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Acknowledging Myanmar’s support in Indian freedom struggle


It is a matter of relief that Prime Minister Modi cared to acknowledge important segments of India’s freedom movement during his recent visit to Myanmar

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Myanmar visit early this month was significant for several reasons. Of them, one single reason was crying for attention of the Indian nation for the last 70 years. It was the long overdue obligation to acknowledge this neighbouring country’s contribution to freedom of India. The last war of India’s independence was waged from here by the provisional Government of free India with its Indian National Army in coalition with the Imperial Japanese Army.

A careful study of correspondence between viceroy, provincial Governors, Commander-in-Chief and the Secretary of State of the related period clearly show that despite conceding a military defeat in the battles of 1944 and 1945, the Indian Army’s spirit had frightened the British away and secured India its freedom. There is scarcely any doubt about this fact.

But it is also true that historians in general tended to overlook this fact because that would have exploded the myth that India secured freedom through non-violent movements. The fact that the provisional Government of free India, led by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, belonged to the ‘Axis camp’, gave them justification in burying facts.  In the aftermath of the World War II, the victor-allied nations were keen to downgrade their rivals in every possible manner and seek revenge on them. The British too publicly did everything possible to denigrate this Government in exile and the Indian Army.

The world has changed drastically since long. Arch rivals in World War II viz, the US and Japan are close allies today. Germany is the dominant nation in the European Union and close to erstwhile rivals like the United Kingdom and France. They have no hesitation in setting the history right without inhibition. Why should India hesitate to acknowledge its debts to countries like Myanmar and Japan rendered in the last war of independence? Here are some facts which present opportunities to us to express gratitude.

Both Japan and Myanmar fought in the axis side. The joint force of the Japanese Army, numbering around 90,000 and nearly 10,000 strong Indian Army fought a grim battle with British India and allied armies at Imphal and Kohima from March to July 1944. The war was fierce and the prospect of victory kept swaying between two sides. The remaining Indian Army force was waiting to move to war front at strategic time.

The importance of this war of independence can be guessed from one single objective assessment. In 2013 in a contest organised by the the National Army Museum, eminent historians from the UK, who analysed wars fought by Britain over the last 500 years, the battle of Kohima was adjudged as the greatest. Historian Robert Lyman observed: “Great things were at stake in a war with the toughest enemy any British Army has had to fight.” He added that losing that battle the consequences for the allied cause would have been catastrophic.

Unfortunately, this grim war was lost by the joint forces essentially due to logistical factors, for want of air support and faulty strategies. There are some important facts which most Indians are ignorant of. Nearly half of the joint forces had perished in the battle fields of Imphal and Kohima and more of them while retreating to Myanmar through rain lashed deep jungles. In other words, around 50,000 soldiers had died for the cause of freedom of India.

Though the nation later came to know and paid tribute to the Indian Army, scarcely any history book acknowledged these Japanese soldiers who were part of the joint force and lost their lives in the last war of Indian independence. As for Myanmar, Bose had shifted the head quarters of the Government as well as the Indian Army to Yangon (then Rangoon) and the country was central to the ongoing war. The people and the then Government, led by Ba Maw, extended every kind of logistical support to the provisional Government and earned its gratitude.

The émigré Indians settled in Myanmar had laid bare their wealth and services for the cause of India, their motherland. It was here that Bose had made his proverbial invocation to Indians: “Give me blood and I promise you freedom”. His call was responded to with unprecedented enthusiasm and nationalistic spirit.

In April 1945, when the fall of Rangoon became imminent and Japan urged Bose to leave the country, he paid a glowing compliment to both Indians settled in Myanmar as well as that great host country. To the émigré Indians he said, “When the history of India’s Last War of Independence comes to be written Indians in Burma will have an honoured place in that history.”  To the people and the Government of Burma, he expressed his deep gratitude: “The day will come when Free India will repay that debt of gratitude in a generous manner.”

It is a tragedy that no Indian Prime Minister had for over six decades cared to acknowledge these important segments of Indian freedom struggle. Nor anyone came forward to discharge that sacred debt. It is a matter of relief and pride that eventually, Prime Minister Modi has cared to redeem that debt in some measure during his first visit to Japan in September 2014. He has discharged that sacred obligation in Myanmar now.

By Sudip Kar Purkayastha

(The writer is a senior columinist and an author)

Courtesy: Daily Pioneer