“The Indian National Army (INA) has now crossed the Indo-Burmese border and in the course of the 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 the unfurling of the Tricolour Flag then at Lal Quila.
Many had died on our way to reach near Moirang and many would die on our way to Delhi. However, the expulsion of the enemy from the sacred soil of India is a compulsion for us… Freedom of India is very near and near at hand. We shall win it and we shall have progress and prosperity of the people of India after it.” Colonel Shaukat Ali Malik of Azad Hind Fauj addressed these words to a large gathering at Moirang in Manipur on 14 April 1944 after hoisting the National Tricolour. In this way, Moirang became the first liberated territory of India, which came under the administration of Azad Hind Sarkar headed by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.
Col. Malik led INA’s victory march over Moirang, liberated the Indian territory, unfurled the national flag, and established a national government. In his recently published book, Professor Kapil Kumar wrote, “Col. Malik while commanding the Unit, always led from the front and displayed Great feats of Bravery in difficulties achieving successes at various places. Netaji conferred upon him the great honour of Tamgha-e-Sardar-e-Jang.” Kumar also lists several Indians from Manipur who joined INA forces. Prominent among them were Mairembam Koireng Singh, who later became CM of Manipur, and Naqi Ahmed Chaudhary, an INA soldier from Manipur who helped Col. Malik with the local language and terrain.
But, the importance of this operation goes beyond the hoisting of the flag and establishment of civilian government.
In the official newsletter of Azad Hind Fauj, Dr. M. R. Vyas one of the most trusted men of Netaji explained the importance of the victory of Moirang. He wrote, “When the INA first entered India, it appeared as if they would launch a direct assault on Imphal, the capital of Manipur. The British, in this expectation, concentrated powerful forces, consisting of 3 divisions and 2 motorized brigades at Imphal. However, the INA troops avoided any such frontal attack which would necessarily have meant big losses. Instead, the Indian and the Japanese High Command planned for the rendering impotent of a powerful enemy force by encircling it.”
So, the capture of Moirang “brought about the virtual encirclement of Imphal, thus rendering an entire British force of 60,000 - 80,000 men impotent of launching a major counter-offensive. This force became dependent on air supplies, which, from their very nature, are limited and insufficient for big operations.”
The plan was to further annihilate this British force with the onset of Monsoons. For more than two months, INA under Col. Malik remained in total control and kept attacking the British posts from there. The British would have faced a humiliating defeat if US Air Force wouldn’t come to their rescue.
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More than 100 US fighter planes bombed Moirang and Bishnupur in Manipur. Fleets of B-25, P-51, and A-31 started bombing INA positions and civilians on 8 May 1944. Hundreds of these US fighter planes bombed civilian areas, INA positions, bridges connecting Myanmar to Manipur, and any supply line available to the Indians. The scale of US operations in Moirang is a testimony to the importance of this victory.