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"Silchar Was the Gateway to Netaji's March to Delhi: The Aperture to Bengal

Netaji first visited Silchar in 1938, participating in a meeting organized by the Congress committee here. In a congregation presided over by the Cachar District Students’ Association President, Sushil Ranjan Chakrabarty, Netaji saw immense potential in Sushil and left him with a note, stating, “Work for the present, but prepare for the future.” The future held a lot in store for Silchar, for the men and women here to play a pathbreaking role in the independence of the nation, but destiny had a different choice.

When the Second World War was in full swing, the INA of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose reached the Indian territory of Imphal and Kohima by the beginning of the year 1944. However, another convergence point, where the INA crossed the Indo-Myanmar border and entered the territory of Undivided India, was in Mowdok (present-day Bangladesh). Mowdok was too close to the Chittagong headquarters of the British Indian Armed Forces.

The next predicted move of the INA was to infiltrate through Bengal (then United Bengal), to reach the Gangetic plains as soon as possible. This would make the march ahead self-sustainable and less dependent on Japanese support. The Japanese Airforce twice tried to destroy the Silchar Railway Station and the helipad at Silchar but dropped their bombs at the wrong locations. One of such significant bombings took place at Derby Tea Estate of Barjalenga, Cachar, on 7th April 1944. The goal was to cut Silchar off from supplies, as it was the British Indian Armed Forces headquarters in the region and also the gateway to Sylhet and subsequently Bengal. The Japanese Airforce dropped pamphlets as well on the locations where the bombardment was caused unintentionally or due to wrong interpretation of the location, apologizing to the villagers of Cachar. The plan, as it appears, and can only be speculated, was to capture the two different flanks of Bengal – the Chittagong at the Southeast and the Silchar at the Northeast of the then Bengal. This would open up the way to Sylhet and Chottogram and thus the open plains of Bengal. Once into the Gangetic plains, the INA could have reduced its reliance on Japanese supplies, and the military clashes could have easily transformed into an armed revolution from within the general populace of the nation.

The Chittagong-Silchar military-strategic importance was first noticed and observed during the Revolt of 1857 when a group of rebellious armed force personnel of the British Indian Army defected from their Chittagong headquarters, revolting against their British officers, and reached Silchar through a route that was not known before. Had the Silchar Railway Station fallen to Japanese raids, perhaps the 1961 Language movement wouldn’t be the only thing that our Railway Station would have been proud of. The fall of Silchar Railway Station could have broken down the backbone of the British in the entire region and cleared up the space for Netaji’s march to Delhi through Bengal, the gateway for which could have been Silchar itself.

The ghost of INA haunted the British and the Congress top brass even after the Second World War ended, and Netaji disappeared from public view. On 30 April 1946, when Jawaharlal Nehru was visiting Silchar, he was caught up by protestors who were demanding Sylhet not be handed over to Assam. The religiously volatile Sylhet had its Muslim population pitching for East Pakistan and the Hindus for India. The leaders of Assam, Gopinath Bordoloi to be particular, wanted Sylhet not to be joined with Assam and rather be given away to East-Pakistan. Awarding Sylhet a separate statehood could have established long-lasting peace here, and much of Sylhet could have remained within the Indian territory. But Nehru and his likes were least interested in this part of India. Coming back to the topic, when Nehru was caught up by the protestors, someone from the crowd hurled a stone at his car. It was later found that the stone had an Azad Hind Govt currency note attached to it. This essentially proves that people sympathizing with Netaji and his cause still existed in Silchar, even after his disappearance, and a march ahead by his forces through this corner of Bengal could surely have ignited an armed revolution, pushing the British towards the most embarrassing exit from any colony they ever had.

The author of this article is a student by profession and a regular contributor to Barak Bulletin’s opinion section. 

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