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General Mohan Singh (in turban) of the first Indian National Army being greeted by the Japanese Major Fujiwara, April 1942

The First Indian National Army (or the First INA) is the term often used to denote the Indian National Army as it existed between February and December 1942. It was formed with Japanese aid and support after the Fall of Singapore and consisted of approximately 12,000 of the 40,000 Indian prisoners of war who were captured either during the Malayan campaign or surrendered at Singapore and was led by Mohan Singh. It was formally proclaimed in April 1942 and declared the subordinate military wing of the Indian Independence League in June that year. The unit was dissolved in December 1942 after apprehensions of Japanese motives with regards to the INA led to disagreements and distrust between Mohan Singh and INA leadership on one hand, and the League's leadership, most notable Rash Behari Bose. A large number of the INAs initial volunteers, however, later went on to join the INA in its second incarnation under Subhas Chandra Bose.

Indian nationalism in World War II

With the onset of the Second World War, all the three major Axis Powers, at some stage of their campaign against Britain, sought to support and exploit the armed revolutionary activities within India and aided the recruitment of a military force from disaffected Indian prisoners-of-war captured while serving with the British Commonwealth forces and Indian expatriates.[1]


Italy had in 1942 created the Battaglione Azad Hindoustan, with ex-Indian Army personnel and Italians previously resident in India and Persia, that ultimately served under Raggruppamento Centri Militari.[2] However, these efforts proved unsuccessful, given the overtly propagandist nature of their efforts that ultimately found little acceptance among the constituent soldiers, and the lack of a leadership that would deemed legitimate by the troops.[2] By November 1942, following the defeats in El Alamein, the Italian efforts had failed.


German motives and intentions with relation to India were complex. While the German Foreign office is said to have wanted to support Indian revolutionaries and nationalists, there is consensus that, ultimately, Hitler held the belief that the British had to rule over the unfit Indian masses.[1][3] Subhas Chandra Bose, with his arrival in Germany in April 1941 however, was able to convince Hitler (with whom he had one meeting) and the Nazi high command to raise an Indian unit from Rommel's Indian prisoners of war from the battlefields of Europe and Africa, according to the concept of an Indian Liberation force.[4] The Indische Legion was tasked both as a pathfinder for a German/Indian invasion of the western frontiers of British India, as well as to infiltrate into India to foment local revolt and sabotage operations. However, the Free India Legion only ever saw action in Europe, fighting as a Heer unit attached to the Wehrmacht and later incorporated into the Waffen SS (as were other national legions of the Wehrmacht) after the Allied Invasion of France.

Only a small contingent ever was put to its original intended purpose when a hundred of the Legionnaires were parachuted into eastern Iran in what came to be known as Operation Bajadere, to infiltrate into India through Baluchistan and commence sabotage operations against the British in preparation for the anticipated national revolt.[5] A majority of the troops of the Free India Legion were only ever stationed in Europe – mostly in non-combat duties – from the Netherlands, to Atlantic Wall duties in France till the Allied invasion of France. A small contingent, including the leadership and the officer corps, was also transferred to Azad Hind after its formation and saw action in the INA's Burma Campaign.[6] A segment of the Free India Legion fought against British and Polish Forces in Italy in 1944.[7]


Japan, at the outbreak of the war in south-east Asia, had not formulated any concrete policy with regards to India.[8] Its headquarters lacked any India experts, while civilian experts on India were few in Japan.[8] At least in 1941, it is accepted that India in Japanese plans were peripheral. It did not feature in the plans for Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, which focussed on south-east Asia up to the Indo-Burmese border. Even then, the plan initially did not even encompass the whole of Burma but only a part of it.[9] Militarily however, India was important as the origin (from Assam) of the Ledo road which supplied Nationalist Chinese and American forces, as well as the supplies airlifted over the hump.[9] Also, the idea that their western boundary would be controlled by a more friendly government was attractive.[9] It would also have been consistent with the idea that Japanese expansion into Asia was part of an effort to support Asian government of Asia and against western colonialism.[9][10]

The successful Malayan campaign, and later the Burma campaign brought under the Japanese a large number of Indian expatriates who, although not essentially sympathetic to the Japanese (some were even hostile),[11] held substantial nationalist motives and sought to exploit the window offered by the reversal faced by the British forces to drive them out from the Indian sub-continent.[9] In addition, the fall of Malaya had brought under Japanese control approximately 45,000 Indian troops under Gen. Percival's command in Malaya,[12] including a large numbers of the remnants of the Indian III Corps.[13] In these circumstances, the Japanese Military Administration encouraged various Indian nationalist groups in East Asia to form an anti-British alliance, which came together to form the Indian Independence League (IIL), with its headquarters in Singapore. The IIL also looked after the welfare of Indian communities in East Asia. Also, initially under the direction of dissatisfied troops of the British Indian Army who had fallen into Japanese hands (notably under the leadership of Captain Mohan Singh), and of what came to be known as the Indian Independence League, came to form the Indian National Army. This was from the Japanese point of view primarily a propaganda move of initiating anti-British sentiments among civilians and soldiers in South-east Asia.[9]

Japan and Indian nationalism

India and Japan, especially from the last decade of the 19th century, had enjoyed a growing exchange of cultural, religious and philosophical ideas. India, as the home of Hinduism, the birthplace of the Buddha, and from the second decade of the 20th century, the home of Gandhian philosophy, had been an attraction for Japanese and Buddhist and literary fugures.[14] India, in the meantime, looked to Japan as an inspiration of a model industrialised, advancing Asian society and nationhood. The Japanese victory over Russia in 1905 had furthered the inspiration Japan infused, especially among Indian nationalists.[15] Noted Indian and Japanese cultural figures, including Okakura Tenshin and Rabindranath Tagore acknowledged the connection of the two Asian nations, their heritage, and the vision of pan-Asianism.[16]

After the end of World War I, Japan increasingly became a haven for radical Indian nationalists in exile, who were protected by patriotic Japanese societies. Notable among these included Rash Behari Bose, Taraknath Das, A M Sahay as well as others. The protections offered to these nationalists effectively prevented British efforts to repatriate them and became a major policy concern.[17][18]

By the end of the war however, the pan-Asiatic vision gradually moved away from prominence as the independence movement in India became engrossed in agitations on immediate issues of post-war India. These included agitations against the Rowlatt act, the Khilafat Movement against the suspension of the authority of the Caliph of the Ottoman Empire (an inflammatory issue among India's huge Muslim population), as well as the home rule agitations that was heralded by Gandhi's Non-cooperation movement in 1922.[15] By the time that the pan-Asiatic regained any prominence, the highground that Japan held among the Indian population and especially Indian nationalist leadership had fallen, owed to a large extent to her aggressive and often nihilistic war in China.[15]

Japan's India Policy

The importance that India increasingly held in Japanese plans from late 1941 becomes clear from the Japanese decisions to increasingly support and stimulate and profess support for the Indian Independence movement. Exiles like Rash Behari Bose had already voiced their demands to the Japanese authorities that support and pursuit of Indian Independence be an aim of the Japanese campaign. However, neither the government nor the Imperial Japanese army felt able to commit to these, especially given the task of establishing a stable orderly state should the Independence movement succeed. The Imperial army would be committed to elsewhere, notably China and the Manchurian border with Russia. However, it was widely accepted that the Congress was anti-Japanese,[9] Gandhi, even during the intense Quit India Movement, Gandhi had categorically warned the Japanese[19]

"Make no mistake. You will be sadly disillusioned if you believe that you will receive a willing welcome from India"

Earlier, in April 1941, however, the Consul general to Calcutta had noted activities of the Forward Bloc, and from Berlin, ambassador Oshima Hiroshi had reported on Subhas Bose's organisation of the Free India Legion. The foreign ministry did not, however make any overt decisions regarding Bose.

F Kikan

By the end of 1941, India had started featuring prominently in the Japanese policies. The Japanese IGHQ in October set up the Fujiwara Kikan, or the F-kikan, in Bangkok, headed by the Major Fujiwara Iwaichi, chief of intelligence of the 15th army. Tasked with intelligence gathering and contacting the Indian independence movement, the overseas Chinese and the Malayan Sultan with the aim of encouraging friendship and cooperation with Japan,[20] Fujiwara's staff included five commissioned officers and two hindi-speaking interpreters. His initial contact was with Giani Pritam Singh and after the outbreak of the war and the Malayan invasion, with Capt. Mohan Singh.[12] Mohan Singh had, as a captain in the British Indian Army, seen action with the 1/14th Punjab Regiment against Japanese forces at the Battle of Jitra, where his troops were outgunned and shattered by Japanese tanks.[21] Captured by Japanese troops after several days in the Jungle, Singh was taken to Alor Star to Fujiwara and Pritam Singh at a joint office of the F-Kikan and the IIL. Fujiwara, later self-described as "Lawrence of the Indian National Army" (after Lawrence of Arabia) is said to have been a man committed to the values which his office was supposed to convey to the expatriate nationalist leaders, and found acceptance among them.[12][22]

Although Pritam Singh was involved to a large extent, it was Fujiwara who, with his sincerity of purpose and belief,[22] convinced Mohan Singh to unite with the Japanese mission for the greater motive of Indian freedom.[12] This included the promise that he would be treated as an ally and a friend, and not a PoW. Initially helping Fujiwara to take control of the situation of looting and arson that had developed in Alor Star, Singh was in December 1941, after meeting with the Japanese commanding general, convinced of the feasibility of raising an armed Indian unit. Between himself, Pritam Singh and Fujiwara, Mohan Singh formulated on contacting Indians in the British Indian Army in South-east Asia, and also began recruiting from amongst those captured by the Japanese in Malaya, prior to the fall of Singapore. Thus the nucleus what came to be the Indian National Army was born.[12][22] By January 1942, Fujiwara was able to give positive reports on the success of Japan's India policy and suggested an eight-point policy that included aid for both the IIL and the INA, as well as encouragement of the independence movement within India Following the establishment of the F-kikan, and with initial positive feedback, a Liaison conference declared among other aims the "stimulation of the Indian independence movement".[12] By early 1942, Tōjō's speeches to the Diet included specific references to the liberation of India and to decisions to strike the British colonial authority in India.[16] Specific plans for the invasion of India were, however, not formulated.

The first INA

Even before Singapore fell, the Japanese troops had started the process of identifying Indian troops among the captured and separating them from the Australian and British troops. On a number of occasions, it was noted, British and Australian officers were killed, while the Indians spared.[23] These troops were organised into the embryo of what became the Indian National Army. There was significant deviation from the British Indian Army, in that officers were organised into a single class, adoption of a common kitchen, slogans etc., that attempted to bridge any communal and casteist rivalries that were accepted or even institutionalised in the British army.[12]

Conception of the INA

The units that were formed in this predecessor of the INA were from volunteers from within the soldiers of the British Indian Army captured in Malaya and numbered about 200. The volunteers were issued rifles, and given arm bands bearing the letter "F".[24] They were organised into units and trained and worked along with those already under Pritam Singh in Malaya and Thailand. They were further tasked to work amongst the British Indian troops and foment dissent and encourage defection.[22] Before the fall of Singapore, these troops numbered nearly 2,500.[12]

In a similar note, on 10 March 1942, the Indian soldiers at Christmas Island mutinied, allowing the Japanese forces to land unopposed at the Battle of Christmas Island. This was followed by a mutiny in the Ceylon Garrison Artillery in the Cocos Islands. However, the Cocos Islands Mutiny failed after it was quickly put down by the Ceylon Light Infantry. Sri Lankans in Singapore and Malaya formed the 'Lanka Regiment' of the Indian National Army. An abortive plan was made to land these troops in Sri Lanka by submarine.

Farrer Park

Singapore surrendered on 15 February 1942. On the evening of the 16th, the Indian troops of the now amalgamated 1/14th and 5/14th Punjab were ordered by the Malaya command (of the Commonwealth forces) to assemble at Farrer Park. The British officers were, in the meantime, ordered to assemble east to Changi. On the morning of 17 February 1942, some 45,000 Indian POWs who gathered at Farrer Park where addressed by in turns, first by a Col Hunt of the Malaya Command, who handed over the troops to Japanese command under Fujiwara.

Fujiwara spoke to the troops in Japanese which was translated into English and then Hindustani. In his speech, Fujiwara is said to have told the troops of the Asian co-prosperity sphere under the leadership of Japan, of Japanese vision of a free India and its importance to the co-prosperity sphere, and of the Japanese intentions to help raise a "liberation army" for the freedom of India.[25] He invited the troops seated at the park to join this army. Further, he told the troops, they were going to be treated not as PoWs, but as Friends and allies. Fujiwara ended his speech stating he is passing on their responsibilities and command to Mohan Singh.[25]

Mohan Singh's speech, in Hindustani, was short He told the troops of forming the Indian National Army to fight for free India, and invited the troops to join it. As an Indian Jawan present at the time remembers, Mohan Singh's speech was powerful and touched a chord, and the troops responded with wild enthusiasm and excitement.[26] It is estimated that nearly half of those present at Farrer Park later joined the first INA.[27] Significantly however, a large number of Indian officers decided not to, which also kept disinclined those under their command not to.[28][29]

The Japanese forces, eager to engage the co-operation of the troops and further lacking the man-power, did not have the men impounded. The supreme command of the INA was set up at Mount Pleasant suburbs in the Northern part of the City. The PoW headquarters, along with the largest PoW camp was set up at Neesoon under M. Z. Kiani. Other smaller PoW camps housing Indian troops were set up at Bidadari, Tyersall, Buller, Seletar and Kranji.[30] To Lt. Col N.S Gill went the overall direction of PoW.[30]

Bidadary Resolution.

Niranjan Singh Gill did not trust Japanese overtures and intentions.[31] Mohan Singh, however, was confident. In April 1942, even as the discussions and the process of setting up the Indian Independence League and defining the aims of the movement carried on, Mohan Singh convened a meeting of a group of his officers to frame what is now called the Bidadary resolution. This resolution announced that:[31]

Indians stood above all differences of caste, community, or religion. Independence was every Indian's birthright. An Indian National Army would be raised to fight for it.

The resolution further specified that the army would go to battle only when the Congress and the people of India asked it to.[31] It did not however, specify the army was to interact with the Japanese forces.[31] This resolution was circulated among the Indian PoWs, followed by tour of the mainland camps by Mohan Singh and Fujiwara. The PoW headquarter was subsequently dissolved and the staff were transferred to Mohan Singh's supreme command. On 9 May, Singh began recruiting for the INA.[31]

The process involved identifying units that were most likely to come up with volunteers. These units were transferred to Neesoon and Bidadary, while the other units were shipped away to other camps.[31]

Indian Independence League

The Japanese government and high-command had, with Fujiwara's encouraging feedbacks in early 1942, sought to expand the scope and support for the evolving INA and the Japanese support for the independence movement.[32] For this it sought the counsel of Rash Behari Bose,an Indian nationalist who had lived in self-exile in Japan since the 1920s. Rash Behari encouraged the formation of the INA, but also sought to attach it to a central civilian authority speaking for and encouraging Indian civilian Indian population of the region to become a part of it.

The framework of local Indian associations that existed before the war reached Malaya, where rekindled, and after a meeting of the leaders of these associations, well as Mohan Singh and other representatives of the INA, at a conference in Tokyo on of Rash Behari Bose's invitation, the formation of the All-Malayan Indian Independence league was declared in April, in the same month as Mohan Singh formally declared the formation of the Indian National Army. The League became the liaising organisation with the local Indian population and the Japanese. .

In June, the formation of an all-Indian IIL was proclaimed at Bangkok. In June 1942, the Bangkok conference specified in the Tokyo assembly was held. A resolution adopted by the league at Bangkok declared the The INA was to be sub-ordinate to the League[33] with Rash Behari Bose chairing the council, while K.P.K Menon, Nedyam Raghavan were among the civilian members of the council. Mohan Singh and an officer by the name of Gilani were to be the INA's members.[33] The Bangkok resolution further reaffirmed the Bidadary resolution that the INA was only to go to war when the Congress and the Indian population wished it to.[34] Further among the thirty-four points of the Bangkok resolution, the INA and the IIL raised a number of questions including the role and position of India in Japan's co-prosperity sphere, Japan's intentions in and towards an Independent India etc. These were presented via the Iwakuro Kikan that had replaced the Fujiwara Kikan and demanded a point-by-point answer which Tokyo was not able to give assurances to, which was unacceptable to the Council for action.[35] There remains suggestions, however, that members of the League and the INA, including Niranjan Singh Gill who directed the PoW camps, were apprehensive about Japanese intentions with regards to the league, the Independence movement.[36] Even within the league, members of the original Indian delegation to the Tokyo conference held reservations about serving Rash Behari and of ultimate Japanese intentions with regards to independent India.[37]

Iwakuro Kikan

In the spring of 1942, based on Fujiwara's own proposals in January which included the suggestion of expanding the work of the F-Kikan to all parts of Asia[27] Fujiwara was replaced by Col.Hideo Iwakuro.[27][38] The I-Kikan was considerably larger, with some 250 officers and with offices in Rangoon, Penang, Saigon and Hong Kong. The close relation of Fujiwara and Mohan Singh, however, was not to be repeated.[38] Iwakuro, the founder of the Army intelligence school Rikugun Nakano Gakko, was considered less idealistic and romantic than Fujiwara[35] and did not use his expertise to encouage the "true Indian army" that Fujiwara had envisioned, aware that the IGHQ did not have any immediate plans for an invasion towards India.[38] Iwakuro was further placed in office at a time when the Pacific War faced a higher priority among Japanese forces for materiel.[27] Using his expertise in intelligence and special missions, Iwakuro sought to train the Indian forces in such mission, and by some accounts only engaged in as much development of the INA as would keep Mohan Singh happy.[38]

Quit India

Although the Congress had conditionally supported the Allied war effort, following failure of the Cripps mission, the Quit India Movement was launched in India on 8 August 1942 that called for the British Raj to leave India or face a massive Civil Disobedience. Forewarned, the Raj quickly arrested the Congress leadership. However, foreplanning on the part of the Congress meant the movement continued at the local level, and quickly deteriorated into a leaderless act of defiance and descended into violence and general anarchy and mayhem. The movement created alarm amongst the high-command and significantly hindered the Allied war effort. In south-east Asia, this was perceived as the signal that the INA and the League expected to receive to start its war.[39]

Hindustan Field Force

The Hindustan Field Force was formed as the first operational regiment of the Indian National Army and was inducted in September 1942 under the command of J.K. Bhonsle. The unit was formed at Singapore and comprised three battalions derived from troops of the 17th Dogra Regiment, Garhwal Rifles and the 14th Punjab Regiment (now a part of the Pakistani Army) and had a strength of nearly 2000 troops. However, only about two hundred or so of its troops were sent to combat around September 1943. The unit was dissolved after the collapse of the first INA and after the revival of the Indian National Army under Subhas Chandra Bose, the troops of the Hindustan Field Force formed the nucleus of the INA's 2nd division as the 1st Infantry regiment and ceded men to the 5th Guerilla regiment to form the 2nd Infantry regiment which later fought in the Battle of Irrawaddy and Battle of Meiktila under Prem Kumar Sahgal.

Intelligence groups

The Iwakuro Kikan and the Indian Independence League was instrumental in training a number of INA recruits as well as civilian volunteers from Malaya in intelligence and subversion activities. A number of intelligence and subversion training schools were opened in Burma and Singapore, and the graduates from these schools were sent by submarine or parachuted into India for starting intelligence work and underground subversive and sabotage activities.[40] However, it was mainly from these schools that the first frictions arose between the Indians and Japanese as the trainees began to be sent before completing their training and without knowledge or consent of the Indian leaders. However, the intelligence services played a significant role in the failure of Noel Irwin's First Arakan Offensive.

The end of the first INA

[41] By late 1942, however, the divisions appeared as the Indian troops increasingly felt as pawns in the hands of the Japanese. In December, Mohan Singh and other INA leaders ordered the INA to disband after severe disagreements with the Japanese. Mohan Singh was subsequently arrested by the Japanese and exiled to Pulau Ubin. A number of the Indian troops who chose to revert to PoW were subsequently sent away to labour camps in New Guinea or to work in the Death railway.

Between December 1942 and February 1943, Rash Behari Bose tried but failed to keep the IIL and INA going. Thousands of INA soldiers returned to the status of POWs again and most of the IIL leaders resigned. The movement was seen doomed to fail.

Order of battle

Earnest organisation of the INA in preparation for battle began after news of Quit India had reached South-east Asia. According to the reviews available, the INA was to be organised of twelve infantry battalions of 650 troops, organised into four guerrilla regiments of 2000 men. The first of these, led by Bhonsle, was the Hindustan Field Force. The remaining four were to be designated Gandhi, Nehru and Azad regiment.[42]

Additional special units were also to be organised. These included an Intelligence group for forward intelligence, a Special Service Group to promote defection amongst the British Indian Army and a Reinforcement group to receive the defectors and prepare them for service with the INA.[43] Of the formation of this army however, the British intelligence was unaware of until around July 1942, and even then was unclear on the scale, purpose and organisation of the INA.[44]

Operations involving the first INA

Espionage in India

Intelligence summaries initially did not believe the INA to be a substantial force or have any purpose more than propaganda and espionage purposes. However, by the end of 1942, they had become aware of trained Indian espionage agents (of the INAs Special services group) who had infiltrated into India for the purpose of collecting intelligence, subversion of the army and the subversion of civilian loyalty. These information were derived to a large extent from some of the agents themselves who gave themselves up to the authorities after reaching India. However, the intelligence was also aware at this point of misinformation being spread about the INA itself by the agents who concealed their purpose and professed to pass on intelligence from local knowledge.[45] More troubling for the military command were the activities of the INA agents in the battle fields of India's eastern frontier in Burma.

Espionage in Burma frontier

Around this time, the Quit India movement had reached a crescendo within India, while the continuing British reversals at Burma further affected the morale of the army. The Irwin's First Campaign had been contained and then beaten back by inferior Japanese forces at Donbaik. Intelligence analysis of the failure, as well as Irwin's own personal analysis of the campaign attributed significant demoralisation and rising discontentment amongst Indian troops due to the subversive activity of INA agents at the frontline, as well as rising nationalist (or "Pro-Congress") sentiments.[45] The activities of these agents were addressed at the Sepoys and these found enough support to successfully encourage defection without attracting the attention of the officers commanding the units. Soon, defection by British Indian troops had become a problem significant and regular enough in the Burma theatre to form a regular part of the intelligence summaries in the first half of 1943.[45]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Hauner 1981, p. Part I
  2. 2.0 2.1 Lundari 1940, p. 90
  3. Cohen 1983, p. 351
  4. Tojo 1943
  5. Littlejohn 1987, pp. 137–138
  6. Kurowski 1997, p. 137
  7. Munoz 2002
  8. 8.0 8.1 Lebra 1977, p. 19
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 Lebra 1977, p. 20
  10. Freedom Depends on Nippon Victory. The Syonan Sinbun, 26 January 1943
  11. Fay 1993, p. 89
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 12.5 12.6 12.7 Lebra 1977, p. 24
  13. Moreman 2005, p. 24
  14. Lebra 1977, p. 21
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Friedman 1940, p. 18
  16. 16.0 16.1 Lebra 1977, p. 22
  17. Dignan 1983
  18. Brown 1986, p. 421
  19. Fay 1993, p. 134
  20. Lebra 1977, p. 23
  21. Fay 1993, p. 74
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 22.3 Fay 1993, p. 75
  23. Fay 1993, p. 70
  24. Green 1948, p. 47
  25. 25.0 25.1 Fay 1993, p. 83
  26. Fay 1993, p. 84
  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 27.3 Lebra 1977, p. 25
  28. Fay 1993, p. 87,95,111
  29. Fay 1993, p. 25
  30. 30.0 30.1 Fay 1993, p. 88
  31. 31.0 31.1 31.2 31.3 31.4 31.5 Fay 1993, p. 94
  32. Fay 1993, p. 90
  33. 33.0 33.1 Fay 1993, p. 108
  34. Fay 1993, p. 111
  35. 35.0 35.1 Lebra 1977, p. 27
  36. Fay 1993, p. 93,108
  37. Fay 1993, p. 91,108
  38. 38.0 38.1 38.2 38.3 Fay 1993, p. 109
  39. Fay 1993, p. 112,134
  40. Fay 1993, p. 145
  41. "Historical Journey of the Indian National Army". National Archives of Singapore. Retrieved 2007-07-07. 
  42. Fay 1993, p. 138,140
  43. Fay 1993, p. 139
  44. Fay 1993, p. 409
  45. 45.0 45.1 45.2 Fay 1993, p. 410


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