Round Table India
You Are Reading
The Life And Times Of Jaipal Singh Munda

The Life And Times Of Jaipal Singh Munda

(Biographical Account Of Jaipal Singh Munda Based On The Book ‘The Life And Times Of Jaipal Singh Munda’ By Santosh Kiro)

Mohit Singh

“You cannot teach democracy to the tribal people; you have to learn democratic ways from them.”

On 19 December 1946, Marang Gomke Jaipal Singh Munda roared these words in the Constituent Assembly during the discussion on the question of sovereignty. While most of us might not have heard his name, he was one of the greatest stalwarts in Indian politics in the real sense of the term. From fetching a gold medal in the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics for the Indian hockey team while captaining it to being the first tribal ICS officer and later the most vocal parliamentarian, he had many feathers in his cap.

Like Babasaheb Ambedkar and many other marginalised leaders, Jaipal Singh Munda was also pushed into the limbo of history. Voluminous literature is available on most great men of India. However, it is surprising to note that apart from this book, there is no other scholarly work on Jaipal Singh Munda. Before this book’s publication, there was another effort to bring out a book on him. Jaipal Singh had given a large number of letters that he wrote to different leaders and received from people to former IAS officer Kumar Suresh Singh, who wanted to write on him. However, because of some reasons, he could not finish the book. There is only a small booklet by the title Lo Bir Sendra (a local traditional festival of Jharkhand), which is like an autobiographical account of Jaipal Singh Munda, published by a scholar from Oxford.

Jaipal Singh was born in 1903 in the Takra village of the then Khunti sub-division of the Ranchi district of Bihar. He did his basic learning at the school in his village. By 1911, his father shifted him to the only good school in the area, St Paul’s School in Ranchi. During his stay at St. Paul’s School, he came under the gaze of the principal of the school, Canon Cosgrave, who would later turn out to be his life-changer. Canon Cosgrave found what others could not in Jaipal and took him to England when he was transferred to Durham. He got him enrolled into St. John’s College of Oxford University, where he spent many precious years of his learning life. Jaipal Singh Munda excelled in every field, be it debating, academics, or sports. There he turned out to be the first tribal from India to be awarded the prestigious Imperial Civil Services.

Oxford identified his exceptional skills in Hockey and gave him the most crucial push, which he utilised very efficiently. He was making headlines in the U.K. because of his spectacular game, which was also continuously getting attention in India, and created a buzz about him. He was termed the “finest fullback of the century” and was awarded the prestigious “Representative colours” title by Oxford University. Because of his marvellous personality, he was made the captain of the British India hockey team (for the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics), leading men like Shaukat Ali and Major Dhyan Chand. The team performed remarkably, winning every match with an average of five goals, without conceding a single goal, making it the World Champion.

Nonetheless, he paid a heavy price for playing at the Olympics, as he had to break the terms of his ICS probation. After returning to Oxford, he was asked to stay for one more year, which he did not do, and resigned from the ICS. Jaipal Singh returned to India and secured a covenant mercantile assistant job at the Royal Dutch Shell company. However, there also he was not satisfied and kept changing many jobs and eventually listened to the calling of his heart to serve his own native people. In 1938, he returned to Ranchi, took the reins of the Adibasi Mahasabha, and started working from scratch to arouse the political consciousness of his people. 

As soon as he came to his motherland, he was readily accepted by his people and was given the title of Marang Gomke (supreme leader) because of the spectacular work that he had done. Jaipal reinvigorated Adibasi Mahasabha’s functioning and vociferously put his people’s demands on the highest pedestals. His foremost demand was creating a separate state of Jharkhand (a part of the Bihar province) by combining Santhal Pargana, Chhotanagpur Plateau, and some parts of West Bengal, Orissa, and Chattisgarh, which was an anathema to the Congress. Right from the days of taking charge of the organisation, he became a threat to Congress, which was continuously trying to penetrate the Chhotanagpur plateau and Santhal Pargana. His stature rose to such a position that even the tallest leaders of the Congress, such as M.K. Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Dr. Rajendra Prasad, had to make their presence felt in the region. Until Jaipal was there, Congress could never make a dent in the politics of Jharkhand, though, at a later stage, his party itself was incorporated into the Congress.

However, at this juncture, it must be made clear that Jaipal was never against Congress’s struggle for the country’s independence. His demand for the creation of a separate state of Jharkhand emanated from the deplorable condition of the region, which happened because of the high-handed nature of the governance and neglect of the region. He claimed that “Jharkhand is a region blessed with huge natural resources, at the same time with widespread poverty and backwardness. Forty percent of the mineral resources of India are with us. The state of Bihar gets 80% revenue from this region, but spends 10-15 percent only, for the development of the people and the region.” In order to make his case strong, he invoked the glorious past of the region and claimed, “the people of Jharkhand are the real inhabitants of the region whose land and resources have been encroached by the outsiders.”

In 1953, when the States Reorganisation Commission was established, it received proposals and memorandums from several parts of the country. Jaipal Singh’s Jharkhand party (Adibasi Mahasabha was rechristened as Jharkhand party in 1950) also gave a memorandum to the States Reorganisation Commission when it visited Bihar in 1955, for the creation of a separate state of Jharkhand. However, the Commission refused to accept the memorandum in the official capacity unless and until the party president, Jaipal himself, submitted it. Santosh Kiro writes, “Just a day before the commission was to arrive in Ranchi, senior Bihar Congress leaders, on the pretext of the wish of the Prime Minister to meet Jaipal, persuaded him to go to Delhi by a government aircraft. After reaching there, he could not meet Nehru and realised the stratagem employed by the Congress leaders to destroy the dream of a separate state of Jharkhand.  In those days, there was no frequent air service, and Jaipal could not return to Jharkhand in time to give his memorandum to the commission in the official capacity.” Because of this episode and many earlier ones, Jaipal Singh’s encounters with Congress often remained bitter.

When we look at our contemporary times, we observe that leaders are made because of their splendid oratory and organising skills. Whether it is the case of Babasaheb Ambedkar or Manyavar Kanshi Ram, these traits were common. Jaipal Singh Munda was also the fiercest orator, speaking impeccably chaste Mundari and Sadani among his people while roaring in Oxfordian English in the Parliament. In contemporary times, except for a few leaders, every now and then, we observe the ignorance, insensitivity, and callousness of politicians. But Jaipal Singh was a leader ahead of his time, “advocating women representation and gender equality in the Constituent Assembly at a time when others probably had never thought of it even in their passing mind.”

Jaipal Singh gave immense importance to tribal culture and traditions. The best specimen can be seen in the election symbol of his party, which was a Rooster. In Jharkhandi culture, the rooster had great significance because of its innate quality of awakening the people, which Jaipal Singh co-related with the political awakening of the tribal masses. In November 1948, during the Constituent Assembly debate on the prohibition of alcoholic drinks, Jaipal very strongly spoke about the significance of rice beer in every function of the tribals of India and vehemently opposed the stigmatisation of their culture, in which he received the support of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. He was very proud of his origins, and in one of the instances, he spoke in the Constituent Assembly that “Sir, I am proud to be a Jungli, that is the name by which we are known in my part of the country.”

It is high time that great men like him are brought out of the oblivion they have been thrust into by the country’s political, institutional, and social structures. Santosh Kiro, the author of ‘The Life and times of Jaipal Singh Munda’, was taken aback to find that the very people of Jharkhand for whom Jaipal Singh worked hard have effortlessly rendered him to complete oblivion and have not put any pains to recall the great man. Though, this way of looking at this problem is not appropriate, as it ignores the other prominent factors involved in generating it. An analogy can be drawn with the absence of Babasaheb Ambedkar’s ideas and persona among the general masses in the entire country until the 1970s. He was away from the masses not because they obliterated him but because the political discourse was created in such a way that his contributions and ideas were not given a space. Only after the emergence of organisations such as Dalit Panthers, BAMCEF, and BSP in the 1970s and 1980s that his wisdom, ideas, and principles reached the people.

Legendary Hindi writer Om Prakash Valmiki gives a very vivid and compelling description of a similar setting in his autobiography ‘Joothan.’ Valmiki writes that during his school life (the 1960s-1970s), he never heard the name of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, while the literature on others, such as Nehru, Gandhi, and Tilak, was available in abundance. His autobiography shows how cleverly a shallow facade is created at the cost of many others. Santosh Kiro’s “The Life and times of Jaipal Singh Munda” pulls one of the country’s greatest leaders from the oblivion of the past and has set a trend that might inspire many more scholars to work on the legendary personality of Jaipal Singh Munda.


Mohit Singh, a first-year MA Society and Culture student at IIT Gandhinagar and an alumnus of the University of Delhi.