13 August : A day to remember the heroes of Manipur
- Part 1 -

Dr Budha Kamei *

 Yuvaraj Tikendrajit and General Thangal on the Gallows
Yuvaraj Tikendrajit and General Thangal on the Gallows
Warning: These images CANNOT be reproduced in any form or size without written permission from the RKCS Gallery

"When we can't see ourselves in our history, we begin to think that we are disconnected and suffering alone. Historical ignorance always precedes cultural imbalances and individual despair."

The state of Manipur observes Patriots' Day on 13th August every year to pay floral tribute to the heroes of the state who fought against the British during the Anglo-Manipur war of 1891. The 128th Patriots' Day falls on Tuesday. The Anglo-Manipur was a short, but momentous struggle between Manipur, a tiny hilly Asiatic state and the world's mightiest British Empire. It was a contest between unequal powers.

The war marked the end of an era and the introducing of a new one in the history of Manipur. Manipur lost her sovereign and independent status and new rule of the British established in this little kingdom. This particular event brought a total change in the historical process of the state. This war also marks the completion of the British occupation of Indian sub-continent.

Manipur was an independent kingdom during the whole of the 19th century. Truly speaking, Manipur was never occupied. She was not a Sanad state like other Indian states before 1891. She of course established diplomatic level contact with British India by signing treaties now and then. The first treaty signed in 1762 was essentially a defense alliance. It was an alliance between two separate powers.

As agreed upon, they helped each other during the first Anglo-Burmese war 1824-26. After the war, the treaty of Yandaboo was concluded by which British India and Burma recognized the independence of Manipur. It is true that the attitude of the British was friendly but they utilized this friendship for the expansion and consolidation of their hold over eastern India including Burma.

After the third Anglo-Burmese war of 1885, which formally completed the annexation of Burma to British India, the friendly relations between Manipur and British underwent a change. By fishing in the troubled waters of frequent factional conflicts among the ruling princes, the British colonial officials soon assumed the role of kingmakers by deciding as to who was to rule and who was not to rule.

Under these circumstances, war was inevitable. Maharaja Chandrakriti Singh died in 1886 and the political agency of Manipur after the departure of Sir James Johstone, which was 'Cinderella among political agencies' did not magnetize any proficient political agent who was able to maintain the "fine traditions of the British frontier officers"(Dena 1990:49).

Chandrakriti Singh was succeeded by his eldest son Surchandra, a good, friendly man with plenty of ability, but very feeble. After his succession to the throne, the royal household was divided into two opposing camps: one camp was led by Surachandra Singh and the other, by Koireng, popularly known as Tikendrajit Singh, the flamboyant and the most popular and capable prince, who was also the hero of the masses. In short, Manipur became a divided house.

During his short reign of four years, Surachandra Singh had to face a number of rebellions. On the mid night of 22 September, 1890 Angousana and Zilangamba suddenly attacked the palace. The dissensions, quarrels and mutual mistrusts and rivalry among the princes culminated in the palace revolution of 1890. But, the immediate cause was the order issued by the Maharaja on young prince Zilangamba not to sit in the durbar as result of his quarrel with Pakasana, the arch rival of Tikendrajit Singh (Grimwood 1984:138).

Without putting any confrontation, Surchandra and his brothers including Pakasana went out of the backyard of the palace and took shelter at the residence of political agency on that very night. It appears that the king and his brothers were demoralized and very much frightened at the revolution which they knew was engineered by Tikendrajit himself.

According to a note written on 16th July by Mr. W. E. Ward, the successor of Mr. Quinton, the Raja Surachandra, was never anything more than "a puppet Raja the real ruler of Manipur since 1886 had been Senapati Tikendrajit Singh," a man who had always been hostile to the British influence (Robert Reid: History of the frontier Areas Bordering on Assam From 1883-1941). In this way, with no bloodshed, the rebel party had taken the palace of Manipur.

The Maharaja expressed his wish to abdicate the throne in favour of his brother Kulachandra, the Jubraj and decided to retire to Brindavan for good. Accordingly, Kulachandra and Tikendrajit Singh were informed of the decision of the Maharaja and necessary arrangements were made for the Maharaja's journey to Cachar. Maharaja left Manipur on the same day (on the evening of 23 September, 1890); Kulachandra became king of Manipur with Tikendrajit Singh as Jubraj.

On 29 September, 1890, Kulachandra wrote to the Viceroy for his recognition as the king of Manipur. The British India Government at first declined his request. In the meantime Surachandra submitted an application to the British Government to restore him on the throne of Manipur (Jhalajit 1965:269).

After many consultations and correspondence the British India Government on 21 February, 1891 decided not to reinstate Surachandra Singh but to recognize Kulachandra as the Maharaja on the condition that Tikendrajit whom the British considered as the architect of the palace revolt must be banished from Manipur and to depute the Chief commissioner of Assam to announce the decision at the Manipur Durbar. This is a self contradictory decision.

By recognizing Kulachandra as the new ruler, it accepted the revolution as fail accompli. But by deciding to send Tikendrajit Singh away from Manipur, the British Government disapproved of the revolution (Dena 2008: 38). The attempt to implement the decision of the British Government sparked off the Anglo-Manipur war of 1891. Therefore, Mr. Quinton, the Chief Commissioner of Assam along with four hundred soldiers arrived at Imphal on 22 March, 1891.

He announced that a durbar would be held at the residency on the same day at noon where Kulachandra and his brothers including Tikendrajit Singh were required to attend. The aim of Mr. Quinton was to arrest Tikendrajit Singh at this durbar and to exile him to British India. Mr. Grimwood the man on the spot at Imphal learnt about this plan at Sekmai on the 21 March; he opposed to this plan of arresting Tikendrajit which would be a very difficult job.

Not only this objective was overruled, he was personally entrusted to arrest Tikendrajit Singh in the proposed Durbar room (Roy 1973: 117; Khenchandra: Battle of Khongjom). Kulachandra along with his ministers including Thangal general and Tikendrajit Singh arrived at the Durbar on time. But there was no one at the gate to receive them; they were kept waiting in the sun for several hours on the alleged reason that the translation of the order was not yet ready.

They were taken aback by the unusual security arrangement and the posting of soldiers here and there. Tikendrajit Singh complained of stomach aches and went back home. It was really a very ill-mannered treatment to the Maharaja and the royal dignitaries of Manipur to make them wait at the gate under the boiling heat of mid-day sun of late March.

On previous occasions, the chief commissioner would come down the residency bungalow to welcome the Maharaja and the ministers but this basic courtesy was not shown this time. Mr. Quinton displayed "his complete lack of courtesy and tactlessness. The disaster which followed might have been averted and the British India government could have easily realized its object peacefully if the regent and his brothers were not kept standing at the gate in such a way" (Roy 1973: 119).

After a long wait, the Maharaja and his ministers were permitted to enter into residency, and they were to wait for half an hour on the steps of the residency and then for another one and half hour on the Veranda. Kulachandra felt tired and wanted to sit, only then the political agent allowed him to sit in a room. This was really a shocking and atrocious reception to Maharaja in his own capital. For this insult the white officers had to pay a heavy price.

With the non-appearance of Tikendrajit, Mr. Quinton could not execute his plan so the durbar was postponed on 23 March, 1891 at 8 am at which Tikendrajit must be in attendance and the same was intimated to the Maharaja. Kulachandra who had suffered such humiliations and indignities did not come to the postponed durbar and informed Mr. Quinton that he could not come as Tikendrajit was still too ill to leave his house. Thus, the plan of Mr. Quinton was failed.

On the same day at half past four, Mr. Grimwood and Lt. Simpson went to the palace with a letter from Mr. Quinton which declared that the British India Government was to appoint Kulachandra as Maharaja but to take away Tikendrajit Singh from Manipur because of his role in the recent palace revolt. Mr. Quinton then informed Kulachandra to hand over Tikendrajit to him at once but it was strongly rejected.

Mr. Grimwood further sought an interview with Tikendrajit who met him at his residence on his sick bed. Mr. Grimwood explained the details of his exile that he would be given allowance and could come back to Manipur after the death of the Maharaja and become the king of Manipur. On the contrary, Tikendrajit questioned the authority of the British India Government to interfere in the internal affairs of Manipur.

The talks could not bring any result and Mr. Grimwood returned to the residency (Roy 1973: 121).

To be continued....

* Dr Budha Kamei wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer can be reached at budhakamei(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on August 14 2019.

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