Maharaja Bodh Chandra: The last ruler of Manipur

-Wahengbam Pathou
Contd from previous issue
A week after independence day, on 22 August, 1949, houses of as many as 18 active members ‘suspected to belong either to Communist Party of Manipur and Manipur Students Federation’ and their respective houses situated in various locations of Imphal were searched by the police aided by a platoon the Manipur Rifles. The house belonging to N. Binoy was spared from being searched out by the police due to him being the son of a serving minister of the State government(ibid.).
Police combing of communist members houses yielded in recovery of party ‘literatures, leaflets, prejudicial bulletins, office correspondence [and] proceedings of meetings’ from 12 members. Most importantly, the crucial find yielded from during the conduct of search operation by the police was the recovery of ‘an unauthorised printing press from the house of Moirangthem Meghachandra’ which was not a light matter (ibid. Pg. 350). It remains a curious affair as to how bulky machinery such as a printing press was stealthily operating in the Uripok locality, heart of Imphal town, without the knowledge of the State administration. As to how many printing presses were operational in Manipur in 1949, they could be counted on one’s finger tips. Setting up of a venture such as printing press where such a heavy machinery is involved was a mammoth exercise but operating it underground away from the glare of State administration was altogether an astounding feat. Whether the machinery equipment of printing press was legally procured or was it covertly smuggled to Moirangthem Meghachandra’s residence remains unanswered. The intricate web of subversive activities spawned by secretly operating a printing press was an unsettling business in defiance of the State authorities.  
In the following days since the police raided houses belonging to communist members, on 25 August, 1949, an “un-authorised news sheet entitled ‘Educational Demand Day’ published by Thokchom Boro, General Secretary of Manipur Students Federation” was uncovered (ibid.). An outline of the news sheet decried searches and raid laid by police on the houses of the committee members of the Students Federation and torture unleashed on the public. It was made known that in order to register ‘protest’ against the government, the Students Federation was “calling out a meeting to observe ‘Educational Demand Day’’’ objecting against ‘the Manipur Government not to use a fascist policy according to India Government’. The news sheet further clamoured for the slogans expressing ‘Stop the oppressive policy of the Government. It is not a Police Government, but it is Democracy’(ibid.).
Then in a bizarre turn of event, all a of sudden, quite abruptly and awfully, came the sham episode of merger of Manipur into Indian Dominion when Maharaja Bodh Chandra was coerced and coaxed into signing the agreement under a state of duress at Shillong, then capital of Assam province on 21 September, 1949. Without doubt, merger was a dark, ominous horizon appearing on the political landscape of Manipur and with its coming into effect, a ruinous body blow to the political personality of Manipur, implying crude termination of its independent existence. All efforts spared in the direction of unleashing political reforms by introducing a semblance of democracy by Maharaja Bodh Chandra after conducting popular elections across the length and breadth of Manipur’s territorial expanse and installing a modern cabinet form of government representative of people’s mandate was grieviously undone by the stroke of merger. Manipur was regressively transformed overnight from a state of enlightened, reformed monarchy to one-man autocratic rule, a despot called Chief Commissioner with the coming into effect of merger on 15 October, 1949, a horrendous outcome of tryst with India’s democracy, quite ironically.                     Merger was a doom, a ruination of gargantuan proportions for the political personality of Manipur. Proud independent existence of Manipur, that came to be enjoyed since the lapse of British Paramountcy, with elected assembly and popular ministry was effectively sounded a death knell by the merger. Unmaking of Manipur into a Chief Commissioner’s fiefdom, parachuted from Delhi, who happened to be an insensitive outsider, devoid of feeling the pulse of the people was unspeakably wrongful, undeniably dreadful and lacked any justification whatsoever. There was no popular assembly to democratically represent the voice of the people since mid October 1949 for quite a long time to come. One man autocracy was horridly foisted on the people of Manipur by government of India in the aftermath of merger.
Without doubt, merger was an outrage to Hijam Irabot, a man who championed democracy, political emancipation and rights of the people for it dreadfully brought about a denouement, in no uncertain terms, to the cause and ideals he dearly stood for, hitherto. For merger, unquestionably, shook the very foundations of democracy that had taken nascent roots in Manipur with the installation popular ministry and elected assembly.  To him, it was a vile and unconscionable catastrophe that knew no bounds. As per the account of Soyam Chhatradhari, Irabot ‘flew into a rage’ (a phrase used by Resistance fortnightly) when the news that Maharaja Bodh Chandra had signed the merger agreement was broken to him. The unsettling question that how could Maharaja Bodh Chandra sign the merger agreement without the taking into account the voice of the elected assembly and the popular ministry exasperated him to no end. He trenchantly condemned it in no uncertain terms. So furious was Hijam Irabot on learning about merger that he threw his personal belongings that included an ink pot, in which he dipped his pen to put his political thoughts into writing among other things. In the autumn of 1949, the very moment when Irabot, then an underground outlaw on the run, seeking out a perilous existence in one of his secret hideout somewhere in Imphal periphery, came to learn of merger, it was his saddest hour, a moment of superlative dissatisfaction and pinnacle of disheartenment which in vernacular writing is expressed as Irabotki khwaidagi ningba kaiba numit is what was precisely maintained by Soyam Chhatradhari in his book on the leader(See Manipurgi Itihasta Irabot by Soyam Chhatradhari, Soyam Publications, Imphal 1994 Pg.92). It needs be emphasized that Soyam Chhatradhari’s account of Hijam Irabot’s life and times is, by far, the most incisive and bare-it-all narrative on the trials and tribulations associated with the leader. His forthright flair of writing, candidness and openness in texture of expression and the tell-all character of his book Manipurgi Itihasta Irabot deals a striking blow; hits the bull’s eye of sorts, on the true political inclination of Irabot.
That merger was a grossly reprehensible act; grievous assault involving moral turpitude committed by the government of India on Manipur was the feeling of Hijam Irabot according to Soyam Chhatradhari. Contrastingly, in the rest of the narratives brought out by followers of the leader ideologically affiliated to the Communist Party of India viz. Thokchom Bira, Mongjam Ritichandra, Langol Iboyaima and later on Laishram Sotinkumar, to iterate their names once again, a stoic conspiracy of silence is maintained as regards the question; what was Irabot’s reaction to merger agreement, as if a party line exist not to divulge any information on this issue. The C.P.I. may seek to dismiss Soyam Chhatradhari’s stunning revelations as his personal opinion unendorsed by the party. And that his book Manipurgi Itihasta Irabot is a private publication and individual expression which has nothing to do with the party. However, they cannot run away from the fact that this book was initially published by the Krishak Sabha in 1972 which was then part and parcel of the C.P.I. Manipur unit. To be contd How did Irabot react to merger of Manipur into India? Did he endorse it or denounce the act of merger? The C.P.I. is tightlipped on the matter, prefers to keep mum and take refuge under a veneer of silence. The party carefully avoids, sidetrack and skirt discussing this area of domain concerning the life of Hijam Irabot in any of its published literature. However, their silence says it all. For silence is pregnant with meaning. Inquisitive urge of some reviewer will always emerge to break the labyrinthine code of silence maintained in certain political circles to eventually unmask the truth. History is not what party line dictates. It is full disclosure of facts and circumstances of the bygone chequered past with honesty and clarity. Truth cannot be held as sacrificial lamb at the altar of serving political expediency of some political party. Inconvenient, unpalatable and unsavoury truths, whatever and wherever may there be, associated with the life of Hijam Irabot, unsuited to C.P.I. party line, cannot be swept under the carpet and brushed aside when narrating about the life of this great leader.        One needs to bear in mind that when the Irabot story is told, three persons are primarily relevant, Hijam Irabot himself, Thokchom Bira a.k.a. Comrade Bira and late R.K. Tulachandra. The legacy of Irabot is a highly contentious as well as a disputed affair. At worst of time, it has acquired a bloody dimension resulting in the assassination of Th. Bira. The basic charge levelled against Comrade Bira that the Communist Party of India ‘Indianized’ (a term used by insurgency outfits) Irabot for political gains, although the latter stood for independent entity of Manipur. And Th. Bira took the lead in taking the legacy of Hijam Irabot in the wrong direction (See Kangleipakta Revolution by Paonam Labango Mangang, published by Khuraijam Sanatombi Singh, Imphal 1997 Pg.92). According to late R.K. Tulachandra, the C.P.I. leader severely compromised Irabot and besmirched his image while participating in the electoral politics of India because of which he was assassinated. In order to gain larger acceptance and popularity with a view to seek votes in the electoral arena, Hijam Irabot’s name was hijacked as a mascot of C.P.I. to serve their own political interests and Th. Bira was held fundamentally culpable for this sordid saga. As the allegation goes, Th. Bira, a Calcutta graduate, an urban folk, elitist in character, distorted the image of Irabot thereby foisting a false narrative to garner political mileage in the arena of electoral politics, totally blurring and obfuscating the true legacy of great leader(ibid.).
To be contd