Maharaja Bodh Chandra: The last ruler of Manipur

-Wahengbam Pathou
Contd from previous issue
However, before he proceeded to Burma in May 1950 and in between the interlude of 21 September, 1949, when the merger agreement was signed by Mahara Bodh Chandra in Shillong and when the same came into effect on 15 October, 1949, the Communist Party of India in quite an uncanny and tactless manner extracted self criticism from him on 10 October, 1949. (It was known to everyone including the communists like Thokchom Bira, Ngangom Mahendra and Moirangthem Meghachandra that Manipur has lost independence by the stroke of Maharaja Bodh Chandra’s pen in Shillong and on the the final nail on the coffin of Manipur’s separate, sovereign existence had to be laid on 15 October. Yet, just five days before Manipur proud independence would meet dead, apocalyptic end, the C.P.I. partymen who were much younger to Hijam Irabot in age had the gumption to take self criticism from him). The C.P.I. may have their own perspective as to what a self criticism entails in their party jargon. But in so far as common understanding and perception goes, extracting a self criticism implies an unkind, humiliating treatment being meted out to the person from whom it is taken out. The issue of Irabot’s self criticism is undeniably a sad episode vis-à-vis his relations with C.P.I. It essentially brings to fore a notion of strained relations, trust deficit and crisis of confidence in Irabot by the party apparatus of the C.P.I. Self criticism is said to given by communist partymen who runs the risk of going astray with ‘counter-revolutionary’ behavior [See Wikipedia entry of Self-criticism (Marxism)].                                
Extracting self criticism from a great leader of Hijam Irabot’s stature by the party apparatus of the C.P.I. certainly smacks of mistreatment and humiliation. It obviously reeks off a whiff of shady and dubious exercise, on the part of the C.P.I., to rein in Irabot less he goes beyond the command and control of the party. It is clear that self criticism was a manifest attempt to cut him down to size, put him in his own place, by the C.P.I., thereby asserting the party’s total authority, full grip and hold over him. It was a concerted attempt to remind him grimly, in his ears, heart, mind and soul, that the party reigns supreme over him. In fine, he has to act in accordance with the policy and programme of the party. In other words, in crude language, Irabot has to go by the diktat of party’s apparatus and dance to its tune otherwise he has no choice, room and space under the sun, in the party’s scheme of things. Come what may, he has to function under the whims of the party for all times to come and not the other way round, else terrible fate of disowning and expulsion awaits him in the party, this is precisely what the party line decreed.
Self criticism is akin to admitting mea culpa for one’s past actions. No leader worth his salt and standing would give in easily to issue self criticism unless compelled by extraordinary circumstances. One need to introspect the reasons why Hijam Irabot gave self criticism on 10 October, 1949, a day which will be tarred with infamy as regards his relations with the Communist Party of India, as posterity will acknowledge the sordid saga. One needs to ponder over the nagging question as to why did Irabot agree to give self criticism at all. Admittedly, he had a lot of physical insecurities hovering over his head at this critical juncture of his life. He had been leading a life of perilous fugitive existence for more than a year by the time he issued self criticism. Fear of disowning and in worst case scenario, expulsion loomed over his mind. If he did not budge in to give the self criticism as the party apparatus of the C.P.I. desired, then all hell could break loose for him. Information tip off about his hideout in rural hinterland could jeopardize his underground existence leading to his capture by the police. Out and out, Hijam Irabot was a besieged man at the time when self criticism was extracted from him. Under siege from all directions, he was left with no alternative than to kowtow to party’s diktat, submitting himself in the most subservient manner of self criticizing himself before the party apparatus of the C.P.I.    
It is quite a harrowing and exasperating exercise for one to go through a reading of Hijam Irabot’s self criticism. How could a great leader, man of the masses like Irabot be subjected to undergo such a humiliating and deplorable ordeal of self criticism when he was at a precariously low point of his underground existence; one is totally left aghast to ponder on this aspect. Just an initial glance at the self criticism brings to fore the notion of discordant notes between Hijam Irabot and the Communist Party of India which is clearly evident from the following lines: ‘I am responsible for the past inactions of the D.O.C. (District Organising Committee) and the non-advancement of the Party. I did not know the inner concepts of the Party itself except the idea that it would certainly one day offer not only the guideline but a way to salvation to the poor mass of the country. I also did not realize that the Party has an international outlook and its ideals should have the same character throughout the world without changing its basic principles. Therefore, in spite of various warnings to me by the P.C. (Party Committee?), I have been pulling myself on my own thinking with a narrow claim that conditions in Manipur were very peculiar and nobody would understand it from outside.’(See Hijam Irabot Singh and Political Movements in Manipur by Karam Manimohan Singh, B.R. Publishing House, Delhi, 1989 Pg.364)
It emerges clearly from the text of the self criticism document that Irabot was not at all comfortable with the idea of self criticizing himself thrust on him by the party. Sample the following words expressed by him in this context: ‘I did not understand that what a Self Criticism could mean, and I had no faith in it although I often preached that criticism is the only way to civilisation. Therefore, I was extremely hesitated to introduce it in Manipur because of a blind faith that it would not be conducive to the peculiar circumstances of the State.’(ibid.) 
He hit out hard at some elements within the party apparatus of the C.P.I. with the following words: ‘I believed that all those parties who have accused me of my wrong approach would one day become completely mute when they see progressive nature of my works. But I could not realise the fact that my activities would never achieve its goal unless I heard criticism from friends. On the other hand, those people who advised me to earnestly correct my line of thinking were simply regarded as my scandalous counter enemies.’(ibid.)
It is not clear against whom he was expressing and targeting his angst with these stinging remarks. But nonetheless, no one can take away the fact that he was laying bare on record that there exists certain elements among his party comrades against whom he reserved pain and anguish for letdown. And above all, he left it for history and posterity to judge him and vindicate. The main thrust of the texture and composition of Hijam Irabot’s self criticism, in its entirety, is laden with admission of guilt and owning up of past mistakes, faults and errors on his part by submissively falling at the feet of a higher apparatus in the C.P.I. party machinery that stood nine fathom shoulder above him at whose mercy and biddings he was leading his life.
A through review and analysis of the self criticism naturally evokes an eerie sense in one’s mind that Irabot owed his very existence to the mercy of C.P.I. and the party occupies an exalted position standing over him whose writ and command he has to obey under all circumstances. The whole episode, undoubtedly, creates the impression of an unholy complex of mine-confession-à-la-self-criticism, thine-pardon-me-for-my-past-faults. The act of squeezing Irabot to offer self criticism was so deplorable and reprehensible that leaves one to wonder whether such a tall and beloved leader, who enthralled the masses with his charm and appeal, was made to undergo this humiliating exercise among his close communist inner circles with utter ignominy marked with a stain of disgrace. Simply put, it was height of insensitivity and ruthless treatment by the Communist Party of India towards Irabot. Posterity would acknowledge that the saga of tendering self criticism is one of low moments of Hijam Irabot’s life, coerced by his own partymen to fall at the feet of the C.P.I. apparatus for pardon. One must bear in mind that almost all his comrades in Manipur were younger to him in age from Thokchom Bira to Moirangthem Meghachandra to Ngangom Mahendra and Tongbram Basna. Even minimum sympathy to age factor consideration was not taken into account during the sad episode of self criticism and it was given a complete goby at the altar of asserting party’s supremacy over individuals. Ngangom Mahendra was said to justify self-criticism as quite a usual procedure that need not be a spot of bother to anyone outside the realm of party.    
The attempt to rein in Irabot by extracting self criticism by the C.P.I. was quite uncharitable and mean exercise to one-time great mass leader who had gone underground amidst challenging circumstances. What thoughts and feelings must have gone through inside his mind when issuing self criticism is distressing in epic proportions for one to consider. While the C.P.I. projects their ‘Janneta Irabot’ as their mascot, but behind the screen, he was most shabbily treated. To force him to issue self criticism is tantamount to backstabbing and dismaying maltreatment in the most brutish fashion. For the C.P.I., its purpose and intent to tighten grip on Irabot was served by taking out the self criticism from him, yet in doing so, this sham exercise quite disgustingly belittled him into a little man. A man under siege, boxed into a corner, leading a perilous existence, being on the run as a fugitive outlaw was hamstrung among his inner circles and forced to undergo self criticism is one of a question involving moral turpitude. Disturbing questions arising out of self criticism will continue to torment, tear asunder the C.P.I. with respect to its treatment of Irabot like an albatross around its neck for all times to come.
There is no denying the fact the issue of extracting self criticism from Hijam Irabot is a dishonourable act of humungous proportions, still alive in memory, concerning his strained relations with the Communist Party of India. Suffice to say, it was so lamentable an act committed by the party apparatus of the C.P.I. on the great leader that it would unceasingly infuriate the forthcoming generations with a great deal of consternation to no end, when reminded of, anytime. The dreaded term Irabot’s self criticism (taken on 10 October, 1949, just five days before when merger of Manipur Into Indian dominion shall come into effect) would unfailingly be regarded as a thorny issue for the C.P.I. to deal with, quite characteristic of a still festering, unsettling wound, the more this party claims the great leader as one of their own.
Simply put, the imagery of one time beloved mass leader Irabot, who enthralled the the people with his charm, appeal and dynamic leadership qualities being summoned to the bar of a C.P.I.’s inner council in Manipur (whether acting under party’s central leadership diktat or not) but it consisted of men who were much junior to his age, by a gap of some twenty odd years in most cases; where he was tactlessly, unkindly and quite unfeelingly admonished shall unfailingly evoke pain, consternation and dismay to no end for forthcoming generations whenever one come to learn or reminded of the unholy self criticism episode. Given the horrid episode of Irabot’s self criticism and uncharitable treatment meted out to him by the C.P.I., it shall be adjudged by forthcoming generations to come the party committed an unpardonable sin of epic proportions to Hijam Irabot.
To be contd