In the course of a few years, there has been a sudden spurt of assorted groups, civil society organizations et el espousing the ideals and teachings of Hijam Irabot. For the armed groups waging their protracted wars of cessation, economic and political freedom, all under the tag of ‘revolutionaries’, Irabot has for long been a much called upon name. While the communist teachings of Mao belonging to a far away country are hailed as the leading light for the armed ‘revolutionaries’ in its growing up years, it was Irabot from within the state who has been set as a role model. Irabot’s teachings and his own life does indeed fill up the vacuum that exists in Manipur when it comes to visionaries and role models though there is no pan Manipur model for the state given the fragmented pieces that exist in terms of the polity, identity and meanings of a state/nation. So then, Irabot is a good example for the Meiteis whose life and times were way beyond the ordinary for he was a commoner whose association with the Royal family brought him to the social and political fora that existed then. Looking back at his life and his engagement with various sections of the people now, we can gather easily that Irabot was a multifaceted man who was well read and well connected but also empathized with lives of the common people.
At one spectrum of his life, Irabot dabbled with the arts by writing poems and editing journals and performing in plays while at the other end, he worked with Manipuri peasants and among non-Manipuri ex tea-garden workers in Cachar that led him to join the Kishan (farmer) movements. But in taking out the bits and pieces of Irabot’s life and his teachings, there is a tacit if not underhand manner in which his liberal and visionary ideals are overlooked while his name continues to be used to prop up the interests of various groups, both armed and un-armed to pass off as legitimate voices and dressed as working for the common man since Irabot did work for the common man. Each person calling on Irabot’s name will only be too happy to point out that the man did indeed work for peasants and workers. Not many will touch upon the fact that the man did not talk only about the working class in the state but that he took up the cause of non-Manipuri tea estate workers. But tell that to all the forces and agencies who are out on the streets calling for an end to ‘migrant labour taking down the local economy’.
If Irabot would be living along with us today in the current throes that we live in today, he would indeed be appalled with the manner in which his teachings have been used as inspiration for the ‘revolutionary spirit’. He would surely balk at the way that his name has been invoked to start off ‘people’s movements’ espousing an egalitarian society by what can be best termed as closet capitalists for surely, that is what the various groups have become while saluting Irabot by raising money from the people, or from the money meant for the people and then funneled to their own names and establishments to be used as the basis for unbridled power and clout. If indeed Irabot were to be in our midst, it would have been interesting to see what the man would have said about who is a revolutionary and what constitutes nation building. After all, it is these two terms that are being interpreted one dimensionally and the ones being most abused today. Though fast losing its usage in the world we live in and habitate, the word ‘revolutionary’ so common in press releases only implies to a person who takes up arms ‘for the greater good of the common man’ while nation building entails a chest thumping, jingoistic and claustrophobic assimilation of Meitei identity, polity, patriarchal practices, cultural traditions and of course territorial integrity. Would Irabot’s take on these be totally different to what is the ongoing discourse that we see today, or would he have said that revolutionaries can also be without arms but with questions that are sharp and loaded? Or maybe, he would refrain from saying anything at all and remain a mute listener to the cacophony of the few who shout everyday to silence the larger majority. We will never know and so we go on: paying tribute to the man and mouthing carefully selected ‘isms’ from his life to suit the occasion. Rest in Peace Comrade!