Home » Rebels of the Valley: Romance of insurgency in Manipur in 1970s and 1980s

Rebels of the Valley: Romance of insurgency in Manipur in 1970s and 1980s

by Rinku Khumukcham
1 comment 16 minutes read

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.
Slowly they were completely being indoctrinated to the communist point of view and the necessity of using the gun to free Manipur from the rest of India. Thus Surchandra and his comrades were made tough and hard to crack revolutionaries. Apart from the Meitei youths the Nagas and the Mizos were also given training by the Chinese authorities. It appears that the author had a strong conviction that China had a great role in triggering rebellious activities in North East India. After receiving the training Surchandra along with his colleagues had a firm conviction that there has been a strong case for revolution in Manipur since Manipur was once an independent country; and economic cause because the State was an under developed one and allegedly had an incompetent administration and a social cause in view of the prevailing corruption and alleged discrimination.  Hence they were suffering from identity crisis.
In order to get publicity and create a large scale of discontentment and disillusionment among the people to further expose the incompetents of the established authority Surchandra and his fellow comrades adopted violence and terror tactics. It is done by random terrorism, bombings, arsons, and assassinations, conducted in as spectacular a fashion as possible, by concentrated, coordinated and synchronized waves. The second step of selective terrorism quickly follows the first. The aims are to isolate the counter-insurgent from the masses, to involve the population in the struggle, and to obtain as a minimum its passive complicity. This is done by sporadic killing of low ranking officials such as policemen, mailmen, teachers, etc., who work most closely with the population. Killing high-ranking counter-insurgent officials serves no purpose since they are too far removed from the population for their deaths to serve as examples. These activities forced the security forces to respond in a strong measure and they made success at Khonghampat operation which covers a large area where a hideout of the rebels was busted. In the encounter security forces killed thirteen rebels among whom two important rebel leaders viz Nilah Singh and Devchandra Sharma who both carry a reward of Rupees 20,000 each on their heads. The operation was a grand success on the part of the police and it also saved them from the embarrassment of being at the receiving end from the rebels [B.L.Vohra, 1987: 46-47].
The rebels were on the run for quite some time since they did not have a permanent base of their own. Even then they decided to strike back with a vengeance for their losses at Khomhampat. They decided to respond with three operations in quick succession to make an impact on the authority. The places chosen for the operations were Yurembam Power House to the west of Imphal, the All India Radio Complex in the heart of the town and on the Pallel-Moreh Road leading to Burma (Myanmar). These tasks were assigned to Iboyaima, Kunjeshwor and Achouba, the three well trained cadres of the organisation. They in turn were to be assisted by others from their respective units. The operation at Lamshang was carried out successfully in which three CRPF personnel including DSP Ram Rattan. In fact it was a tremendous loss and caused considerable demoralization in the police circle [Ibid., 91-92].

However their plan of hurling grenade attack at AIR complex could not be carried out due to tightened security measures in and around Imphal town. The operation at Moreh-Pallel Road was a total success as rebel cadres launched a well organised ambush against a BSF convoy. These successes emboldened the spirit of the cadres and people also started noticing their seriousness.
The security forces in the aftermath seemed to have change their tactics and strategy in neutralizing the rebels actions in a disguised manner by carrying out operations in civil dress by army personnel. They also involved a local Meitei in carrying out the operation and identification of the rebels. The operation was successful as they could killed three rebels and arrested two at Thangmeiband, a locality in the neighbourhood of Imphal town. Having made success state and central security forces intensified their operation against the rebels. From that time onwards the insurgents were on the run. The modi operandi adopted were:
a.Isolation of guerrillas from the people supporting them;
b.Destruction of the hardcore of the guerrillas;
c.Complete cooperation among the various Government agencies; and d.    Improve administration of the rebels areas [Ibid., 136]Thus it seemed the concerted effort of the security forces in close coordination with civil administration had a major influence in marginalization of rebel activities for quite some time. Many of the rebel leaders were apprehended in course of time and imprisoned. Later on some of them from inside the jail contested elections to the legislative assembly and a few got elected. Government was confident in handling them in a fair manner. However one of the unsuccessful contestants got his group together again and went back to the jungle.
Everybody felt that peace had finally descended on Manipur, violence had reduced considerably and election of the extremists to the assembly gave relief to the people. Yet not long after, another bomb explosion took place in Senapati. “And two days later an ambush by the NSCN of an Army convoy on its way to Ukhrul from Imphal, in which ten army jawans got killed, brought back the sense of insecurity”.  Thus the novelist observed, “… in a fight between a lion and a fly, the fly cannot deliver a knockout blow and the lion cannot fly. This warfare in an insurgency area is something like that.”[Ibid., 121] It is a truly prophetic observation made by the author as event of the subsequent years clearly shows. The rebels’ actions appear in the scene with a greater vengeance.
There is nothing much to be proud about a revolution as it involves violence on both sides, yet certain sections of the society is attracted towards revolution. As the later colonial, history of Southeast Asia shows, foreign domination was a constant spur for revolt. Whether linked with modern ideologies or associated with some quite traditional sense of national or regional identity, revolt against the alien is one of the most common, and the most successful of the appeals for action [Osborne, 1970: 11]. Maybe there is a distinct possibility of this pattern being adopted in Manipur and therein situates the romance of insurgency.
1. B. L. Vohra (b.1944-) was an IPS officer who served as Home Secretary, GoM, during the 1980s and 1990s in Manipur at the peak of insurgency. He authored 12 books and has been awarded by MHA and NHRC for his books on Human Rights and Police.
Lamyanba is a powerful mouthpiece of PANMYL having political overtones.
 The reportage in its pages regularly exposes the misdeeds and corruptions indulged in by high ranking officials of the government both at the Centre and the State. The journal also endeavours to inculcate the spirit of nationalism and patriotism among the youths of the state.
3. These two monographs had deep impact on the minds of the educated youths of Manipur in making them understand the complex realities in the 1970s and in finding solutions for an alternative.
4. Ph. Nandalal Sharma’s ‘Meitrabak
’ is a passionate introduction to Manipur which portrays the emergence of Manipur as a nation state. It instills the spirit of nationalism among the youths with a personalised account of the known and the unknown heroes of the land, their heroism and sacrifice.
5.‘Bir Tikendrajit’, a drama is based on the life and activities of Tikendrajit, who is considered the hero of the Anglo-Manipuri War 1891. The drama had such influence that state authorities seriously considered putting strictures on staging it fearing that could potentially incite anti-national feeling amongst the youth.
6.  Joddha Chandra Sanasam’s novel,
‘Akanba Safugee Irei (1981)’ portrays the romanticism through the daring acts of violence committed by nationalist youths fighting for the liberation of Manipur from exploitation. However it lacks in analysing the philosophy and rationale of the reasons for the youths taking up arms to further their cause.
7. Eigee Punshi
(2002), an autobiography by Mayanglambam Babudhon Singh a retired police officer known for his commitment, ability and shrewdness in dealing with those who are against the established laws of the state, written in a chronological sequence the author records important incidences connected with the rebels, and also provides information on the initiative taken up to neutralise the actions of the rebels. (Concluded)

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1 comment

CH RAGHUMANI SINGHA October 12, 2019 - 5:37 am

pabada yamna nungaijei, Imphal Times Taibang Mapuna matam sangna hihanbiba oisanu


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