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MANIPUR'S LAST WAR OF INDEPENDENCE

MANIPUR'S LAST WAR OF INDEPENDENCE

Manipur was a Kingdom on the eastern frontier of India bordering what is now called Myanmar. Its unbroken recorded history extends upto 33 A.D.

BACKGROUND:

In 1762 Jai Singh, King of Manipur, concluded a treaty with the East India Company just 5 years after the Battle of Plassey. The aim was to get military assistance from the Company against the Burmese. The Company sent armed troops in assistance of Manipur. But they could not advanced beyond Cachar, now a district in Assam, on account of rain and the hilly terrain. The Court of Directors of the East India Company did not like the treaty and instructed Fort William not to proceed with the treaty. Manipur also found the Treaty expensive and unfruitful. Both parties therefore abandoned the Treaty.
In the time of Lord Amherst, the Burmese threatened the British district of Sylhet, then a part of Bengal. The Burmese had already overrun Manipur and Assam. Panic seized the population of sylhet. Immediate action was called for. At this critical moment, Ghambir Singh, a son of Jai Singh, made an alliance with East India Company. With an assistance of few hundred muskets from the Company, he ueasily dropped out the Burmese from Manipur in June 1825. The company gave an additional aid of 1,500 muskets and he drove out the Burmese from the Kabow Valley, the land between the present Indo-Myanmar border and the chindwin River. A wide zone of pace was thus established between British India and Myanmar. This was completed on 1st Feburary, 1826.

By the treaty of Yandabo, 1826, concluded between the Burmese and the East India company, the Burmese monarch recognized the Independence of Manipur.

Under the Charter Act of 1833 passed by the British Parliament, the East India Company gave up all commercial activity and concentrated on the governance of the territories they had acquired.

By the Treaty of 1833, concluded between the East India Company and Manipur, the Company ceded Jiribam in perpetuity to Manipur. This was a rare instance of the English ceding territory to an Indian power.

The Treaty of 1762 and the Treaty of 1833 are the only treaties ever concluded between Manipur and the British. In 1835, the Supreme Government of British India opened a Political Agency in Manipur. It was, in the words of Lord William Bentinck, the Governor General, for the preservation of a friendly intercourse, and as the medium of communication with the Manipur Government, and, as occasion may require, with the Burmese Authorities on that frontier, and more specially to prevent border feuds and disturbances which might lead to hostilities between the Manipuris and the Burmese.

Manipur never accepted Subsidiary Alliance. It never paid tribute to the British prior to 1891 nor ceded any territory to them. There was no treaty guaranteeing British protection to Manipur, although Lord Dalhousie (1848-1856) attempted to keep Manipur firmly within British sphere of influence.

THE APPROACHING STROM:

In September 1890, there was the Palace Revolt, Some brothers of King Surchandra revolted against him. Kulachandra, the then Yuvaraja, was away from Imphal as he did not like the conflict between brothers. By an error of judgement, Surchandra fled to the Residency to seek asylum there.

According to Mr. Grimwood, the then Political Agent, Surchandra abdicated and wished to go to Vrindaban. But this point is by no means clear.

On reaching Calcutta, Surchandra applied to the Viceroy to restore him. The Government of India war inclined to restore him, but Mr. Grimwood and Mr. J.W. Quinton, the Chief Commissioner of Assam, were opposed to this idea. They pressed for recognition of Kulachandra who ascended the throne. The Government of India doubted very much whether this would be the wise course.

The Government of India ultimately decided to (1) recognise Kulachandra, (2) to move Tikendrajit temporarily from Manipur but allowing him to succeed to Kulachandra after his death, (3) to give some allowance to Tikendrajit in the meantime, (4) to depute Mr. Quiton, the Chief Commissioner of Assam, to Manipur to announce the decision.

The Chief Commissioner arrived in Imphal on 22 March, 1891 with 400 troops. His plan was to arrest Tikendrajit in the ‘durbar’ to be held at the Residency. The plan did not work. So, Mr. Grimwood accompanied by Lieutenant Simpson went to the Palace and communicated the decision of the Government of India. Maharaja Kulachandra, after consulting his ministries, expressed his inability to hand over Tikendrajit. The political Agent requested the Maharaja to hand over Tikendrajit or give him a written authority to arrest him. The Maharaja declined. After this the Political Agent had an interview with Tikendrajit and explained the matter but he did not get Tikendrajit’s surrender.

THE WAR BEGAN:

The Chief commissioner made a blunder. Instead of contacting the Government of India by telegraph at that stage, he ordered Lieutenant Brackenbury to invade the residence of Tikendrajit and effect his arrest. Tikendrajit’s residence was inside the compound of the Palace. British troops invaded the Palace compound at 3.30 am of 24th March 1891. Guards of the Palace opened fire and in the resulting battle, Brackenbury was mortally wounded, 3 Gurkha sepoys were killed and 14 Gurkha sepoys were wounded. Brackenbury was removed to the Residency where he died.

At 12 am the Chief Commissioner attempted to telegraph to the Government of India but found that the Manipuris had already cut the wires. A little later, some Manipuri sepoys by creeping, a daring clever movemnet, reached the back wall of the residency, and fired shots directly into the room where Mrs. Ethel Grimwood, wife of the Political Agent, was. This created confusion at the Residency and lowered the morale of the guards. At 4 p.m. the Manipuris attacked the Residency by artillery fire from the Palace compound. They had the know-how. They had learnt it well from the British in the region of Chandrakeerti, Ghambeer Singh’s son.

Mr. Quinton now realized that he had grossly underestimated the Manipuris, their weaponry, skill and firepower. He now wanted a truce. The Manipuris told the British, through a messenger, to lay down arms. The precise implication of ‘laying down arms’ was not clear to Mr.Quinton . He wished to get an authoritative interpretation by personally going to the Palace. This was a highly dangerous course after more than 12 hours’ of bitter fighting in which the British had desecrated the temple of Vrindhabhan Chandra (Shri Krishna) at the residence of Tikendrajit and killed a number of civilians. Quinton asked Grimwood whether it would be safe to go to the Palace. Grimwood thought that the Manipuris would do them no harm. This was another blunder. He should have clearly advised Mr. Quinton not to enter the compound of the Palace , called the Fort in British records, without first obtaining a formal trust and safe conduct . 

But Mr. Quinton accompanied by Mr. Grimwood and three other British officers entered the Palace compound without asking for or obtaining safe conduct from the Government of Manipur or even without giving prior notice of their intended entry. After an inconclusive talk in what is euphemistically called a durbar, Grimwood was speared by a man from the violent mob. The remaining British officers were eventually handed over to the public executioner. 

Mrs. Grimwood accompanied by two British officers and 200 Gurkha sepoys fled to Cachar. They were joined on the way by 200 other Gurkha sepoys who came from Silchar.

SECOND PHASE:

In the meantime, a Gurkha Jamandar managed to reach Tamu in Myanmar (Burma) and reported to Lieutenant Grant. He obtained permission and proceeded towards Imphal on 28 March with a small but well equipped force. After battles at Pallel, he reached Thoubal where more battles followed. Here, the Manipuris lost Yaiskullakpa, a valliant warrior. But the Manipuris effectively checked the advance of Grant. A Manipuri bullet grazed Grant but he escaped death.

On the 8th April, Grant retreated from Thoubal under orders from his superiors. On his retreat, he was engaged by the Manipuris at Palel. In the heavy fighting that followed, Grant himself narrowly escaped death for the second time.

LAST PHASE:

The last phase of the war now began. Three columns one each from Kohima, Silcher and Tamu were coverging on Imphal. The Manipuris had sufficient qualities of arms and ammunation but not sufficient manpower as the population was small. This is where the British hit. The British sent troops in large numbers to ‘over awe’ Manipur.

The most important battle of the war was at Khongjom, some 12 Kilometers to the south of Thoubal. It was on the 25th April, according to the British records. It was the detective battle too. British officers and the sepoys under them fought as hard as they could. Lieutenant Grant was wounded this time also. Three other British officers also were wounded. Every Manipuri soldier fought till he was killed. An unknown Manipuri solider, when his ammunition ran short, broke Capt. Drury’s scapula with rifle butt before he himself fell in battle.

RESULT OF THE WAR:

The result of the war was a foregone conclusion. The sun never set in the British Empire at this time. It was impossible to defeat the British at the end of the 19th Century or at the beginning of the 20th.

The three columns mentioned above met in the Palace on the 27th April and the Union Jack was hoisted.

The Manipuris were never in doubt as to the result of the war. Their heroism lay in their readiness to lay down their life in defence of freedom and march to the battle-field knowing full well that they would not return again. We come across such heroism in great poems and other good literature but not often in real life. Freedom – the manipuris lost, but love of freedom – they retained.

With the passing of the Indian Independence Act, 1947 British Paramouncy on Indian States lapsed on 15th August 1947. Manipur aong with the rest of India regained independence on that historic day.

Courtesy: R.K. Jhalajit Singh

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