Maharaja Bodh Chandra: The last ruler of Manipur

Wahengbam Pathou
Contd from previous issue
A votary of separatist tendency, Neta Irabot was never willing to give up his ongoing strategy of waging war against the Union of India. It appears as though he ultimately chose his life over abandoning his principles instead of succumbing to the diktats of Communist Party of India new party line. In his final moments, when he was down with severe illness attacked by typhoid in the remote villages of Tangbo-Sedaw in Burma, Hijam Irabot took the extreme step of ordering one of his attendant named Chingtham Pandon, who was the leikai puba (loosely translated as village headmen) to squeeze lemon over boiling milk in order to curdle it which is vernacularly called sangom bindha saba. After consuming the spoilt milk, Irabot’s health deteriorated to the point of return and ultimately breathed last. Tragically, Irabot’s act of taking his own life was assisted by Chingtham Pandon. Knowing fully well that consuming sangom bindha saba during typhoid illness is a sure shot recipe for death, Chingtham Pandon, in a bid to restrain him enquired the ill leader as to whether his act of squeezing to boiling milk would not be a fatal step for his life, Hijam Irabot was said to have given him a frowning and frightening glare for interfering in his matters.                   
Chingtham Pandon’s grandson Chingtham Dhara was a resident of Tannan village in present day Myanmar in the year 2008. Takhellambam Mangi born 1938 too is a resident of Tannan village. When interviewed in 2008, he recounted as many as seven Meitei individuals who were witness to and participated in the funeral rites of Hijam Irabot. Their names were Sagolshem Ibohal, Sinam Kali, Thangjam Chaomahal, Okram Gopal, Moirangthem Leishang (who was popularly known as Leishang Ipu among inner circles) and Abujam Tula (a relative, an uncle, of Takhellambam Mangi). They were privy to the story of Irabot tragically taking his own life, who in turn, was served the spoilt milk by Chingtham Pandon. It is high time these sensational revelations associated with the tragic turn of events leading to the sad demise of Hijam Irabot are brought to the public domain and examined rigorously for its veracity.
It is also high time that the Communist Party of India makes known what are the full facts of the case concerning the final moments in the life of Neta Irabot. Whether the party apparatus of the C.P.I. actually try to coerce Hijam Irabot, at the fag-end of his life, into submission to accept their new doctrine of giving up armed rebellion and waging war against the Indian state, an unlawful act in the eye of Indian law which the underground leader was carrying out from the soil of restive Burma with his band of insurrectionists remains to be answered. It needs be recalled that the act of arm twisting Hijam Irabot and silencing him into submission by the party apparatus of the C.P.I. had happened earlier too when self criticism was extracted from him on 10 October, 1949. For how long did the party keep the news of Neta Irabot’s death from his family ever remains a nagging and painful episode of the late underground leader’s life. It is certain that by the time his spouse R.K. Khomdonsana died, many of his relatives were erroneously believed that Hijam Irabot was indeed alive and had came to attend her Sharadh ceremony.
Considering that R.K. Khomdonsana passed away probably in 1953/54 as recounted by Chongtham Kamala, for how long the immediate family and Hijam clansmen of Yaiskul locality in Imphal was kept uninformed about the news of Irabot’s death since he expired on 21 September, 1951 so much so that the departed leader’s kith and kith were made to undergo the travesty and sacrilege of neither performing his Sharadh ceremony and observing nga-henba (refrain from consuming fish until Sharadh ceremony of the deceased is performed). To many of his relatives, that Hijam Irabot’s death was unmourned by his kinsmen as insurmountable tragedy whose scars and wounds still festers. His phiroi (mourning ceremony in remembrance of the departed soul held a year later after demise) was never performed. To this day, the Hijam clansmen of Irabot of Yaiskul regret the fact that no nga-henba was observed for the departed soul.
In so far as controversy surrounding Neta Irabot’s death is concerned, one must take a look at the writings of late Thokchom Bir Singh in his book ‘Comrade Irabat’ translated into English by A. Achow Luwang, published by Irabat Memorial Library and Information Centre in the year 1983, which was three years after Comrade Bira, as the author was popularly known, was assassinated. It runs as follows: “IRABAT’S ETERNAL SLEEP
With the approach of September, 1951, Comrade Irabat left Mawlaik District of the P.C.P. and started for Manipur. Round about the 20th September when he reached the twin Burmese villages Tangbaw and Shwedo at the foot of the Anggo hills, he was attacked by typhoid. In this poorly communicated borderland he was given treatment for a few days. Suddenly Comrade Irabat left this world before he could reach his motherland and communicate his achievements to his comrades.
Thus came the end of the life of Comrade Irabat on the 26th September, 1951 at Tangbaw village before he could attain the destination of his aim. A Guerilla Company of the P.C.P. organised a big funeral and showed respect to Comrade Irabat with gun salutes.” (See Comrade Irabat by Thokchom Bir Singh, 1983 Pg. 61)
About the epitaph of Hijam Irabot, Th. Bira poetically describes “Beyond     the hills of Ang-go,/On the border of Tangbaw,/There stands a memorial stone,/it’s inscribed clearly thereon:/COMRADE I SINGH/DIED ON 26th SEPTEMBER, 1951.” (ibid.)  
From a reading of the aforementioned passage on Hijam Irabot, it emerges that as per Th. Bira’s own admission, was returning to back to Manipur, note the phrase-‘Comrade Irabat started for Manipur’-after leaving ‘Mawlaik District’, then controlled by Thakin Soe led Red flag faction, People’s Comrade Party, among the Burmese communist but before this could happen, he died on 26 September, 1951. Irabot’s funeral was organized with fitting tributes paid by revolutionaries belonging to People’s Communist Party faction firing gunshots in the air. This faction was led by Thakin Soe (Th. Bira misspelled the P.C.P.’s leader name as Thakin Shaw in the latter’s book). Thakin Than Tun’s Communist Party of Burma was not mentioned to be present or have played a major role in late Irabot’s funeral by Th. Bira. Reading between the lines, an aura of vagueness prevails when Th. Bira notes that ‘[s]uddenly Comrade Irabat left this world before he could reach his motherland and communicate his achievements to his comrades’. In essence, what exactly was the ‘achievement’ of Hijam Irabot that was wanted to be ‘communicated’ as per Th. Bira’s writings when their leader passed away before returning back to soil of his ‘motherland’. That he was waging war against the Indian state, seeking collaboration from communist rebels in Burma and that he made some efforts towards uniting the respective warring factions of divided house of Burmese communists. Or that he was on the verge of giving up armed struggle directed against the government of India, toeing the party line of the Communist Party of India that had reposed faith in India’s constitution and polity, and thenceforth decided to participate in the forthcoming parliamentary elections of India held in the year 1952 in which Th. Bira was put up as the party’s candidate from Inner Manipur parliamentary constituency. 
To be contd