Wednesday, March 10, 2010


The Asean Car Rally from Guwahati of Assam to Myanmar and onwards of the South East Asian countries in November, 2004 was the land mark maiden venture to initiate and to mobilize the ties of fraternity between India and the South Eastern Countries, namely; Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Laos, Combodia, Vietnam, Philippines aiming at to go ahead in creating international understanding and prospective commitments. It was a prelude to establish a good and constructive gesture for acceleration of the potential trade activities between the two regions, on the fast symbolic globalization era. The abandoned road, was improved and made convenient for the car rally mission. The road, as is known as ‘Steelwell Road’, had its base structure in the Second World War period. The construction of the portion of the road from Mynamar and onwards is said to have already been completed. China of East Asia also constructed and expanded the portion of the road to link up with the Steelwell road with the aims and object to associate itself in extending its trade perimeter to India. A horn of dilemma, however, prevails in the Indian counterpart over the question of security of the eastern sector of the sub-continent, as road is penetrated through the dense and arduous Patkai Hill range, the extended base of Himalayas, making an easy access by the ultras. The Government of India, however, accorded budgetary sanction of Rs. 48 crore of rupees two years aback and it is learnt that the road is nearing completion.

Steelwell, the great hero
‘Steelwell Road’ has a historic significance, which was baptized after the name of Steelwell. A question naturally crop up ‘who was Steelwell?’ The history marks Steelwell as a prominent military officer in the Brigadier rank of the Second World War, whose untired efforts and immense costly sacrifices had the consequential effect of achieving the victory of England and its alliances in the war front against Japan and the alliance components. The rival nations got vanquished in the terrific battle.
‘Joseph Warren Steelwell’, popularly known as ‘Zo’ was born in 1883 A.D at Florida, but he passed his early days at New York. After acquiring the degree in the West Point Military Academy, the 5 feet 8 inches 1.7 meter tall, Steelwell got appointment in service at Philippine. 14 months later, he came back to West point, where he was engaged to learn different languages. After wedding Winfred Smith, he again backed to Philippines. At the late hours of the First World War, he was sent to China as the teacher to provide education in military languages and he simultaneously availed of the opportunity to learn the Chinese language as well. He became the father of five children, while he was in China. Steelwell was elevated to the rank of Brigadier and soon after that the Second World War broke out spreading over Europe, North Africa and South East Asia. Steelwell rushed by air to Chungking to meet Chiangkoi Shwek immediately after he assumed the war charge in South East Asia. He found that the only way of supplying food-stuff and war materials was by air from Ledo to Kunming, but that, too, was hardly possible in the 1000 kilometer long hazardous air flight. On 7th March, 1942 Rangoon, the capital of Burma, was captured by the Japan-alliance militants. Steelwell came by air from Chunking to Mandalaya, where the British Lieutenant General Sir Herald Alexander took shelter after the crack down of Rangoon. Incidentally, this Alexander jas withdrew the British army from Dandrik of Europe, when failed to face the sharp German aggression in 1940 and this has been a repetition to the earlier event. Both Steelwell and Alexander tried their best to save the middle part of Burma, but all efforts proved to be the futile exercise. Japanese army caused dislocation of rail and air communication in North Burma. Steelwell had no other way, but to retreat. After a strenuous and hazardous journey on foot and partly by boat, his troops reached Imphal without there being, however, any loss of life. Steelwell rushed to Delhi and furnished a detailed report on the catastrophe. The unbecoming circumstances forced Steelwell to remain away from Burma since June, 1942 to October, 1943. Japanese army captured the eastern coast of China and created havoc in its Southern border by frequent air raids. A profound necessity, therefore, cropped up for construction of a new road connecting Burma to get it hostile free. The Manipur- Pelel Road, was an alternative road, but it was not possible to be utilized for carrying the food-stuff and war equipments during the summer. Steelwell was restless and held marathon discussions in Delhi and Chunking to chalk out plan and programme. In 1942, the prospect of construction of an alternative road from Ledo-Pangchao pass-Hukang valley-via Misina to Burma was in sight. The practical aspects were examined, but it revealed that standing hills, dense forests, loose and muddy soil, deep-unsmooth ditches, heavy rainfall and unhygienic climate posed to be a hindrance to materialize such plan. This 768 kilometer road is to be constructed through three high ranges of hills, over three rivers beds with hundreds of bridges. Steelwell and Chiangkain shwek paid great importance for construction of the road at any cost, but the British Prime Minister Winstone Churchill was against such venture. The Americans were, however, adamant and gave high stress towards construction of the road linking Ledo – Burma at any cost in order to frustrate the territorial expansion of Japan to Burma. The American sent 330 skilled engineers and road construction materials and heavy machineries and equipments from 18,000 kilometer distance, by ocean, sea and road and this was routed through the western corridor of Assam. The military convoy congregated by Indian, African, American militants rushed enthusiastically to face the combat. The war mission, as we enjoyed in our early days, was really very much thrilling. The construction work was started in December, 1942 and 187 kilometer was completed on 27th December, 1943. The war footing construction made an end in the last part of 1944 connecting Ledo - Burma within a period of two years.
The posiion of the road is as below :
In Burma (Myanmar portion) In China
Pangchao Pass - 61 K.M. Mangyung – 740 K.M.
Tagap Ga - 127 “ Banting - 811 “
Sind Bowang - 165 “ Baochan -1043 “
Jambubam - 287 “ Yungpin - 1208 “
Barajup - 304 “ Chuyung - 1543 “
Michchhina - 403 “ Kunming - 1726 “
Bhamo - 595 “
Namkham - 707 “

Steelwell was the pioneer architect in the road construction project as well as the tactful management of the war front. The Japan and its alliances were kept busy otherwise and they could hardly imagine the far sighted diplomatic way of the road construction mission. The counter attacks on the showering attacks by the rival army continued. Japan had ultimately to surrender after Atom Bomb blast at Nagachaki and Hirosema. German also got vanquished. Thus the Second World War thus came to an end with the victory of England and alliances.
The untired, sincere and diplomatic services of Steelwell were profoundly recognized and the newly constructed road was named after him. It is unfortunate that the said road, constructed at high coast with deployment American, African, Chinese, Kacin, Oria, Nepali, Bengalee, Naga, Bodo and tea garden labourers, lost its importance and remained abandoned soon after the World War was over. This rather became a thoroughfare of a section of anti-socials and ultras. Steelwell became old; the incessant hard labour with deep sense of anxiety ruined his health. He was laid down by liver cancer. The Distiguished Service Medal, Legion Merit, Distinguished Service Cross was awarded to him. On the previous day of his sad demise on October, 12th, 1946, he was ornamented with the rare award ‘Combat Infantryman Badge’.

Trade scenario
The South East Asian countries are rich in precious resources like agricultural, forestry, fishery and mineral ores. The development of modern technology upgraded as well the industrial platform. India has immense potential resources including raw materials of different types, which are still to be mobilized. The aim and object of Asean Car Rally, as stated earlier was a token of good gesture towards reciprocation of trade venture. The road beyond the Indian portion has already been completed. China is also eager to expand its trade base to India. News
projected by the media reveals that India has to think twice in adhering to the proposed scheme of trade activities. China, in fact, is maintaining hostility with India since about last five decades. With provocative words, it is demanding Tawang of Arunachal Pradesh of India as a part of Chinese territory, though, in fact, it is a part State of India. Their modus operandi seems to be hostile and aggressive. Any accommodation of China in the field of trade activities through the eastern corridor, it is feared, may not be congenial to the security of the country.

It is recalled that for this blunder, the British Raj overthrew the Ahom Kings by expanding the trade base through the East India Company. The inner fall out was main factor. There is strong apprehension of repetition of such event, as Assam is confronted with many ghastly odds. Myanmar is also not playing a cordial role with India. It will be evident that it accommodated the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) and other hostile ultras and afforded armed training at Kachin. Of late, the news media published that the Maoist of the north east India are importing Chinese arms from Myanmar and stored at Nagaland to spread terrorism and unrest in the sub-continent. The ulterior motive of such international folks can be easily guessed. Such ultras entered Assam through this road oft and on with destructive arms and ammunitions and applied for brutal killings of the brethren citizens of the soil . ‘Look before you leap’- this doctrine is now the main theme of consideration by the Government of India.

(Mrinal Kanti Chakrabartty)
“ Rudra Bhawan”,R.G.Barua Road, 10-Lakhimi path, Guwahati-781-024

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