Pundit Raja Atombapu : Doyen of journalism in Manipur
BB Sharma (Retd. IIS)
The evening was calm and serene. That evening, there was a discourse by Wahengbam Tomcha Singh, a social activist, on the work of late Pundit-Raja Atombapu Sharma. The topic was enchanting and all remained calm and quiet. When I remember the day, I thought how blessed I am. When Pundit-Raja Atombapu Sharma was a teacher of Johnstone High English School, Maharaja Sir Churachand Singh used to send his car every now and then to pick him up from the school for consultations. Maharaja admired Punditji for his profound knowledge and appointed him the chief of the Raja-Pundits. A special accommodation was made for his stay at the Palace Annexe. It was beyond my imagination that Pundit-Raja had a sound knowledge of modern journalism.
After witnessing the failure of the then Government to address peoples’ problems, Punditji apprised the Maharaja of the situation in detail. But the outcome was almost nil. In 1933, with the permission of the Government, he launched a daily newspaper, “The Dainik Manipur Patrika” in Meiteilon and Thongbam Gokulchandra Singh, a renowned theatre artist was made the Editor. It was the first daily newspaper not only in Manipur but also in Assam, Nagaland, and Arunachal Pradesh. The three words-“Dainik Manipur Patrika” was printed on the masthead of the Patrika in Meitei Mayek as a symbol of ancient culture of the Meiteis.
Many wonder, whether it was the hen or the egg that came first. Similarly it is also a matter whether it’s the politics or the journalism which came first. To Pundit-Raja Atombapu, politics and journalism were born simultaneously and both are Siamese twin. The Dainik Manipur Patrika helped the common people to arouse the level of political consciousness and importance of democracy in a princely State. The “Style is the man himself”, said by Buffon. Individuals, institutions evolved their own style. Pundit-Raja often asked his Editors to make language simple and straight forward expression to carry the voice of the voiceless.
The attention of the Political Agent of the Government of India was drawn and considered that continuation of the newspaper would be detrimental to the interest of the colonial rulers. Thus the Dainik Manipur Patrika was banned.
Pundit-Raja had a deep understanding of the concept of literary journalism and its role in the development of language. With this in view, Pundit-Raja launched a literary monthly journal entitled “Lalita Manjuri Patrika” in 1934. Kavi Ratna Arambam Dorendrajait Singh was appointed as its Editor.
Meanwhile, the Indian independence movement gained momentum and its intensity was felt in Manipur also. In order to push forward the movement, on April 15th, 1946 Pundit Raja again launched another daily called “Bheigyabati Patrika” in memory of his loving wife Bheigyabati Devi on her first death anniversary. Noted social and political activist from Sagolband, Maisnam Birmani Singh was made the Editor. Later on, Dr Ningthoujam Leiren Singh, (former Education Minister), took over the charge of Editorship of the newspaper. At last, Arambam Lalmani Singh, a well-known writer and social activist, became the Editor after Dr Leiren Singh joined active politics.
The newspaper launched a crusade against the wrong doings of the Durbar Members. The attention of Pearson Sahhab, the president of Manipur State Durbar was drawn and he had to terminate the Durbar Members and took over the administration. He then constituted an interim Government with some nominated Ministers from the public.
The first ever adult franchise was conducted and the Ministers were nominated from among the elected members after dismissing the earlier Ministers. The Bheigyabati Patrika helped the Manipur State Congress to great extent and support it to form a democratic Government in Manipur. At the instance of Pundit-Raja, the Manipur State Congress was reorganised by merging various political outfits except the Kishan Sangha.
Formal election was conducted at the residence of the Pundit-Raja Atombabu Sharma. Potshangbam Tomal Singh of Heirangoithong was elected as president and Yumnam Kholmacha Singh as its general secretary. However, trouble began as soon as the interim Government of Manipur was formed. The interim Government was formed by disobeying the advice of Pundit-Raja not to compromise the democratic process. The incident was termed by Pundit-Raja as “Heinou Makhongi Sarajantrana” (Conspiracy at the Mango Tree).
Even today, whenever there is any political crisis or upheaval, this same terminology is used by journalists and politicians in Manipur. Pundit-Raja slowly distanced himself from active politics and advised the politicians “Do not search for Moksha forgetting your country. Lead a pure life. A politician should always stand first for his country, and then your thought will turn towards Moksha”. Pundit-Raja always mentioned the story of Deva Rishi Narda of Hindu mythology to his newspaper staff. He urged them to follow how Deva Rishi Narda carried the message of the Lord to the God, Demons and Human Beings for the future and well-being of the universe. This was the guiding principle of all his Patrikas. Today, several universities including Harvard have began studying the role of Narda and accepted Him as the “Ace Reporter”.
This article is based on the discourse of Wahengbam Tomcha Singh and booklet on the life of Pundit-Raja Atombabu Sharma by Arambam Lalmani Singh published on the Pundit Raja’s centenary celebration in 1988.