We remember Netaji and other martyrs, but neglect their memory. The INA War Museum is in darkened rooms. The visitor register is under lock and key.
While every politician and TV anchor worth his salt has been screaming blue murder about the alleged spying of Netaji Subhas Chandra’s kin and house in Kolkata, few care to think about the utter neglect of the Indian National Army (INA) Memorial at Moirang in Manipur. Paying a lip service to our departed heroes is our certificate to patriotism. Nothing more needs to be done. Sadly, this story is identical in all parts of India. We only talk about their greatness but don’t lift a finger to preserve the places associated with them. Every time I visit a war memorial or a martyr’s samadhi in India, I am invariably shocked by the carelessness of the average Indian towards the sacred memories of those, who sacrificed their lives for gaining freedom. During my visits to England, France and the US, I have seen that military memorials are looked after with utmost attention. They celebrate Victory Day and Victory in Europe Day with great fanfare. It also happens in other countries, I am told. Unfortunately, I have not seen this zeal in India. My recent visit to Kohima and Moirang in the first half of May 2015 was no different. I am ashamed to admit that the immaculate condition in which the World War-II Memorial at Kohima has been maintained happens because its upkeep is in the hands of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
When I visited the Moirang War Memorial, the security staff, lounging around, informed me that that being a second Saturday, the government staff was not on duty. “Come back on Monday,” they advised me, not forgetting to remind me that on Sunday, too, nobody would be there to show around and the structure would be locked. Everywhere, mounds of tiles being used for renovation of the memorial and timber logs had been scattered. The memorial is under renovation for some years, I was informed.
As one’s vehicle enters Moirang from Imphal, it is necessary to ask for directions since no signage has been installed by the authorities to guide towards the memorial. The vehicle has to pass through a narrow pot-holed alley and parking outside the memorial is haphazard. Dirt, the quintessential part of our culture, is visible in abundance inside and around the memorial. While a thriving local market just before the memorial was shining with illumination and overcrowded, the lonely memorial was crouched in darkness.
The Kohima War Cemetery : Just before visiting Moirang, I had gone to the scenic Kohima War Cemetery, which is open every day from 9 am till 4 pm. The cemetery is maintained in pristine condition and receives foreign visitors regularly. At the lower end of the cemetery, near the entrance, is a memorial to the 2nd Division. It bears the inscription; – “When you go home tell them of us and say, for your tomorrow, we gave our today.” What a touching inscription!
Neglect of Moirang : The contrast is obvious the moment one reaches the INA Martyrs’ memorial at Moirang. It was established in 1985. The memorial’s structure is a scene of filth, dirt and neglect. There is nobody to guide visitors about the memorial. Till a few years ago, Central Security Forces had been quartered inside the memorial complex, making most areas out of bound for the visitors. Now it is open for the visitors but only as and when the staff is present.
Till a few years ago, the historical legacy was crumbling down. After a central grant of Rs 25 crore was announced, its first installment has been received and the memorial’s renovation is underway, but in typical government style. It would be easily possible for the authorities to keep the memorial in shape and open for public, despite the ongoing restoration work. However, no attention has been paid to the expectations of the visitors.
On one hand, there are complaints galore that people from the rest of India do not come to the North-East for tourism. On the other, no concern is shown to cater their basic queries. In fact, a walk around the INA memorial proves is quite depressing. The moat behind memorial, linking to the Moirang River, is a trickle of refuse, hardly any water visible. The outer walls of the building could have been decorated with inspiring pictures but nothing has been done except coating them with cement. The Netaji library was closed when I visited as the government staff was not required to turn up on second and fourth Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays. A peep through the glass panes showed a thick coat of dust on the reading tables. In short, it is a story of neglect all around. The INA War Museum is in darkened rooms. The visitor register is under lock and key. A visitor can’t buy souvenirs or copies of the chronicles telling the history of the INA memorial. One has to satisfy oneself with the knowledge that the museum has letters,
photographs, badges of ranks and other articles associated with the INA movement.
(The writer is former special correspondent, Times of India)