On September 8 2022, the Government of India unveiled a marvelous granite statue of India’s greatest freedom fighter ‘Netaji’ Subhas Chandra Bose, at India Gate to mark his 125th birth anniversary. Since the BJP came to power in the center in 2014, constant efforts have been made to evaluate Netaji’s role and vision. As our Hon’ble Defence Minister Shri Rajnath Singh rightly said, “Some people call it rewriting history. I call it course correction”. It is something which had been long overdue. Similarly, ever since the BJP came to power in our state in 2017, there has been genuine concern and efforts by the Government to bring to light/ celebrate the stories of Manipur’s unsung heroes of the freedom struggle.
Mairembam Koireng Singh (December 19, 1915-December 27, 1994), popularly known as Moirang Koireng, was born into a noble family in Moirang. From his early days, he stood out for his concern and active involvement in many public issues. A talented ‘Mukna’ (traditional wrestling) practitioner, he was also known for being a genuinely captivating artist and a pioneer in promoting regional drama. In 1938 at the young age of 23, he stepped foot into the sphere of active politics. His enrolment into the Nikhil Manipuri Mahasabha marked his formal foray into politics. Soon, developments elsewhere in the world would have a lasting effect on his life. In 1939, plunged the world into the Second World War.
Second World War, INA and Moirang
Inevitably, the war reached Manipur, and it was here that Shri Koireng and his colleague’s heroic actions would inspire generations of Manipuris. During the Second World War (1939-1945), a group of freedom fighters led by Shri Koireng welcomed the Indo-Japanese Advanced Party (Intelligence Group of the INA) at Tronglaobi, Moirang. It provided wholesome cooperation in the war efforts. It was followed by a thorough discussion among the INA Officials and the local leaders on the prevailing conditions regarding India’s Independence. The INA Officials persuaded the local leaders to decide on an appropriate place for hoisting the tri-colour flag at Moirang. Under Shri Koireng, Colonel Shaukat Ali Malik, Commander of the Bahadur Intelligence Group of the INA, hoisted the Tri-colour Flag for the first time on Indian soil at the historic Moirang Kangla on the evening of April 14, 1944. In the words of Colonel Shaukat Ali Malik, as said on April 14 1944, “People of Manipur …This is the first place in the Indian land, where INA has got Independence by defeating the British. Here the soldiers of the Indian Army and Japanese Army have been martyred; this is a holy land from today onwards”. Against all odds, Shri Koireng and his colleagues made several arrangements for feeding thousands of Azad Hind Fauz soldiers for almost three months while at Moirang. They even conducted voluntary donation drives for the ration of the Indo -Japanese Army. Numerous accounts have narrated that Shri Koireng even arranged food grains from his father’s granary without seeking his permission. The consequences of helping the INA forces were drastic; Shri Koireng and his colleagues were declared as ‘traitors ‘, and a ‘shoot at sight order was issued by the British Government. Following this, he went underground and escaped with his co-workers to Burma. Later, he has conferred the Tamrapatra Award (awarded to the freedom fighters of the Azad Hind Fauj) in 1972 for his heroic contributions to the INA’s efforts in Manipur.
THANGJING TEMPLE: a symbol that has stood the test of time
Shri Koireng was a born leader; this was once again demonstrated when he took on the issue of Ibudhou Thangjing temple’s custody. After India attained Independence in 1947, the merger Agreement of 1949 did not invoice any significant changes regarding the temple’s possession. It continued to be under the control of the King of Moirang. Maharaja Bodhchandra Singh declared Ebudhou Tianjin as the King’s god, thereby taking away all temple offerings. This agitated the general public. The people of Manipur, under the leadership of Shri Koireng Singh, revolted against Maharaja Bodhchandra Singh in May 1950 and demanded Thangjing Deity. The temple should be declared the People’s God. Naturally, its custody ought to be handed over to the public, and ‘Lai Haraoba’ celebrations to be governed by the people. This agitation was popularly known as the ‘Thangjing Andolan’.
The King responded aggressively and violently to suppress the rebellion, but unfortunately, it led to injuries of several people, including Shri Koireng and many others. People then boycotted the office bearers appointed by the King to look after the governing of the temple. The custody and the governing of the temple was a long-fought struggle which became fruitful only after it reached the judicial institution. The King had to appear before the court, and the very fact that the court called upon such an authority caused much restlessness and turbulence in the King’s Court. After thorough consideration, they decided to hand over the temple’s governance to the public. Following this, the two parties arrived at a consensus, which led to the formation of ‘Thangjing Seva Mandal’, which looks after the functioning of the temple even to this day. The people of Manipur, especially Moirang, still regard and remember this as one of the many facets of Shri Koireng Singh’s indomitable legacy.
In Public Life
Shri Koireng’s genuine love for his motherland and an undying desire to do something meaningful for the public steered him towards politics in the post-Independence era. He was great, the Chief Minister of Manipur, and his farsightedness guided the state through the sensitive transitional period. As a public leader, he was more of a statesman than a politician. As a public office holder, he kept his touch with the ground rather than engaging in theatrics. Personal benefits or interests did not exist in his vocabulary. His oratory skills were always captivating for all age groups. In short, they were genuinely legendary. During my childhood, I still remember people skipping lunch to watch him speak live at public functions or rallies. He left a lasting legacy, having set up many iconic public infrastructural establishments that paved the way for the state to progress seamlessly in some crucial spheres. Some of these are:
1.The Loktak Multi-Purpose Project, Loktak Moirang
2. The Indian National Army (INA) Martyr’s Memorial Complex, Moirang.
3. Construction of the Moirang Thanga Road and Imphal Tamenglong
4. Setting up of All India Radio (AIR) in Manipur.
5. Setting up of Regional Medical College (RMC), now known as Regional Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS).
Such traits speak a thousand words about the type of an individual he was; a bonafide leader of men whose love for Manipur and its people came above anything else. Mairembam Koireng Singh’s legacy will continue to stand the test of time. The writer is an environmentalist, formerly General Secretary(Adm) and Vice President BJP, Manipur Pradesh. Formerly Vice Chairman of Manipur Infrastructures Development Authority(MIDA) and Chairman of Manipur Development Society(MDS), Govt of Manipur. Presently, he is the state spokesperson of BJP Manipur Pradesh and also Chairman of Loktak Development Authority (LDA), Govt of Manipur.