Maharaja Bodh Chandra: The last ruler of Manipur

Wahengbam Pathou
Contd from previous issue
The flame of communist rebellion flickered by Hijam Irabot was plunging into a bloody insurgency. It was a nightmare for the Chief Commissioner regime to douse the fire of rebellion orchestrated by the followers of Irabot. Matters had reached a flashpoint when the communist rebels audaciously engaged in skirmish with the Assam Rifles and inflicted casualty in the Moirang Kampu incident on 31 March, 1951. To mount attack on the central paramilitary forces was a direct assault on the Indian state security apparatus. The communist rebellion in Manipur no longer remained a local law and order issue for the state police machinery to handle but an act of ongoing war and treason against Indian state. The war chest of arms, ammunition and wherewithal acquired by Irabot’s followers were finally trained against the Indian armed forces. The communist rebels delivered a stunning blow to the Assam Rifles when they engaged in a bloody encounter with the central paramilitary force claiming one fatality against their enemy combatants while losing three of their comrades. The March 31, 1951 incident at Moirang Kampu, in fact, marks the beginning of a bloody saga of violent Meitei insurgency against the Indian armed forces that would engulf Manipur into a series of unending bloodbath for decades. It was the Irabot’s band of rebel followers who fired the first shots against the Indian armed forces. In doing so, they would light up a conflagration of Manipur whereby scores of lives would be lost untimely at the barrel of gun.
A week after the Moirang Kampu incident, Himmat Singh Maheshwari was removed as Chief Commissioner of Manipur on 7 April, 1951 and was replaced by a leftover Englishman named E.P. Moon. He was said to have a ‘colourful colonial service and had endeared himself to Nehru for his vocal opposition to certain aspects of British colonial policy. His vigorous pursuit of the supposed communist threat led to banning of newspapers and widespread intimidation by the police. In his capacity as District Magistrate, he presided over the so called Conspiracy Trial’(cited from Wounded Land by John Parratt, Mittal Publication, New Delhi, 2005 Pg.124). Shortly within days of assuming charge as Chief Commissioner, E.P. Moon was greeted by the communist attack on the Mayang Imphal police station on 28 April, 1951. It was evident that the communist insurrection was indeed spiralling out of control. In July 1951, Mr. Moon summoned the trial of arrested communist party workers. Altogether, 24 apprehended members were brought to face trial but out of them only 7 were discharged on 13 July, 1951 while the rest 17 accused were further remanded to detention with serious charges. The seven detainees who were discharged under Section 253 of Criminal Procedure Code were Mutum Kesho of Chandrakhong, Thangjam Apabi of Ukhongsang, Tongbram Basna of Bhittar Gangapur, Cachar (Assam), Takhellambam Ibotombi of Keishamthong, Thangjam Tomba of Keibi, Tongbram Kunda of Takhel and Miss Thoibi Devi. Of all the arrested communist members, Miss Thoibi Devi was the lone woman detainee discharged under Section 253 of Cr. P.C. which entails conviction on plea of guilty in absence of accused. (See Hijam Irabot and Political Movements in Manipur by Karam Manimohan Singh, B.R. Publishing House, Delhi, 1989 Pg.396)
The rest of the 17 accused were Ngangom Mahendra (student) from Nagamapal, Thokchom Boro (bookseller) from Keishampat, Langoljam Tikendra (teacher) from Khundrakpam,  Moirangthem Ibohal (tailor) from Top Imphal, Maibam Bormani (cultivator)from Ukhongsang, Longjam Gnanendra [read Gyanendra and sometimes spelt Jnanendra] (student) from Kongba Bazar, Ningthoujam Binoy (student) from Nagamapal, Konsam Rabei (cultivator) from Awangjiri, Chingakham Tebanda (cultivator) from Andro, Moirangthem Amuyaima (cultivator) from Nongada, Khumbongmayam Lobi (cultivator) from Nongada, Konsam Apabi (cultivator) from Awangjiri, Ningthoujam Ajit (student) from Nagamapal, Thingbaijam Nongyai (tailor) from Top, Yumnam Gokul (cultivator) from Awangjiri, Athokpam Chourjit (cultivator) from Top and B. Samungou Sharma (student) from Khurai Kongpal. They were booked under Section 121A, 122 and 123 of Indian Penal Code(ibid.). Section 121A entails conspiracy to commit offences conspiracy to commit offences punishable by Section 121 which further entails waging or attempting to wage war, or abetting waging of war, against the Government. Section 122 entails collecting arms, etc., with the intention of waging war against the Government of India. Section 123 entails concealing with intent to facilitate design to wage war. In addition to charges under the penal code, six accused viz. Moirangthem Ibohal, Chingakham Tebanda, Moirangthem Amuyaima, Khumbongmayum Lobi, Yumnam Gokul and Athokpam Chourajit were booked under Section 19 (f) of the Indian Arms Act ‘with possessing on dates ranging from 10th July, 1950 to 29th April, 1951 arms and ammunition without license’(ibid.).
In August 1951, a Defence Committee for the communist conspiracy trial was formed composing of Soyam Chhatradhari, ex-detenu of Moirangkhom as President, Takhellambam Ibotombi of Keishampat as Secretary, Thokchom Subadani, wife of accused Thokchom Boro as Treasurer and Nripen Singh as member. To solicit support for legal defence of the undertrial accused, Takhellambam Ibotombi ‘circulated a printed leaflet appealing for fund in the defence of the accused in the Conspiracy Case’(ibid. Pg. 397). On 8 September, 1951 Soyam Chhatradhari sent a telegram from Calcutta ‘requesting to despatch all the proceedings of the Conspiracy Case to Sandhan Gupta of Calcutta who was a prominent lawyer’(ibid.).                     
On 21 September, 1951, the verdict of the communist conspiracy case was delivered in the court of the District Magistrate. The case was enlisted as D.M. Criminal Case No. 1 of 1951 whereby the parties were Manipur State (complainant) versus Hijam Irabot Singh of Janmasthan and 43 others (accused). Chief Commissioner E.P. Moon in his capacity as District Magistrate presided over the two month long conspiracy trial and delivered the judgment. Of the 17 accused, only Longjam Gyanendra was acquitted on benefit of doubt and was considered a minor figure. The rest 16 accused were awarded rigorous imprisonment ranging from a maximum of 14 years to a minimum of 3 years. In the judgment, E.P. Moon laid down that ‘in apportioning I keep two principles in view viz: (i) the ring leaders in this conspiracy, the generals and the colonels, as it were of the army should receive heavier punishment than the privates and camp followers and (ii) so far is consistent with the above, the more youthful offenders should be more lightly dealt with than those who are older, e.g. the 18 year old Lobi Singh should be least heavily punished than the 28 year old army pensioner Amuyaima Singh, though their offences and the evidence against them are practically the same’(See Judgment of the D.M. Criminal Case No. 1 of 1951 Manipur State v/s Hijam Irabot Singh of Janmasthan cited as appendix in Unquiet Valley by N. Lokendra Singh Mittal Publications, Delhi, 1998 Pg.278-9). All the six accused framed under Arms Act were convicted under the same act and their sentences were to run concurrently. Accused Athokpam Chourjit however, was not convicted under I.P.C. but under Arms act only.         
In the meanwhile, five days after the verdict was delivered on the communist conspiracy case in the court of the District Magistrate, on 26 September, 1951 in Burma, Hijam Irabot breathed his last attacked by typhoid. News of Irabot’s death was scarcely known and it was privy to only a select few of his followers, amongst whom included Thokchom Bira, who kept the information under wraps with themselves. Hijam Irabot’s family and his near relatives were completely kept in the dark and sadly no religious rites whatsoever were sadly performed for his departed soul by his family, kith and kin as well as near and dear ones. The Hijam clan residing in Yaiskul Hiruhanba Leikai of Imphal neither perform Shradh ceremony for the departed soul nor observed nga henba (desisting from consuming fish till the Shradh ceremony of the deceased is performed). The late mass leader’s followers in the Communist Party of India are reprehensible for the flagrant travesty, committed by his kith and kin of not observing nga henba for the peace and tranquility of the departed soul. For how long the news of Hijam Irabot’s death was kept under wraps by his followers is an intriguing matter.
Hijam Irabot undoubtedly predeceased his spouse R.K. Khomdonsana in 1951. The late mass leader’s spouse was said to have died some years later, so to say, roughly two or three years after her husband as per the account of Ayekpam Kamala, a close relative of R.K. Khomdonsana. Born in 1940, Ayekpam Kamala is popularly known as Chongtham Kamala, for her professional stint in the All India Radio as desk announcer and melodious voice in quite a few many playback singing scores. As a young girl child, then on the threshold of adolescence, she recounts partaking in the Shradh ceremony of R.K. Khomdonsana when the latter passed away, and is quite certain that Hijam Irabot predeceased his spouse. However, contrasting opinions persists among many relatives of R.K. Khomdonsana who offer differing strands of versions, as to whether the spouse predeceased her husband. And according to their account, Hijam Irabot actually attended the Shradh ceremony of his spouse R.K. Khomdonsana. Many womenfolk of Yaiskul locality of Imphal, where the couple of Hijam Irabot and R.K. Khomdonsana dwelled in their times together, subscribed to the notion that the underground leader, actually, did attend the Shradh ceremony of his spouse coming to his house, disguised in some form, evading the police. According to an account of R.K. Mangisana, an immediate cousin of R.K. Khomdonsana, at about the twilight stroke, dusking moments of the latter’s Shradh ceremony day, a man with long uncut hair mysteriously appeared at the courtyard of the deceased lady. R.K. Mangisana is a daughter of late R.K. Digendra, who attended Mayo College in Ajmer along with Churachand Maharaj in their boyhood days.
The man was about the same height and physique, a lookalike in facial appearance and also possessed a similar voice to that of Irabot. Another woman, apart from R.K. Mangisana, too encountered the mysterious man and they certainly took him as their Etei (brother-in-law) Irabot. The man in question made quite a few conversations with the two women at the courtyard, confiding that he had come to pay his tributes to R.K. Khomdonsana in her Shradh ceremony and, also, to enquire about the goings-on with respect to the her death rites ceremony. It is certain that something mysterious happened on the evening of Shradh day of R.K. Khomdonsana. This version of the fateful event cannot be dismissed lightly as some womenfolk putting up fanciful stories emanating from a figment of their imagination. Given these happenings, the moot question remains did a man masquerade as Irabot and made visitation to Yaiskul locality on the evening of R.K. Khomdonsana’s Shradh day?   
A spate of controversy surrounds the finer details concerning the life and circumstances of the late mass leader Hijam Irabot. His place of birth details is still a matter of controversy. One version claims that he was born in Pishumthong Oinam Leikai locality of Imphal while many of his kith and kin put up the contrasting view that he was born in Yaiskul of which he was originally resident of. Controversy too rages on the exact circumstances of final last moments of Hijam Irabot’s life. The underground mass leader turned rebel was a fugitive of law on run till his last breath, fomenting revolt against Indian state until he expired on 26 September, 1951 at the twin villages of Tangbo-Sedaw, Burma, said to be a stronghold of country’s communist rebels and was under a spell of severe crackdown by the U Nu government.
There exists a strand of opinion which holds that Hijam Irabot tragically took his own life in Burma. Neta Irabot was called back to Manipur by the party apparatus of the Communist Party of India from his areas of operation, which was a hotbed of violent rebellious activity of armed Burmese communist guerrillas disaffected against U Nu government. It became increasingly apparent that Hijam Irabot would be physically taken back to Manipur by the party apparatus of C.P.I. And eventually he would be made to toe the party line of giving up armed struggle against the Indian state. The party had bidden farewell to arms and resolved participate in the upcoming general elections of India scheduled to be held 1952 in which Th. Bira contested as a candidate of the Inner Manipur Parliamentary constituency. The party apparatus resorted to strong arm tactics behind the back of Irabot to make him amenable to come to terms with the shift in party line and newly emerging realities. (To be contd)