Maharaja Bodh Chandra: The last ruler of Manipur

-Wahengbam Pathou
Contd from previous issue
Born a natural leader, pursuing a streak of independent line, untrammeled by any conditions that lie on his path, ran in Hijam Irabot ingrained in his spirit. Suffice to surmise, if he had indeed lived longer, instead of prematurely expiring on 26 September, 1951, then aged 55 years, it is certain that Neta Irabot would have fallen out with and defied the party line of the Communist Party of India of giving up the strategy of armed rebellion characterized by waging war against the Indian state. This apparent personality trait inherent in great leader Irabot cannot be wished away by any naysayer when one introspects over his ideological moorings in totality with the utmost circumspection it deserves. Separatist tendency and strand of secessionism were clearly noticeable in the fundamental nature and character of armed rebellion spearheaded by Neta Irabot, as widely known when he was alive but later on addressed as Lamyanba by forthcoming generations of Manipur society but this sobriquet is not used by the Communist Party of India.
Maharaja Bodh Chandra was strongly suspected by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel of aiding and abetting the underground movement of Irabot. In his lifetime, Capt. M.K. Priya Brata claimed that he had his hand and played his due in part letting escape his ‘Ebai’ Irabot escape in order that he pursued his path of armed rebellion with renewed vigour. Curiously enough, it is not hard to imagine whether Hijam Irabot, Maharaja Bodh Chandra and Capt. M.K. Priya Brata formed a syndicate in the post-merger era, to keep the pot boiling for a simmering armed rebellion, directed to wage war against the India state, in the aftermath of the outrageous and undemocratic merger. Admittedly, it leaves no doubt to mind that, the trio of Mabai Ibungo Irabot, Maharaja Bodh Chandra and Capt. M.K. Priya Brata were collaborationist brothers-in-arms colluding with each other in revolting, rebelling and militating against the Indian state. The only difference being that while the Lamyanba Hijam Irabot did it openly, his brothers-in-law did it covertly, by stealth and in clandestine manner.
After the episode of merger of Manipur into Indian union in October 1949, when Maharaja Bodh Chandra was resting in his enclave of Gour Nagar situated on the foothills of Baruni (Nongmaijing) hills in the eastern Imphal, the erstwhile ruler was said to have been visited by a strange looking man, disguised as a holy religious hermit, especially in the evenings. Maharaja Bodh Chandra was attended by a traditional healer named Pukhrambam Gulamjat, a resident of Lilong Chajing in his evening sessions of relieving himself of body and joint pains. On many occasions, this mysterious, unknown holyman’s visitations interrupted His Highness’ evening sessions. The unknown holyman in question had a confidential tête-à-tête in a separate room with Maharaja Bodh Chandra and the latter occasionally handed him a sum of money as token contribution to the cause of the holyman.
It goes without saying and there need not be any two opinions, as regards the fact that Hijam Irabot was the father of Meitei insurgency. Apt to the title Lamyanba bestowed upon him, Irabot pioneered an armed underground movement that has later mired the landscape of Manipur into a cauldron of violent insurgency which has besieged and inflamed the land beginning from the formative years of Indian republic. His going underground in the aftermath of Pungdongbam incident on 21 September, 1948, subsequent act of picking arms in the Keibi area of eastern Imphal in his underground days, daring escape to Burma accompanied by a band of Meitei Kabo lalonba (agarwood traders or could be even smugglers) heralded opening up of a second front in his strategy to carry forward his armed insurrection, using the foreign soil of restive regions Burma, as launchpad and springboard for his desired aim of raising a banner of revolt against the Indian nation in the post-merger era.               
Hijam Irabot’s picking up of arms and his act of waging war against the Indian state, in fact, predates Angami Zapu Phizo steered Naga insurgency. Before the underground Naga Federal Government and Naga Federal Army came into being on 22 March, 1952, which is well about half a year since the Lamyanba Hijam Irabot expired in Tangbo-Sedaw, Burma, the Meiteis were up in arms resisting against the domination of Manipur by Indian government. In the Southeast Asia theatre of violent insurgency, arising out of the void created by departure of colonial British rule, the strife torn restive belt of Shan-Kachin-Manipur-and-Naga hills, the trio of these three dead rebel leaders viz. Hijam Irabot (1896-1951), A. Z. Phizo (1904-90)  and Thakin Than Tun (1911-68) continually waged war against the respective Unions of India and Burma ruled by the duo of Jawaharlal Nehru and U Nu as premiers of the both the countries who in turn, were also good friends at personal level. However, in stark reality, both the Prime Ministers were also presiding over a simmering cauldron of violently raging armed rebellion in the periphery of their respective countries.     
The trio of Irabot, Phizo and Thakin Than Tun never wavered in their principled stand to fight, resist and oppose the governments of Jawaharlal Nehru and U Nu for their domination of Manipur, Naga hills and Burma. The duo of Hijam Irabot and A. Z. Phizo breathed last in the foreign soil of the respective countries viz. Burma and United Kingdom. Both the leaders went to their deathbeds solemnly hoping for liberation of their motherland from foreign domination some day. The set trio of rebel leaders consisting of Hijam Irabot, A. Z. Phizo and Thakin Than Tun were truly national heroes in their own right who gave their lives committing the ultimate sacrifices for the love of their motherland as their true sons. This trio of leaders never bid farewell to arms in their respective lifetime. 
Hijam Irabot was not a Bolshevik as such. His royalist leanings were all too clearly noticeable. In blood relations, he happened to be a brother-in-law of both Maharaja Bodh Chandra and Capt. M.K. Priya Brata by virtue of his marriage to their older cousin Rajkumari Khomdonsana. Mabai Ibungo Irabot was never a political adversary of Maharaja Bodh Chandra. He pursued for democratisation of Manipur polity from within the system under monarchical dispensation. Neta Irabot, despite his leftist leanings, never advocated and avowed for overthrow of the monarchical set up in Manipur under the rule of Maharaja Bodh Chandra. Unlike his political rival party Manipur State Congress which campaigned for Quit Gaddi Movement, he never regarded Maharaja Bodh Chandra as a feudal despot although he was vocal in his criticism of certain aspects of faulty approach associated with the latter’s modus operandi, for instance the Praja Sangh’s boycott from participation in the shabby manner the constitution making committee was functioning before independence in July 1947.
On the whole, progressive outlook, reformist zeal and moderate face imbibed in Maharaja Bodh Chandra thoroughly convinced Hijam Irabot to repose faith in him to work wholeheartedly in the new political milieu brought in place by the ruler. Manipur was visibly veering towards a semblance of enlightened monarchy, after the lapse of British paramountcy in 1947, with a scheme of promising political reforms introduced by Maharaja Bodh Chandra, in the direction of instituting the long cherished goal of ‘Full Responsible Government’ which was locally known as ‘Purna Daitasheel Sarkar’, in common parlance, then ardently championed by the existing political class as well the general intelligentsia. As the assembly elections based on universal adult franchise were held in mid 1948 to usher in a system of participatory democracy in both the hills and plains of Manipur, Irabot laid explicit trust in the hope of transforming Manipur towards a better future under Maharaja Bodh Chandra’s dispensation. He wholeheartedly threw himself to participate in the election campaign of 1948 by contesting as a candidate of his party Krishak Sabha from the rural Utlou constituency where he won with handsome margin.
A total of five candidates belonging to Krishak Sabha were successfully returned in the elections. Hijam Irabot wholeheartedly threw himself and his political outfits such as the Krishak Sabha and Praja Sangh as progressive forces to help usher in change from within by participating in the political system then existing under the monarchical setup. Krishak Sabha’s participation in the 1948 polls is, without question, an endorsement, in addition to reposing faith by Hijam Irabot, in the grand scheme of political reforms that would be ushered in under Maharaja Bodh Chandra’s dispensation He was certainly a communist of different mould and persuasion. With respect to the question whether Irabot was communist or not, there exist certain quarters who take strong exception to label him a communist. Among them, John Parratt, an avid researcher on Manipur history describes Irabot as a ‘radical socialist’, not a communist. Nevertheless, Irabot was a leftist ideologue.
As Joseph Stalin once remarked to Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia in March 1945, in the aftermath of Yalta Conference, that ‘socialism is possible even under English monarchy’, one wonders whether Irabot was indeed reconciled to the idea of espousing his leftist cause and struggle for social reforms within the ambit of monarchical dispensation under Maharaja Bodh Chandra. [Stalin was quoted to have further said ‘Revolution is no longer necessary everywhere …. Yes, socialism is possible even under an English king.’ (See Stalin’s Wars: From World War to Cold War, 1939-1953 by Geoffrey Roberts Yale University Press) Even though, Hijam Irabot was no Stalinist as such but the context of Soviet leader remarks is quite striking to his ideological compatibility for working in tandem with the monarchical dispensation in Manipur.] Even during the height of massive crackdown, repression and witch hunt unleashed by the State machinery marked by brutal police atrocities, he stated thus: ‘The Maharaja is the symbol of the State, and whether Krishak, Congress, Communist, Socialist, Democrat or Royalist are all his subjects in Manipur. The Sabha humbly requests the just decision of the King.’ (See A cyclostyled leaflet issued by the Manipur Krishak Sabha on the 20th October, 1948, translation, courtesy, Th. Tarunkumar, Ed., Resistance, Volume III, No. 33 dated 22nd August, 1978, pp. 6-8, cited from Hijam Irabot Singh and Political Movements in Manipur by Karam Manimohan Singh, B.R. Publishing House, Delhi, 1989 Pg.321,326)
Hijam Irabot was never known to be severely critical of Maharaja Bodh Chandra. He visibly possessed a soft corner for his brothers-in-law viz. Maharaja Bodh Chandra and Capt. M.K. Priya Brata. He did not see the institute of monarchy of Manipur in the same light as the Bolsheviks saw the Romanovs and many other communists saw of royal families elsewhere in the world. In his eyes, Maharaja Bodh Chandra was certainly not a feudal despot. The 1948 elections were a landmark political reform which he saw an opportunity to utilize for better future of Manipur. It is clear that Irabot endorsed Maharaja Bodh Chandra’s slew of political reforms by participating in the electoral fray of 1948. Meanwhile, members of the Communist Party of India seek to portray Irabot as strong opponent of monarchical disposition in Manipur as a garb of diabolical feudalism. Laishram Sotinkumar’s booklet Feudalismgi mayokta Irabot (Irabot against feudalism) is a pointer to this argument. However, a closer scrutiny and examination of Irabot’s true leanings and inclinations merit consideration. To be contd