Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: The shining light in the dark tunnel towards India's freedom
(A humble tribute to India's greatest freedom fighter on his birth anniversary)
- Part 1 -

M Asnikumar Singh *

Celebrating the tales of unsung heroes. "It was in October of 2021 that I had the profound honour of accompanying renowned economist and author Shri Sanjeev Sanyal to INA sites in Manipur. "Back then, he had come to Imphal to conduct thorough research for his now released book, "Revolutionaries: The Other Story of How India Won Its Freedom". The fact that a renowned individual like him was so eager to research on the INA's heroic deeds in Manipur struck me deeply.

Moreover, my 27 year old daughter (who is a research scholar in a Central university) had always felt that the portrayal of the Indian freedom struggle in academia was somewhat lopsided and most narrations and portrayals conformed with the heavily one sided western perspective. So, when I got to know that a reputed author like Sanjeev Sanyal (whose other works like "Land of the Seven Rivers: A Brief History of India's Geography" are incredible) was working on a book aimed at shedding light on the unsung heroes of India's freedom struggle, my excitement knew no bounds.

It is safe to say that the book has received outstanding reviews since its release. Childhood tales of pure admiration. I was born and grew up 4 Kilometres from the place where the Indian Flag was hoisted by Colonel Shaukat Malik of the INA on 14 April, 1944. My late grandfather being contemporaries of our State's own figures like Koireng Singh (he was a friend of the legendary M Koireng Singh) and Hemam Nilamani Singh also did no harm to my love, admiration and quest for tales of the INA and its exploits.

The Indian National Army, although formed in 1942 under Mohan Singh's leadership in Singapore with Indian POWs was revived under Netaji's leadership in 1943. I grew up idolising the great man, deeply engrossed in the tales surrounding his aura of greatness and of course his vision for a strong, independent India. My admiration went to the extent that I often found myself in arguments with my fellow peers in school about how Netaji was perhaps the greatest military commander independent India could have had but like his "disappearance", this too shall remain a mystery forever.

When the MTF( Manipur Thinkers Forum); a platform where young, innovative minds can come together to shape opinions for a better Manipur, a lifelong dream of mine, was ready to be launched, the only place I had in mind to commence its journey was the NA hall in Moirang. On the 18th of August, 2019 the MTF commenced its journey from the INA hall in Moirang. This was a simple but heartfelt tribute to Netaji and his ideas.

"The tales of INA in Manipur" Following is a short excerpt from narration of the historic events that took place in Moirang during the Second World War. "The Indo Japanese forces advanced very fast with heavy guns and tanks.

The 17th British Division could not resist the advancing forces as such they were compelled to retreat leaving completely behind all the southern hill ranges (now Churachandpur and Pherzawl district) and the villages upto Potshangbam under the hands of the advancing Japanese and INA column. The people of Moirang and surrounding villages were jubilant at the sight of Indo Japanese forces. Thus, the withdrawal of the British 17th Division was completed on April 13, 1944."

On the 14th April which happen to be Manipuri New Year Day ie Cheiraoba, some leaders of Moirang led by M Koireng Singh, L Sanaba Singh, K Kanglen, Meinam Mani Singh and others went to Tronglaobi village, some 3 miles to the south of Moirang which happened to be British strong defense base before their retreat but now occupied by the Indo Japanese forces. The leaders had discussion with the Indo Japanese forces.

After taking stock of the situation, at about 5 pm on the day Col Soukat Ali Malik, Commander of the Bahadur (Intelligence) Group planted the Tricolour Flag with sprigging Tiger as emblem of the historic Moirang Kangla where the INA Martyrs Memorial complex is, at present, taking shape. Many Japanese officers and soldiers were also assembled.

All the arms and ammunition abandoned by British forces collected by local people were handed over to Col. Saukat Ali Malik. Captain Ito of 33rd Mountain Regiment and Col Malik addressed the gathering. Col Malik's version was translated by M Koireng Singh and the gist of the version was "the Provisional Government of the Azad Hind had declared war on England and America with a commitment to complete with the creation of Greater East Asia and bring welfare of the people of India by defeating Anglo American forces.

The Indian National Army with unstinted support of the Japanese Govt. has now crossed the Indo Burmese border and in the course of the struggle for the liberation of the people of India from the British Yoke, we have now reached Moirang, the ancient citadel of Manipur. Our commitment is the march to Delhi and unfurl the Tricolour Flag then at Lal Kila. Many had died on our way to reach near (Moirang) and many would die on our way to Delhi.

However, the expulsion of the enemy from the sacred soil of India is a compulsion for us. We shall fight and the people of Manipur would provide supplies to us. Nothing about us shall be passed on to the enemy, everything about the enemy should be passed on to us. Freedom of India is very near and near at hand. We shall win it and we shall have progressed and prosperity of the people of India after it.

So, give us your hand, our collective efforts should cause India free from slavery." The assembled crowd welcomed the message and they felt elated that they were the first liberated people of India although many of their family members were evacuated from Moirang and took shelter on the eastern hillocks situated at Loktak Lake. Local people gladly donated rice, dry fish and vegetable to the Indo Japanese forces.

The 13 members of Nikhil Manipuri Mahasabha namely Th Angou Singh, P Tomal Singh, S Ibohal Singh, I Tombi Singh, L Bijoy Singh, L Kanhai Singh, M Jatra Singh, W Gyaneshwor Singh, M Amuba Singh, L Irabot Singh, Kh Jugeshwor Singh, Keinya Devi and M Randhoni Devi reached Moirang secretly from Imphal and other places. They joined with the members of Moirang and worked together in carrying out espionage activities.

All the surrounding villages upto Ningthoukhong was liberated from the British forces. The southern part of Manipur from Churchandpur and Pherzawl district to Ningthoukhong covering an area of 15000 sq. km was under the control of the INA with its Headquarters at Moirang for 3 months till July 15, 1944. The building of the Head Quarter belonged to H Nilamani Singh INA freedom fighter and now stands at Konjengbam Leikai.

The surrounding areas of the Head Quarter was declared enemy zone by the British. Manipuri freedom fighters like K Gopal Singh, L Sanaba Singh, M Koireng Singh and H Nilamani Singh of Moirang were declared as traitors by the British Political Agents and "Shoot at Sight" order was passed on them. All the 17 members of the Mahasabha (13 from Imphal and 4 from Moirang) were black listed.

Scorched earth policy was extended from Torbung to Ningthoukhong. The area was heavily bombarded and many civilians were killed and injured. In Moirang alone, more than one thousand homes were set ablaze with an exception of five or six. "Figures like Hemam Nilamani Singh and M Koireng Singh feature in the State's folldore even today.

Both of them went to play crucial roles in shaping Manipur's graph after independence, with their monumental social contributions in the State's development. The idea that INA meant contributing to the society lives on in the great work they did in their times as colossal political figures in the State post independence.

"What excites me even today is the emotional anecdotes I heard from my late grandparents about how the members of Nikhil Manipuri Mahasabha; M Koireng Singh (in Thanga Moirangthem), H Nilamani Singh (Sendra Hill) and their loyal lieutenants lived in hiding for a few months in our clan's numerous households in Thanga before they made their escape to Burma. My late grandfather and his clan brothers took the leading initiative in providing safe shelter to these heroic figures.

Many of our clan elders to this day recall how our grandfathers exuded enormous humility whenever they talked about their actions in providing valuable assistance to M Koireng and his associates. For them, it was their contributions in the collective efforts for the motherland.

"During that period, our clan's elders formed a close bond with these brave men, due to shared ideals, respect and admiration for the INA's struggle in the face of the might of the British authorities. In 1945, they were arrested and endured a 7 month long rigorous imprisonment in Rangoon central jail.

After their release, they reached Imphal on the 8th of May,1946. My grandfather would narrate me deeply intriguing tales about their valour, tales which have been passed on through generations in our clan and the tradition continues even today.

To be continued...

* M Asnikumar Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is an Environmentalist.
Presently he is Chairman of the Loktak Development Authority, Govt of Manipur.
He is also spokesperson of the BJP Manipur Pradesh
This article was webcasted on 25 January 2023.

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