TODAY -

Constituent Assembly Of India & North East Frontier Agency
- Part 2 -

Dr. Karam Manimohan Singh *



Taking these factors together, Maharaja Bodha Chandra on behalf of the Manipur State, expressed his wishes to press for the inclusion of a distinct representative for each of the Eastern States, especially the Chamber States, in the Constituent Assembly of India.8 In the 3rd issue of Anouba Jug, dated 27th April, Sunday, 1947, Irabot wrote in his serialized article, Manipur State Constitution Making Committee.

A Sub-Committee has been formed in order to work out the Hills constitution. This plan of separation between the Hills and the plains has already been one of the important prearrangements of the British officials and it suggests a materialization of Professor Reginald Coupland's plans into action.9 In short, Coupland's plan was that the Hill regions of the North Eastern portions of Assam could be amalgamated to form an Uttar Paschim Simanta.

Beginning from the Sadiya Hills in the northern Assam, the Naga Hills, Manipur, Lushai Hills, the Arkan Hills, and the Chin Hills of Burma would form a province under the administration of a Commissioner. This secret policy of the British Political officers has already been made public in the Shillong Times in the Second week of November, 1946.

Thus the formation of a separate Province of the Hill regions has been a point of discussion in the first phase of the sitting by the Manipur State Constitution Making Committee. If the proposed plan is put into effect, Manipur will be totally segregated from the Hills and thus became an incomplete geographical entity, Assam will also be incomplete and India a country without the Hills.10

The following were the background stories on the formation of a separate Province comprising of the North, Eastern Frontier areas of Assam. Early in June, 1946, His Excellency the Governor of Assam had invited the Political Agent of Manipur to attend a conference of Hill Officers on the 26th and 27th of July, 1946. In the conference Mr. Gimson was instructed to present the case of the Hill Tribes of Manipur to the Advisory Committee proposed in the statement by the Cabinet Mission to India on 16th May, 1946. The Proposal was read as follows:

20. The Advisory Committee on the rights of citizens, Minorities and Tribal and Excluded Areas will contain due representation of the interests affected and their function will be to report to the Union Constituent Assembly upon the list of fundamental rights, clauses for protecting Minorities, and a scheme for the administration of Tribal and Excluded areas, and to advise whether these rights should be incorporated in the Provincial, the group or the Union Constitutions.11

But all that the British officials in Assam knew was that the Constituent Assembly was to set up this Advisory Committee, and that part of this Committee's duty would be to advise on the future of the Tribal and the Excluded Areas. They did not know what shape this Committee was likely to take. But His Excellency the Governor of Assam had assumed that some representatives of such a Committee would visit the Hill areas and take evidence on the spot.

It was impossible for His Excellency the Governor of Assam to say how far the major political parties in India had ever applied their minds to the problems of the North East Frontier as a whole. By the North East Frontier, it was meant from Nepal inclusive to Burma exclusive. The Muslim League solution was the affiliation of this entire frontier to a strong Assam-Bengal Group, though no doubt the Centre would be closely concerned on the side of external affairs and defence. This solution was of course prima facie logical and geographically sound. But the Assamese generally, not excluding the indigenous Muslim population, were strongly opposed to Bengal domination, and it was understood that the Mongolian Fringe was even less in sympathy with Bengal.

The Congress, locally the Caste Hindus, solution was that Assam could stand on its own legs, negotiating with Bengal merely in matters relating to trade, inland waterways and economic matters. But this party did not consider the neighboring Indian States at all, or the danger of pressure from China through Tibet. Such a Province would be very weak economically and could probably afford to do very little for the Hill tribes.

Other solutions were also proposed on more imperialistic lines. It was at one time suggested that these Excluded Areas and the Hill Tribes would be treated as a Crown Colony. But this solution had not commended itself either to Delhi or to Whitehall. Another proposal was that the entire North East Frontier would be administered on an Agency basis under the Central Government at Delhi. From the view-point of defence security this solution had attractive possibilities. On 26th June, 1946, His Excellency the Governor of Assam wrote to Mr. C. Gimson, the Political Agent of Manipur:

I am not sure that the best solution of all might not be a compromise involving grouping with Bengal and the Eastern States in one compartment, and Assam and the North East Frontier States and Tribes in the other. This would probably also involve a certain correction of provincial boundaries Sylhet and the whole or part of Goalpara going to Bengal, and Darjeeling, the Jalpaiguri coming into the Northern compartment. In any such Groups as this the compartments will be much more equal than they are under the present arrangement, and this might well remove the principal objections to C Group as at present constituted.12

The first suggestion, according to His Excellency the Governor of Assam was that, the Constitution making process in Manipur should go ahead in an orderly manner. Secondly, if violent resistances were to be avoided, Assam proper must remain essentially autonomous. In other words whatever Group was formed, the subjects that the Province would be prepared to hand over to the Group would be very limited. The Governor was of opinion that the small States and other Tribes bordering on Assam must look to Assam for administrative guidance, though considerations of defence and external affairs might bring the administration in contact with the higher levels.

He was even ready to convince the Advisory Committee, when it came, that the Hill Tracts were not qualified immediately to take their place in a normally administered Province. According to him, if the new Constitution started with a strong Centre determined to maintain, or with the means to maintain a vigorous frontier policy, then the proposal to set up a North East Frontier Agency might conceivably be adopted and such an Agency would be the best possible arrangement for the future of the Hill Tribes.

From the material the British officers hoped to provide, it was considered that the Advisory Committee would certainly realize the peculiar position in which the Tribal Areas of Assam stood, and therefore, some arrangements would be made for the administration of these Areas in accordance with principles different from those adopted in a normally administered Province. The Centre had to extend financial help and perhaps special conditions of service were to be prescribed. In his letter of the 26th June, 1946, Governor of Assam had further informed the political Agent of Manipur.

I would remain content by saying that all planning whether material or political should be designed to fit our Hill Areas ultimately into a normal system of Provincial Government, and that therefore, we should not embark on any extensions of territory, extension of influence should be cautious, in our material planning we should avoid extravagant commitments, and in Local-Self Government institutions we should not look much beyond the village or Tribal Councils for the time being.13

The area of the Manipur State in 1947 was only 8,638 square miles with a total population of 5,12,000. But there were as many as 12 different tribes all around the Hills of Manipur. The Kukis, the Tangkhuls, the Kabuis and the Maos were the most prominent among them. They spoke different languages and when the members of one tribe met with another, they used Manipuri which was the language of the plain Manipuris, as their medium. Their total population was only 1,80,000 or 35 per cent of the population of the State.

The Hills in Manipur formed the part and parcel of the State. The Tangkhuls inhabited the north east, the Maos the north, the Kukis the south of the Manipur valley. They could in no way be separated from the valley, nor could be joined up with the Lushai Hills, the Somra Tract, the Chin Hills and the Naga Hills on account of geographical or physical difficulties. As has been mentioned above, the Political Department was hatching a Wazeristan as the North East Frontier stronghold of British Imperialism.

(To be contd...)


* Dr. Karam Manimohan Singh wrote this article for Imphal Times
This article was posted on 31 October, 2018 .


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