Manipur was never under British rule though defeated by the British
Merger Agreement Series
- Part 2 -

Dr Th Suresh *

Coronation of Maharaj Churachand 1908
Coronation of Maharaj Churachand 1908 :: Pix - RKCS Art Gallery
Warning: These images CANNOT be reproduced in any form or size without written permission from the RKCS Gallery

Manipur was never under British rule though defeated by the British in the only 1st and last Anglo-Manipuri war.
Time to ignore pseudo-historians and ill-informed historians' false write-ups and come to true historical perspectives

To understand fully this important 3rd phase, the readers along with the pen-driver have to go back to various pages of Manipur history and have to read, discuss and understand together again. I hope our readers won't mind and won't disappoint also. Important events which can't be missed are:

a) Appointment of 1st Regent ' As Churachand was a minor, to help him in day to day administration, a Regent was appointed for the 1st time in Manipur. PA Maxwell became the 1st Regent, though Churachand remained king. In short, it is the same arrangement Nara Singh had during young Chandrakirti's 1st reign. It does not mean that British were reigning Manipur.

b) Establishment of British Reserve ' Before the capture of the Kangla Complex, a British residency was already there since Gambhir Singh's period. However, after the last battle, the Master was searching a safe and complex place both for their subjects and the military. Hence, a 'British Reserve" was established in and around Imphal town measuring about 310 acres in September, 1891 by extending the Cantonment Act, 1889 and the Cruelty to Animals Act, 1890. The 'British Reserve included the cantonment (old palace complex), and the Residency, the state Thana, the Post and Telegraph office, the state Treasury, the State Jail, the Civil hospital and the land at Kangchup'. The hospital, public offices and the bazar area were not reserved and people were allowed to use those. One cannot presume it as complete take over; it is a kind of security coverage just like the present Raj Bhawan.

c) Handing over full power to Churachand ' The administration was handed over to him on 15th May 1907, he abolished the Post of Superintendent. Accordingly, Political Agent cum Superintendent became Political Agent only.

d) Introduction of "Rules of the Management of Manipur" in 1907' The Raja was the president and the vice-chairman was always a British officer of the Indian Civil Service. Thus, the previous Assistant Superintendent of the state became the Vice-President. But in 1916, the British Vice President became Darbar President. However, the Raja continued to be the head of the Administration. All Durbar resolutions required his approval. In short, the Raja executed his administration through the Durbar. The administration continued by making separate administrative and judicial laws for hills and plain. Though the President had more power for the hills, the Maharaja can modify this power in consultation with the PA. In case of any difference with the PA, the matter had to be referred to the Assam Governor in writing by the PA and the Governor's decision was binding to both Maharaja and the PA.

In short, it was "divide and rule" policy by the British to bring disunity among hill and plain people for their own benefit. In spite of this, the Maharaja continued to be the overall head of Manipur and the hills were administered through the Darbar in the name of the Maharaja. In present day word, some form of autonomy was given to the hills and not independent administration. At this time, both administratively and judicially, some form of present Panchayati Raj existed both in the hills and the plain.

Hence, calling this scenario as "under British Rule" by our pseudo-historians and less-knowledgeable historians is a misnomer and very unfortunate for us Manipuris.

e) Introduction of Indian Penal Code(IPC) ' It was introduced for the 1st time in1904 to suppress 1st women's uprising( Nupi lal) in Manipur.

f) Foreign tax' Related to the present ILPS, a Foreign Tax of Rs 5/non-Manipuri person was introduced in Manipur in 1944 to restrict inflow of non-Manipuris. As a result of this, Pandit Nehru and Rabindranath Tagore could not visit Manipur.

g) Start of Bodh Chandra reign to British departure (1941-14/8/1947)' Important events which cannot be missed in respect of the relationship are i) Dissolving Manipur State Durbar on 20th June 1947 and instituting a form of Government known as His Highness the Maharaja in council. On 1st July, 1947, Pearson became the 1st Chief Minister of Manipur with another 5 Council of Ministers. Pearson continued as the 1st Chief Minister for only 1 and months i.e. up to 14th August, 1947 when he left Manipur. ii) Around April-June, the draft constitution of Manipur and the Manipur Hill People's (Administration) Regulation 1947 was approved by the Manipur State Constitution making Committee chaired by Pearson. The same was put up to the Maharaja for approval. For reasons still unclear even today, the maharaja turned down the 1st one and only approved the 2nd one with some minor changes. The same was enforced from August 1947 and thus kept the hill areas directly under the Maharaja. iii) An important piece of Act, namely the Manipur Constitution Act, 1947 was formed in July 1947 leading to the 1st ever free election based on Adult Franchise in the Indian subcontinent during June-July 1948.

All these lead to the logical conclusion that Bodh Chandra exercised his rule independently. When needed, he took the advice of Assam Governor and the same was executed. This does not mean that he was under Assam Governor, he was only following the tradition of his late father.

The famous and the controversial Instrument of Accession and the Standstill Agreement signed in 11th August during this 3rd phase will be discussed in detail in the coming up paras.

4. Phase 4 of British-Manipuri relation : This period covers from British departure till Manipur merged to Dominion of India (15/8/1947 to 14/10/ 1949). Earlier it was mentioned that the last PA of British GOI, Mr. Pearson, was the 1st Chief Minister of Manipur under the Maharaja in Council. Pearson left Imphal on 14/8/1947 in route to England.

As there is no British representative, the Assam Governor at Shillong exercised the same power in the name of interim Govt. of India as was done during British period. Just before the British left, the Maharaja in Council was abolished on 13/08/1947 and an Interim Council was formed on next day i.e. 14/08/1947. As stated previously, the 1st election under Adult Franchise was held in June-July 1948. After abolishing the Interim Council, the 1st Assembly was inaugurated by the Maharaja at Palace Darbar on 18/10/1948 with the swearing in of the newly elected members. These are the main administrative activities during this period.

An important piece of information, but never discussed in detail by our historians, was the abolition of Dominion Agent (came into existence after abolishing PA) and appointment of the Office of the Diwan. Governor Sir Akbar Hydary wanted to abolish the Dominion Agent and wanted to establish the office of the Dewan i.e. the Prime Minister's post. He also wanted to combine the post of Dewan with that of the Chief Minister. The Manipur Maharaja initially objected to the said proposal. However, he finally agreed to the same on further assurance from the Governor. Accordingly, on 20th August 1948, the Governor dissolved the office of the Dominion Agent and installed the office of the Dewan. The Maharaja, vide Palace Order no 46 P.11(dt. 29/11/1949) appointed Priya Brata as Dewan in addition to the post of Chief Minister. Detailed discussion of the underlying idea is kept for the next series.

a) What is a Native State? In order to understand Manipur History after British left us, one should have some basic idea of what a Native State is. Some hearsay and reading of some misleading history books will not serve the purpose. Hence, the underlying idea of what a Manipuri should understand is briefly underlined as below by your pen-driver '!

The interpretation Act, 1889 passed by British Parliament described India as "British India together with territories of any Native Prince or Chief under the suzerainty of her Majesty, exercised through the Governor General of India or other officer of the Governor General of India"

Later on, in 1910, Sir William Lee Warner described Native State of India in a more clear term His last sentence is " But communities whose ruler ordinarily exercise any, even the smallest degree of internal sovereign, authority are classified in India as Native States and excluded from the territories subject to the Kings law".

British Indian Empire is broadly divided into 2 catagories. The 1st one is British India which consists of Provinces. These are merged to British India and governed by the laws enacted by British Parliament through the Governor General. The 2nd one are those States, these are not annexed to British India. These are governed directly by the Crown through the Viceroy. The Butler Committee and the Simon Commission treated 562 units as states; but the Joint Parliamentary committee on Indian Constitutional Reforms referred to 600 units as States. The Butler Committee divide the states into 3 categories. These are bound to the Crown through Paramouncy which is implemented through the instrument of various treaties, engagements and Sanads.

b) What is Paramouncy? According to GOI white paper 'Paramouncy provided British power an elastic instrument for regulating the relations with the Princes and between British India and the States. It was through paramouncy that the British brought about some kind of working arrangements between the two parts of India and enforced a measure of administrative and economic unity over the country'. It further adds that there are 40 states which have treaties under Paramouncy. A number of States had some form of engagements or Sanads i.e. acknowledgement of concession or authority or privileges generally coupled with conditions proceeding from the Paramount power. The reminder enjoyed in some form or other recognition of their status by the Crown.

c) What is the status of Manipur? Manipur is a state governed through treaties and Sanads under Paramouncy. In which sub-group of state Manipur belongs to is difficult to pinpoint and is a bit confusing. One thing is, however, clear that the British-Manipuri relationship is a very peculiar special status and is never found anywhere in India. Hyderabad and Jammu and Kashmir are the others which have special status with the crown.

These 3 states have their own independent history, that too different from each other. A glimpse of this peculiar British-Manipuri relationship can also be seen in the Article VIII, clause (3) of the Manipur Merger Agreement signed on 21st Sept. 1949 where it is stated that "The Government of India also undertake to make suitable provisions for the employment of Manipuris in the various branches of the Public Services, and in every way encourage Manipuris to join them ...". This is also Manipuri specific and is not found in any of the 16 such Agreements contained in GOI white paper.

In view of its geographical position, long frontier with Burma and its special relationship with the British, British-Manipur relationship is very peculiar and a special status one. After capture of Kangla Complex, what will be the status of Manipur had been widely discussed by the British Parliament, British subjects, British India and Indian subjects. The final decision is contained in British Govt's India's Resolution of Manipur, dated 21st August ,1891 as " had graciously assented to the re-establishment of the native rule under such condition " The Viceroy Lord Landsdowne finally remarked that Manipur had not been annexed as a mark of clemency.

That's why your writer is always shouting and writing that Manipur was not under British rule. It is appropriate to substitute "during British rule" as 'during British stay'. This is the correct word and an appropriate one. The said status remained intact during the later period of Bodh Chandra's reign i.e. after British departure till finally merged to Dominion India. The only difference was that the Political Agent and British Assam Governor was replaced by Dominion Agent and Assam Governor of Dominion India.

To be continued ...

* Dr Th Suresh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer Ex- Director of Health Services, Manipur & WHO Fellow.
This article was posted on October 15, 2015.

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