14th April, 1944; Its significance and impact on the freedom movement of India
Mairembam Prithviraj Singh
Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was convinced that freedom is not to be begged for but to be won. To achieve this end, he escaped from his house arrest in disguise and reached Berlin on 3rd April, 1941. Except for indirect support, the meeting with Adolf Hitler wasn’t fruitful, so Netaji considered shifting all his plans towards South-East Asia. Subhas Chandra Bose organised the Indian Legion in Germany with 8000 British Indian soldiers who became POWs in Egypt. The slogans “Give me blood, I will get you freedom” and “Chalo Delhi” were raised from Azad Hind Radio, Germany on 9th August, 1942.
Singapore fell in the hands of the Japanese Imperial Army on 15th February 1942. The sixty thousand troops of Allied Forces (comprised of 32,000 Indian armies, 15,000 British Armies, 13,000 Australian armies) led by a British officer, Colonel Hunt had to beg for unconditional surrender at the Ferrar Park Stadium, Singapore on 17th February. Major General Fujiwara of Japanese Imperial Army classified thirty-two thousand Indian prisoners of war and established the Indian National Army (INA). He appointed Captain Mohon Singh as General officer in Commanding (GOC) of the new formation. This was a strategic movement of Japanese force in the warfare sense of Emperor Hirohito which was “Asia for Asians only”.
From Germany Netaji then undertook a perilous underwater journey of 90 (ninety) days to reach Sumatra and arrived at Tokyo by air via Penang and Manila on the 6th of May, 1943. He met the Japanese Prime Minister Tojo twice and with his energetic enthusiasm secured the unstinted support of the Japanese Government for the movement to free India at any cost.
Subhas Chandra Bose arrived at Singapore on 2nd July 1943. There, he took charge as the Supreme Commander of the INA as well as the Indian Independence League (IIL) formed by Rash Behari Bose. Then he reorganized the “Azad Hind Fauj” and declared the formation of the ‘Provisional Government of Azad Hind’ at Cathey Cinema Hall, Singapore on 21st October, 1943. On 23rd October 1943, the Azad Hind Government declared war against Britain and USA.
Occupation of Imphal was crucial to the Indo-Japanese forces for the ‘Delhi Chalo’ mission. Once Imphal is liberated, Netaji could install an effective ‘Provisional Government of Free India’ on the Indian soil, which should offer an opportunity for more and more Indians to organise anti-British revolt.
During March 1944, the three Japanese forces 33rd, 31st and 15th divisions along with INA Subhas Brigade had crossed big rivers, mountainous ranges, and dense jungles and started to invade Manipur Valley. The 31st Japanese Division along with a regiment of INA captured Kohima, with the exception of Tennis Court, Dimapur Road. Thus, the only life-line of Manipur was blocked for about one month and all essential commodities for Allied forces at Imphal had to be supplied by air. The 15th Japanese Division of Lt. General Yamaguchi marched towards Tamu and Ukhrul in two ways and Ukhrul was captured. They further advanced toward Imphal Dimapur road to cut Imphal-Kohima road at Kanglatongbi. Then, the 1st INA Division under the command of Major General MZ Kiyani also joined the Imphal campaign and fought along with the Yamamoto force at Pallel sector. Simultaneously, the 31st Japanese Division (MATSURI) commanded by Lt. General Sato advanced to Kohima through Homalin (North Burma) and Ukhrul. Meanwhile, Major General Shah Nawaz Khan’s 2nd INA Division could reach Ukhrul to help Sato. By 7th March 1944 the 33rd Japanese force of Lt. General Yanagida (YUMI) with one INA regiment marched towards Tiddim Road. The Front of the combined forces of 33rd Japanese Divisions and Bahadur Intelligence Group of INA moved towards Tiddim Road by attacking the British Defence Base of 17th British Columns of Yaiyok (Zezo) at Thingaiphai, Churachandpur. The British were forced to retreat and took defensive measure at Phougak-chao-ikhai, Tronglaobi and Okshongbung.
The attack of Moirang commenced with canon fire by the Indo-Japanese forces from southern hills range called Khoingoujeng Hill towards Moirang in the evening of 13th April 1944, and fierce encounter took place between the British and Japanese soldiers at Phougak-chao-ikhai and Tronglaobi. A large column of the British forces had to retreat towards Laiga Stream and Chengei (Moirang). Most people of Moirang had already evacuated, and taken refuge at the chain islands of Thanga, Ithing,Sendra, Omba, Mamang Ching, Khongjaingamba and Keibul hillocks within the Loktak lake. Moirang town had become a battlefield. The precautionary measures for the safety of the people of Moirang were volunteered by the local youths led by Shri Mairembam Koireng Singh.
The infantry attack was led by Lieutenant Endo from Torbung, Terakhongshangbi, Tronglaobi and another attack was led by Captain Ito of Japanese forces from Kumbi, Thoya. The British had to retreat towards Phubala by abandoning all arms, canons, artilleries at Okshongbung. All these were keenly observed over a whole sleepless night by some local youths including M. Koireng Singh while hiding under the Moirang Lamkhai bridge. The area of Moirang was totally cleared and swept away of all enemies upto Potshangbam by the Japanese and INA forces by the night of 13th April, 1944. The retreating British forces took advantage of the darkness of night and secured the firm position of camping for defensive line at the hillocks of Bishnupur.
Eventually Kumam Kanglen Singh of Moirang had the chance to meet the INA military officials Colonel Soukat Hayat Ali Malik and Naki Ahmad Choudhuri (Naki Ahmad Choudhuri is a Manipuri Muslim, born in Keikhu Muslim village) at Tronglaobi. The INA officials asked for a meeting with Mairembam Koireng Singh, the local leader of Moirang and an active member of Nikhil Manipuri Mahasabha. So the four persons namely Mairembam Koireng Singh, Kumam Kanglen Singh, Meinam Mani Singh and Laiphrakpam Sanaba met with the INA officers in the morning at Tronglaobi. The INA officers persuaded the local leaders to affix an appropriate place for hoisting tri-colour flag at Moirang.
Under the guidance of M Koireng Singh, Col. Saukat Hayat Ali Malik, Commander of the Bahadur Intelligence Group of the INA hoisted the Tri - Colour Flag with the springing tiger as emblem at the historic Moirang Kangla on the evening of 14th April, 1944, in the presence of around forty locals, Captain Ito of the 33rd Mountain Gun Regiment of Japan, Naki Ahmad Chouduri and many Japanese and INA soldiers, to mark the unique liberation of Moirang from the clutches of the British colonial rule. This day, the 14th of April, 1944 shall be remembered in the history of freedom struggle of India as the Day of Revolutionary Declaration of Freedom of United India. What was hoisted at the Red Fort on August 15, 1947 was the Flag of Indian Dominion within British Empire expressing its loyalty to the British Crown. However, the flag unfurled at Moirang, Manipur symbolized the united aspirations of the united people of India from Imphal to Peshwar and Kashmir to Kanyakumari. This is the uniqueness and significance of the liberation of Moirang.
Kumam Kanglen Singh and Mairembam Koireng Singh led in the mobilization of voluntary donation of rice, dry fishes and other grains from the local people for the ration of Indo-Japanese forces who stayed at INA Headquarters, Moirang and its adjoining areas. The INA headquarters was already stationed at the residential building of Hemam Thambaljao Singh with tin roofing. Thirteen other members of the Nikhil Manipuri Mahasabha, also secretly came over to Moirang to join the INA and support the arriving Indo-Japanese forces.
From the INA HQs at Moirang, the INA and Japanese forces mobilised to attack the British position i.e. the 17th British Column at Bishnupur but could not proceed as it was well manned, equipped and supplied; moreover they occupied a better position. On another side, America had intensified its attack on Japan and compelled it to reserve all its air-force and resources to defend the motherland. Thus, the Indo-Japanese forces on their expedition to Imphal were left high and dry without any supplies or air support. The heavy monsoons which had arrived a month early made transportation and mobilisation almost next to impossible; many of the Indo-Japanese forces also died of malnutrition and diseases like malaria, due to lack of medicine and supplies. Still, the combined forces of 1/214 regiment, 1/215 regiment and the disintegrated part of 33rd Division converged at Maibam Lotpaching (Red Hill) and prepared to attack Imphal. They constructed “Pimples”, “Foxhole” and “Gunner Boxes” around the entire region of the Red Hill. Then they blocked the supply lines to the 17th Columns of British at Bishnupur. Field Marshall Slim of the British Army had the right time to utilize the whole reserves of Allied Force. All the while, he had been increasing the reinforcement day by day by airlifting via the Koirengei Airfield, and formed a Composite Force called ‘Woodforce’ to sweep away the stiff resistance offered by the Indo-Japanese Forces at Maibam Lotpaching (Red Hill). Woodforce was a combination of a group of the 17th Column at Bishnupur and a large number of fighters from Imphal side with heavy artilleries–the powerful Bofor field-guns and Lee Tanks. On the other side the Indo-Japanese forces, except for their stiff courage, had very limited stock. Despite shortage of bullets, arms and ammunition, they kept on fighting with their hands and bayonets with war cries and still proceeded forward. The Allied Force could not control this onslaught of the courageous Indo-Japanese fighters. Finally, Royal Airforce planes had to be used to gun down and bomb the Indo-Japanese side to completely wipe out the route. This was the bloodiest battle called the ‘Battle of Imphal’ which lasted from 24th May to 30th May 1944. The casualty on the Indo-Japanese regiment was so incredibly high that at least 2000 men were killed from aerial bombing at this battle.
Ultimately the Japanese army realized the eventuality of defeat due to the imminent heavy casualty, monsoon and the impossible chance for another fresh operation with the depleted army strength. Then, General Mutaguchi, the Commander of the whole Operation gave orders to all his fighting troops operating in Manipur to retreat towards Rangoon on or before 25th July 1944. During the course of the whole expedition for the ‘Battle of Imphal,’ the Indo-Japanese forces lost nearly 65000 soldiers. To this day, the valley of Manipur remains sanctified by the blood and tears of the brave soldiers of the INA and Japan, who had fought and given up their lives to bring freedom to the country.
Consequently, the surrounding areas of headquarter of Moirang was declared “enemy zone” by the British. The 17 members of Mahasabha who had joined the INA were listed as traitors and “shoot at sight” order was issued against them by the British Political Agent in Manipur. The four members from Moirang namely K. Gopal Singh, L. Sanaba Singh, H. Nilamani Singh and M. Koireng Singh had to leave Moirang from their hide-outs on the night of 20th July 1944 and proceed with a perilous journey on foot to rejoin with the INA at Rangoon. The aged K. Gopal Singh, who was also father in-law of M. Koireng Singh expired due to illness before reaching Rangoon. Rangoon was retaken by the British in May, 1945 and the three freedom fighters from Moirang were eventually captured by the British and imprisoned at Rangoon Central Jail. On 18th August, 1945 official Japanese radio made the controversial announcement of the death of Netaji Subhas Chandra from third degree burns after his overloaded plane crashed in Japanese occupied air base at Taihoku, Formosa (now Taiwan).
In his biography, Netaji had rightly said, "In the mortal world, everything perishes and will perish, but ideas, ideals and dreams do not. One individual may die for an idea-but the idea will after his death, incarnate itself in a thousand lives. That is how the wheels of evolution move on and the ideas, the dreams of one generation are bequeathed to the next.”
The courage of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose inspired all the Indians after his death. His followers as being POWs became the heroes of the Nation. When Red Fort trial started, the British Government felt the heat of the raising sentiment of the whole country. In January, 1946, a massive strike was imposed by officers and pilots of Royal Indian Air Force (RIAF). By February, the ships of Royal Indian Navy (RIN) also joined the mutiny. Civilians in Mumbai joined the strikes as well. This was a clear sign of mass mutiny against the British Government which resulted in the final dialogue of independence. Owing to the prevailing situations, all POWs of INA had to be released. The three persons of Moirang namely M. Koireng Singh, L. Sanaba Singh and H. Nillamani Singh were also released from their imprisonment at Rangoon.
The Sacred Moirang Kangla where the first flag declaring the liberation of India was hoisted on 14th April, 1944 is a constant reminder of the courage and ideals of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and the Indo-Japanese forces, and will remain a hallowed place of pilgrimage for all Indians and Japanese, forever.
May this ‘77th Anniversary of Flag Hoisting Day’ serve to inculcate the youths and citizens of this country, of the courage and ideals of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, and inspire everybody towards a selfless and strong Nation.
Jai Hind !
The writer is Ex-MLA Moirang AC