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Rash Behari Bose: Founding of the Indian National Army

Thousands of Indian prisoners of war were formed to constitute Indian National Army (INA), which fought alongside the Japanese army against the British.

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The Nakamuraya shop on Shinjuku's central shopping street in the early 20th Century (Photo courtesy of Nakamuraya, Shinjuku)

BLURB  Thousands of Indian prisoners of war were formed to constitute Indian National Army (INA), which fought alongside the Japanese army against the British.

Last part

Part 1 Life and Times of Bose of Nakamuraya

Part 2 Rash Behari Bose and the Rise of the Pan Asianists

Part 3 Rash Behari Bose and India’s Struggle for Independence

By 1941, Bose had lived in Japan for 25 years. He realized that it would not be possible for India to gain independence without the help of the Japanese military. 

Bose asked Mitsuru Toyama for his assistance, which led to discussions with the General Staff Headquarters and its Military Affairs Bureau. It was during those conversations that Bose requested the aid of the Japanese Army in India’s struggle for independence. 

Formation of the Indian National Army (INA)

As hostilities began between the Japanese and the British Empire on December 8, 1941, Bose strongly aligned himself firmly with Japan’s war pitch, hoping that it would increase the prospects for India’s liberation from the British. He dove headlong into the war effort, urging Japanese military officials to include India within what was being termed as the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. 

As Japanese forces swept away British resistance in Malaya and Singapore, thousands of Indian prisoners of war were formed to constitute Indian National Army (INA), which fought alongside the Japanese army against the British.

Formed on September 1, 1942, as the military wing of the Indian Independence League (IIL), the INA became the most striking and noteworthy embodiment of Pan-Asianism. Established by General Mohan Singh under the auspices of Japan’s occupation forces and comprised of Indian soldiers from the surrendered British garrison in Singapore, Rash Behari Bose became the first head of the Indian National Army. 

Earlier in 1942, the Japanese conducted a campaign to persuade the Indian prisoners of war in Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Singapore that they should fight alongside Japan for the liberation of India against Britain’s colonial rule. Bose was tasked as a go-between and representative of the aims of the INA with the Iwakuro Kikan (later the Hikari Kikan), the Japanese liaison offices responsible for Japanese relations with the Azad Hind Government and later the INA. These offices were headed by Colonel Bin Yamamoto, who was later replaced by Major General Saburo Isoda.

Transfer of Power 

Rash Behari managed to hold the INA together—including during a brief disbandment—until Subhash Chandra Bose took over its leadership in June 1943. Until then, Rash Behari Bose spread the idea of winning India’s freedom with Japan’s active aid and assistance. Until Subhash Chandra Bose arrived in Japan from Germany, the elder Rash Behari was the recognized leader of the network of IILs spread throughout Southeast Asia.

Subhas Chandra Bose at the proclamation of a provisional government of the Azad Hind.

Although Rash Behari had selected the flag for the movement, he passed it and the organization to Subhash Chandra Bose after the latter arrived from Germany via submarine. Yet, Rash Behari’s hard work and organizational structure remained untouched.The two agreed on allying with Japan in a final bid to attain Indian independence from British rule, which remained the organization’s top objective even after the transfer of power. 

While in Tokyo, Subhash Bose visited his older compatriot, Rash Behari. Interestingly, even though the two had communicated previously, they had never met. This was to become their first interaction face to face.

The Final Years

Rash Behari Bose with his two children. His daughter, Tetsuko Higuchi, survived the war.

Following his arrival from India in 1915, the second half of Rash Behari’s life was spent in Japan, jointly dedicated to gaining India’s independence and promoting Japan’s Pan-Asianist policies. Although the fundamental basis of this Pan-Asianist thinking and unity was rooted in the conceptualization of Asia as a distinct geographical unit. However, during this last phase of his life, Bose found himself isolated, both physically and ideologically, from the mainstream of Indian Nationalism and the ongoing independence movement in India.

In 1943, the Japanese Government honored Rash Behari Bose with the second-highest civilian title given to any foreign born person, The Second Order of Merit of the Rising Sun. Bose was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and then died in January 1945 at the age of sixty. 

In December 1967, the Posts and Telegraphs Department of India issued a special postage stamp in honor of his life and contributions.

Rash Behari Bose stamp issued by India

Even though Bose died more than seven decades ago, the stories of his life and its legend continues to live on in Tokyo’s Shinjuku neighborhood, and is honored with a museum. And Rash Behari Bose’s story is visible to all who pass through the Nakamuraya café with its trademark Indian-style curry, which reportedly serves 6 billion servings each year.

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Dr. Monika Chansoria is a senior fellow at The Japan Institute of International Affairs in Tokyo. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the JIIA or any other organization with which the author is affiliated. She tweets @MonikaChansoria. Find other articles by Dr. Chansoria here on JAPAN Forward.