ON TUESDAY, Saolet Haokip travelled the 90-odd kilometres from his village in Changjal, or New Wayang, in Chandel district of Manipur to state capital Imphal. For the first about 15 km, he rode pillion on his grandnephew’s motorcycle, travelled the next 30 km from Chandel to Kakching in a shared taxi — a Tata Sumo MUV — before finally taking the vehicle provided by Assam Rifles to reach Imphal.
It’s an arduous journey that everyone else undertakes every time they have to cover the distance. Only, Haokip is not just another local. He is 106 years old, and he is nonchalant about the difficulty of the journey — to be part of the ex-servicemen’s rally held in Imphal.
A war veteran who was part of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army (INA), Haokip fought in the Second World War on the Japanese side against the Allied forces in different areas of then British India and Burma (now Myanmar).
“He was recruited in a village called Mombi, in present-day Chandel district and became a soldier in the INA’s V4 Force. He had served in many places for about five years,” said Captain Akhil Dhawan from the Assam Rifles’ PR cell in Imphal.
Captain Dhawan calls him a “heritage hero — one who had travelled with Netaji during his Manipur expedition of 1944.” He said Assam Rifles Director-General, Lt Gen H J S Sachdev, too, was taken aback by Haokip’s agility: “That he rode pillion on a motorbike for a few kilometres at this age itself is amazing.”
Haokip, however, says he would have made the trip any which way. For him, it was an opportunity to connect with the fraternity, as nearly 1,000 ex-servicemen turned up for the event, the biggest such rally in the state.
Besides the handful of surviving World War II veterans, more than 750 Assam Rifles veterans, as well as widows and children, took part in it. Manipur was witness to at least one crucial battle of World War II, with the Battle of Imphal (March-July 1944), together with the Battle of Kohima, voted three years ago as one of Britain’s Greatest Battle.
While both cities have preserved their respective share of World War II war graves, Manipur also has a INA Memorial and War Museum in Moirang, about 40 km from Imphal.
Primarily focusing on the rise of the INA and Netaji, the museum has a rich collection of war memorabilia — arms and ammunition, bayonets, helmets and bottles, among others. Moirang is also the place where Bose had hoisted the
INA flag on Indian soil on April 14, 1944.