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Stilwell Road - A Road To Prosperity

The mere thought of connecting Ledo in India with Kunming in China in the midst of war with most of Burma under occupation of Japanese was outrageous. It needed a person like General Joseph W Stilwell with determination of steel, not only to conceive but accomplish the impossible task. From all counts it appears that the go signal was given to Joe Stilwell for want of a better alternative and not because it was thought possible.

Stilwell Road does not get the importance that it deserves in the contribution made for the victory of allied forces. Making of Stilwell Road made impact in two different manners (i) for the need of the road and its making, way had to be found and cleared to make further progress and (ii) the road as it progressed provided the route to advance by the allied forces. It is a matter of study and debate about the contribution made by Ledo Road, later renamed as Stilwell Road by Chiang Kai-Shek, for the advancement of Allied forces and fall of Japanese in Burma. When I go through the pages of history, I get a further feeling of deliberate underestimation of the achievements of Gen. Stilwell and the road that he had made.

In making of the Stilwell Road and in the fall of Burma, the role played by brave Chinese soldiers also is not mentioned enough. All studies show that under a good commander and trainer, Chinese soldiers demonstrated excellent learning qualities, beyond the expectations of their own commanders and with less than adequate but hard training, they were turned into technicians, drivers and even pilots besides fighters. Many died making the road and fighting the enemy, few stayed back in India and make responsible citizen of the adopted Country.

It is ironical that in the changed global scenario, the importance of the Ledo road today, for quite different reasons though, is as important as it was in 1942. China has become the largest trading partner of India. China and India are expected to take centre stage in the world order in next few decades and interdependency will increase many folds. So would be contribution to the rest of the world and particularly to the Asian countries. In this connection it would now be imprudent to ignore the usefulness of the road and its utilization to address and solve many of the logistical requirements and problems.

I have referred to many books, encyclopedias, notes, messages, even movies to understand and appreciate the fascinating history of building of and circumstances leading to building of Stilwell Road. I would like to take the opportunity of acknowledging their contributions at a more

appropriate time at a later date. It is almost impossible to cover all its contributions by names but the story will be incomplete without the mention of some of the great groups like Marauders, Singphos, Flying Tigers, Chindit Forces, American-Kachin Rangers, the tens of thousands of brave Chinese, the Volunteer American Pilots, British tea planters, and of course the large force of Indians with a wide mix of several ethnic groups and tea garden workers and so many more. Stilwell Road Story, as one proceeds entwines into so many daring stories fit enough to make not one but many movie scripts each of great courage, bravery, heroism, patriotism, compassion, skill, planning, sacrifice even at times to the extent of madness demonstrating some of the highest degree of human quality.

The existence and importance of re-operating the road has now received focused attention at the right places. With a sustained and systematic follow up and awareness creation this remote and forgotten asset is gradually receiving its due importance. Implied consent and in fact desire of the Government of People’s Republic of China in different forums is quite evident. Foreign Minister of Myanmar Government has also given his consent in principle recently and the matter is being pursued with the Government of India in right earnest.

We eagerly look forward to this multilateral co-operation amongst the three Governments which will be a historic move towards regional co-operation which will not only immensely benefit the three Countries but will be a step forward to bring South East Asia closer and a major step towards success of Look East Policy of the Government of India.

Mahesh K Saharia
Indian Chamber of Commerce (North East RC)
Centre for Promotion of India –China Cooperation