE WAS THE TITAN AMONG THE PATRIOTS . I respect your or anyone else’s opinion but my personal impression is his entire story will need a hundred [more] years to unfold,let alone be made public knowledge. Thanks for your reply.

        • Jishnu

          Fair, we have our reasons to disagree.

  • Indian


  • Indian


  • Seel

    NDA govt. is still keeping Netaji’s documents secret to protect Russia and Nehru. What a shame ?

    • Jayasankar

      No .soon NDA will open the box and u will see the impacts.

  • Jishnu

    While I can readily agree Gandhi’s role was too small and too glorified, I am afraid INA is also glorified wrongly. The current NDA govt has taken a rather disproportionately sympathetic stand towards Netaji (lets not go into whether it should be releasing details of what happened to him and how previous Nehruvian govts dealt with his image and his surviving family) overemphasizing his role in Indian independence. Maj Gen Bakshi, NSA Doval, PM have all made statements to this effect. It could either be BJP’s eye on Bengal or for whatever other reason. But as a matter of fact British Indian army was simply too big and a positive force unlike INA which, regardless of its loyalties, ended up supporting another invasion made into the country. A good number of Indian soldiers dying in the war within India was because Indians fought on both sides. I oppose INA & Netaji strategy for another important reason: it was tremendously Muslim appeasing no less than Gandhi.

    WW2 participation by India was indeed quite instrumental, and Indian army by 1945 was 2.5 million strong, war trained and hardened & most importantly Hindu majority force. It was earlier having big proportion of Muslims and the visionary that Savarkar was, he gave the right call at the right time: to Hinduize army (along with militarizing Hindudom). Regardless of naval rebellion, British were quite sure 2.5 million Hindu majority Indian army would make it impossible for them to rule India. An aggressor who ruled you for 150 years, having seen and suppressed innumerable rebellions including those of the dimension of 1857, would not decolonize just because they saw a small revolt in naval ranks.

    By numbers or impact INA was too small a force to reckon, so “desertions” to INA being a major concern for British isn’t a very convincing argument.

    • Vineet Menon

      Revolt wasn’t the sole reason, agreed. But it still isn’t given due importance IMHO. 47 was a time of so many synergetic forces not so coincidentally appearing at the same time which made British leave… Gandhi being one of them and so was Bose.

      • Jishnu

        It is a fact that no non-congi factor is given due importance or a fair assessment of contribution. So I agree naval revolt isn’t told enough. But much bigger factors are given even less mention, though for the same political reasons.

  • Sree Charan R

    –You forgot to add that Japanese ate Indian Soldiers–