Maharaj Kumar PB Singh, first Chief Minister and the Mizo Union agitation in Tipaimukh (1946-1950)

Lal Dena *

 Maharaj Kumar PB (Priyobarta ) Singh - first Chief Minister  of Manipur
Maharaj Kumar PB ( MK Priyobarta ) Singh - first Chief Minister of Manipur

Based on personal interview

The Second World War exposed Manipur and North East India to the outside world with its ravages and sufferings caused to the people. There were hopes and aspirations and at the same time of fear and apprehensions about the future of the hill people of North East India including Manipur - Professor (late) Gangmumei Kamei.

As per the newly adopted Manipur State Constitution Act (MSCA), 1947, the first general election to the Manipur legislative assembly of 53 members within the broad framework of a limited constitutional monarchy, was held in independent Manipur during June-July, 1948 On 11 and 30 June elections were held in the valley and on 26 and 27 July,1948 in the hills.

Manipur State Congress party got the single largest seats; but a Prajashanti (non-Congress) formed a coalition ministry. According to the MSCA, Maharaja Bodhachandra Singh nominated his younger brother Maharaj Kumar Priyabrata Singh (hereafter referred to P.B. only as he was popularly known) as Chief Minister with other six ministers, four from the valley, Dr. N. Leiren Singh, A. Ibungotomcha Singh, A. Gourabidhu Singh and Md. Allimuddin and two from the hills, R. Khathing and Teba Kilong.

T.C. Tiankham got elected as the first speaker and T. Bokul Singh as deputy speaher. The first session of the assembly met at the Durbar Hall on 18 October, 1948. Maharaja Bodhachandra Singh addressed the maiden assembly session and expressed his happiness over the establishment of the legislative assembly which was a long-cherished desire of the people of Manipur.".

However, all was not well on other sides of Manipur. On the north, A..Daiho started a movement aiming at the merger of Mao-Maram inhabited areas with the Naga Hills. Daiho and his friends boycotted the 1948 election and Mao-East constituency had no representatives in the Manipur legislative assembly in 1948.

On the south-west Manipur, the Hmar community of the Mizo Union of Manipur branch led by L. Tawna (an ex-service man who worked as a clerk in the British Airforce sector in Singapore during the World War Two. He later on retired as an MCS officer) decided to boycott the election with a demand for integration with the proposed "Mizo Hills District".

L. Tawna, endowed with dynamic personality and oratory, could easily mobilize the Hmar people and some Hmar poets even went to the extent of eulogizing him "(Pu Tawna, ram le hnam hmangaihtu, Ei ta dingin thi chenin a huom). ":Pu Tawna, A great patriot and lover of our nation, who is ready to die for our cause".

As India got independence in 1947, different minority tribal groups of North East India had became restless and more conscious that if they remained divided geographically with each tribe trying to maintain a separate identity, they would remain weak and an easy target for exploitation and assimilation. Hmars were not exception. Therefore, the main issue which motivated the Mizo Union leaders was the formation of a separate administrative unit by merging all the Hmar inhabited hill areas of South-west Manipur with Mizoram.

There was a fear that the more populous and advanced Meiteis of the Manipur valley would dominate the ignorant hill people sooner or later. In this connection, Nari Rustomji in his Enchanted Frontiers writes, "with the coming to the fore of popular democratic forces, the hill tribes of both areas (Manipur and Assam) tend to feel that there was safety in numbers and that they should therefore join together for self preservation".

Therefore, the Hmar people for their sheer economic survival tenaciously tried to maintain their separate identity and wanted to join their brethren outside the state in their demand for a separate administrative unit which would give them a rightful place in the determination of their own fate.

L. Tawna had sometimes landed himself in a contradictory situation. He had attended the all-party meeting of the hills and valley at MDU hall, Imphal on November 30, 1947 which demanded a full responsible government and decided to keep the territorial integrity of Manipur.. But against of what had been decided upon, L. Tawna immediately came back to Pherzawl and intensified the agitation.

But the tribal chiefs, village authorities and their supporters loyally collaborated with the newly formed government of Manipur. Contrary to the wishes of the Mizo Union party, Sandam Hmar, Pherzawl village, contested the election from Senvawn constituency but lost to Tualchin Paite of Senvawn village.

The Union agitation continued more intensely and then the volunteers directed their anger against the chiefs and village authority. Gradually the movement assumed a violent character and the volunteers began to pelt stones at the chiefs' and village authorities' houses.

They shouted slogans that they threatened to boycott the state schools, to stop paying busung- sadar (a kind of feudal practice of paying a certain fixed amount of paddy annually and surrendering a hind lag of any animal shot within the village chiefdom to the chief), to stop pawtthak (pothang bekari and pothang senkhai) and to ex-communicate all the chiefs and village authorities including their relatives socially.

Concerned with what had happened in Tipaimukh areas, P.B decided to meet the Union leaders. (P.B and L. Tawna knew each other closely before and became close friends later on).

I have reproduced here what I had written in 1997 in my book, "In Search of Identity: Hmars of North East India" (Akansha Publishing House, New Delhi, 2007: "On February 2,1949, the then Chief Minister Maharaj Kumar P.B. Singh, accompanied by R. Khathing, Minister for Hill Affairs and the commandant of the 4th Assam Rifles, arrived at Parbung, Tipaimukh.

In his public address at Senvawn, P.B. Singh reiterated that while the Hmars had all his sympathy, he was not prepared to take up any measures which were likely to affect the territorial integrity of Manipur. The soft-spoken P.B. Singh was said to have offered a 'regional council' to the Union leaders.

To know P.B. Singh's version, the author went to the palace of the Maharaja at Imphal one fine morning to interview him. As soon as the subject was opened, P.B. Singh instantly recited the song composed in Mizo dialect:

In Mizo:
State lalber P.B. Singh-an,
Union kawng a dal theilo;
Authority bawm khaia chuan;
Artui khawn I phu tawk e.

In English:
P.B.Singh, the state's supreme leader,
Cannot stand on the Union's way;
Ye authority members, are only fit
to collect eggs (a kind of pothang senkhai for touring colonial officialsin the hills).

We sang the song together and then I asked P.B directly whether he had really made such offer. P.B. had just kept smiling, neither admitting nor denying it and I decided not to push it further".

The so-called offer of 'regional', though sounded astounding to the ears of the people, it was nothing much without the Sixth Scheduled provision. The maharajas were so powerful at that period of time that they could make and unmake such political arrangements easily, if they wished. It is said that one section of the leadership wanted to accept the offer as a first step for demanding and eventually forcing further concessions.

The other dominant group rejected the plan outright on the ground that this would jeopardize their relations and unity with their brethrens in Mizo hills. It can be said with the advantage of hindsight that the leadership of the movement really lacked political farsightedness and in rejecting the offer, the Hmars paid too heavy a price and the movement ultimately ended achieving almost nothing.

The obnoxious pothang system was abolished and this in the given circumstances is no mean achievement. But the busung-sadar practice, a relic of feudal servitude, continued to be in force till the abolition of the Privy Purse in 1967.

One cannot deny the fact that the agitation definitely assumed such a popular character. But no movement can be a success without proper education of the masses, a well-defined political ideology and programme and farsighted leadership which can size up the changing situation as the movement progressed and inspired the poor masses.

Therefore, the situation which was the result of lack of understanding of political and economic realities, lack of clearly defined political ideology and programmes and also lack of sustained leadership and organization, gave the administration an upper hand. And as is usual in all such situations, repressive measures to break up the movement were employed. To strengthen the hands of the government, some chiefs and village authority members readily volunteered themselves as informants of the government.

This was really a severe blow to the organization. This type of close collaboration between the government and the chiefs and village authorities was seen in Senvon, Lungthulien, Parbung and Taithu. However at Pherzawl, the chief and the village authority members were quite aware of the mounting tide of democratic forces and supported the movement wholeheartedly.

Since almost all the chiefs and village authorities acted as agents of government, quite a good number of the organizers of the movement were soon arrested. In fact, L.Tawna and twelve other leaders were imprisoned at Imphal central jail, Keishampat for six months.

The only redeeming feature of the movement was that for the first time in the history of the Hmar people, women became conscious of the suffering and misery of the people and when the male folk were being repressed, they came forward and resisted the repressive measures meted out against their men. But their resistance could not last long enough and the reasons are quite obvious.

Surprisingly enough, the Mizo Union leaders in Mizoram accepted the autonomous hill district council plan under the government of Assam. Thus, the struggle for a better economic deal of Hmars was defeated and the interests of the Hmars in Manipur were, if not forgotten, relegated to the background. They inevitably felt let down and betrayed by their brethrens in Mizoram.

Therefore, Tipaimukh area has remained economically one of the most backward areas of the state though literacy is comparatively high. It has considerable potential for economic development. But potential by itself does not mean much unless what is potential becomes actual through the efforts of the people of the region and the developmental programmes of the state government.

One has, therefore, to have a realistic view of the changing historical, political and economic situation in the country and avoid sentimental and emotional approaches to a difficult human situation. This perhaps is the lesson that the younger generation has to learn from a movement which seemed to promise so much but which ended so miserably.

In conclusion we may say that P.B. is a symbol of Manipur's integrity between hills and valley and in this connection Nari Rustomji again aptly remarks thus: "The most stable force in the state appeared to be the young Maharaj Kumar P.B. Singh; quiet, conscientious and hardworking, who carried the confidence also of the numerous hill tribes, Naga and Kuki, surrounding the main central valley".

Postscript: (Late) K. L Infimate, Section Officer, Manipur University, originally from Parbung, Tipaimukh and son of Shri Ruia (Ruia was then the secretary of Parbung Village Authority) told me that "PB Singh put up in their house and his father arranged a feast for P.B. P.B. was so grateful that he said to my father, " Mr Ruia, come to Imphal, I promise to give you a plot of land anywhere within Imphal municipality". A few months later my father went to meet P.B at Imphal. Instead of land, my father asked for a gun license and he got it immediately".

* Lal Dena wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is retired Professor of History, Manipur University and former Vice Chancellor, Sangai International University, Manipur.
He can be reached at laldenas(AT)rediffmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on August 10 2020 .

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