RSS Under Fire for 'Misrepresenting' Manipur History at Annual Event

The outfit was widely censured for paying floral tributes to a portrait of Bharat Mata on Patriots' Day, observed in memory of the fallen heroes of the Anglo-Manipur War.

New Delhi: The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) unit in Manipur has come under severe censure from various civil society and student groups of the state, including the titular Meitei king Leishemba Sanajaoba, for having violated the tradition of commemorating the annual Patriots’ Day.

At an event organised by it in Imphal, the Hindutva outfit placed a portrait of ‘Bharat Mata’ (Mother India) between two local heroes that are remembered on the annual day, 

Every August 13, the people of Manipur – primarily in the valley areas – remember the gallantry of a set of warriors led by Meitei prince Tikendrajit in the Anglo-Manipur War of 1891. After a nearly month-long fierce fight, the British captured Imphal and hoisted the Union Jack above the Kangla Palace, the revered abode of the royalty, and hanged prince Tikendrajit and general Thangal along with three others. The British thereafter sent away king Kulachandra along with 21 others to Kala Pani in the Andamans.

A few miles outside of Imphal stands a giant memorial of that war on the site of the battlefield – a hillock called Khongjam. Among the Meities, there is a musical tradition of relating the tales of bravery of those warriors to the younger generation, popularly called Khongjam Parba.  

This August 13 as well, the day was widely commemorated. Governor Najma Heptullah and chief minister N. Biren Singh led the state to remember the fallen heroes at an event organised in the Bir Tikendrajit Park in Imphal. 

The RSS too held an event at Lamyanba Sanglen, the Kangla Palace grounds in the heart of the capital city, where the organisers placed a portrait of Bharat Mata between those of prince Tikendrajit and general Thangal, and paid floral tributes to all. The photo soon went viral on social media, inducing widespread criticism of the RSS for “cultural misappropriation” of the Day.  

The powerful students’ umbrella group, Joint Students Coordination Committee (JSCC), at once gave a ‘boycott” call against the RSS from any occasion related to Manipuri history and warned it against hosting any event around the subject in the future. The JSCC comprises All Manipur Students Union, Manipuri Students Federation, Kangleipak Students’ Federation and Students Union of Kangleipak.

The JSCC also sought “a public apology” from the right-wing outfit for distorting the state’s history. If RSS failed to apologise to the Manipuri people at the earliest, many unwanted consequences may follow,” JSCC convener Laishram reportedly stated. 

Soon, the titular king L. Sanajaoba too voiced his disagreement to it. Well-known state social activist Yendrembram Kiran was quoted in the Imphal Free Press as saying that people “should not remain silent when the identity, culture and tradition of the state are under threat”. 

“The public need to support Leishemba Sanajaoba to protect the identity of Manipur,” he said.

Responding to the extensive criticism, Okram Romen, the RSS functionary who organised the event, stated that they have “no intention” of misinterpreting Manipuri history. He said that in the last year’s event too, they had a photo of Bharat Mata but this time, it was placed in between the Manipuri war heroes “because of the tight space”. He though said that such a representation of Manipur would “help bridge the trust deficit between the state and the country”.  

This is not the first time the RSS and BJP leaders have tried to equate the Manipuri freedom movement against the British with that of mainstream India. Early this year, the state government slapped the draconian National Security Act against a local journalist for severely castigating the RSS and the chief minister for commemorating the Rani of Jhansi’s fight against the British, and linking it to the freedom movement of Manipur.