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The Synthesizing Role of The I.N.A. Martyrs' Memorial: Moirang & The Indo-Japanese Peace Cenotaph: Lotpaching (Red Hill)

Manindra Singh Mairembam

7. Unique Place of 'Imphal' in the Freedom Struggle:

Symbolically IMPHAL has a unique place in the Indian Freedom Struggle because the Manipur Campaign turned out to be a decisive factor in the fight for Independence. Many INA officers and soldiers belonging to various linguistic groups at home and abroad were killed and their blood (who were Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians etc.) flowed together and intermingled to ultimately become one i.e. an Indian _ at that a proactive Indian, rather than a passive one without any reactions whatsoever. This was the lesson most distinctively taught by the great Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. He made all passive Indians truly patriots who could lay down even life. Irrespective of which region they hailed or which language they speak or which religious faith they practice, or which strata of society they belong to, he insisted they were all not only fellow Indians, but members of one and the same family, fighting for a cause: the greatest cause of 'freedom of one and all.'

He gave this ideal of oneness an unique practical shape by insisting to eat the same type of food, learn the same working language of Hindusthani (in Roman Script), and acquire a newly encoded behaviour of concerted thinking to pave for concerted action and for ultimately earning victory. All those who came in contact with him would have been convinced that, unless this bare fact was accepted fully and without any doubt or hesitation, there was no future for India. Even after achieving freedom such unity of action, concerted thinking and avoidance of divisive forces in society would be of fundamental import.

Netaji convincingly showed to the whole wide world that Indians could forge themselves into such a fighting force, capable of shaking the very foundation and moorings of the imperialist British forces, not only from the Indian soil but from the entire Asia and ultimately other Continents in the globe. He proved not merely by his words but by his deeds, that Indians could rise to the highest pinnacle of courage and sacrifice. He was a great leader of man and commanded respect and awe by himself setting the highest examples of supreme courage, devotion and even-handedness, bordering almost on blind obedience.

He feared no one but the ultimate and the supreme God. It was his undaunted courage and his complete faith in the ultimate victory that enabled him to breathe down a new life among each Indian under his command, and inspired even the lowliest and the most timid among them to perform amazing acts of heroism, bravery and sacrifice. He instilled in every INA personnel a new spirit and courage to sacrifice all his comfort and fight with the minimum sustenance, to subsist on wild roots, where no food is available, and the unsweetened but salt-flavoured tea, 'ocha' for minimum stomach ailment _ on par with the Japanese emergency codes and SOS, how to inspire patriotism and solicit food and other helps from native Indians.

Even though the INA did not win the ' Battle of Imphal ' Netaji succeeded in gaining for India a virtual victory in the moral and spiritual dimensions over the British Imperialism because the colonialist elements soon realized that they could no longer suppress the Indian masses or halt their march to complete Swaraj _ although still unarmed and pledged to nonviolence. Netaji's greatness lay in initiating and nourishing that irresistible momentum, and Imphal's symbolic greatness would for that matter lie in becoming the initial destination and ultimate venue of such a rare and over-arching battlefront _ the scene of initial Japanese air-bombing of civilian targets by Japanese bombers, dogfights between Japanese fighter crafts and defending British antiaircraft batteries and British Air Force fighter-planes _ plus all varieties of combat warfare between advancing Japanese and INA soldiers on the one hand and British forces on the other in that memorable war.

Unlike the rest of the country, Imphal the capital of Manipur had also experienced all the ghastly holocaust and ravages of war _ the body-counts, bombed houses, refugees cramped on cold floors in improvised hutments, civilian hunger and associated sufferings on account of scarcity of essential goods etc. Over and above all that, it left war-worn grooves not only on the faces of, but even in the minds of, the victims so that they became very scared or very angry, as a matter of habit. However these would embody just one side of the coin. On the other side, war had brought on a new excitement in the otherwise passive lifeways of a sleepy and sloppy countryside.

Whereas mainland India had already awoken to the freedom-calls of Mahatma , most Manipuris were being slumbered by the Britishers (without opium) into a grossly passive life characterized by a redundant traditional hierarchy of ritual status and social power _ the only aspect of society unrestrained by the Britishers. Paradoxically enough there was no rampant human misery in Manipur, but the mass used to show a syndrome of 'backwardness in responses', a poor reliance on one's own reactions. This syndrome had been in part true of Manipur even since the beginning of history _ of course interspersed by periods of inter-clan fighting or invasions onto Burma and Cachar when these conscripts were transformed into bloodthirsty fighters by the hoarse but patriotic war cries of the old Meitei warlords.

But all those happened before 1891 when British took over the Manipur administration, and the generation of the 1940's had not since then seen a war or experienced the holocaust of war _ and that too a world war of a different kind with manifold devastative air bombing, scorched earth policy etc. Under the circumstances, the patriotic and heroic tales of Netaji, relayed from Singapore and other INA strongholds through INA-recruits from Manipur and regular INA-cum-Japanese 'recce' groups, taught Manipuris to stop being passive and to take care of one's own destiny; one person at a time. Manipur had been lulled to a queer passivity and slumber of sorts as if drugged by the cheap money policy of the British administration during the last half a century or so since 1891. However, the exposure to a full scale war meant a transformation almost overnight from an unconscious evolution of self-satiated farmers and other passivists to a war-ravaged country.

This excitement of war had a deep impact on the Manipuri people and revved-up their thought and action and gave tremendous excitement to an otherwise slow and trudging pace of life. However it was tragic that the events in the strategic Imphal Campaign did not go the Netaji way. Had they been otherwise as would favour the INA-Nippon assault, the shape of history in the entire South Asia would have been altogether different. Netaji had hoped that once Imphal would be liberated he could install on the Indian soil an effective Provisional Government of Free India, which would have offered an opportunity for Indians to organize an anti-British revolt. And in fact even otherwise the entire Indian army units under the Allied Forces were at the point of doing so, realizing which the Governor-General in India perhaps reported back that things were getting out of his hands.

For one thing, had all those imponderables _ Tokyo's crucial delay in approving the Imphal campaign; delay in arrival of the 15th Japanese Division from Siam (Thailand); onset of heavy monsoon one month ahead of normal; etc. _ been otherwise as hoped for by Netaji, INA with the expected spontaneous revolt of the Indian army and people could have succeeded in driving the British out of India, before the Allies won the war and thereby far more significantly would have prevented the pre-Independence Partition of the country(1947) and the dreadful events that followed in its wake. In the ultimate analysis, one would now shudder in utter disbelief how could the blunted _ ultimately doomed _ progress of the Imphal campaign meant all that difference to the destiny of south Asia.

His brand of post-freedom socioeconomic reconstruction of the country is reflected in what he wrote out in his book: 'The Indian Struggle' which he completed in his capacity as President of Congress Party in 1934: "The party that is going to fight for freedom is the party that is entitled to draw up the Constitution of India and rule over the country. If we are to have a Socialist Economy, Socialism cannot be established by the so-called Western Democracy. Socialist reconstruction can be done by only dictatorship but that dictatorship should not be of individuals or of the cliques but of the general masses."

For another thing, had the Netaji-brand of Indian Nationalism prevailed in that resurrected India along with his vision of "gathering, together under one banner, men from all religions and races of India, and to infuse in them the spirit of solidarity and oneness, to the utter exclusion of all communal and parochial sentiments", a cohesive India would have forged ahead much faster during the twentieth century itself. Even otherwise, one can now scan the unfortunate turn of events during W. W. II which prevented Netaji's dream of his victorious march to Delhi at the head of INA a reality even without the Japanese Army. In his and his egalitarian INA's absence in a postwar India, politicians did exactly the obverse of what he would have cherished and might have avoided, among others, the truncated freedom and its inherent bloodbath of millions who perished in the fatricidal religious rioting during the process of Partition.


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