Azad Hind Fauj was the army unit of the provisional Indian Government in exile known as Azad Hind (Free India), which originated outside India in Singapore with the support of Imperial Japan during the Second World War.
This organisation was inspired by the concepts of Subhas Chandra Bose, the founder of Azad Hind, who wanted to rid the country of British rule with the help of foreign powers. Azad Hind Fauj was another name for Netaji’s Indian National Army, which was actually founded by Mohan Singh and comprised Indian prisoners of war (PoWs) in Singapore. It was revived and reviewed under the leadership of Bose, who entered the South-East Asian picture in 1943.
Under his leadership, thousands of ex-prisoners and civilian volunteers from Malaya (Malaysia) and Burma joined the army, and together they fought to drive the British imperial rulers out of the country.
1. Azad Hind Fauj was the second incarnation of the ‘First Indian National Army’.
The first INA lasted only between February and December 1942. Due to discord between the Japanese motives and INA leadership, the former decided to take reins of INA from the hands of Rash Behari Bose (a key organizer of INA) and give them to Bose.
Bose incorporated Azad Hind Fauj as the army unit of his provisional government, ‘Arzi Hukumat-e-Azad Hind.’
2. The fauj used ‘Azad Hind Radio’ to encourage Indians to fight for freedom.
The station used to broadcast news in English, Hindi, Marathi, Bengali, Punjabi, Pashtu and Urdu. These were the most common languages understood by then Indian expatriates.
3. By the time the Azad Hind Fauj was formally established, it had a strong strength of 85,000 troops.
About 45,000 of these were Indians.
4. After taking command of the surrendered Hindustani soldiers from the British army in Japan, Bose travelled for 90 days to Tokyo where he was appointed as head of INA in 1943.
5. Right after the first attack by INA on the British, the head of Japanese forces handed over Andaman and Nicobar islands to Azad Hind Fauj.
It was on these islands that Netaji had first hoisted the flag of India, as the head of the state of free India.
Under his rule, the islands were named “Shaheed” and “Swaraj”.
6. Bose then travelled to Singapore in 1943 to encourage PoWs to join his cause. There he gave the famous slogan, “Give me blood, and I will give you freedom!”
It was in Singapore that Bose assumed formal leadership of INA from Rash Behari Bose.
7. Popular patriotic composition “Kadam Kadam Badhaye Ja” was the Regimental Quick March for Azad Hind Fauj between 1942 and 1945.
The song was composed by Ram Singh Thakur and adopted by Bose to inspire and motivate his soldiers. The song still remains the Quick March of the Indian Army.
8. Bose used the slogan “Dilli Chalo” to inspire thousands of soldiers in his historic address after taking over INA.
He is recorded to have said the following:
“Friends, soldiers let your war cry be only one! ‘Dilli Chalo!’ (On to Delhi) I do not know how many of us would personally survive; but I know, victory is ours. So stand up and take your arms. In India the revolutionaries have already prepared a path for you and this will lead us to Delhi…. Dilli Chalo! (sic)”
9. Unfortunately, Azad Hind Fauj could never reach Delhi as Japan suffered a setback in 1945.
But in its wake, mobilisation of thousands of Indians did challenge the British Empire.
10. Despite INA’s failures, historians believed that activities of Azad Hind Provisional Government and their army galvanized the Indian Independence movement.
Fallouts from INA trails inspired several mutinies in mid 1940s, including Bombay mutiny.
11. Interestingly, even in those conservative times, Azad Hind Fauj was one of the very few armies to have an ‘all-female’ combat regiment.
It was called ‘Rani of Jhansi Regiment’, and was headed by Captain Lakshmi Sehgal.
12. Azad Hind Fauj was the first native Indian army to win a battle against the British.
They successfully vanquished them from Kohima and Imphal from the border of Burma in 1944.
13. Pandit Nehru had initially taken a stand against INA.
But when the trial for the officers of the INA started, Nehru took a complete U-turn and decided to become their defense lawyer. Officers who were initially court martialed, were saved later due to massive public protests.
14. After Netaji disappeared, the INA collapsed.
Officers of the INA were forced to surrender and were divided in the categories of white, grey and black. The ‘white’ were those the British thought can be turned into Raj loyalists, ‘grey’ were to be watched, and those classified as ‘black’ were true patriots of India.
15. Sadly, the Nehru government did not allow even one INA soldier to be inducted into the post-Independence Indian Army.
Thousands of Indians rose to the call of INA and gave up all comforts to join the cause of freedom only to be disbanded by their own country.
16. After the war ended, the story of INA was considered so volatile that the British government prevented BBC from airing a documentary on it.
17. Mahatma Gandhi himself acknowledged that the INA had attained a remarkable feat by uniting all religions for a common goal.
“You have achieved a complete unity among the Hindus, Muslims, Parsis, Christians, Anglo-Indians and Sikhs in your ranks. That is no mean achievement,” Gandhi-ji said in his address to the INA officers on May 22, 1946.
The story of the Indian National Army wasn’t taught in Indian textbooks for a long time probably because the politicians who ruled the country in post-independence India wanted Congress and not INA (and Netaji) to get the credit for having ousted the British.