Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Japanese and INA Propaganda in India: Anti-British Pamphlets and Leaflets of World War II

Our latest blog post is contributed by the British Library’s Chevening Fellow, Partha Bhaumik

An intriguing story of strategy and counter-strategy, innovation and counter-innovation…

During the Second World War, the British and Japanese governments fought a fierce propaganda war in South Asia to influence mass opinion in their favour. They exploited all available media -- wireless, film, print, and live-performances -- to propagate and publicise their own cause. The aim was to discredit the opponent, and to project their own side as the true friend of South Asian people.

Japanese propaganda in Burma and India found a convenient impetus when the Indian National Army (INA) or Azad Hind Fauj was formed in 1942. Made up of Indian prisoners-of-war and led by Indian nationalists like Subhash Chandra Bose, INA allied with Japan and joined the war to free India from colonial rule. Japanese propaganda started to highlight the Indian National Army and its popular leader Bose, probably on the common maxim that any propaganda becomes more effective when it comes from one’s own people. Japan harped on the idea of kinship to incite South Asian people against the British and Americans. The religious ties between Japan and India through Buddhism, for instance, became a way to convince the Indians of Japanese friendship. A British intelligence report, dated 24-31 December 1942, discussed how religion became ‘an adjunct to propaganda’, and the speech of an Indian speaker on Bangkok focussed on the theme ‘Siam, Japan and India have the same religion’.


Anti-British pamphlets and leaflets were often dropped from aeroplanes, and they were circulated secretly by the nationalists. To help circulation, propaganda materials were of short dimensions allowing them to be hidden conveniently. J. A. Biggs Davison, Assistant Magistrate and Collector at Chittagong, collected a small 14-page pamphlet measuring 10.5 X 8mm, featuring simple illustrations and a caption for each in Hindi and Urdu (written in Roman script).

1. What is Britain? Isn’t it a land of good and respectable people?
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2. Britain is eating India

3. Britain is wearing clothes taken from India

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14. Japan has made Asia a land of happiness, much against the wishes of Britain and America

15. Afterwards, Subhash Chandra Bose has come to Rangoon, and made Indian National Army for free India.

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Some posters were colourful; many of them featured John Bull, the national personification of Britain. 
Entire Asia is moving towards victory. Come, let us break our shackles, and fight for freedom.
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The following note was scribbled on the back of the above poster: ‘Japanese propaganda leaflet to the Indians found at Telenipa (near Bhadreswar Ghat Section) after air raid 34th. [sic] 25th. December 1942. Probably distributed by the Indian Nationalists.’
The Japanese army also distributed leaflets to assure Indian people that their air raids were aimed against the British and not against them. They declared no-bombing for 26 January, the day commemorated as ‘Independence Day’ by the Indian National Congress.
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The victory at Singapore was variously publicised, and a number of leaflets issued in the name of the Indian Independence League showed photographs of the British surrender. A few were addressed to the Indian soldiers in the British army, urging them not to take up arms against their own brothers.

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‘Compatriots in India! Very soon, the British and the Americans will be forced out of India; and the Government of Azad Hind will be established on Indian soil.’ Leaflet signed by Subhas Chandra Bose.

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This propaganda aimed to rally every Indian to the war cause and to create mass support for the Indian National Army. Despite the fact that the Japanese and INA lost the war, their propaganda left an impression among the common people. The nationwide outrage against the trials of captured INA soldiers (Red Fort Trials), who were then perceived as true patriots, can be cited as a case in point.

Parthasarathi Bhaumik

Assistant Professor, Comparative Literature, Jadavpur University
British Library- Chevening Fellow

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