Maharaja Bodh Chandra: The last ruler of Manipur

Wahengbam Pathou
Contd from previous issue
Th. Bira’s writings are clearly ambiguity ridden, conspicuous by dismaying lack of clarity, as to what was the true political stance of Hijam Irabot vis-a-vis Manipur’s relation with India. It is not clearly stated whether he was indeed ready to abandon his strategy of staging an armed insurrection, fomented to wage war against the Union of India over domination of Manipur in the aftermath of merger, using the foreign country of Burma as launch pad. Was Irabot ready to quit his fugitive existence as an underground rebel leader on the run in the eye of the Indian law, operating in the restive areas of civil war torn Burma and return back to Manipur to ostensibly become overground, is a pertinent question that needs to be answered by the party apparatus of the C.P.I. given the assertion of late Th. Bira in his book. It is stated that Hijam Irabot died on 26 September, 1951 at Tangbo village, Burma ‘before he could attain the destination of his aim’(ibid.). What exactly was the ‘destination’ of Irabot’s ‘aim’ that Th. Bira asserts? Was he satisfied to the status of Manipur as a constituent unit of India or did have strong reservations to this scheme of things? Was he reconciled to the idea of merger of Manipur into Indian union or did he exhibit separatist tendency? If, at all, Irabot was returning as claimed by Th. Bira, what path of action laid for him if he had returned back to Manipur from Burma rather than surrender to the government authorities and become overground or the outcome of being capture by police for being an outlaw. Was Irabot really prepared to return back to Manipur, at all, from his hideout in Burma bidding farewell to arms on his own volition or did the party apparatus of C.P.I. pressured him from behind the back to return back to Manipur? Was he agreeable and inclined to shun the path of violence that he once undertook and join the mainstream of Indian politics like others did in the C.P.I.? These are surely some troubling questions relating to Hijam Irabot arising from Th. Bira’s assertion that het was set on returning to Manipur. 
With great difficulty and risk, Hijam Irabot escaped to Burma, eluding capture by the police to chart out a path of triggering armed revolution as per his own wish and desire to fight for his political objectives. It would have been quite a foolhardy exercise for him to return back to Manipur rescinding and undoing all the strenuous efforts he spared earlier. What motivation laid behind Hijam Irabot to come back to Manipur with respect to the claim made by Th. Bira hinting at the former’s onset return journey, leaving his hideouts in Burma, just before he died. These are a barrage of annoying unsettled questions that continues to pester and persist with respect the overall legacy of Hijam Irabot which the Communist Party of India must take a call to clear the air, once and for all.     
 In so far as the controversy surrounding the final moments leading to death of Hijam Irabot in Burma is concerned, the moot question remains as to whether there were any Meitei comrade-in-arms of the departed leader were present when his funeral rites were performed. Th. Bira goes at great length to describe the poetic words inscribed at Hijam Irabot’s epitaph but carefully remains silent whether any person of Manipur origin, be they Meitei inhabiting in Burmese villages or underground-rebel followers of departed leader, were present at the site of his funeral where a guard of honour was presented by a company of armed guerillas belonging to People’s Comrade Party (P.C.P.) faction of the Burmese communists firing gunshots in the air. Where were the other two factions of Thakin Than Tun led Communist Party of Burma and Thakin Soe led Burmese Communist Party on the day of funeral?                
Did Hijam Irabot indeed die an unnatural death, as a result of Chingtham Pandon serving him sangom bindha saba (curdled milk which is spoilt and unfit for consumption) as per the sensational revelations brought out by Takhellambam Mangi and Chingtham Pandon’s grandson, Chingtham Dhara? The general undertone of Irabot tragically taking his own life was rife in Burma. R.V. Mingthing, a former Minister elected from Chingai constituency in the Manipur Legislative Assembly in 1984, who at one time worked as an underground Naga militant. He was acquainted with a whiff of this information about Irabot’s awful self-inflicted demise due to consumption of sangom bindha saba in a state of disarray and forlorn despair. In many public gatherings, Mr. Mingthing has clearly made known the startling piece of information concerning death of Hijam Irabot which he gathered in his underground days.
It is high time that full disclosure is made in the public domain as to what were the exact circumstances the death of Hijam Irabot in Burma by all those who were in the know of his case story. The Communist Party of India, which claims to be a legatee of Hijam Irabot’s political movement in Manipur, should come forward and address all outstanding issues which has remained spots of bother when a reviewer of history critically revisits and analyze the late mass leader turned underground rebel stalwart. Whether the party has any version of counter narrative that can rebut and refute the harrowing tale of sensational revelations made by Takhellambam Mangi and subsequently by Chingtham Pandon’s grandson Ch. Dhara when interviewed in 2008 or public avowal made by R.V. Mingthing with respect to the question of Irabot taking extreme step to end his own life by suicide remains to be seen. Else, one has to rest the case that the sordid account put up that the renowned leader and national hero Hijam Irabot took his own life, out of sheer frustration when obstructions and roadblocks lay on his path of pursuing his objectives and goals will remain the undeniable truth, if it goes unchallenged and uncontradicted.
It is not a pleasant experience for one to come to terms with the spine-chilling, nerve-racking and earth-shattering account that the celebrated national hero of Manipur, Hijam Irabot took his own life out of despair and anger, livid at the prospect of him being physically taken back to Manipur, against his volition by the party apparatus of the C.P.I. One is totally aghast to reconcile to this sensational piece of information put forth by the respective votaries of this version.
It is equally a harrowing experience to go public with this set of gathered information. However, quest of truth warrants disclosure not concealment. Fairness and transparency demand that all nagging outstanding issues be discussed threadbare and settled to rest satisfactorily thereafter. Truth cannot be allowed to become a casualty of political expediency. Sensational claims made by individuals like Takhellambam Mangi and Chingtham Dhara who are Meitei residents of Tannan village in today’s Myanmar and R.V. Mingthing, a prominent Tangkhul leader cannot be set aside lightly. They must be examined rigourously for veracity.        
As mentioned earlier, Takhellambam Mangi recounted as many as seven Meitei individuals namely Sagolshem Ibohal, Sinam Kali, Thangjam Chaomahal, Okram Gopal, Moirangthem Leishang and Abujam Tula who were present during the funeral of Hijam Irabot. Besides these seven men, Takhellambam Mangi recounted three other men whose surnames were he could not recollect but knew two among them, their places of residence. They were Angou of Ukhongshang, Kondum of Kakching and one Asuppa. Kodum of Kakching died in Burma beyond the course of Ningthee turel (Chindwin river). Asuppa was involved in fighting against Burmese army. U Ngayo was the Burmese village chieftain of Tangbo when Hijam Irabot expired.  
Quite disconcertingly, Th. Bira in his book ‘Comrade Irabat’ very vaguely limits himself to stating that at the site of Hijam Irabot’s funeral, a guard of honour was given to the pyre of the departed leader by a guerilla company of People’s Comrade Party and makes no mention whether any Meitei followers, comrade-in-arms, contemporaries or even bystanders, if at all, were present at the solemn occasion. Maintaining a conspiracy of silence was and remains typical hallmark characteristic of Th. Bira as well as Communist Party of India when providing a narrative on Hijam Irabot. One wonders whether they actually knew more than they cared to reveal but conceals information for political expediency and chose to hide behind a veneer of vagueness. Such a deceiving tactic will certainly come a cropper when skeletons tumble out of the closet eventually one day.   
There can be no denying that Hijam Irabot took strong exception to merger of Manipur into India. It has not come down in writing to the present day as to what was his exact reaction to the sham and undemocratic merger agreement entered into between his brother-in-law Maharaja Bodh Chandra and the Dominion Government of India represented by Mr. Sri Prakasa, the then Governor of Assam. He was said to maintain a diary where he recorded his thoughts and feelings on it. After his funeral rites were performed following his expiry in the twin villages of Tangbo-Sedaw, Burma, a certain number of his personal belongings among them included a ring, wristwatch and pen were brought back to Imphal by some of his party comrades. However, the personal diary of the late leader was found to be missing, never to be retrieved in future (See The Emergence of Meetei Nationalism by Rajendra Kshetri, Mittal Publications, 2006 Pg. 79).
A needle of suspicion persists as to whether some foul play was committed by some of his party comrades in the Communist Party of India with respect to the mysterious disappearance of the personal diary of the late mass leader to possibly suppress and obliterate any inconvenient truths and deviations whatever the diary might have contained therein. Lurking suspicions on the mysterious disappearance of Irabot’s diary has never ceased to intrigue, provoke and exasperate both the many followers and comrade-in-arms of Hijam Irabot. Nagging doubts on the issue has resulted in finger pointing towards Irabot’s followers who joined the C.P.I. in general and Th. Bira in particular. However, Takhellambam Mangi, when interviewed in 2008, quite innocuously claimed that personal belongings of Irabot such as diary and spectacles were burnt but gives a damning, earth shattering account of the leader’s death as an unnatural one driven by despair, anger and frustration arising out of difference of opinion with the apparatus of the C.P.I., who in turn, were coercing him, behind his back, to return back to Manipur.
Sticking to the political cause espoused by Hijam Irabot as well as the subsequent line of action he pursued in order to achieve his objectives, particularly at the fag-end of his life, it has not been made clear and enunciated in clear cut terms by the Communist Party of India as to what exactly was his true beliefs, ideals and goals. Did he exhibit separatist tendencies or was he reconciled to the idea of merger of Manipur into India? A stunning conspiracy of silence is maintained on the narrative put out on Irabot by the members of the C.P.I. Take the case of publications by Thokchom Bira’s ‘Comrade Irabat’, Mongjam Ritichandra’s ‘Meeyamgi Luchingba Irabot’ and Langol Iboyaima’s book. When a reviewer makes a reading of these booklets, a set pattern clearly emerges in all these narratives. These aforementioned writers viz. Thokchom Bira, Mongjam Ritichandra and Langol Iboyaima, while giving an account of the leader, they carefully avoid and discreetly sidestep to mention what was Hijam Irabot’s reaction to merger agreement as if a party line exist not to divulge any information on the matter. While chronicling the life sketch of the leader, this class of writers, all of them members of the C.P.I., gives an account of the Pundongbam incident which took place in September, 1948, the police repression that happened in its aftermath and then jumps to Irabot’s foray to Burma which happened in and around May, 1950.   
To be contd