Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Halting the Japanese Tide: Failure of Subhas B0se

The Indian National Army  was made up off captured Indian POWs. These prisoners were given the option of freedom and joining the INA. Bose himself addressed many POW camps and appealed to the POWs to side with the Japanese and join the INA. Unfortunately, not many POWs joined the INA. A reading of the autobiography of Lt General  Harbaksh Singh is quite revealing. He was taken a POW by the Imperial army as a Captain in Burma. He was promised a promotion and freedom, in case he joined the INA. Harbaksh refused to join the INA, though one of his colleagues Captain Mohan Singh joined the INA and was made a General. Harbaksh goes on to  add that not many POWs joined the INA.
What was the strength of the INA? This point is glossed over by most persons who trumpet about the activities of the INA. The fact is that the INA was never more than 40,000. This is just about 2 divisions and in contrast to the British Indian Army, where Indians numbered 2.5 million can be considered minuscule.
Obviously you cannot win a war with just 40,000 soldiers. Hence the bulk of the fighting in Burma was done by the Imperial army which captured Rangoon and pushed the British Indian army to the gates of India.
In 1944, the Japanese army surrounded Kohima and also converged on Imphal. The British were aware that in case these two cities fell to the Imperial army, the gates of India would be opened. They were vary of the effect of Subhas Bose, who carried on a relentless propaganda  asking the Indian soldiers with the British Indian army to desert their posts and join the Japanese. In fact, the Japanese also relied on Bose to convince the Indian soldiers of the 8th Army to switch sides.
Here is the dichotomy and the failure of Bose. Field Marshal Viscount Lord William Slim the commander of the 8th army had specially selected Sikhs, Jats, Rajput, Gurkhas and Punjabi Muslims  for the battle against the Japanese. He was confident that there would be no  defections and he was proved right. Not a single Indian soldier switched sides and all fought for the crown and king. I am sure this must have exasperated Bose, whose dream came crumbling down.
The Indian soldiers of the British Indian army entrenched themselves and faced the Japanese.  There was bitter hand to hand fighting, but the Indian front line held firm. They were surrounded by the Imperial army and had to be supplied by air by the RAF and the RIAF. This battle is no less important than the Battle of Stalingrad, yet Western historians  give greater glory to  Stalingrad. One reason could be that they did not want to publicize the glory of the Indian army which held the Imperial army at bay for many months. 
Despite all the propaganda broadcasts and leaflets thrown on the Indian troops by Bose and Japanese, to join the INA failed. The Indian soldiers remained loyal to their English officers. This was the most brutal part of the war and the Japanese used to easy victories in China and Indo-China were thwarted. The Japanese Commander in Chief was surprised and soon the Japanese soldiers began to lose heart. The 8th army was further beefed up. By end 1944 they broke the Japanese siege. The Japanese were pushed back and the Sikh and Jat troops broke the back of the Japanese army. 
From all accounts this was a great setback to Bose. It was clear that his appeals did not cut ice with Indian soldiers. Historians must analyze as to why the India soldiers did not defect and remained loyal to the English.  This  is a fact of history for which I have no answer. 
The Japanese failed at the gates of India. Perhaps their easy victories earlier were a flash in the pan. They could not could not break the resolve of the British Indian troops. The Japanese were  pushed back and began a headlong retreat.  The British Indian army captured Mandalay and Rangoon. At its peak the British Indian army had 2.5 million Indian men under arms. The officer cadre  was almost 95% pure English. In contrast Bose could just about gather 40,000 men. This is another fact that needs to be evaluated. Why could  not Bose attract more Indians to his cause.?
History is unforgiving, but facts cannot be kept  under wraps and have an uncanny knack of appearing at the wrong time. The facts of the INA are out. In my view it was a brave outfit, but too small a force to effect a result. Even if the Japanese had won at Kohima and Imphal, Bose would have remained a small time player. This  is not a reflection on the caliber of Bose , but on the character of the Indians. .
Subhas Bose was a very brave man, but the  Indian psyche  let him own. But he did have an effect and in the sum total the British got worried that if 40,000 men could join Bose, more may revolt against them later.The Royal Inian Navy  mutiny of 1946, by 20000 sailors put the seal on their assessment that their days were over. This was  admitted by Clement Attlee in his interview after he retired.
Bose was a great man, but at the crucial point during World War II he was let down by Indians themselves.  The Indian nation missed a great opportunity  of throwing out the English at that time.