Romance of insurgency in Manipur in 1970s and 1980s
Rebels of the Valley
- Part 1 -

Dr. K. Ruhinikumar Sharma & Dr. Sanasam Amal Singh *

Manipur, like many countries and nations of Southeast Asia have found continuous engagement in insurgencies or resistance movements since the beginning of 20th Century. The erstwhile kingdom of Manipur was under the so called indirect system of colonial rule where actual power and authority remained under British colonial masters while the native ruler was simply a pawn yet it was made to believe in the eyes of the people that real authority lies with the latter.

The real story of how Manipur became a part of democratic India which had a long history of resistance against colonialism has been told time and again need no further retelling. Yet, to somebody, Manipur's marriage to India was not a sacred ritual solemnized with sanctity and therein lies the crux of the problem viz, romance of insurgency, the story which unfolded with vigour and vitality in the 70s and 80s of the 20th Century etched still afresh in the minds of the people accompanied by agony and anger.

This paper attempts to narrate the lived experiences of ours growing up in those troubled times with a limited reflection of how it was depicted in a novel from the pen of a dramatic persona who himself was a high ranking government official. The title of the novel is 'Rebels of the valley' written by BL Vohra1 who was an IPS officer serving in the state as Home Secretary during 1980s.

In order to make the narrative situated within the changing socio political life of Manipur particularly after her eventful integration with the Indian union in 1949 a chronological account of post 1949 Manipur is outlined here under. The chronicle ends with the famous-infamous Heirangoithong incident of 14th March, 1984.

Major chronological account of post 1950 Manipur History

1950 - Armed movement of Manipur Communist Party (MCP); Irabot in Burma; inauguration of Advisory Council
1951 - Students agitation; Manipur Conspiracy Case
1952 - Manipur a Part C State; CPI taking part in Parliamentary election
1953 - Scarcity of rice; famine like situation; formal transfer of Kabaw valley to Burma (March); ban imposed on Mother Manipur; Advisory Council taking part in administration; Manipur Nationalist Union's ultimatum for restoration of statehood
1954 - Movement for Responsible Government by Praja Socialist Party (PSP)
1956 - Manipur Hill Village Authority Act; Manipur Naga Council
1957 - Manipur as Union Territory with a Territorial Council
1958 - Enactment of AFSPA; heated debate in Indian Parliament; L. Achaw Singh
1950 - MLR&R Act, 1960

1960 - Meitei State Committees Armed Struggle (1960-1963); Assembly Demand Co-ordination Committee & its agitation activities; Police action against agitators
1962 - Army operation in hill areas
1963 - Upgradation of Nagaland as a state; Territorial Assembly status for Manipur
1964 - Movement For Greater Nagaland And Greater Mizoram; UNLF; Nagaland Assembly's 1st Resolution For Naga Integration
1965 - Scarcity of rice; Student agitation & police firing; foundation of AMSU
1967 - Manipur Cultural integration Conference; voice of Naga Integration
1968 - Establishment of Pan Manipuri Youth League (PANMYL) at Gauhati University
1969 - Revolutionary Government of Manipur (RGM); commencement of publication of 'Lamyanba' by Pan Manipuri Youth League (PANMYL)

1970 - Intensification of statehood movement; Nagaland Assembly's 2nd Resolution for Naga Integration
1971 - District Councils Act
1972 - Inauguration of statehood; Manipur Peoples' Party under Alimuddin coming to power; release of Matamgi Manipur
1973 - Sahitya Academy Award to Pacha Meitei
1974 - Army atrocities in the hill areas; gross human rights violation; rate of Rose; wide media coverage in Lamyanba and others
1975 - Revivalist movement; India under state of Emergency
1977 - Formation of PREPAK, PLA
1978 - PLA in armed action; imposition of AFSPA; militant revivalism; burning of Hindu scriptures; Meetei National Front; Manipur Language Bill; Issue of Meitei Mayek
1979 - Murder of RGM cadres; PREPAK intensifies its actions; Anti-Foreigners Movement

1980 - Intensification of Anti-Foreigner's Movement; Boycott of examinations; establishment of Manipur University; imposition of AFSPA throughout Manipur; formation of KCP; Military action and operation against valley base armed groups; AMSU observes 'Eclipse Day'
1981 - Arrest of Bisheswar and killing of his associates in military operations; PREPAK, PLA declared outlawed
1982 - Kodompokpi; operation against PLA.
1984 - March 14, Heirangoithong massacre etc.

[Note: The chronological table is drawn with the help of various sources. They are: Manipur Puwari Kunmathoisuba Chahicha by N. Sanajaoba; 'Kumbaba (1978-1985)' by Th. Phalendra Singh, Imphal 1988; Lamyanba, a journal of Pan Manipuri Youth League; and various Vernacular Manipuri Newspapers].

The pages of 'Lamyanba'2 under its firebrand editor NK. Sanajaoba were replete with series of write-ups against the exposes wrong doings of both the government and armed forces. The sensational report of the rape of Miss Rose, a Tangkhul girl by BSF personals and her agonies revealed in her suicide note shocked the sensibilities of the common men.

Later on this shocking incident was recreated in Mangisana's play 'Chanu Rose'. PANMYL's publications like 'Manipur To-day' and 'What is wrong in Manipur'3 critically examine the problems and predicaments of Manipuri people. The idea of Manipur as a historically and culturally rich land had been germinated by the writing of Nandalal Sharma in 'Meitrabak'4 and Meitram Bira's celebrated play 'Bir Tikendrajit'5.

Pacha Meitei, Shree Biren and a host of young writers of the time started examining the then socio-political life of Manipuris. Joddha C. Sanasam6 was the earliest Manipuri writer to dealt with the heroism of Meitei youths who took up arms for the cause of what they believe in, i.e., self determination of Manipur.

It may be interesting to note that the arm activities of valley based underground organizations that rocked the state since 1978 with greater vigil and zeal as evidenced in the autobiography of a middle ranking police officer who was actively involved in intelligence and operational activities. In this autobiographical account the author chronicled the activities of the arm rebels indulged in violent actions.7

As also mentioned above 'Rebels of the valley' is a novel written by BL Vohra who was an IPS officer serving in the state as Home Secretary during 1980s and had a firsthand knowledge regarding the activities of the arm rebels, their modus operandi and ideology. He was also instrumental not only in framing policy but also in implementing with a fair amount of success in containing their violent actions.

The story of the novel starts with the jail break of Imphal Central Jail by some daring rebel leaders and cadres by making a tunnel inside the jail building and coming out through the bank of Nambul River. The jail break was masterminded by O. Surchandra Singh, one of the insurgents lodged in the jail. He is the protagonist of the novel who has been disillusioned with the society around him and the body politic.

He adopted Marxism as his credo. He was also greatly influenced by his father Gourkishore Singh who was very proud of the rich historical and cultural legacy of the land. Gourkishore's thinking was also deeply influenced by Hijam Irabot, the legendary hero of 20th Century Manipur.

Thus Surchandra's ideas and actions were a byproduct of Marxist ideas of revolution and Manipuri nationalism through which he was spearheading a war of liberation for his motherland with the ultimate objective of reestablishing Manipur's independence. Yet for strategic purposes he gradually moves towards Maoism in order to get arms and equipment from China to carry out his stated objectives.

In order to establish contact with Chinese authorities he made a long journey from Imphal to Chinese occupied Tibet via Nepal with some of his trusted comrades which were fraught with lot of dangers. There Surchandra and his comrades were given not only political training but also the use of arms. Here the author strongly feels that Chinese authorities had developed a sympathetic attitude towards the activities of the young Manipuri rebels.

Brigadier Chou a smart middle-aged Chinese of average height was in charge of looking after the rebels. In his first formal interaction Brigadier Chou warmly addressed the Manipuri rebels "Dear Comrades from Manipur, you are welcome to China, to the land of Mao-Tse-Tung and leader of revolutionary wars all over the world".

As part of the indoctrination towards Maoist Philosophy, theory and practice of revolution they were advised to familiarize with Mao's famous book, 'Strategic problems of China's revolutionary war', by citing a few things from that book: the laws of war-this is a problem that any one directing a war must study and solve; the laws of revolutionary war-this is a problem that anyone directing a revolutionary war must study and solve; and the laws of China's revolutionary war- this is a problem that anyone directing revolutionary war in China must study and solve.

Within the next few days they were fully exposed of how to become a good revolutionary by way of getting trained in hard Physical Training in the morning, followed by weapons training and indoor classes in the afternoon, with games in the evening. Every day there was a film show late in the evening and then homework, reading and writing had to be done.

On Sundays they were taken on visits to commune farms of other places which the Chinese wanted to show to them. They were given stationery, books, etc. They had to write their views in English whether it was a lecture, a tour or a film show. Those among the group who did not know English had to be helped by others. Learning the laws of revolutionary war was not going to be easy.

Many of Surchandra's colleagues got disheartened and became homesick. Some said that they had come to see China and had seen enough of it. But they were all in one boat and the others persuaded them to hang on. The training took one year ultimately, though initially they were told that it would take about six months.

(To be contd.....)

* Dr. K. Ruhinikumar Sharma & Dr. Sanasam Amal Singh wrote this article for Impha Times
This article was webcasted on April 21 2019.

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