Maharaja Bodh Chandra: The last ruler of Manipur
Contd from previous issue
In 1953, the communists of Manipur held a meeting session at Porompat whereby it was resolved that they would forever give up the adventurist path of armed rebellion against the Indian state and participate in the electoral process of India. However, Lamabam Ibotombi did not subscribe to the view and dissented. There were many followers of Irabot like Wangkheirakpam Tombi who did not openly defied the political line adopted in the Porompat session but kept a low profile. Their comrade-in-arms reactivated Meitei insurgency in the late sixties. Wahengbam Ningthemjao was still in Burma training as communist guerrilla in Burma. Hjam Irabot showed the pathway for using Burma as a launch pad of armed rebellion against the Indian state and led the way for fostering and fomenting Meitei insurgency. Thus, he is justly regarded as Lamyanba (path-maker). The man who reluctantly picked up arms at the behest of his youth brigade left a trail of violent insurgency and bloodshed as his legacy.
The last phase of Irabot’s political line of action ushered in an era of unending cycle of violence which triggered catastrophic consequences for Manipur and India as well as the C.P.I. leaders. Th. Bira’s killing in 1980 was an act of targeted killing on the charge of ‘Indianizing’ Irabot resorted to by a left wing militant outfit. It is clear that while many followers of Irabot resolve to forever give up armed rebellion in the aftermath of Porompat session of 1953, with pressure mounting from central leadership of C.P.I., still then there were some of his followers who refused to toe the party line like Lamabam Ibotombi and there was others like Wangkheimayum Tombi, who wholeheartedly threw themselves into rim of Meitei insurgency, which was reactivated in the sixties. The areas where Hijam Irabot was active like Sagolmang-Keibi-Lamlai belt in eastern Imphal and Nambol-Utlou-Khajiri belt of the southern valley region transformed into hotbed of violent and boldly insurgency in later years.
Despite advancing age and health strains, Hijam Irabot who was approaching 54 years, strenuously trekked to Burma making a great escape from the hawk clutches of police crackdown at Manipur and launched armed rebellion from foreign soil against Indian state to fight for the cause of his motherland. On the run for nearly two years, the police could not apprehend him. He managed to evade arrests by all means possible. When he made the great escape to Burma and reached there, the country was war torn. Strife and lawlessness were the order of the day in U Nu’s Burma. It was a time of great turbulence. Premier U Nu was a divisive figure. Communist rebels were hunted down and eliminated. It was time of communist hysteria in the whole of South-east Asian region. Scores of communists were killed by state forces in brute crackdown in Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines. Burma was no exception to this practice of bloodily suppression of communist rebellion and Irabot happened to reach Burma at this very dark hour of ‘civil war’ which U Nu was presiding over. To make matters worse, there was inter factional clashes among the three Burmese communist parties. Hijam Irabot was said to have played some role in reuniting the warring factions and resumed rebellious activity. While the Burmese communists fought against the U Nu government, Irabot was training guns towards Nehru government. Both U Nu and Nehru were decried as fascists by respective communist rebels in the countries they ruled.
Meanwhile on 12 December, 1950 according to police reports, a poster was found hanging in Top village located in the eastern outskirts of Imphal wherein the Nehru government was decried as fascist and accused of imposing martial law in Manipur. By this time, most of the firebrand top rung rebel leaders were lodged in jail. Although rudderless, the rebellion carried on in their stronghold in defiance of the State authorities and the police. The poster discovered at Top village contained disturbing messages sharply criticizing the Nehru government as war monger while extending sympathy to the Burmese communists. The following is the full extract of the poster:
War is not wanted, we want peace
Nehru’s preparation of war should be checked
Rights of women should not be lost sight of. They should have equal status like men.
Let us have food and clothing, or give up Administration.
Burma’s victory is our victory.
Nehru should not send army to Burma.
Paddy field should be given to the peasant; peasants are owners of the paddy field; women should go ahead in facing the enemies of the public.
Let us abolish Police Government.
Let us establish popular Government.
The Government of Nehru is a Fascist Government.
Withdraw the Martial law. (See Memo No. 116-20, dated 18th January, 1951, ‘Confidential Report’, sig., S. Palit, S.P., Manipur, dated same cited from Hijam Irabot and Political Movements in Manipur by Karam Manimohan Singh, B.R. Publishing House, Delhi, 1989 Pg.389,392)
The message enunciated in the above poster, no doubt, makes a disturbing reading. It is trenchantly critical of the post-merger Chief Commissioner’s regime which was decried as police state. At the same time, call was made for installation of a popular government. It is also demanded the government to give up the reins of administration if it fail to ensure food and basic necessities to the people besides clamouring for land reforms. Blunt demand to quit administration should the government of the day fail to provide basic necessities of life by the underground followers of Irabot pose direct threat and challenge to the incumbent establishment. It carries dangerous ramifications which the government could not lose sight of.
The import of the pronouncements enunciated by the above mentioned poster put up at Top village in calling the Chief Commissioner’s regime, installed in Manipur by the government of India sequel to merger, to relinquish reins of power condemning it as fascistic is eerily reminiscent of Manipur State Congress’s Quit Gaddi movement orchestrated against Maharaja Bodh Chandra in the pre merger days. It is a historical irony of sorts that while it was the State Congress that turned up the heat on Maharaja Bodh Chandra in the pre merger days to quit administering Manipur, in the post merger era, the roles were completely swapped. It was the turn of the communists to mount a stinging assault against the Congress government headed by Jawaharlal Nehru in Delhi to quit administering Manipur by foisting an autocratic Chief Commissioner regime on the people, a far cry from democracy, in the true sense of the term.
Launching a blistering attack against the Nehru government to the extent of equating it as fascists and accusing it of imposing martial law is a telling negative commentary on the emerging democratic polity of India. The chilling negative commentary flies against face of the Indian polity that was beginning to take shape in Manipur in the post merger era, shorn of democracy. The poster message may appear vitriolic prima facie, however every bit its content runs true. Land reforms were a far cry. Aristocratic feudal set up was still a character of social strata.
Above all, the Chief Commissioner regime that came to be installed in Manipur in the post merger days was authoritarian and autocratic to the core. The notorious police atrocities and the reign of terror unleashed by Superintendent of Police, S.K. Palit and his cohorts tantamount to imposition of martial law. The regime of the outsider Mayang bureaucracy meted out a raw deal to the people and was hurtful to their sentiments. Therefore, the communist poster assumed the tone to quit administration if food and clothing cannot be guaranteed to the people. A few days later, on 26 December, 1950, another poster was found hanging at Khundrakpam, another location in eastern Imphal. It also carried the same streak of demand for land reforms and condemnation of the government of the day as fascists. The poster message ran as follows:
Lousal agitation should be started to save the public.
Those who want to stop it are the enemies of the public.
Remove the fascist government who kill men.
Those who love democracy should assist in forming a Democratic Government removing the present Congress Government who kill men. (ibid. Pg.390)
That the Congress government ruling at the centre, who’s subsidiary the Chief Commissioner’s regime was, is totalitarian in character and is responsible for killing men is scathing reflection at its worst as established by the above communist posters. Nothing could be worse for the credentials and image of Jawaharlal Nehru government than be decried as fascists in respect to his style of governing Manipur by installing the autocratic and tyrannical Chief Commissioner regime. The communist posters bluntly puncture the credentials of emerging democratic polity of India. It makes light of claims of democratic face of Indian polity. The messages conveyed in the posters carried dangerous ramifications and had the potential to fuel chaos. It could very much throw the social fibre on the edge of anarchy.
Apart from these two posters, the communist insurrectionists’ pamphleteering work went on in other rural areas such as Yaingangpokpi and Cha-ngang-gei villages in the December end of 1950. Unlawful pamphleteering works carried out by underground communist rebels was indeed audacious and in total defiance of the law. Such wanton acts had the potential to incite turmoil and violence for which Chief Commissioner regime was certainly jittery of. Communist upheaval and unrest shook the interior pockets of Imphal which was a cause of concern for the government. The followers of Irabot kept the pot of rebellion boiling in the areas of their influence and stronghold while the Lamyanba continued to wage unremitting war against the Indian State from his base in Burma till his last breath. This is the legacy bequeathed by the mass leader at the fag-end of his life.
The year 1949 was annus terribilis for Manipur. Merger with the Indian dominion saw its sovereignty meet abrupt and shocking demise. Post merger era, thereafter, ushered in an age whereby its land and people would continually sink into a state of bottomless morass characterized by autocracy, maladministration and puppet rule with every passing day. The day of merger, that is, 15 October, 1949, was in fact the darkest hour for Manipur. As is known, the day was infamy nonpareil to the people of Manipur, for a bonfire of democracy was lit by Manipur’s tryst with Indian dominion, quite ironically. At a single stroke of the Chief Commissioner, elected assembly of 1948 was dissolved and the elected government, without any rhyme and reason, riding roughshod over all canons of democratic propriety in the most outrageous fashion. The democratic mandate of the people represented by the popular assembly was overturned.
Nothing could be more ironic for the people of Manipur to be placed under the tyranny of the Chief Commissioner’s regime after it was merged into the fold of Indian democratic polity. In the post merger era, the notion of democracy under Indian dispensation came to mean nothing more than hollow claim and empty jargon. The people of Manipur were made to languish and reel under a worst form of dictatorial, autocratic and tyrannical system of government that was formally called Part C state under Nehru government and disapprovingly known as the ‘Chief Commissioner’s regime’. The state administration was sheer callous and corrupt ridden. It was far removed from the issues concerning people’s welfare.
With the rising tide of communist rebellion, Manipur soon lapsed into a police state. Scores of innocent civilians found themselves at the receiving end of police atrocities and brute force. Nothing but woeful was the plight of the people of Manipur post merger. The woeful tale does not end here, more was to follow. A series of crude shocks would be administered by the policies of Indian state to the people of Manipur in the days to come.
Meanwhile in March-April, 1951, the communist rebellion assumed disturbing proportions. On 31 March, 1951, armed cadres of the underground communist party laid ambush on a patrolling detachment of the 4th Battalion Assam Rifles stationed at Moirang Kampu.
In the ensuing gun battle, three communists and one sepoy of the Assam Rifles was said to have been killed (See Hijam Irabot and Political Movements in Manipur by Karam Manimohan Singh, B.R. Publishing House, Delhi, 1989 Pg.395). A month later, on 28 April, 1951, the communists made another premeditated midnight attack on Mayang Imphal police station. It was late night at 11 p.m. and about 20 armed communists disguised as common people made approach to the thana on the pretext of lodging a police complaint. A dramatic scene ensued thereafter. Just as when the constable on duty, a Mohemmedan man named Shabir Shah, opened the door of the police station, he was fired upon and shot in the leg by the communists. A volley of about 20 gunshots was fired indiscriminately towards the roof of the police station. They then went in frantic search for the Officer-in-Charge of the station. When the manhunt turned futile, the armed communists set on fire a police station shed and went away after causing mayhem(ibid.).
To be contd