We all know that while the freedom of India was attained through an extended, composite, and multi-pronged struggle, the INA movement led by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was a key component that eventually compelled the British to leave India. Even in death, the courage of Netaji inspired all the Indians to resist and challenge the authority of the British.
The original Advanced Headquarters of the INA still exists in splendour at Moirang Konjengbam Leikai and has finally become a tourist site of International significance which it always deserved to be. It was from this place where the INA and Japanese forces mobilised to attack the British position of the 17th British Column at Bishnupur in its attempt to capture Imphal, the capital of Manipur, which was crucial for the ‘Delhi Chalo’ mission. Once Imphal is liberated, Netaji could install an effective ‘Provisional Government of Free India’ on Indian soil, which should offer an opportunity for more and more Indians to organise an anti-British revolt.
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 April 3, 1941. Except for indirect support, the meeting with Adolf Hitler wasn’t fruitful, so Netaji considered shifting all his plans toward 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 “Challo Delhi” was raised from Azad Hind Radio, Germany, on August 9, 1942.
Singapore fell into the hands of the Japanese Imperial Army on February 15 1942. The sixty thousand troops of Allied Forces (comprised of 32,000 Indian armies, 15,000 British Armies, and 13,000 Australian armies) led by a British officer, Colonel Hunt, had to beg for unconditional surrender at the Ferrar Park Stadium, Singapore, on February 17.
Major General Fujiwara of the Japanese Imperial Army classified thirty-two thousand Indian prisoners of war and established the Indian National Army (INA). He appointed Captain Mohon Singh as the new formation’s General Officer in Commanding (GOC). This was a strategic movement of Japanese force in the warfare sense of Emperor Hirohito, which was “Asia for Asians only”.
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 “Challo Delhi” was raised from Azad Hind Radio, Germany, on August 9, 1942
From Germany, Netaji then undertook a perilous underwater journey for 90 (ninety) days to reach Sumatra and arrived at Tokyo by air via Penang and Manila on May 6, 1943. He met the Japanese Prime Minister Tojo twice and, with his energetic enthusiasm, secured the unscented support of the Japanese Government for the movement to free India at any cost.
Subhas Chandra Bose arrived in Singapore on July 2 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 reorganised the “Azad Hind Fauj” and declared the ‘Provisional Government of Azad Hind’ formation at Cathey Cinema Hall, Singapore, on October 21, 1943. On October 23, 1943, the Azad Hind Government declared war against Britain and USA.
In March 1944, the three Japanese forces of the 33rd, 31st, and 15th divisions, along with the INA Subhas Brigade, 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 lifeline 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 Kanglatombi. Then, the 1st INA Division, under the command of Major General M.Z. Kiani also joined the Imphal campaign and fought along with the Yamamoto force in the 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 March 7 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 the 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 measures at Phougak-chao-ikhai, Tronglaobi and Okshongbung.
The attack on Moirang commenced with canon fire by the Indo-Japanese forces from the southern hills range called Khoingoujeng Hill towards Moirang on the evening of April 13 1944, and a fierce encounter took place between the British and Japanese soldiers at Phougak-chao-ikhai and Tronglaobi. A large column of 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.
The attack on Moirang commenced with canon fire by the Indo-Japanese forces from the southern hills range called Khoingoujeng Hill towards Moirang on the evening of April 13 1944, and a fierce encounter took place between the British and Japanese soldiers at Phougak-chao-ikhai and Tronglaobi
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.
Lieutenant Endo led the infantry attack from Torbung, Terakhongshangbi, and 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, cannons, and 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 up to Potshangbam by the Japanese and INA forces by the night of April 13 1944.
The retreating British forces took advantage of the darkness of night and secured a firm position of camping for the defensive line at the hillocks of Bishnupur.
Eventually, Kumam Kanglen Singh of Moirang had the chance to meet the INA military officials Colonel Shaukat Hayat Ali Malik and Naki Ahmad Choudhuri (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, 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 the tri-colour flag at Moirang.
Under the guidance of M. Koireng Singh, Col. Shaukat Hayat Ali Malik, Commander of the Bahadur Intelligence Group of the INA, hoisted the Tri-Colour Flag with the springing tiger as the emblem at the historic Moirang Kangla on the evening of April 14, 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.
The Moirang Kangla was chosen by Shri M Koireng Singh and his team because the Kangla is a sacred place and the seat of power where coronations of the ancient kings were held. This day, April 14, 1944, shall be remembered in the history of India’s freedom struggle as the Day of the Revolutionary Declaration of Freedom of the United India. The flag unfurled at Moirang, Manipur, symbolised the united aspirations of the united people of India from Imphal to Peshawar and Kashmir to Kanyakumari. This is the uniqueness and significance of the liberation of Moirang.
Hemam Thambaljao Singh, father of Hemam Nilamani Singh, provided his residential house with tin roofing at Moirang Konjengbam Leikai for setting up the Headquarters for the Indo-Japanese forces. It was thus the first and only Advanced Headquarters of the INA on the liberated soil of India. Col. Shaukat Ali Malik and his officers worked from this Headquarters for three months. It was from this place where the INA and Japanese forces mobilised to attack the British position of the 17th British Column at Bishnupur in its attempt to capture Imphal, the capital of Manipur.
From the INA HQ 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
Hemam Nilamani Singh, Mairembam Koireng Singh, and Kumam Kanglen Singh, apart from providing whatever was available in their possession, led the mobilisation of voluntary donations of rice, dry fish, and other grains from the local people for the ration of Indo-Japanese forces who stayed at INA Headquarters, Moirang, and its adjoining areas like Phubala, Sunusiphai, etc.
They provided the food grains and other edible items by head-carrying, buffalo sleighs, horses, bullock carts, or whatever means available. Fifty to sixty persons were involved in the delivery of the food materials. In the first instant, three tons of rice and another one and a half tons of grains, vegetables, dry fish, etc., were provided. Providing rations for thousands of the Indo-Japanese forces for a period of three months during a situation of war was no mean task; it reveals the involvement, encouragement, and participation of the public of Moirang and Manipur in the Freedom Movement of India.
Thirteen other members of the Nikhil Manipuri Mahasabha, namely (1) Th. Angou (2) P. Tomal (3) S. Ibohal (4) I. Tombi (5) L. Bijoy (6) Kanhai (7) M. Jatra (8) W. Gyaneshwor (9) M. Amuba (10) L. Irabat (11) Kh. Jugeshwor (12) O. Keinya Devi, and (13) M Randhoni Devi, also secretly came over to Moirang to join the INA and support the arriving Indo-Japanese forces. Apart from providing rations, the locals also provided much-needed information and intelligence about the enemy camps to Col. Shaukat Ali on a daily basis.
From the INA HQ 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 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 the shortage of medicine and supplies. Still, the combined forces of the 1/214 regiment, 1/215 regiment, and the disintegrated part of the 33rd Division converged at Maibam Lotpaching (Red Hill) and prepared to attack Imphal.
They constructed “Pimples”, “Foxholes”, and “Gunner Boxes” around the entire region of Red Hill. Then they blocked the supply lines to the 17th Columns of British at Bishnupur. Meanwhile, Field Marshall Slim of the British Army found the right time to utilise the whole reserves of the Allied Forces. 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). Woodford was a combination of a group of the 17th Column at Bishnupur and a large number of fighters from the Imphal side with heavy artilleries – the powerful Bofor field guns and Lee Tanks.
On the other side, the Indo-Japanese forces had very limited stock except for their stiff courage. Despite the shortage of bullets, arms, and ammunition, they kept on fighting with their hands and bayonets with war cries and still proceeded forward. The Allied Forces could not control this onslaught of 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 May 24 to May 30, 1944. The casualty of the Indo-Japanese regiment was so incredibly high that at least 2000 men were killed from the aerial bombing at this battle.
The INA Martyrs’ Memorial Complex stands in pride here as a testimony to the courage and sacrifices of the Indo- Japanese forces. 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
Ultimately the Japanese army realised the eventuality of defeat due to the imminent heavy casualty, monsoon, and the impossible chance of 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 July 25, 1944.
Consequently, the surrounding areas of headquarter of Moirang were declared an “enemy zone” by the British. The 17 members of Mahasabha who had joined the INA were listed as traitors, and a “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 July 20, 1944, and proceed with a perilous journey on foot to re-join with the INA at Rangoon.
The aged K. Gopal Singh, who was also the father-in-law of M. Koireng Singh expired due to illness before reaching Rangoon. The British retook Rangoon in May 1945, and the three freedom fighters from Moirang were eventually captured by the British and imprisoned at Rangoon Central Jail. On August 18, 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 a Japanese-occupied air base at Taihoku, Formosa (now Taiwan).
In his biography, Netaji 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 POWs, became the heroes of the nation. When the Red Fort trial started, the British Government felt the heat of the rising sentiment of the whole country. In January 1946, a massive strike was imposed by officers and pilots of the Royal Indian Air Force (RIAF). By February, the ships of the 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, resulting in the final dialogue of independence. Owing to the prevailing situation, all POWs of INA had to be released. The three persons of Moirang, namely M. Koireng Singh, H. Nillamani Singh, and L. Sanaba 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 April 14, 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. The INA Martyrs’ Memorial Complex stands in pride here as a testimony to the courage and sacrifices of the Indo- Japanese forces. 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.
Until 2020 the only Advanced Headquarters of the INA on Indian soil, located at Moirang Konjengbam Leikai, from where some of the most important movements in the Freedom Struggle of India took shape and transformed into action, did not receive due recognition, if not completely forgotten. For seventy long years, i.e. from 1944 to 2020, the original structure of the Advanced Headquarters of the INA, which belonged to the Late Shri Hemam Thambal Singh, had been protected and preserved by his sons and descendants without much of any support.
Chief Minister N Biren Singh, in 2020, took the initiative to protect the historical monument that is the INA Headquarters and develop the compound into a befitting Complex to honour the sacrifices of our freedom fighters and to preserve the narrative of Manipur’s contribution to India’s Struggle for Freedom. The Government of Manipur then acquired 1.6193 acres from 31 residents to set up the Complex and allotted alternative land to the affected residents.
Now, the INA Headquarters compound has been developed into a beautiful complex with the INA Headquarters in its heart. A replica of the granite monument in fulfilment of the BJP Government’s commitment to the nation’s freedom fighters, the INA Headquarters Complex was remotely inaugurated and dedicated to the public by the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, on January 4, 2022. A 165-foot-tall tri-colour flag, the tallest in North-East India, was newly erected in the Complex and was unfurled by Union Home Minister Amit Shah on January 6, 2023, in a grand function.
The Advanced INA Headquarters, Moirang, is a tourist destination for all freedom-loving citizens of the world. May it forever remind all the Indians of the courage and sacrifices of the Indo-Japanese forces and their supporters, and inspire everybody toward a selfless and strong sovereign nation.
(The writer is former MLA of Moirang A/C and grandson of Late Shri M Koireng Singh, first Chief Minister of Manipur and INA Freedom Fighter, who was directly involved with the hoisting of the INA Tricolour flag at Moirang Kangla on April 14, 2023 and mainly responsible for the materialisation of the present INA Martyr’s Memorial Complex, Moirang)