Before the Second World War, India had not invested much of its national resources towards its defense. Thus, its army was not strong. Most of the nationalists in the country believed that the budget allocated to the army should be limited until a formidable administration was in place. The Indian Army was perceived, and rightly so, as a mere formality as well as an instrument of British imperialism. Furthermore, recruitment to the forces was based on individual volition, meaning that it was confined to small regions and communities.
However, the army expanded considerably when India indicated its intentions to participate in war. Although the initial two years did not register large numbers, there were more than 35 new infantry battalions by the end of 1940. A year later, an additional 10 infantry divisions were created, as well as one armored division, increasing the number of troops to 900,000. In 1942, the number of men in the army both in India and overseas surpassed the 1.5 million mark. Besides fighting formations, the army established other units such as engineering, medical, field artillery, and many more.
The elite marksmen among the recruits were handpicked and given specialized training and weapons to fight alongside the Japanese in Burma. These troops were known as the Long Range Penetration Group. From 1943 to 1944, this special force performed exceptionally well, showcasing their endurance, courage and resourcefulness. The problem, however, is that the cost of these feats was deemed as excessively high by high-rank officials in the Indian army. As a result, the Army restructured the recruitment methods and coordinated the requirements of the entire defense forces. The language barrier challenge that arose from the use of Punjabi instructors to train recruits from south India were overcome in due course.
By October 1945, the total number of men in the Indian defense force both locally and overseas was 2.6 million. This included 240,000 British troops that resided in India. Overall, India contributed 2.58 million individuals to its armed forces throughout the wartime. A majority of these soldiers joined the army, with the navy and air force getting smaller numbers. The war accelerated the rate of nationalization in India.
The rising need for reinforcement of the British army fighting in other areas meant that the ranking officials stationed in India had to be replaced with natives. Consequently, the number of Indian officials in the army grew from just 1,500 in 1939 to 15,000 in 1945. Of all the regions in which the Indian army fought, Malaya was the most catastrophic. Overall, 20,000 Indian soldiers were killed in action, with an extra 175,000 suffering injuries of varying extents.
Generally, involvement in the world war had both positive and adverse implications to the Indian economy. On the bright side, it created employment opportunities and increased financial stability. Pertaining the adverse, the war affected the poor and the lower-middle clause, primarily because recruits were sourced from these social classes. Moreover, the war also had an impact on industries, which experienced reduced productivity due to the excessive constraint on their machinery. Notably, these repercussions became evident long after the war had ended.