People of Manipur had limited contact with mainland India due to her landlocked position and underdeveloped transport and communication system. Besides, the first generation of educated people had started making their presence felt in public life by only around the late 1920s.
Many of them had their higher education outside the state in places like Gauhati, Dibrugarh, Shillong, Calcutta, etc. In fact, one of the earliest meetings of such an educated youth interacting with Gandhi took place in Gauhati in 1921 between L. Ibungohal Singh, then a Law student of Cotton College, when he had an interview with Gandhi.
Many of them had read and heard about Gandhi and his non-violent method. Indeed, quite a few of them had the privilege of seeing Gandhi and attending his prayer meetings during the Calcutta Session of the AICC in 1928 and 1939, and later during his Eastern India Tour in 1946. Prominent among them were L. Khagendrajit, S. Gourahari, L. Achou Singh, R.K. Jhaljit Singh, etc.
As a result, many of them were indeed aware about the national movement which was increasingly gaining momentum in different parts of country under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. When a movement against water taxes started in Manipur during the early 1930s under L. Khagendrajit, many believe it was inspired by Gandhi’s Salt Satyagraha.
This generation was mainly responsible for ushering in a sustained movement for progressive socio-religious and political reforms during the 1930s, and after a lull due to the Second World War, during the mid-1940s.
Many of them rallied together around the Nikhil Hindu Manipuri Mahasabha (NHMM), in 1934 to promote the desired reforms. While the socio-religious reform movement was directed against the economic and social discrimination and exploitation of the people, the political demand was mainly for a democratic government responsible to a popularly elected legislative assembly or a purna-dayitasheel sarkar.
The important thing to be noted here is that most of them were inspired by Gandhian ideals and means. There was also the occasion when Irabot, the most prominent among the leaders of the reform movement during this period, burnt his and his family’s foreign clothes in front of the Cheirap Court in Imphal.
Many of the volunteers of the NHMM, which later changed its name as Nikhil Manipuri Mahasabha (NMM) in 1938 and became the first ever political party in Manipur, also wore khadi caps during public meetings and shouted slogans like Vande Mataram, Jai Manipur, Jai Govindaji ki jai, etc.
They also organised mass spinning demonstrations. It was also the followers of Gandhi who led the formation of the Manipur State Congress Party before Independence. All these happened at a time when the Maharajah of Manipur and the British governments were using all possible means to discourage the spread of Gandhian ideals. Later, when an Interim Council was formed on the eve of Independence, the Manipur State Congress decided to launch a Satyagraha Andolan demanding the replacement of it by a fully responsible government.
Following the martyrdom of Gandhi, urns containing ashes of his mortal remains were brought to Manipur by the then MLA of Manipur State Legislative Assembly, Khongbantam Ibetombi Singh, from Delhi. The ashes were sprinkled at the Gandhi Ghat of Nambul River at the centre of Imphal city, thereby eternally merging them with the soil of the state.
This symbolic merger of the Mahatma’s ashes with the soil of the state led to the emergence of a number of Gandhian organisations in the following years. Gandhian Society emerged in that year itself. This was followed by the emergence of a number of other organisations inspired by Gandhi’s ideals.
Some of the prominent ones among them will be in the form of Sarvodaya Mandal (1963), Manipur Geeta Mandal (1958), Himalaya Seva Sangh (1976), Citizen Council for Peace and Goodwill, Manipur (1993), Kasturba Gandhi Seva Ashram (1999), Kasturba Gandhi Kendra (2002), Kasturba Gandhi Institution for Development (2007), etc.
What is common between them is that their commitment to promoting the uplift of women, youth and weaker sections of the society through voluntary community work, and to secure development and peace in society through mutual co-operation and economic development on the lines of Gandhian ideals.
However, many of the present generation Manipuris do tend to consider Gandhi as impractical and a romantic idealist. In a society, plagued by corruption, lack of opportunities and underdevelopment, there is an increasing tendency on the part of people in general and among the youths, in particular, to cut corners, resort to direct action and make use of other violent means while trying to achieve their goals. In such a situation, the need for the promotion of faith in Gandhian ideals and means can never be over-emphasised.