India Peace Memorial At Lokpaching: The Unacknowledged Odisha Connection

The Battle of Red Hill was fought on May 20-29, 1944. The small hillock was on Tiddim Road, 16 km away from Imphal, Manipur. The surroundings, with its reddish soil, represented the farthest that the invading Japanese Army and Netaji’s Indian National Army (INA) could approach into India. It was the last major battle fought by the INA and the Japanese on Indian soil.

On April 14, 1944, the INA and the Japanese Army had reached Trongloubi and captured the British camp. The INA Tricolour, with the springing tiger depicted on it, was hoisted at Moirang Kangla by Colonel Malik. This was the first flag raised on liberated Indian Territory. From Moirang, they advanced towards Imphal, making the Allies retreat all the way. The Battle of Red Hill unfortunately proved a disaster for the advancing Indo-Japanese forces. The British brought in huge reinforcements and halted the INA and Japanese. The IV Corps of the Allied Forces and 15th Japanese Army had an eyeball to eyeball confrontation, but the carpet bombing by the RAF planes spelled doom for the conquerors.

Nearly 200 Japanese soldiers died, the INA too suffered huge causalities. Red Hill was strewn with the battle dead. Most were buried hurriedly by the retreating Japanese. Even years later, bones were regularly uncovered after rains washed off the top soil.

The peace memorial was constructed by the efforts of Japanese War Veteran Lt. General Iwaichi Fujiwara, who is acknowledged as the godfather of Netaji’s INA. In 1974, he led a delegation of surviving war-heroes to Manipur and visited the spot. He suggested the building of a memorial at Red Hill. The next year, in March 1975, the Japanese government sponsored a “Bone-Recovery Mission”, which collected the remains of Japanese war-dead. The Japanese government kept on insisting for a memorial, but disturbed conditions in Manipur did not make it possible.

In December 1982, the Indo-Burma War Area Veterans Association of Japan, which had a nationwide strength of 75,000 veterans, took up the cause and made another representation, requesting for allocation of a plot of land measuring 5,000 sq. metres in Imphal.

Although willing, the Manipur government sought clarifications from the Centre. Meanwhile, Fujiwara died; he could not live to see his dream memorial enshrined. Other Japanese war heroes like Major U Honda and Takashi Suzuki, a onetime Japanese Ambassador to India, followed up, but in vain.

When the then Prime Minister Narashimha Rao visited Japan in June 1992, his Japanese counterpart took up the matter with him; Rao assured the veterans that the land would be allotted. Back home, he found things difficult once again. He contacted Chintamani Panigrahi, the then Governor of Manipur, who insisted on Chief Minister RK Dorendra Singh to allot the land. Panigrahi’s term as Governor was about to finish; he took up the matter diligently and it was because of his singular efforts that the project saw the light of the day.

The 5,000-sq-m plot at the northern foothill of Red Hill and work started in September 1993.The Japanese completed it in February 1994 and on March 21, 1994; on the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Imphal, the memorial was inaugurated against the backdrop of three national flags — India, Japan and the United Kingdom — in the presence of 161 Japanese war veterans.

The India Peace Memorial is locally known as Lokpaching and is considered a sacred spot. The memorial has the serenity and simplicity of Japanese design. The three crude unpolished red sandstone blocks brought over from Rajasthan, lying at the centre of the ceremonial yard represent the blood of Indo-Japanese and Allied forces who laid down their lives in the Battle of Imphal in 1944. The complex is full of Cherry Blossoms, the most favoured flowering tree of Japan, which were brought over by war veterans and planted there.

Chintamani Panigrahi was invited to the inauguration of the memorial, but for unknown reasons could not make it. The Japanese government acknowledged his contribution in making the memorial possible.

The Quit India Movement was launched By Mahatma Gandhi at the All-India Congress Committee session in Bombay on August 8, 1942. The very next day on August 9, 1942, Chintamani Panigrahi had hoisted the Indian Flag at Ravenshaw College in Cuttack. A veteran freedom fighter, Panigrahi underwent imprisonment during the Quit India Movement. I have tried in vain to find out if Panigrahi had ever met Netaji Subash Chandra Bose. His role in the making of the India Peace Memorial remains unacknowledged.

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