Photo: Kachin Leaders with the Frontier Areas Committee of Enquiry (FACE); Maymyo, April 1947. (Illustrated London News)
I had the privilege of close personal encounters with Bogyoke Aung San on three separate occasions. All of the meetings were unscheduled but nonetheless significant, as they took place in the crucial pre-independence years of our nation, and provide insights into the character of the beloved Bogyoke, architect of Burma’s independence.
The first time was immediately after WWII, when Bogyoke was directing his energies to gaining independence from British colonial rule. It was in early November 1946 (I do not remember the exact date), when Bogyoke was on a visit to Myitkyina to rally the Kachin people behind the independence effort. He was speaking at a public rally at Manhkring, a suburb of Myitkyina.
After the rally, he expressed the desire to meet with Kachin army officers who had served with Allied Forces during the war. So six of us who happened to be in Myitkyina at that time went to Circuit House where Bogyoke was putting up. After saluting him, I as the senior-most officer present, introduced the others to him. He invited us to sit down, and said he would like to speak openly with us.
He looked at me and said, “Maj. Shan Lone, I have heard of your exploits during the war, but what I would like to talk about now is our country’s impending independence from Britain, and how we are striving to rebuild the Tatmadaw or Burma Army. Given your military experience and training, I would be very happy if you gentlemen would contribute to this effort by staying on to serve in the army.” He then directed his sharp gaze at me and said, “So, Maj. Shan Lone, what do you think of my proposal?” I replied that I had made the decision to return to civilian life, and that I had already taken up the offer of a position with the Frontier Service. I added that Capt. Zau June and Capt. Kumje Tawng had also expressed similar desires to return to civil service, but that the other three officers would continue to serve in the army. Bogyoke then replied, “Well, take your time and think about it. What I would like to tell you at this moment is that it is our intention to reorganise and restructure the army so that it will take on a more important role in nation building, and I would very much like you all to be part of this effort. That is all I have to say. Thank you.”
My second meeting with Bogyoke took place on 10 February, 1947, during the convening of the historic Panglong Conference. I was serving as Assistant Resident at Sinlum Kaba when I received a directive from the Frontier Areas Administration Office in Rangoon to bring down Kachin leaders from Myitkyina and Bhamo Districts to attend the conference at Panglong in Southern Shan States.
U Tin Tut (CBE), Bogyoke’s close aide and legal advisor, was responsible for drafting the text of what was to become the historic Panglong Agreement. I was nominated Secretary of the conference, while U Sai Sam and Sao Boon Watt from the Shan States Sawbwas’ Council, served as Assistant Secretaries.
At the close of the plenary session on the second day of the conference, I was informed that Bogyoke wanted me to come along with him as he made courtesy calls on the conference delegates that evening. U Tin Tut and Sao Sam Htun, Sawbwa of Mong Pawn, also accompanied the Bogyoke.
The first visit was with the Kachin leaders. After a few pleasantries, Bogyoke outlined the advantages of forming a union with lowland Burma. In the discussions that ensued, the Kachin leaders expressed satisfaction with Bogyoke’s guarantees of equal rights and the promise to create a Kachin State under the new constitution.
The next stop was at the temporary Haw of the Nyaung Shwe Sawbwa Sao Shwe Thaike, the most influential of the Shan Sawbwas. The Taung Paing Sawbwa and Hsenwi Sawbwa were also in residence there. This is how I recollect the exchange that took place between the Nyaung Shwe Sawbwa and Bogyoke Aung San at that meeting:
Bogyoke: Sawbwa Gyi, let me put to rest all your concerns regarding union with the Bamars. Federated or not, your rights to secession will be honoured. I would strongly urge you to join hands with us to form a union after we gain independence from the British.
Sao Shwe Thaike: Bogyoke, we the Sawbwas and the people of Shan States have complete trust in you, but we cannot say the same about the other Burmese leaders around you.
Bogyoke: I am glad to hear your expression of trust in me, but let me tell you this Sawbwagyi, do not put your trust in personalities. Rather, trust the constitution that we will be drafting together. I can assure you here and now, that all matters such as the right to secession and other safeguards you wish included in the Constitution will be fully addressed. So please join hands with us in the Constituent Assembly where further details will be discussed and thrashed out.
Whereupon, the Shan Sawbwas were won over, and joined the other hill tribes leaders in the signing of the historic Panglong Agreement on February 12.
My third meeting with Bogyoke was in April 1947. The Frontier Areas Committee of Enquiry (FACE) was in session at Maymyo. The Committee had been set up to investigate ways in which co-operation between the hill tribes people and low-land Burmans might be achieved after independence. Col. Rees-Williams, MP, was Chairman of the Committee, and Mr. W. Ledwidge from the Foreign Office acted as Secretary. The Burmese side was represented by the Hon. U Tin Tut, Thakhin Nu (later Prime Minister U Nu), Bo Khin Maung Gale, Sao Sam Htun (Shan), Sama Duwa Sinwa Nawng (Kachin), U Vum Ko Hau (Chin), and Saw Sankey (Karen).
I was the Assistant Secretary, and my duties were multifarious. Verbatim records of statements by delegates from different ethnic groups had to be taken. Arrangements had to be made to transport delegates from remote frontiers areas to and from Maymyo. The welfare of the delegates during their stay at Maymyo was also my responsibility.
Bogyoke came up to Maymyo one day to see how the work of the Committee was progressing. He arrived early before a meeting and asked me, “Today, we’re taking statements from the Wa delegates, aren’t we?” When I replied in the affirmative, he said, “U Shan Lone, please see to it that these delegates have all their needs.” I replied I was doing my best. Bogyoke just smiled and said, “Good, good!” and went off.
Duwa Lahpai Shan Lone (OBE, MC; Maha Thray Sithu; Naing-ngant Gonyi Class I) was the second Kachin after his elder brother Col. Lahpai Khun Nawng to receive a university degree. A highly decorated war hero of the WWII era (known affectionately as “Rusty” by his British comrades), he was also recognized for outstanding services rendered during the historic Panglong Conference that led to Burma’s independence, and in the formation of the Shan and Kachin State ministries after independence. He served as Secretary of the Kachin State Ministry until the time of the military coup in 1962. Thereafter, he served as Commissioner of Kachin State, Magwe Division, and Director-General of the Census Department before retiring from government service. He passed away on September 21, 2000, at the age of 90, while living with his youngest daughter in South San Francisco.