Maharaja Bodh Chandra: The last ruler of Manipur

-Wahengbam Pathou
Contd from previous issue
It needs be stated that while social fibre in Manipur was grossly steeped in feudalism in Churachand Maharaj’s time, the events of 1939 Nupi Lan and the Second World War had greatly shaken off the backwater syndrome afflicting the place so much so that there was a growing upsurge of political ferment after the end of the war. Around this time, the number of educated class was increasing in numbers, the magnitude of general intelligentsia expanding and growing demand for political reforms was abating. Whereas the social conditions in Manipur was rife with acute feudal oppression under Churachand Maharaj’s reign with levying of some terrible taxes such as bicycle tax, tax on cotton plant and chandon senkhai, which Hijam Irabot wholeheartedly struggled to abolish, the scene was markedly different with the advent of Maharaja Bodh Chandra’s rule.
Maharaja Bodh Chandra was a milder character in comparison to his father and above all, he genuinely appeared to pursue a streak democratization of Manipur’s polity after the lapse of British paramountcy giving the people a taste of representative form of government. Judging by his acts as well as persona, it is clear that Irabot saw in Maharaja Bodh Chandra a man he could trust as a harbinger of progressive change.          
Hijam Irabot did not see and consider the institute of monarchy an anachronism or an outdated thing of past that was to be discarded with. As he saw it, it was ‘the symbol of the state of Manipur’ and nothing could take that away. This was a major faultline in his line of thinking from the rest of communist horde, be they in Manipur and elsewhere in India or world.
Irabot’s ideological orientation to have a fondness and liking, soft-spot and attachment for Maharaja Bodh Chandra is quite befuddling an affair to label him as a communist and this leads one to draw him up as a ‘radical socialist’ not communist as done by John Parratt. Irabot’s participation in 1948 held under the aegis of Maharaja Bodh Chandra’s reign clearly unravels his royalist leanings. Quite apparently, being younger in age and mild-manned in poise, he regarded Maharaja Bodh Chandra as a fellow traveler in the path to usher in a brighter future of Manipur. But sadly, that was not to be as quirk of fate would have it. The Pungdongbam incident dramatically changed all the equation. Brute repression and widespread police atrocities in eatern Imphal sector became the order of the day in the aftermath of Pungdongbam incident. And consequently, Hijam Irabot was hounded into underground existence.
Many decry both Maharaja Bodh Chandra and his younger brother, the then Chief Minister Capt. M.K. Priya Brata as reactionary figures for the police atrocities and being representative characters of feudal monarchical disposition. Many anti-monarchists in Manipur ranging from Congressmen to socialists and communists find them and their tribe as hateful figures in as much as a misanthrope would dislike them.
However, it must be emphatically pointed out that Hijam Irabot never held such a view. As a relative of the Manipur royal family, being spouse of Rajkumari Khomdonsana, Irabot never displayed any ill-feeling and aversion to the royalty. He considered Maharaja Bodh Chandra as a fellow countryman as well as a fellow traveler in the path to usher in a better and brighter future of Manipur as long as he saw compatibility in the latter’s style of functioning.
Before going underground, he had no qualms about pursuing his political agenda and cause under the monarchical dispensation and was quite willing to function under Maharaja Bodh Chandra as an agent of progressive change. As such, Manipur’s monarchy was not an anathema to Neta Irabot’s eyes.
To regard a reigning Meitei monarch as ‘symbol of the state of Manipur’ speak volumes of his royalist tilt and leaning. When one critically examines and carries out a character analysis of Irabot, it is hard to miss the fact that he was not truly a republican unlike several Congressmen who orchestrated Quit Gaddi Movement in mid 1949 or other communists in Manipur, who claim him as one of their comrade.
Never did he advocate abolition of monarchy nor did he make any public avowal whatsoever to this effect, which marks a major fault line to club together with rest of the communists. Needless to stress, according to communist polemics, monarchical set up of government and a man like Maharaja Bodh Chandra are deemed class enemies, a remnant vestige of feudalism who are considered major roadblocks that needs be removed in the ongoing stream of class struggle that a society undergoes.
As per communist credo, monarchy is a reactionary feudal system inherently antithetical to their ethos which would, therefore, have no place in their scheme of things.         
Violent overthrow of Czarist monarchy was a hallmark characteristic of the Russian revolution of 1917.
It is worth recalling that the Bolsheviks, Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky all included, had pathological aversion towards the Romanov family. After the culmination of October Revolution, the entire Romanov family, consisting of seven members that included Czar Nicholas II’s wife and five offsprings of tender age, was brutally murdered in the erstwhile Soviet Union. The horrible manner in which the Czar’s family was mercilessly murdered is remembered as one of senseless and ghastly brutality of history. The gruesome and hideous episode of the cold blooded assassination of Czar Nicholas II and his family was so utterly despicable and spine-chilling an act committed by that Bolsheviks that would certainly drive Hijam Irabot to conscientiously abhor them.
He would never, therefore, approve of application of Bolshevik doctrinaire in Manipur context. Suffice to place on record, Irabot never advocated abolition of monarchy nor took a hard line position against it, on the contrary, he considered the system of Meitei kingship raison d’être and fait accompli for Manipur. Needless to emphasize, he had soft corner for Maharaja Bodh Chandra, through and through his life and held in high esteem the existing structures of power, from the traditional monarchy to offices of the elected government and legislature, for they were well enough effective instruments to usher in a brighter future of Manipur.                      
As one recalls the American President Franklin Roosevelt’s crisp statement to a British diplomat in December 1944, ‘there are many varieties of communism’(See Summits Six Meetings that Shaped the Twienteeth Century by David Reynolds, Penguin Books 2007, Pg. 102,429), one wonders which mould of a communist Hijam Irabot really was, if he truly fits the definition. He was not certainly a Stalinist. Rule him out either as a Fourth International Trotskyist or a Maoist even though he might have been enamoured by the success of Chinese path of revolution which was primarily driven to victory on the strength and sacrifices of the countryside peasantry. Hijam Irabot was, indeed, a complex character to analyze and has therefore bequeathed a contested legacy. It goes without saying that he had a soft spot for the royalty and monarchy in Manipur in marked contrast to all communists be they Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky or Mao Zedong, or say P.C. Joshi, B.T. Ranadive or C. Rajeswar Rao, to name a few from Indian landscape, so to draw comparison. It is tantamount to stating the obvious truth that Hijam Irabot would not be ruthless as any other communist would be to the institute of Meitei kingship.     
Of him, it has been succinctly remarked that ‘his political line was now (implying the time period of post 21 September, 1949 when Maharaja Bodh Chandra signed the merger agreement in Shillong but before 10 October, 1949 when he gave Self Criticism) sufficiently crystallised after Mao Tsetung’s victory in China and he was firmly convinced of the inevitability of an armed struggle led by peasant to bring about meaningful changes in the society’(See Hijam Irabot Singh and Political Movements in Manipur by Karam Manimohan Singh, B.R. Publishing House, Delhi, 1989 Pg.364). According to a testimony of late Ningthoujam Binoy, Irabot was said to have expressed before underground rebel recruits that red army from China will come to liberate Manipur one day in one of their training camps before escaping to Burma in May, 1950. Successful culmination of the communist revolution in China on 1 October, 1949 must have, without a doubt, convinced Irabot to calibrate and size up his line of action in the light of new circumstances enveloping the Asiatic political environs. Triumph of Mao Zedong and his communist cohorts in China over Chiang Kai Shek led nationalist forces carried wide ranging repercussions and ramifications for ripples to have felt across the landscape of Burma and Manipur. Hounded into a precarious and perilous existence induced by massive police manhunt, compounded with the imminent collapse of Manipur’s sovereignty after Maharaja Bodh Chandra had signed the merger agreement in Shillong, Hijam Irabot’s hopes of carrying forward his militant movement only laid in opening a second front by physically proceeding to Burma, shifting his base to the new territory, which in vernacular term is loosely translated as Nongpok thong hangba. This was testified by both Ninghoujam Binoy and Wahengbam Brajamani alias Ningthemjao (which was christened by Irabot out of love for his young age and Ningthemjao, in turn, addressed Irabot as Pabung lovingly and affectionately) in their respective lifetimes. 
To be contd