Tikendrajit : The Lion of Manipur
- Part 4 -

Dr. Lokendra Arambam *

13 August - Patriots' Day Drama (Play) at MDU, Imphal :: 13th August 2013
13 August - Patriots' Day Drama (Play) at MDU, Imphal in 2013 :: Pix - Jinendra Maibam

The statements signed by witnesses were thus in many cases not in the language in which they were given, and the accused princes were also induced to sign statements in English, a language which none of them understood. There is, as we shall see subsequently good reason to believe that at points especially in the trial of the Yubaraj these written records did not always accurately represent what the accused wished to say. There were also occasions on which it is clear that the prisoner did not understand the questions put in cross examination.

The method of the trial was also peculiar, and in this respect similar to those presided over by Political Officer Maxwell, in that the court first heard the evidence for the prosecution before stating the charges against the prisoner and receiving his plea. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that as far we can tell neither Col. Mitchell nor Major Ridgeway, nor even civil officer Davis (who should surely have known better) had any knowledge whatsoever of legal matter. This was indeed "a special court", set up without reference to due penal procedure and which (as far as one can tell from the transcripts) made up its own rules as it went along. This does not argue well for its impartially (John Parratt&SarojNaliniParratt 1992, p. 13233).

Manomohan Ghose, born in Dhaka and educated at the Lincoln Inn, appealed to the Excellency, the Viceroy in Council on behalf of Kullachandra Singh, Maharajah or regent of Manipur and TikendrajitBir Singh, Yubaraj or Senapati of Manipur having been pleased to permit a submission of the written representation on behalf of the princes on the 25th July, 1891. The two prince brothers had been charged along with others as waging war against the Queen Empress of India and abetment of murder of four British officers as well as murder, and had been sentenced to death. After the sentence had been announced, a final representation in writing was allowed, which was taken up by this advocate of the Calcutta High Court.

The vital aspects of the legal defence raised by Manomohan Ghose was:

The Manipur Princes were not, and could not have been tried under the Indian Penal Code, or any other British law. Nor was the court which tried them constituted under any legal authority derivable from any act of parliament, or any legislative enactment of the Governor General of India in Council. I, must therefore take it that in creating this special tribunal at Manipur, the government of India was simply exercising the rights of a conquering sovereign power, for the purpose of bringing to justice persons accused of committing grave offences but who, not British subjects, are not triable by British courts, and are not governed by the municipal law of British India .

There can be no treason under the English law by a person who is an alien, unless he happens to owe temporary allegiance by residence in the country. A person who is not a British subject, cannot be guilty of treason so long as he resides in a country which is not British territory.

Is Manipur British territory, and do the ruler of Manipur and his subjects in Manipur owe allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen in the sense in which that expression has been understood under the English law of treason and the Indian Penal Code?

The English never acquired Manipur by conquest, but that our government entered into certain treaties with the former rulers of Manipur whereby certain amount of protection was promised in Manipur on certain conditions. Manipur paid no tribute to the English. The state has all along been governed by its own laws; the raja of Manipur exercising sovereign authority over its subjects. The state has its own executive, which is independent of the British Government. No doubt the Government has by treaty protected the ruler of Manipur from foreign invasion, and since the time of Chandrakirti Singh accorded to the Raja support, to enable him to resist effectively any internal rising.

Do these facts tend to destroy the character of Manipur as a sovereign state? It is scarcely necessary to point out the sovereignty of a particular state is not impaired by its occasional obedience to the commands of other states, or even the habitual influence exercised by them over its councils. It is only when this obedience, or this influence, assumes the form of express compact, that the sovereignty of the state inferior in power is legally affected by its connection with the other.

Treaties of unequal alliance freely contracted between independent states do not impair their sovereignty. Treaties of unequal alliance guarantee mediation and protection may have the effect of limiting and qualifying in the sovereignty, according to the stipulations of the treaties.Manipur was not a lower level then the semi-sovereign states of which Eurapean History furnishes several instances ("The Appeals of the Manipur Princes" by Manomohan Ghose, Manipur State Archives, 2005).

Manipur: A Geo-strategic Victim of the Operation of Empire

The Manipur episode of the defiance against the pride and glory of the world's biggest empire hurt Britain deeply. The disaster of the sudden murder of four British military officials at a strange, exotic enclave contiguous to the imperial territory, was followed by the symbolic destruction of the vestiges of the empire i.e. the existence of telegraph lines and offices being destroyed. The telegram officers being

murdered, a sanatorium burned down and British graves desecrated. As reprisal the Government of British India sent three columns within a fortnight, destroyed opposition on all three fronts, looted the royal palace, razed it to the ground to make way for a permanent military camp. The empire restored its authority, but the event became a scandal in the nooks and corners of the empire. The House of Commons and the House of Lords debated the event in all their heat and temper.

Charges and counter charges were mutually exchanged in all the interstices of the Empire, of the values of western civilization, of the roles and responsibilities of the representatives, their action and behaviour in times of crisis, of all intents and purposes, the sole defence of the Government of India in the sordid episode was succinctly put in the House of Commons by Sir John Gorst, Under-Secretary of State for India who spoke that the Senapati was removed for the simple reason that he was 'an able man intriguing against the Paramount Power'.

In the words of Caroline Keen 'In an extra-ordinary critical statement for the second most senior official at the India office, Sir John maintained that the Government of India was merely acting in accordance with their customary policy of cutting down the tall poppies, setting aside the man at ability and strong character in native states in favours of the mediocre or incapable' (Caroline Keen 2015, P 140).

Tikendrajit, therefore, was the sole motif for the imperial action against Manipur. He was to be hanged in front of the public, along with his mentor the old General Thangal, with whom Tikendrajit was reported to have quarrelled on the decision to execute the Sahibs. The Queen Victoria, the empress of India was an avid follower of the Manipur story, as reported in the newspapers and debated in the two houses of Parliament.

She gave a private reception to Mrs. Grimwood in the Windsor castle on July 1, after her escape from Manipur, sympathized with her plight in the loss of a fond husband, and heard her admiring estimate of the character of Tikendrajit. She was not happy with the actions of ignorance and imprudence of the authorities of Calcutta in the whole affair.

Manomohan Ghose's 'The Appeal of the Manipur Princes' was published in July in London in 1891, along with a transcript of the trials of the Senapati and the Regent, and when the findings of the court were communicated to Queen Victoria, she immediately despatched a telegram to Lord Cross, the Secretary of State for India, "Trust Senapati will not be executed. He was not found guilty of murder and the effect is sure to be bad in India" (Calorine Keen. Ibid p. 158).

This was on the 1st of August 1891, twelve days before the hanging of Tikendrajit at Imphal. On the 8th of August, Lord Cross informed her of the Government of India's decision that the Viceroy (Lord Landsdowne) had commuted the sentences in the case of the Regent and Angousana, but the sentence in the case of Tikendrajit had been confirmed. On the 12th August, Manomohan Ghose himself appealed directly to the Queen for clemency. The Queen was reported to have sent a telegram to Lord Landsdowne if it was possible! Lord Landsdowne replied on the same day. 'Your Majesty's telegram on 12th I entertain no doubt commutating of sentence would be a grave public misfortune, and I regard as now absolutely impossible' (Quoted by C. Keen P. 159).

Caroline Keen quotes again the letter that Lord Landsdowne wrote back to the Queen after the telegram, 'the case was not one for the extension of your Majesty's clemency. The Senapati was the prime mover, both in conspiracy which led to the downfall of the lawful ruler of the state, and in the rebellion which led to the massacre. Your Majesty will have noticed that while the fighting was in progress on the 24th, and at a time when it was impossible to contend that the Senapati was merely acting in self-defence, he brought up guns from their position inside the palace, to a position on the outer wall, from which, at a distance of a few yards, fire was opened up on the British Residency, a defenceless building, which at the time contained several wounded men, and a English lady ....... it would be impossible to show mercy to one convicted of these crimes without greatly endangering our supremacy in this country' (Ibid P. 160).

The correspondences between the Queen Empress and the Viceroy Lord Landsdowne reflect the inner dynamics of the operation of the British Empire, that Manipur was geographically in the Indian sub-continent, but it was in fact an independent Asiatic state, not politically dependent on the same. However the geo-politics of the Empire over-rided all considerations, and Lord Landsdowne's was the voice of the real politik of the empire, though the Queen represented the conscience of the western civilization.

Lord Landsdowne was hell bent in safeguarding the territory of British India by maintaining a firm hold on frontier states such as Sikkim, Kashmir and Manipur to be used as buffer zones against foreign aggressors. Any unrest within Manipur was perceived as a threat to such a strategy (C. Keen 2012 P. 147).

Many scholars, mostly foreign and the international media reported that Manipur was a province of British Assam. Indian newspapers like the Amrita Bazar Patrika differed, and noticed Manipur's independence in the 19th century. As a princely state, Manipur did not belong to the family of the princely states of British India. The formal entry into the scheme was only in 1921, when the Chambers of the Princes were constituted in that year. Manipur issued Passports to Indians or Nepalis till 1950.When Manipur became a part of India since 1949, it was removed.


o Caroline Keen 2012 Princely India and the British Political Development and the Operation of Empire L.B. Taurus, London.
o Caroline Keen 2015 An Imperial Crisis in British India: The Manipur Uprising of 1891. L. B. Taurus, London.
o Chanam Hemchandra Ed. 2017 Mashilne (in Manipuri), Ching-Tam Press, Uripok, Imphal.
o Dr. Laishram Suresh 1998 The Man who rocked the British Empire 107thBirTikendrajit Celebration, Natun Bazar, Hojai, Asssam Pradesh Manipuri Association.
o Gangmumei Kamei 2015 A History of Modern Manipur Vol. I, Akansa Publishing House, New Delhi.
o Gunachandra Kakchingtabam 2016 The Manipur War of 1891: A Media Narrative, International Printers, Thoubal.
o John Parratt & Saroj Nalini Parratt 1990 Queen Empress Vs Tikendrajit, Prince of Manipur: The Anglo-Manipur Conflict of 1891, HarAnand, New Delhi.
o Lal Dena Ed. 1990 History of Modern Manipur 1726-1949, Reliable Book Centre, Imphal.
o Manmohan Ghose 1891 The Appeals of the Manipur Princes, Manipur State Archives 2005.
o MaungHtin Aung 1967 A History of Burma, Columbia University Press, New York and London.
o Rajkumar Sanahal Singh 1973 BirTekendrajit Singh, Friends Union Press, Imphal.


* Dr. Lokendra Arambam wrote this article which was published at Imphal Times
This article was posted on 06 September, 2018 .

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