World War II, INA and Manipuri Literature: A Synoptic Survey
- Part 1 -

Kakchingtabam Ruhinikumar Sharma *

(This article is incorporated as chapter in the forthcoming book on Second World War and Manipur)

World War II is one of the greatest catastrophic events of twentieth century which impacted the lives of millions of people across the world. In World War II, over sixty million men and women were killed and many more were maimed which is much more than the people killed in World War I. As the British colonial government unilaterally declared India a party to the War it was responded with widespread condemnation across all sections of Indians except the Communist Party of India.

Even Mohandas K. Gandhi despite his strong reservations against British colonial rule who sided with the British on many occasions was determined to oppose the moves of the British India government to make India a party to the war against the Axis forces represented by Italy, Germany and Japan. Indian National Congress’s response was the famous “Quit India Resolution” of 8th August 1942 and the response to the ‘Bharat Chhodo’ call was met with large scale violence all over India with public enthusiasm hitherto not witnessed in India’s struggle for freedom.

A Recapitulation:

Subhas Chandra Bose (1897-1945) was one of the fearless leaders of the nationalist movement in India. He was twice elected the president of the Indian National Congress in 1938 and 1939. In his election for the second time as the President of the Indian National Congress, he was opposed by Mahatma Gandhi. He resigned from the Congress presidentship and started a new party known as the Forward Block.

The remaining account of Subhas’s imprisonment, release and escape from house detention, subsequent release and onward journey and heroics indulged in for India’s liberation and freedom, establishment of Azad Hind Fauz (INA) has been left out of the purview of this paper to avoid repetitiveness. Yet a few lines outlining the importance Azad Hind Fauz (INA) in the history of India’s struggle for freedom is given hereunder to situate the narrative within a broader perspective.

Importance of the Azad Hind Fauz (INA) in India’s struggle for freedom:

INA occupies an important place in the history of India's struggle for freedom. The formation of the Indian National Army and the brave fight put up by the INA men opened the eyes of the British Government to the danger of reasons why the British Government continued to maintain their hold on India and that was ultimately one of the reasons why the British Government decided to grant independence to India. The members of the INA did not die or suffer in vain. They have a place of honour in the history of India's struggle for freedom.

The Provisional Government set up by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and the Indian National Army organized by him brought the Indian question out of narrow domestic sphere of the British Empire into the field of international politics. The recognition of the provisional Government of free India by Japan, Germany and Italy and other countries gave a new status to India.

The world opinion was affected by the exploits of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and Indian National Army. The Indian National Army also proved that Indian soldiers were also willing to sacrifice his life for the sake of the country. The officers of INA set up a brilliant record of communal harmony and Commandership.

Hugh Toye gives his estimate of INA in these words,"There can thus be little doubt that the Indian National Army, not in its unhappy career on the battlefield, but in its thunderous disintegration, hastened the end of British rule in India. The agitation which surrounded the trials turned the issue of independence for India into an instant burning question once more. (Hugh Toye, The Springing Tiger, Sixth Jaico Impression:, 1978, p.175)

World War II and Manipuri Literature:

At the very outset the present writer would like to make a clarification regarding the use of the term 'Manipuri Literature'. Here 'Manipuri Literature' is meant to denote the literary works in any genre and is not only confined to the works produced in Meiteilon or Manipuri but also covered works in other languages that deal with themes or issues concerning Manipur. Hence the term is used in its wider sense and in a larger context.

In this case, Manipuri literature too has not lagged in capturing the World War, especially because Imphal, and for that matter the entire state was in the grip of war for more than a year. Since there was large scale internal displacement of people as a result of the face to face fighting between the combating forces supplemented by intermittent air raids, Manipur, particularly Imphal valley wore a deserted look.

Homestead lands belonging to different leikais (localities) were overnight turned into army camps. On 10th May, 1942 Imphal witnessed bombardment by the Japanese forces for the first time. From the onwards Imphal became a centre of Japanese invasion and British resistance. Because of the repeated air raids people in large numbers left their homes followed in quick succession to interior areas of the land for safety of their lives.

Normalcy gradually returned in Imphal around 1946 after the withdrawal of Japanese forces and Azad Hind Fauz soldiers as their joint campaign ended in disaster. This was the time people returned to their respective original homes vacated by the Allied forces. Gradually normal activities started opening up in a slow and gradual manner. Economic and educational activities started picking up. The then existing theatre halls in and around Imphal, which had to remain non-functional during the war gradually started staging plays.

Proscenium theatre in Manipur already enjoyed a large following. Manipur Dramatic Union (M.D.U.) for instance staged a hugely popular play titled Naba-Mallika penned by Khwairakpam Chaoba (Chaoba Singh 1895-1950) of the famed Chaoba, Kamal Anganghal triumvirate of Manipuri literature.

As mentioned earlier when peace gradually returned in Manipuri a few litterateur of the land started picking up their pen recording and recollecting events of the contemporary Manipur. Mention may be made of Rajkumar Shitaljit Singh, Rajkumar Sanahal Singh, Khwairakpam Chaoba Singh, Keisham Kunjabihari Singh, G.C. Tongbra and a few others followed suit in later years.

Rajkumar Shitaljit Singh (1913-2008), a well-known teacher of Ram Lal Paul High Schhol, Imphal was the first native who sketched a biographical account of Subhas Chandra Bose titled "Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose amasung Azad Hind Fauz" (Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and Azad Hind Fauz) and it was published in 1946. This small book running into 52 pages divided into three chapters provide a well written account of the life and activities of Subhas Chandra Bose in a chronological order.

It was probably the second biographical account of a great Indian nationalist after Bal Gangadhar Tilak by the legendary leader Hijam Irabot Singh. Though short, but in a lucid manner Shri Shitaljit profiled the career and character of Subhas and described him as one of the greatest patriot India had ever produced in her history. In a convincing manner the writer depicts the humane side of Netaji, as Subhas was affectionately called by Indians including Gandhi in his concerns for the wounded soldiers of INA in Burma.

This book with much success helped a lot in showing Subhas Chandra Bose in a positive light among the youths of the time. The present writer is fortunate enough to possess a copy of this rare book handed over by an elder long time back. To be frank, Netaji was the most popular icon in our school days in comparison with other national leaders who wielded more political power and authority than him. In fact, he was our lionised hero of the past.

Rajkumar Sanahal Singh (1918–1990) in his 'History of Manipur' published in 1947 gave a short but convincing account of the war and efforts made by Bodhchandra Singh, the Maharaja of Manipur to keep morale of his subjects high during those tumultuous days. It was because of the Maharaja's consistent effort that people of Manipur mostly remained loyal to the Allied forces rather than the liberation forces of Azad Hind.

The book carries a statement of Subhas Chandra Bose where the leader acknowledged reverses made by his forces; "In Imphal and Burma we have lost the first round in our fight" (n.d., Hindustan Standard). However Field Marshal Slims, commander of Allied Forces assessment of the situation clearly shows how the Allies were struggling to hold on their positions at Imphal against the determined combined forces of INA and the Japanese.

To quote Slims, "The remarkable fighting withdrawal of the 17th Indian Division back to Imphal and the tenacious defence of Kohima by a small scratch garrison in the early days actually converted the two "miscalculations" into contributory causes enemy's complete defeat" (The Times of India, Feb. 9, 1946). The antipathy of the Maharaja of Manipur was more visible against the Japanese than the INA personnel.

In this connection the Hindustan Standard carries a statement of the king on 3rd April 1944 where it was explicitly stated that, "I and my people will fight the Japs to the last if he ever attempts to get here. My place is here by the side of my people".

He further made his position clear, thus, "In the hour of danger I must stand by my people". May be the top leadership of INA was not in a position to correctly assess the mood of the Manipuris and the exact nature of British control over the kingdom.

The trials and tribulations of the war and sufferings endured by the people is well depicted in the writings of Hijam Guno Singh (1926-2010), a versatile writer. His three novels Khudol (1964), Aroiba Paodam (1966) and Bir Tikendrajit Road (1983), though written from different settings are somehow connected with the events of 2nd World War. These novels portray lived experiences of different characters, the tale of love, devotion, sacrifice and sometimes treachery.

However in Aroiba Paodam alongwith the romantic tales of the protagonists running in full steam, yet there is another aspect of love – love for the motherland, yearning for freedom, freedom of the motherland from the bondage of continued enslavement. Motherland is the place where umbilical cord of the natives are buried and mingled with her soil inseparably.

Thus the father of the female protagonist took the extreme step of leaving her grown up daughters and son to the care of her eldest daughter went to the jungles unannounced to fight for the liberation of motherland from foreign rule. The creative élan of the writer compels us to read the novel till its end with the eagerness to know what comes next. Mother and Motherland are Greater than Heaven is the mantra that metamorphoses Shajouba, father of the female protagonist Jamuna to chart for the untraded path of freedom by joining Azad Hind Fauz.

Manipur and World War II: (In verse), With a Glimpse of the World in two volumes (1980, 1981) is almost an epic poem in English language by Sanasam Gourhari Singh (1911 – 1988) who needs no introduction. Suffice enough to mention, Sanasam Gourhari Singh was a teacher, administrator above all an accomplished writer. This man had the ins and outs of twentieth century Manipur history.

This monumental two volume account runs into around ten thousand stanzas may described as a classic of Second World War literature produced from Manipur so far. Space does not permit us to go into the details of what Gourhari had penned in this book. Almost the second volume focussed on detailing the various battlefields that took place in Manipur and her neighbours and its outcome.

Though the writer was closely associated with the king of Manipur in various capacities during the war the writer could not but refrain from calling Subhas Chandra Bose as Netaji.

(To be continued....)

* Kakchingtabam Ruhinikumar Sharma wrote this article which was published at Imphal Times
This article was webcasted on February 15 2021.

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