Home » The Second World War, Colonial State Building and Local Participation in Manipur

The Second World War, Colonial State Building and Local Participation in Manipur

by Rinku Khumukcham
0 comment 30 minutes read

By- Dr. Sylvia Yambem, (History Dept., Manipur University)

The period of the Second World War and the coming of the Indian National Army into Manipur were characterized by heightened socio-political development. All sections of the Manipuri society by declaring their loyalties to the contesting parties, expressed their political ideologies. However, political ideologies and consciousness was fragmented, hence, while the Royal family and the state administration was transformed to meet the requirements of the British Empire and the Allied forces, the middle class Meiteis and the hill tribes were equally divided in their support to both the British and the Indo-Japanese forces. This paper attempts to locate this diverse socio-political consciousness to people’s own lived experience under the colonial state and also the divisive process of colonial state building that created a fragmented Manipur state. Colonial policies that led to events like the 1919 Kuki rebellion or the second Nupi Lan in 1939 as well as the numerous political organizations like the Nikhil Manipur Mahasabha or the Praja Sanmelani were instrumental in creating an environment conducive to the rise of differentiated loyalties. This diverse political consciousness exhibited by the inhabitants of Manipur during the Second World War reflected the wider fragmentation of state-society relationship under British colonialism.
Manipur and The Second World War
Manipur in the Northeastern frontier of Britain’s Raj occupied a strategic position in the Second World War. Imphal lying 50 miles from Burma in the eastern frontier’s impenetrable hills had seemed so far removed from any possible battlefront of the war, though with the entry of Japan in 1941, the war it is said, approached Imphal without stealth and all too rapidly (Evans and Brett-James 2016). The repercussions of war were felt as early as January-February 1942, and soon following the Imperial Japanese Army’s conquest of Burma in March 1942, hundreds of refugees began to arrive at Imphal (Administration Report of the Manipur State 1943-44). To these were added the Japanese air raids, beginning 10th and 16th May 1942 that altogether killed 71 people and wounded 80 including 50 refugees. The air raids of which there were about 17 during 1942-1944 devastated the everyday life of the people as well as caused utter chaos and lawlessness (Between two years of the war from May 1942-1944, Imphal experienced 17 air raids: beginning with May 10th and 16th 1942, that killed 71 people and 80 wounded, including 50 refugees, then in 1943 there were 3 air raids respectively on April 20th and 21st which killed 90 killed and wounded 49and on November 9th which killed 3 and wounded another 3. As the intensity of the war increased in 1944 there were 12 air raids in 1944- on March 16th and 17th which killed 1 and wounded 16, on April 3rd, 10th, 15th, 17th, 22nd and 26th which killed 1person and on May 1st, 6th, 10th and 11th which killed 4 and wounded 6. An annual memorial is organized on 20th April at Khurai Chingangbam Mandap to remember the victims. The 20th April bombing marked the largest loss of lives in one single day in the history of Manipur during the war. See, Kaotoch, Hemant Singh. (2019) The Battlefields of Imphal: The Second World War and North East India. Oxon: Routledge, pp.14-15). While in the first air raid the areas of the Assam Rifles were targeted, in the latter the Residency and the bazar areas were hit (The air raids killed 70 civilians and wounded around another 80 civilians. Within a few hours of the air raid almost every house in Imphal was abandoned with its inhabitants fleeing to villages. In the second air raid 25 bomb craters were counted in the Residency garden. See, Administration Report of the Manipur State for the Year 1943-1944. 1945. E.F. Lydall. Imphal: State Printing Press. Evans, Sir Geoffrey and Anthony Brett-James (Reprint Edition 2016), Imphal: A Flower on Lofty Heights, Sunmarg Publishers and Distributors: New Delhi pp. 31.). Moreover within a few hours of the air raid almost every house in Imphal was abandoned with its inhabitants fleeing to the villages. The air raids created an atmosphere of chaos and disorderliness – the civil administration ceased to function, the Police did not show up for duty, when the jail’s main gate was bombed on 16th May all the convicts escaped and in the center of Imphal the only civilians remaining were a few pilferers and looters, the main bazar was gutted and the Women’s bazar remained closed (Ibid). The Manipur state durbar was even temporarily shifted to the residence of Khomdram Angangjao Singh at Kwakeithel (Singh 2016).
The Indo-Japanese invasion comprising the Indian National Army of Manipur occurred in 1943. Two events it is said motivated and inspired the Japanese Imphal offensive:
Wingate’s Chindit first expedition changed Japanese thinking. We thought that the north Burma jungles were a defence against British advance into Burma. We now realized that they could be traversed by both sides. We had no intention of advancing into India, just occupy Imphal and Kohima to further the defence of Burma. But Chandra Bose and Mutaguchi wanted to invade India after occupying Imphal. British Brigadier Orde Wingate’s column- comprising of 3000 men- penetrated one foot deep into Burma from Imphal. The Chindit expedition called Operation Longcloth was launched in February 1943 from Imphal which served as the base and Wingate’s headquarters. There was a serious anti-Britishmovement in India, so it was hoped that the INA would operate in Bengal to assist the rising.
Following the Chindit expedition, on September 1943 the 15th Army was ordered to prepare for the invasion of Manipur and the capture of Imphal. Lieutenant General Mutaguchi Renya, assisted by the 15, 31, 33 Divisions and the I Division Indian National Army (INA), planned Operation “U-Go”. In late January 1944 General Kawabe issued the final order to the 15th Army. Accordingly the Japanese Divisions crossed Chindwin at Homalin and Thaungdut on 16th March. Within a week they reached Ukhrul and through the 4 routes of Tiddim Road in the South, the Tamu-Pallel road in the South-East, and in the East the Chamu-Shangshak and the Somra tract-Kamjong route, the Japanese were expected to enter Imphal by 27th March. On 26th curfew was imposed in the Imphal valley. By 29th the siege of Imphal had begun and the Japanese 15th Division cut the road to Dimapur. The fall of Imphal was announced on 30th March 1944 from Tokyo (Administration Report of the Manipur State 1943-44).
The war directly affected Manipur and its inhabitants, who not only lost their lives but whose homes, livelihood, livestock were killed, captured and even intentionally destroyed. The natives became refugees in their own land (Devi 2018). Not only were the inhabitants of Imphal forced to flee to the lois (villages) or hide in trenches following the Japanese air raids, but the arrival of the Allied Forces which led to the occupation of around 20,000 houses entailed that even in the midst of the war the native home owners had to look for shelter elsewhere! Moreover schemes like the Denial Policy and Scorched Earth to deny food sources to the Indo-Japanese forces led to the burning of paddy, kots (granary) and killing of livestock. The war particularly the wartime exigencies such as the development of infrastructure-communication networks, contracts, supplies and distribution of goods, and the heavy inflow of capital also structurally transformed the Manipur society and economy. However the most astonishing development of the war was the local response and participation of the people to the Japan Laan, by which the Second World War was popularly known in Manipur. It would be naturally assumed that given the huge devastations caused by the Indo-Japanese invasion of Manipur, its inhabitants would support the war efforts of the British and the Allied-American forces whose primary objective was to repel the Japanese forces. However, this was as seen was usually not the case.
Exploring Local Response and Participation in the War
The period of the Second World War and the movement of the Indo-Japanese forces into Manipur saw the aggressive mobilization of the society. Both the Allied forces and the Indo-Japanese engaged in extensive propaganda to secure support for their respective causes, for instance, while the Japanese circulated the flags of the INA, Japanese badge, and even pamphlets signed by Subhas Chandra Bose declaring “troops of the Indian Army to throw up their hands and join the Indian National Army as soon as they come in contact with the Japanese soldiers” and even proclaiming that Subhas Chandra Bose, the Supreme Commander of the Indian National Army will himself be coming to Manipur to get rid of the British yoke over the people, the British actively supported by the Royal Family and through its various programmes like the Savings Scheme Certificates or even Tunisia Day celebration, and besides other activities and initiatives also tried to elicit local support to their war efforts. Both parties equally evoked emotions and sentiments to identify themselves with the natives, as well as freely used threats and surveillance to coerce support. However while the most ardent local support to the British war efforts came from the Royal Family and the state’s administrative machinery, local response and participation to the war was divided. This was because firstly people’s support to the war was motivated and determined by their personal lived experience under the colonial state, secondly the colonial state’s divisive governance also alienated some sections of the society, like the politically conscious middle class Meiteis and the Kuki hill tribes.
Historiography on local participation reveals distinct camps or groups each professing their loyalties to the contesting parties; firstly at the highest echelon of the society was the Royal Family who supported the cause of the British Empire’s war efforts and the state’s administrative system was transformed to meet the exigencies of the war, secondly, the politically conscious Manipuri middle class who identified with the Indian national movement supported Subhas Chandra Bose’s INA-Japanese forces, and lastly, the common valley-hill inhabitant who also equally professed their loyalties to the British or the Japanese-INA forces. Here it is important to emphasize that the loyalties of the middle class Meiteis were inclined towards the INA, which they identified with the Congress (Indian National Congress). British archival records also labeled the politically conscious Meiteis whether belonging to political organizations like the Nikhil Manipuri Mahasabha or the Praja Sanmelani as “Congress men”, and attempts were also made by the Assam Provincial Committee in 1939 to send their workers into Manipur. M. Koireng Singh (2018) one of the local Moirang supporter of the INA-Japanese movement observes that the local leaders naturally supported the INA-Japanese forces. For the Kukis Indo-Japanese support was driven by their local grievances (Guite 2010). The native’s whether Meiteis, Kukis, Nagas and others, support for the Japanese were also motivated by their intensive propaganda on shared ethnicity between the north eastern mongoloid Indians and the Japanese
Mapping response and participation of the local people in the Second World War however is highly contentious. The contestations emerge largely because this is a relatively undocumented history, belonging primarily to the voices of the marginalized common people, suppressed by colonial writings and ignored by mainstream Indian literature. Fortunately however new emerging writings on the north eastern region have begun to explore the impact and role of the north east in the history of the second world war, the contribution of the people as well as the consequences of the war on state building in Manipur and the people including the gendered dimensions of war(Dena, Lal 1974, 2014, Singh 1993, Singh 1998, Mukherji 2009, Guite 2010, Pau 2014, Devi 2018, Katoch 2019, Yambem 2019, Naorem 2020).
The Royal Family and state administration
Maharaja Bodhachandra Singh and the state administration gave full support and cooperation to the war efforts. For administrative convenience during the war the Maharaja declared the region as an operational area and even surrendered his authorities to the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief (GOC), IV Corps of the Allied Forces. To meet the war exigencies the GOC was empowered to maintain and administer Martial Law as long as necessary, to appoint officers to administer it under his discretion, as well as to terminate the state of Martial Law when considered no longer necessary. The Manipur state administration was thus directly handed over to the GOC of the Allied Forces. Other wartime administrative measures initiated include the “Grow More Food” campaign carried out with active support of the state servants along with the Military Local Purchase Officers that succeeded in purchasing food for the military allied forces stationed in Imphal. It is reported that from October 1942-Sepetmber 1943 around 78,014 maunds of vegetables, 3,17,744 maunds of potatoes, 10,991 maunds of fruits, 11,435 maunds of charcoal along with 1,31,940 eggs, 82,322 ducks and chickens were purchased under the scheme (Manipur Administration Report 1943-44). War-bonds and Defence Savings Certificates were also devised as savings mechanism and means to combat inflation.Besides humanitarian initiatives such as the opening of camps to accommodate the thousands of refugees fleeing Burma was started as early as January-February 1942 by Maharaja Bodhachandra and the Maharani. The Administration Report (1943-44) mentions that the Maharaja and the Maharani fed hundreds of these refugees coming from Burma. Manipur was swarmed by thousands of refugees whether Indian coolies, dock labourers, household servants, women and children, Anglo-Indian or Anglo-Burmese, British families and even Italians and Swedes who were in-transit to Dimapur.
Other notable members of the Manipur State Durbar (MSD or Durbar) and government officials who canvassed for public support include R.K Bhaskor Singh and L. Ibungohal Singh who in public meetings boosted public morale and support for the Allied forces, or even S. Nodiachand Singh and C. Niladhwaja. The success of the Grow More Food campaign was possible with the cooperation of the MSD members, who each were allocated their respective jurisdiction for popularizing the state sponsored programme. The National War Front Committee that was inaugurated on 23rd January 1944 at the Palace Durbar Hall had as its Chairman the Maharaja and the state War-Fund Committee members as primary members. The Front was an initiative of E. F. Lydall, the President of the Manipur State Durbar which constituted the highest decision making body in the state.
The support given by the Royal Family and the state administration was therefore in toto, whole hearted. It was also as expected, because the Manipur state established following the Anglo-Manipuri war of 1891 had vested political authority in the hands of the minor King Churachand Singh who had been nominated by the Queen Empress from the collateral line of the monarchy. King Churachand also established his loyalty to the British Empire “by placing both his services and the resources of his state at the disposal of the King Emperor” to the cause of the First World War. In return the Raja was made a C.B.E in 1917 and was awarded the hereditary title of Maharaja and the K.C.S.I star in 1934. Likewise at the outbreak of the Second World War, Maharaja Churachand Singh besides once again placing the resources of the state at the disposal of the King Emperor in 1939 also gifted an amount of Rs. 85,000/- from the state funds to His Majesty’s Government for the purchase of an aircraft (Ibid). His son, Maharaja Bodhachandra Singh, thus naturally carried forward this loyalty to the British Empire. Hence along with the members of Durbar and the state administration, the state administrative machinery were geared towards the mobilization and canvassing of mass public support to the war efforts of the British Empire.
The Manipuri middle class participation in the war
Popular participation in the war varied between the support for the British and the Indo-Japanese force. Even in the valley, some sections of the politically conscious Meiteis did not support the British. Rather they constituted one of the main sources of local support for the INA forces in Manipur. The role of the Meiteis in the war and their support to the INA-Japanese can be seen in the writings of M. Koireng Singh, oral testimonies as well as from the archival records.Koireng Singh (2018, p. 45) notes that a message for support appealing to the Indian National Congress and the people of Manipur in general seeking unreserved support to the Indo-Japanese forces was brought from Chamol (INA Advance Base Camp) by a Kuki named Lungdam (or Lunggam) and was directly handed over to Dr. Gulapchand Singh, who was the Medical Officer posted at Sugnu. This same message was then passed over to Shri Thokcom Angou Singh of Singjamei (a Praja Sanmelani member). The Meiteis according to Koireng Singh earnestly supported the Indo-Japanese invasion from its very early stage.32 Meiteis under L. Guno Singh of Khurai constituted an advance party for the invading forces. He further mentions that 13 of them reached Pallel and even attempted to procure the enemy’s secrets. M. Ahanjao Singh, B. Balhob Sharma, M. Chaoba Singh and S. Yaima Singh were arrested and lodged in Calcutta at the Egle-kacha staging camp until the end of the war. Other prominent names of the INA supporters included 13 members of the Nikhil Manipuri Mahasabha; Th. Angou Singh, P. Tomal Singh, S. Ibohal Singh, L. Tombi Singh, L. Bijoy Singh, L. Kanhai Singh, M. Jatra Singh, W. Gyaneshwar Singh, M. Amuba Singh, L. Irabot Singh, Kh. Jugeshwar Singh, and including two women members O. Keinya Devi and K. Randhoni Devi who in order to assist the INA-Japanese forces, covertly travelled to Moirang. Moirang was central to the Indo-Japanese military strategy; areas like Maibam Ching Lotpa, Ningthoukhong, Bishnupur and other places in Bishnupur-Moirang experienced the direct onslaught of the war, and the Indo-Japanese continued to occupy the area till July 1944. Moirang was also central to the INA’s narrative as it was here at Moirang in 1944 that the Indian flag was first unfurled in India. Koireng Singh recounts the event leading to the unfurling of the flag:

In the early morning of April 14, the leaders of the Indo-Japanese advance party had discussions with Sarva Shri 1) M. Koireng Singh 2) L. Sanaba Singh 3) K. Kanglen Singh and 4) M. Mani Singh and others all of Moirang at Tronglaobi village. After taking stock of the situation, at about 5pm on the same day Col Soukat Ali Malik, Commander of the Bahadur (Intelligence) Group planted the Tricolour flag with the Springing Tiger as emblem at the historic Moirang Kangla where the historic INA Martyrs Memorial Complex is, at present taking shape (2018, pp. 45).

Many Japanese officers and soldiers including Captain Ito of 33rd Mountain Gun Regiment also attended this event according to Koireng Singh (Ibid). The translated version of Col. Soukat Ali Malik’s speech, is given below:

“….The Provisional Government of Azad Hind had declared war on England and America with a commitment to completewith the creation of a Greater East Asia and to bring welfare to the people of India by defeating the Anglo-American Forces. The Indian National Army with unstinted support of the Japanese Government has now crossed the Indo-Burmese border and in the course of its struggle for the liberation of the people of India from the British yoke we have now reached Moirang, the ancient citadel of Manipur. Our commitment is the march to Delhi and unfurling the TriColour Flag there at LAL KILLA. Many had died on our way to reach here (Moirang) and many would die on our way to Delhi. However, expulsion of the enemy from the sacred soil of India is a compulsion for us. We shall fight; and people of Manipur would provide supplies to us. Nothing about us shall be passed on to the enemy; everything about the enemy should be passed on to us…. (Ibid)”

This message Koireng Singh adds was well-received by the jubilant crowd, who he writes “fell thrilled that they were the first liberated people of India though many of their family members evacuated Moirang and took shelter at Thanga, Sendra and Mamang Ching. They voluntarily donated provisions to the advance Indo-Japanese forces. The voluntary campaign was led by Shri Khumam Kanglen Singh of Moirang” (Ibid).The British had declared the areas surrounding the INA headquarters, which belonged to H. Nilamani Singh, according to Koireng Singh as “enemy zone”. The Political Agent also declared K. Gopal Singh, L. Sanaba Singh, H. Nilamani and Koireng Singh as traitors.

Colonial surveillance records also corroborate the support extended by the local Manipuris to the Indo-Japanese forces. Extensive surveillance was maintained over the movements of the people. Reports such as the S.I. F.I.B. tour diary mentions Kiyam Gopal Singh as the leader of the Manipuri Jap-helper in Moirang, Mairembam Koirengmacha for supplying to the Japs rations, Thangarakpam Ibohal Singh for supplying rations and sheltering the Japs in his house, Sanaba Singh had contacts with Naki Ahmad Choudhury, Kanglen Singh choukidar provided boats to the Japs at Sendra. Another Report states Raj Kumar (not a complete name), a local inhabitant and Col Malik of the INA also maintained some sort of relationship. The Report reads as: “Raj Kumar was arrested at Imphal by Br. His wife approached Col. Malik for monetary assistance for her expenses and for getting her husband released. She was given Rs. 100/- for her expenses. Besides some more money was given to her for getting her husband released. 4 days after Raj Kumar returned from Imphal and went to S.A. Malik. He reported about- 1. Return of Indian Tps to rear from Imphal. 2. Reinft. of American & Br tps to replace Indians. 3. His interrogation & release by Police.”
A Report from the Central Intelligence Office, Assam to the Political Agent, Manipur also mentions contact between Col. S.A. Malik and his officers and the Congress minded Manipuris of Moirang Khunou. It says that the Jif (Japanese Indian Force) who was interrogated revealed Kuna Singh and Jnaneswar Singh as local agents responsible for collecting information for Malik. Archival records also provide detailed information on individual inhabitants like Tomal Singh of Chinga Makha, Kanha Singh of Chinga Makha, Angou Singh of Chinga Makha, Bejoi Singh of Saga Lambal, Jatra Singh of Bishnupur, Giamashor of Nambol, Munal Singh of Kakwa and Amu Singh of Nambol who were voluntarily helping and supporting the INA-Japanese with food, essential supplies, men power etc. Other reports also mentions R.K Yaiskul Sana who was found possessing a pass with the stamp of the Japs, and detailed movements and actions of Congress-men like Thokchom Angouba Singh of Thokchom Leikai, Singjamei, a Congress-man who was now a pro-Jap suspect who had gone to Moirang,Congress-men of Mayang Imphal like Souraisam Bidyaswarsingh, Thangjam Birchandrasingh, Ningthoujam Tomchousingh, Sagonsem Krishnasingh, Maisnam Merasing and Thangarakpam Ibotolsingh of Moirang now living at Thanga who acted as a conduit between Bidyaswarsingh and the Japs. 25 Congressmen, it is reported were also paid Rs.100-Rs.200 each for providing military information from Bishanpur, Imphal and other posts. Even information on women participation and support for the INA-Japanese forces is also mentioned in the Tour Diary of S.I. F.I.B Manipur, which says: 2 Manipuri women also went with Kiyam Gopal and others to the Japs. One of the women it states is Tongoubi who was also the leader of Manipuri Women Agitation (referring to the second Nupi Lan of 1939).

The hill tribes in the war
The Kukis according to Guite (2010) actively supported the Japanese in the Japan gal (Japanese war), even before the Japanese invasion of the northeastern frontier. Citing colonial archival records Guite writes “The Kukis were one of the first groups to contact the Indo-Japanese forces in the Chindwin valley in 1943. A Central Intelligence Officer (Assam), E.T.D. Lambert, in his report to Gimson and others, has noted that the Kukis first contacted the Japanese in and around the area in the Chindwin bend, south of Homalin, in the Somra Tract and Kabaw Valley, in 1943. He said that, Tongkhothang, Chief of Haokip clan and son of Pache, one of the leaders of 1917 rebellion, was believed to have crossed Chindwin River in November, 1943 to contact the Japanese and have asked for 400 rifles to fight against the British.It was one Paokhomang Kuki of Shakok who had first contacted the Japanese during the same time and was ‘largely instrumental in getting Tongkhothang, the Haokip Chief, to visit the Japanese in Burma round about the same time’ (2010, pp. 292).” Moreover as mentioned earlier, it was a Kuki who carried Subhas Chandra Bose’s message appealing for support to the Manipuris. Archival sources also list the names of the Kuki Japanese helpers from Burma: from Makot- Paboi Kuki and Thangkhopao Kuki, from Kultuk- Tangkhongam Kuki, from Kaikai- Thangkhokai Kuki and from Lakhan Khuman- Haojakhup Kuki late Section Commander of L.C.

A.S.I. K. Ringshi of Chassad’s report also mentions “Tongkhothang the headman of Chassad who became the Raja of Haokip collected soldiers to help Jap Troops and Japs V Forces and all Kukis were very happy because all Kuki of Chassad and Chamu area are found good friendship (the Japs).” The same report further states that at least three meetings were arranged at Nungso, Maokot and Chassad villages. In order to support the Japanese the villagers collected rice, also guided the Japs Troops, and besides seeking information on those men who were helping the British they also threatened and intimidated those working for the English. A.S.I. K. Ringshi also writes that the following men namely Paokhomang of Shakok village, Yangkholet of Shakok village, Onkhoram of Chassad village, Khoignam of Chassad village and other Kuki and Japs officer had come to Bungpakhanao looking for N Chishung Group Major of V Force and Inchanshi Headman of Bungpa. However since these men were not present “they told to the villagers of Bungpa that your village are helping the British so villagers must be kill. Therefore our villagers gave them Rs. 300/-to Kukis to save our life, so must villagers are difficult to help British govt”.

Professing their loyalty towards the Japanese, the hill tribes also began to desert the V-Force and the Assam Rifles. The British had established the V-Force as a form of stay behind organization in case the Japanese crossed the Indo-Burma frontier. The British maintained detailed information on the names of those who had deserted the V-Force like the case of Pao Khomang Haokip of Phange village Ukhrul who in 1942 had joined the V Force and had even risen to the status of Section Comd was arrested for desertion. Pao Khomang Haokip the report stated played an active role in not only guiding the Japanese forces, but also arranging Kuki guides and had even forced the villagers to hand over their rifles and guns which had been issued by the V Force. Other names recorded include Lamkhothang and Vumkhothang Haokip of the 4th Assam Rifles and Mangkhohen Kuki of 3rd Assam Rifles who had also deserted to the Indo-Japanese forces Lakothang Kuki of Vajang village had also deserted the 1st A. Regiment and had become the Captain for the Japs. The note also mentions that those who have been reported to join the Japs “are said to have been pressed by Lamkhothang.” The Japanese Nishi-Kikan (the Japanese-INA intelligence organization) stationed at Homilin also had about 20 Kukis under Captain Izumiya.
Some sections of the Nagas also supported the Indo-Japanese forces. British reports mention Kaikhu Angami-Naga from Khonoma Naga Hills who was working as agent of the enemywhile S.I. F.I.B Lungleh’s report also records “one Sheilhut, the 2nd clerk of the SDO, Ukhrul had joined the enemy side”. To assist the Indo-Japanese the Tangkhul Nagas had established a Co-operation Committee having the three departments of Interview, Supply and Labour whose objective was to provide the Indo-Japanese forces with food, to arrange guides as well as supply essential items (Kipgen cited in Singh 1993, pp. 20-21). The Japanese also equally mobilized for support amongst the villages in Ukhrul, and at one such event while speaking in the house of the Ukhrul village headman the Japanese team comprising 1 Japanese Lt, 3 other Japs of unknown rank, 5 Sukte Kukis along with Lenthong Sukte the chief of Khosak village Tiddim Sub-Division, 2 Gurkhas and Sarengla a Tangkhul girl, emphasized on the discriminatory policies of the British, saying “if it were the Neapon Govt Thangkhuls would have been one of the most advanced tribe in Manipur hills.” The role of Sarengla however was ambiguous because another report mentions that the Nungsung headman of Kangpat village and the Yangkhoshei headman of Meitei had reported to the Japs officer that “Sarengla who can speak English and knows nurse. She must be arrest otherwise she may help the British so she was arrested.”
A fragmented colonial state building
The native princely state of Manipur became a subordinate state of the British colonial empire in India in 1891. From 1891 to 1947 colonial rule in Manipur saw numerous stages and phases; from the period of regency to direct rule by the King. Despite the changing labels of governance, colonial state building followed the colonial ideology of governance through its extractive economic policies and divisions of “us-them” between the native inhabitants. Events like the Nupi Lan and the Kuki rebellion (which are too lengthy to be narrated here in full) were a consequence of this ideology of colonial governance, that was both extractive and divisive in nature. It is in this background that the Second World War came into Manipur. Consequently, the attitude, response and participation of the people also reflected this fragmented state-society relationship.
M. Koireng Singh’s experience of the Second World War and people’s participation supports the argument that the local people particularly the so called Mahasabha or Praja Sanmelani members and the politically conscious Manipuri’s identified the Indo-Japanese invasion of India with the Indian national movement whether Congress, Gandhi or Subhas Chandra Bose. Manipur being a princely state of British India however did not have a provincial Congress committee, but nevertheless developments in Manipur including its emergence as a subordinate native state in 1891 following the Anglo-Manipur war had garnered a lot of international and national news coverage, this surely would not have escaped the attention of the Indian freedom leaders. Moreover attempts had been madeby the Assam Provincial Congress Committee to send its workers into Manipur at the time of the heightened socio-political development in 1939, particularly the emergence of political organizations like the NMM or the Praja Sanmelani and most importantly the outbreak of the second Nupi Lan. It is with this expectation of support that Subash Chandra Bose had sent his message or letter of appeal to the people of Manipur for the Indo-Japanese forces. Colonial records also mention the support of these so-called “Congress men” referring to the NMM/Praja Sanmelani leaders who supported the Indo-Japanese forces.
Similarly it is with this expectation of freedom or liberation from both the feudal and colonial forces, that the politically conscious Meiteis supported the Indo-Japanese. The Japanese, also aware of the prevailing socio-political developments in Manipur, had even inquired on the whereabouts of Hijam Irabot Singh. Rumours had also circulated that Japanese certificates signed by Irabot had beendistributed to the people, suggesting Irabot’s support for the Indo-Japanese in the Second World War. The British too kept surveillance on Irabot Singh. A memo dated 29 July 1944 to Gimson, the Political Agent mentioned that Irabot was in jail.

Local personal experience also guided the Kukis support for the Japanese. There were about 6000 Kukis who actively participated in the Second World War and who most significantly supported the Indo-Japanese war efforts.According to the JAC Memo of the Kuki INA Pensioners there were 24 Kukis INA killed by Allied forces, another 15 who had been arrested in Rangoon and other places in Burma and later deported to the Calcutta ( jail, 586 persons arrested and imprisoned in India by the Allied force and a large number of about 5,377 who though not arrested went underground. However in their support for the Indo-Japanese, Guite (2010) notes, and I quote here “their core concern was in the liberation of the Kuki territory from the colonial yoke. It was also a desperate ‘way out’ from an intolerable condition of existence created by the wicked colonial officials, their irresponsible troops, the harsh process of new laws, forced labour, porting system, various odd taxes, extortions, tortures and all other forms of exploitations. It was a political action based on the actually existing consciousness of the people illuminated by seamless level of local discontentment.” Thus the Kukis support was determined by their own experience, though conditioned by the policies of the British colonial state. Likewise the Zo, according to Pau (2014) though possessing a history of anti-British feeling nevertheless largely supported the British war efforts. Few Zos only conditionally supported the Japanese, in order to save their families after the British withdrawal from the so-called new Masters, the “To thak”. Otherwise it was the Chin Levies who played an important role in creating havoc to the Japanese forces, and ensuring British victory whether in the battle of Bhasa Hill or their withdrawal from Imphal in 1944 or at Ngalzang. The Zos were also motivated by their experience as well as the need to safeguard their future interests especially under the changing dynamics of governance presented in the period post the second world war.
Conclusion
The Second World War deeply affected Manipur. The war transformed Manipur, not only in terms of the devastations associated with war, but also in the context of the changing social-cultural-economical-political developments. Local participation in the Second World War in Manipur was determined by people’s personal experience and interests, which was equally shaped by the larger framework of British colonialism. People’s pre-war lives and political-social experienced had repercussions in the developments during the war. Most importantly the Second World War and the nature of local participation that occurred within the larger framework of a divisive colonial administrative system had wider implications to the development of a fragmented state-society relationship in post-colonial state building in Manipur.
(This article will be incorporated as chapter in the book on Manipur and Second World War which is to be brought out very soon)

You may also like

Leave a Comment

ABOUT US

Imphal Times is a daily English newspaper published in Imphal and is registered with Registrar of the Newspapers for India with Regd. No MANENG/2013/51092

FOLLOW US ON IG

©2023 – All Right Reserved. Designed and Hosted by eManipur!