Potsangbam Tomal Singh (1903 – 1999): His contribution to Political and Socio-Economic Life in 20th Century Manipur

Aheibam Koireng Singh & Kakchingtabam Ruhinikumar Sharma

Shri Potsangbam Tomal Singh, s/o Late P. Tomba Singh was born in the year 1903. His birth and death were at the same place at his ancestral residence in Singjamei Chingamakha Ningthoujam Leikai, Imphal of Manipur state. He breathed his last on 21 November 1999. He was decorated and honoured with an award of Tamrapatra in 1972 by the Government of India for his outstanding contribution in the fight for freedom of India from the British colonial rule. In addition to his active political life, he was a man with multifaceted personality ‘having inventive skill in various fields of crafts and designs. His name was enshrined as Freedom fighter in the INA Memorial Complex at Moirang.

Right from his youthful days, he enthusiastically took part in the issues that concerns the land and its people. He joined Nikhil Hindu Manipuri Mahasabha in 1938. His role in the Second ‘Nupilan’ which translates as the Women’s War of 1939 is noteworthy. In consultation with Yuvaraj Bodhchandra, he along with the volunteers led by him brought those women agitators who received bayonet injury on 12 December to the hospital. The following day on 13 December, he presided a meeting at Police Lane with a mass gathering of women. In the said meeting, a resolution of ‘Civil Disobedience’ was adopted for the first time. Immediately, after the said meeting, women in large number came out and dismantled many rice mills and successfully prevented the vehicles from plying and transporting rice to outside the state. During those days, where Nikhil Manipur Mahasabha was there as the only political party in Manipur, major differences emerged between the group led by Khogendrajit and the one led by Lalita Madhop while the party president Hijam Irabot was away at Cachar. In it, he played a major role in intervening and mediating the crisis. In the year 1938, he was kept in detention at the prison for three months for writing an article condemning the imprisonment of Rani Gaidinliu, an illustrious freedom fighter. He was a working Committee member of Manipur Praja Sanmellani founded in January 7, 1940.

Netaji Subhas Chandra purportedly send a letter addressed to the political parties of Manipur for a quicker success of the ongoing war of Indian independence.  The brief summary of the letter is as follows:

“My friends from political parties of Manipur! The war is being waged against the British and the Americans for the independence of India. Therefore I invite the Manipuris to join the war.


Sri Subhas Chandra Bose

Supreme Commander of the INA”

He was among those few political workers of Manipur who responded to the call of Netaji. In the year 1941-42, during the Japanese War in Manipur, he went to Moirang (presently comes under Bishnupur District) and was there for about four months to join the Indian National Army (INA) led war of Indian independence. As confirmed by his fellow INA veteran, Late Hemam Nilamani Singh, while he was Deputy Education Minister to the Government of Manipur, Potsangbam Tomal joined the INA led movement along with him in the last week of 1944, on which Moirang was captured by the INA. He left Moirang for Rangoon in the first week of July 1944 along with Colonel Shaukat Ali Malik when the order of the retreat was received.  Col. SA Malik was well-known and credited for commanding a unit of the Bahadur Group in the capture of Moirang during the early phases of Imphal World War II campaign of INA. Bahadur Group, also known as the Special Services Group was a unit that was tasked with frontline intelligence as well as subversion and sabotage operations behind enemy lines. He met Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose at Rangoon and was administered oath by the Netaji to fight against the colonial British government. “He went underground along with us on 1. 5. (19)45 while we were searched by the British Govt. of Burma under rule 26 defence of Burma rules of the Defence of Burma Act, 1940 after the recapture of Burma by the British army.”, Hemam Nilamani stated. The said rule 26 decrees, “Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, a Deputy Commissioner may continue and is empowered to retain in custody any person who has been detained under Rule 26 of the Defence of Burma Rules pending the orders of the Governor, if he is satisfied that such person is a dangerous criminal.” He was brought to Calcutta (present Kolkata) under an arrangement made by the then British Government of India and returned to Manipur in the second week of April 1946.” In the year 1946-47, he was elected as the President of the Manipur State Congress and worked as a faithful disciple of Gandhi. He also served as the President of Manipur Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC) in the year 1951-52.

In addition to his active political life, he was also a skilled master craftsman with lot of innovative ideas, an artist who believed in the dictum, ‘work is worship’. From the year 1930 onwards, he as a craftsman practiced the brass & bell metal and aluminium works.  He also made a pioneering and dedicated effort in ushering Sericulture industry in Manipur.  During his MPCC presidentship term (1951-52), he was very much keen and concerned about the sericulture industry in Manipur. Accordingly to uplift and promote sericulture industry in Manipur, he sought support and patronage from Bimala Prasad Chaliha, a freedom fighter and leader of the Indian National Congress who later on became Chief Minister of Assam for three five year terms. His effort proved fruitful as Assam government extended their helping hands  by providing training to the natives of Manipur about the new technologies and methods of sericulture and also by facilitating in the registration under Registrar Office of the Society, Manipur and establishment of the first ever Sericulture and Weaving Co-operative Society of the state with him as the Chairman. He made a reeling charkha (spinning wheel) known as ‘Tomal Charkha’ and with the help of his self-made charkha, he started imparting training to the young and unemployed women of Manipur. Then after, sericulture in Manipur began to be rapidly developed winning the confidence and appreciation of the government and the Central Silk Board thereby leading to the establishment of separate Sericulture Department of Manipur.

Though he played key roles in many of the intense political struggles, he was selfless and never did anything for self-gain. He got enchanted and took delight at the thought that he was able to contribute at least something for the betterment of the people. One thing which he very often said which is thought provoking and worth pondering is reproduced herein below:

In original Manipuri Manuscript

Free English Translation by the author

Manipur pikcharabasu mahousa lairembina watana pibiba wata padaba lamni … .

Manipur is a self-sufficient land blessed bountifully by the mother nature … .

Manipur Bihargi Leikai amana henna chaowi adubu eikhoina ekhutna suba tandrabadi asengba sana leibak oigani.

A gramin (village) of Bihar is even bigger than Manipur, even then it would surely be a golden land if we are not lazy to toil and labour by our own hands,

Yariba makhei mingondagi tangdana esana suja nomjaduna hingadabani.

As possible as it could, one should live by relying on themselves with their own effort without depending on others.

In terms of holding constitutionally elected post, his political career was not that noteworthy. But people respected him as a skilled craftsman and an artist. He never deserted his love for motherland even at the last moment of his deathbed. In the twilight of his life, he seemed very much troubled with the outward appearance of Manipur which overwhelmingly move towards pretentions and duplicities. So he often used to utter with discontent:

In original Manipuri Manuscript

Free English Translation by the author

Eikhoigi Sarkar pairibasingna wakhal khanthaba watpadagi Manipur na lairaribani sotharibani.

The poverty and underdevelopment in Manipur continues to prolong due to thoughtlessness and insensitiveness of those in power at the government.

Though he had departed more than a couple of decades ago, the sacrifices he made, the selfless service he rendered, his spirit of nationalism, his cherished dream of self-reliant and self-sufficient Manipur should not be gone into oblivion and deserves to get the attention of those in the echelons of power. Notwithstanding his association with the INA, his concern for the interest and welfare of the state of Manipur clearly illustrates his rootedness as the true son of the soil. His contributions and ideals needs to be recollected and retold and brought to public notice so as to remain fresh and stay relevant to people’s memory.

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