Jana Neta Irabot: Was He Aware of the Socio-Political Challenges of His Time?
(Rereading the Jana Neta Hijam Irabot's Social Reformation)

Madhu Chandra *

121st Birth Celebration of Lamyanba Hijam Irabot at Iboyaima Shanglen:: 30 September 2017
121st Birth Celebration of Lamyanba Hijam Irabot at Iboyaima Shanglen on 30 September 2017 :: Pix - Shankar Khangembam

Hijam Irabot Singh, known as Jana Neta Irabot, is National Father like figure for the people of the valley in Manipur. He was like other prominent characters of neighboring states. Phizo of Naga National Council is a national father like figure for Nagas, Pu Laldenga of Mizo National front for Mizos and Srimanta Sakardev of Assam. These people brought renaissances in their states like Jana Neta Irabot to the people of Manipur.

Jana Neta Irabot was born (1896) at the time the first missionary came to Manipur during the last part of the 1890s and he died (1951) when Dr. BR Ambedkar was campaigning for India’s most marginalized people known as Dalits. He also lived during the time of the founding fathers of Indian democracy and the Hindutva nationalism.

In the remembrance of him, in the different villages and towns celebrates his birthday on 30 September. The celebration in various forms - the cultural performance, songs, plays and recitation of poems and debate competitions, lamenting the social, political reformation he brought to the state.

This article is a critique of the good service he has done to his people and an attempt to highlight the challenges that the state of Manipur faced at his time, which people are facing today. The difference is the amount of volume.

While searching any personalities of a Renaissance in Manipur, Jana Neta Irabot's name is found in google and a good number of books written about his contribution and few of them named him. The socio-political changes brought by Irabot are documented. He is remembered today because of the social changes he brought to the people of Manipur.

Looking at the national scenario during his time, one will find other characters, whose names are spoken daily and very profound now. Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, MS Cowalker, and VD Savarkar. These characters influenced two streams of Indian renaissance movements. In Eastern India, there was a 19th century Renaissance led by Raja Ram Mohan Roy's Brahmo Samaj at Calcutta.

It was established and led by the Brahmins against the Brahminical ideology. Today they will be called a secular Hindu group of people if we have to define who they were. Brahmo Samaj also had its similar body in the western part of India - Prathana Samaj established and led by Keshub Chandra Sen.

The counterpart of Raja Ram Mohan Roy's was the Arya Samaj started by Devananda Saraswati and its eastern wing was the Rama Krishna Movement at Bombay. Both the Arya Samaj and Rama Krishna are known as part of the Sangh Parivar today.

Two versions of nationalism developed from these social and religious Renaissance movements. One is the nationalism, which is reflected in the Indian Constitution today. People saying, “Mahatma Gandhi invented it, Jawaharlal Nehru explored it and Dr. BR Ambedkar redefined it”, generally quote the idea of India. They were the leaders of the independent movement.

The second idea of India was borrowed from the Dayananda Saraswati's Arya Samaj. He wanted India to be Aryan India. MS Cowalker saw the problem in Dayanand Saraswati’s version of Aryan India because Aryans have been defined as migrated from Eastern Europe. Gowalker changed from Aryaness to Hinduness version of Hindu nationalism. According to him, the nationalism of India should be based on the majority of the population. He defined, “To be a true Indian, one has to be a Hindu and that too should be Hindutva coined by Savarkar, meaning Hinduness. They never took part in the independence movement.

Where does Jana Neta Irabot fall between the two versions of nationalism? Was he aware of the conflict between two versions of Indian nationalism? Did he have any connection with these national figures who have shaped the nation immediately before the independent and soon after?

During his time, Bengal had a mixture of Nationalism, which was an emotional attachment of the Bengal's partition. One can see this mixture in two versions of nationalism represented by Rabindranath Tagore and Bankim Chandra Chatterjee. They are reflected in their National Anthem "Jana Gana, Mandina" and National Song "Vande Mataram." The national anthem reflects the inclusiveness of the people of India, whereas the national song was more in the nature of communal.

Reading the bibliography of Jana Neta Hijam Irabot, one will see how he was influenced when he was in Calcutta. The names, the religious nature and cultural characters adopted by Irabot, one will find closer to Bakinchandra's version of nationalism. His work of arts and culture and literature were very much Sanskritised.

The very name "Jana Neta" a Hindi term given to him and he chose to name "Akan Manipur Hindu Mahasabha," which he established with the help of then the Manipuri king is very much the concept of the Hindu Mahasabha during his time before the independent of India.

Reading what was happening around his time nationally, one will find a huge gap between what Irabot was doing and what was going on nationally. He was not aware of the social, religious and political challenges of his time. One was faced by the marginalized people, which Dr. BR Ambedkar was negotiating with British India. On the other hand, the uprising of socio-religious and political of Hindu nationalism. Irabot was naïve of Hindu nationalism promoted by Hindu Mahasabha and Rashtriya Swayamseva Sangh (RSS) and the challenges faced by BR Ambedkar and his people.

Now, after 60 years of Independent, Manipur like the entire nation is facing the social, religious and political challenges. The current crisis at Manipur University is the effect that has affected the nation. Yet, our people still failed to see the Hindutva agenda. One will also doubt if Jana Neta Hijam Irabot understood this. However, toward the end of his career, after becoming part of the Communist Party of India, his understanding of social, religion and political life, seemed changed.

The socio-religious and political challenges, the nation is facing now has spread to every corner of the nation. Manipur has been the receiving end of Hindutva nationalism. Mostly, the people of Manipur are hardly aware of the Hindutva challenges. The consequences now will be much more than the challenges of the merger agreement and the 60 years old Armed Forces Special Power Act. Hindutva challenges will be AFSPA plus if the challenges continue to ignore as it has been all these years.

The challenges of Manipur University attempt to take hold with the Vedic educational system is the same challenges that the nation has faced. It cannot fight isolated. The challenges Jana Neta Irabot had during his time was the same challenges. Now people cannot afford to ignore the socio religious and political challenges, which Jana Neta seemed to miss out.

* Madhu Chandra wrote this article for
The writer can be reached at madhuchandra66(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was posted on September 19, 2018.

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