A Princely State of a different kind

Dr L Krishnamangol Singh *

Coronation of Maharaj Churachand 1908.
Coronation of Maharaj Churachand 1908
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Now the question is: Why Manipur was once a princely state? The "princely state" was once a kingdom. Therefore, it was claimed that after the British left Manipur, it was an Independent Country with the passing or adoption of Manipur Constitution Act, 1947. Theoretically, Manipur was also an independent country with the British leaving it behind them or going to their homeland. This article, therefore, proposes to look into two critical phases of historical development of human civilization in Manipur.

In the first stage of our investigation, it has been observed that the human civilization took place in present Manipur even prior to the establishment of the institution of kingdom. And many scholars described Manipur as Kangleipak. Without going into detailed aspects of the historical development of the people in the erstwhile kingdom, it can be argued that there was primitive communal system or primitive commune in ancient times. This implies that primitive community system or primitive communal system existed in ancient times with the evolution of the society and economy in the present Manipur. And, there are many historical accounts/evidences for the incoming of the Meitei and other groups of people/ tribes, etc. in Manipur prior to the institution of Kingdom or princely state.

Thus, it was a stage of primitive communism. Parallel history of civilization were also found in many places even prior to Christian era or B.C. And gradually, the institution of Kingdom came into existence with the institution of private property in Manipur or the so called Kangleipak in the past. Thus, Manipur or the erstwhile kingdom called Kangleipak passed through the stages of development or stages of development of productive forces which coincided with the Middle Ages or Dark Ages extending upto 15th Century, in the European countries.

It was a period of feudalism, which was also found in Manipur as in different parts of the world. And, it is already known that feudalism as a system of production or as a mode of production was full of exploitation. And the system favoured the privileged social class who were close to the King. The feudal lords or the landlords were at the top and the serfs or the tenants were at the bottom. And the slave system also continued to exist along with the feudalism or the feudal mode of production in erstwhile Kingdom of Manipur. Thus, there was the need for social and economic change in the erstwhile Kingdom of Manipur.

In the Marxian doctrines, the concept of economic change implies transfer of economic power from one ruling class to another ruling class. The historical evidences and empirical experiences have revealed that there were many instances of revolutions for the transfer of power. And the transfer of power may be in the hands of a powerful group or a few powerful groups after overthrowing the dictators or dictatorial system. There were also many dark ages or intermediate period in between the colonial period and the real democracy.

In fact, there cannot be real democracy if there was no massive or wide people's participation. But the institutional rigidities, weaknesses, poverty of the mass, lack of literacy and education, severely limited and continue to limit the scope of people's participation in building up a democratic society. Therefore, there were different stages of the evolution and development of a society or civilisation.

There were instances that had shown that in some countries primitive system of communal ownership of resources (i.e. the institution of collective ownership or people's ownership) directly passed through feudalism without slavery system. But in Rome, Greece and other parts of the European countries, slavery system flourished and the system continued to exist within feudalism. And, with the decline of feudalism in many parts of the world towards the end of the 15th century, there was transition from feudalism to capitalism. And the democratic form of governments had emerged in many parts of the world.

Thus, the historical forces operated strongly in favour of the democratic system, which is difficult to reverse in the earlier system of exploitation and subjugation. As Gunnar Myrdal had stated, "it is difficult to dethrone the established regime". But, the established regime needs reforms and introduction of set of rules that can restore and sustain democracy. Thus, coming to the case of Manipur, there are a number of interpretations or schools of thoughts in explaining the conceptual or institutional framework of democracy in the state. This is the second stage of our investigation. In this context, the following issues attracted our attention.

1. First, it is already known (to all) that Manipur, which was a princely state, was conquered by the British in 1891 A.D. While there was the history of state formation, there was also the process of undemocractic process of state development prior to the entry of British in Manipur or the capture of power of the state by the British. And Manipur lost her independent kingdom status to the British. Thus, there was transition from the institution of kingship to the British rule in Manipur. This reveals that there was a long period of the existence of the people under the power of the King. Again, there was also the long period of subjugation of the people under the British rule. And, nobody could escape from this process of power trap. It is thus found that there were various forms of subjugations, which led to the lost of freedom of the people prior to and during the colonial rule in Manipur.

2. It is thus found that there are two views on the princely state of Manipur. One view is that Manipur was an independent kingdom. Therefore, after the British left, it was an independent country or independent nation. Their basic arguments are well known. And, there are also large numbers of documentations in support of this view. It is not the purpose of this article to elaborate or make a review of their view or views here. It is, however, well known that their views challenged the "Merger Agreement" (i.e. the merger of Manipur with the Indian Union or India). Hence, they claimed that Manipur should be an independent country now. And, the armed revolutions have thus become the ultimate device for achieving their objective.

3. There is another view which challenged the Manipur State Constitution Act, 1947. According to their view, the Manipur Constitution Act was formed by a group of persons. In this context, the following issues merit careful considerations.

(i) First, it is argued that the Manipur State Constitution Act, 1947 provided privileges to the relatives of the King. Hence, the Act contained the elements of kingdom.

(ii) Secondly it is also argued that the election on the basis of the Manipur Constitution Act was not fair and democratic as there was lack of large participation of the people in those days.

(iii) Thirdly, it is further argued that the legacy of the Kingship which had greatly influenced the election of the leaders/political leaders to form the government under the Manipur Constitution Act was a proxy or substitution of the princely state. Therefore, according to these scholars/thinkers, the government formed under the Manipur Constitution Act was a quasi-independent country devoid of all conditions for a full-fledged democracy or democratic country.

(iv) Among the early princely states which joined India or Indian Union, Manipur was the only princely state, which was followed by an Independent state under the Manipur Constitution Act. But, even today, the concept of Independence is being questioned by many scholars and thinkers. This is because the King considered that the proprietory right of the Kingdom continued as an Independent country or nation rested on him and, therefore, he signed the Merger Agreement. Thus, the question is: Who is wrong? And why they are wrong? This requires serious debates among the intellectuals.

The Maharajah singed the Merger Agreement (MA) for joining India because he considered that state formation extended over centuries or took along time and that he acted contrary to the succeeding Independent state in one sense. In another sense, those who were in the intermediate Independent state did not object to the decision of the Maharajah. And there are no proper records in this regard. But, the reality of the political transition revealed that those who framed and adopted the Manipur Constitution Act had to succumb to the decision of his highness, the Maharajah.

And therefore, India had heartily welcomed the joining of Manipur in the Indian Union. This process is still seriously challenged by many reformers or revolutionaries. Therefore, some people claimed for autonomy or Manipur or right to self determination (without demand for a separate Independence). And some others (the present underground organisations) for the restoration of the earlier political status-quo of Manipur (i.e. the Independent Manipur).

(v) There are many intermediate states (i.e. Independent states) in the European countries in between the downfall of the Kingdoms and the emergence of new nation states (i.e. a strong Independent country). They can be conceptualised as intermediate states because they emerged from the earlier kingdoms or princely states till the emergence of full-fledged Independent nation states, and they existed for short period as intermediate class of governance in between the early kingdom and the new nations or nation states (i.e. a nation state later called country). They were later ceded to the large nations called the country.

For example, with the downfall of the Roman Empire in the hands of the primitive tribes (by different names), it was difficult to consolidate the regional states or small states. There were also many other states in different parts of the world in the transition period without governance or state authority. Sometimes, the landlords or the Manorial Lords ruled the community in England and other parts of the European countries.

It is found that by about the end of the 15th century and perhaps by about the beginning of the 16th century, feudal organisations that prevailed in different countries of Europe led to the emergence of Nation states or National states. And there were Nation states or National states like England, France, Spain, Portugal, etc. There were also rivalries among the national states or national rivalries which characterised the 16th and 17th centuries. Thus, there were national policies to make the National States strong to fight against the National wars. Coming to the context of Manipur where feudalism or feudal organisations prevailed in the earstwhile princely state, the Maharajah signed the Merger Agreement to make the Nation state more strong.

(vi) There were also many other countries, which extended their territories by including the neighbouring regional states, and the earlier kingdoms. Likewise, there were many compensated states in different parts of the world. And the democratic and citizenship rights of the people are highly valuable and they can avoid the notion of serfdom and servitude. Hence, a new political, economic, administrative and social reforms is highly necessary in order to build up a strong nation of India (i.e. a strong independent country) in the comity of nations.

In the context of Manipur, what is required is to introduce a new development model of social institutions and social technologies for changing the mindset of the people through acquisition of new thinking and experiences that would promote a system of development in order to achieve the objectives of intergeneral equity (in development) without affecting the welfare interests of the people in the state.

* Dr L Krishnamangol Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is an economist
This article was posted on March 06, 2014.

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