TODAY -

The significance of Anglo-Manipur war, 1891
- Part 1 -

Budha Kamei *

A scene from 13 August - Patriots' Day Drama (Play) at MDU, Imphal :: 13th August 2013
A scene from 13 August - Patriots' Day Drama (Play) at MDU, Imphal on 13th August 2013 :: pix - Jinendra Maibam



The war which broke out in 1891 (popularly known as Anglo-Manipur war) was a short but important struggle between Manipur, a tiny hilly Asiatic country and the world's mightiest empire. In fact, it was a contest between unequal powers. The war had marked the ending of an era and the introducing of a new one in the history of Manipur; Manipur had lost her sovereign and independent status and new rule of the British had established in this little kingdom.

The process of integration of "Manipur with India, which had started in the eighteen century at the religious level with the conversion of Manipur into Hinduism, had reached a new watermark on its way to complete political integration half a century later though this kingdom was made a protected tribute-giving state under the British India Government." This war also marks the complete occupation of Indian sub-continent by the British.

During the whole of the nineteen century, Manipur was an independent kingdom. In fact, Manipur was never occupied; she was not a 'Sanad' state like other Indian states before 1891. She of course had 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.

Here, it may be pointed out that since the treaty of Yandaboo, the intent of the British towards Manipur was to "use this small country occupied by a martial race as a pawn in the Asian chessboard of the British imperialism." After the third Anglo-Burmese war of 1885, the friendly relation between Manipur and British had undergone certain changes. Maharaja Surachandra, K.C.S.I (Knight Commander Star of India) 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."

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 were divided into two opposing camps; one camp was led by Surachandra Singh and the other, by Tikendrajit Singh, the flamboyant and the most popular and capable prince, who was also the hero of the masses. In short, Manipur had become 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 did culminate in the palace revolution of 1890. But the immediate cause was the ban order issued by the Maharaja on young prince Zilangamba to sit in the durbar as result of his quarrel with Pakasana, the arch rival of Tikendrajit Singh. Without putting any confrontation, Surchandra and his brothers including Pakasana went out of the backyard of the palace and took shelter at the political agency's residence 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. 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. Meanwhile Surachandra submitted an application to the British Government to restore him on the throne of Manipur.

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 away from manipur, the British Government disapproved of the revolution. The attempt to implement the decision of the British Government sparked off the Anglo-Manipur war of 1891.

Therefore, Mr. Quinton, the then Chief Commissioner of Assam along with 400 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 intention 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 but 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.

Kulachandra along with his ministers 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 did complain of aches in stomach and went back home. It was truly 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." 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 actually "a shocking and atrocious reception to Maharaja in his own capital. For this insult the British officers had to pay a heavy price."

With the nonattendance 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 sick 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 from Manipur because of his role in the recent palace revolt.

(To be contd)


* Budha Kamei wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on September 04, 2013.


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