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Reactions to the Merger of Manipur into the Dominion of India and Public responses

Senjam Mangi Singh *



The Merger of Manipur into the Dominion of India has become one of the most discussed and debated upon issues during the last five years or so. Various opinions have been expressed about the validity or otherwise of the agreement itself in various seminars, debates, symposiums, conferences, newspapers and journals. However, the intention of the present paper is not to contribute to the validity or otherwise of the Merger Agreement. It is only a humble attempt to assess the reactions of the people of Manipur in those times to the issue from a purely academic point of view.

Praja Santi Sobha

The praja Santi Sobha was also the ruling party in Manipur during the time of the Merger. It was also known as the Nationalist party. From the very beginning the clearly expressed opinion of the party was to let Manipur remain as a state enjoying responsible government with His Highness, the Majarajah of Manipur as the Constitutional Head and with her sovereignty undisturbed1. Though the party said that 'Manipur State will have necessary relations', with India, it also insisted that it should be without merging Manipur into any province2.

Her geographical position, different language and customs, etc. were some of the reasons which, according to the party, necessitates her independent existence3. The Sobha also feared that if Manipur got merged into India, they will not be able to run parallel with their fellow Indians because of their backwardness4. Besides, it also felt that the then existing relationship between Manipur and the Dominion of India was 'most satisfactory' and as the Manipuris were 'quite satisfied with it', there is no need for integration5. Again appraising the public opinion in Manipur about the issue, the party informed the Governor of Assam that "Almost cent percent of the people of the state is quite against the integration or merging6.

Here, it may be remembered that under the then existing relationship between Manipur and the Dominion of India, Defense, Communication and External Affairs were under the control of the Dominion government of India. The Sobha felt that this arrangement was 'the best political handicraft' for the time being and was carrying on its duties well both for India and Manipur7. The party also said that the people of Manipur were not only satisfied with the then existing relationship but were also as well being inspired with a sense of responsibility for India8. Thus they favored the following9.

1. The Continuance of the relations between India and Manipur under the Instrument of Accession.
2. Home Rule by local figures under the democratic Constitution of Manipur State.
3. The representative of India, if there would be any, in Manipur should be bound by the Constitution and should not interfere in the day-to-day internal administration except when required constitutionally.

Apart from these, a meeting of the MLAs belonging to the party was also held on 2518/1949. In that meeting the MLAs resolved to send deputation to the Government of India with enclosed papers substantiating the solid reasons against integration or merging of the State.

The Manipur State Congress

So far as the Manipur State Congress was concerned they were very much there demanding the merger of Manipur into India even before the transfer of Power. It has been reported of a public meeting held on 15/8/1947 at Pologround where the Manipur State Congress president said that if Manipur, by chance, was not included into.

India, the congress would launch a people's movement immediately for it11. Then there was also the time when the Congress resolved to launch a satyagraha against the Manipur State authorities as a protest against the dishonoring of the Indian National Flag and the Gandhi cap12 simply because the Maharaja did not allow Congress men wearing Gandhi caps to take the Indian National Flag inside the Govindajee Temple complex. Beside their propagandas on the eve of their Satyagraha in November 1947, were also saturated with pro-merger overtones. It was their firm belief that the people of Manipur should take shelter under the National Flag which has been the symbol of National struggle against foreign exploitatio13.

In spite of all these, there was a conspicuous absence of such pro-merger tones in their Election Manifesto of 1948 elections. There, regarding the relationship between Manipur and the Dominion of India, it simply stated that the party will always endeavor to preserve the identity of Manipur, her language, culture and civilisation14. A possible explanation of such a conspicuous silence is attempted in the later parts of this paper dealing with the attitude of the general public.

However, not so surprisingly, soon after the appointment of Major Rawal Amar Singh to the post of the Dewan of Manipur on 16/4/1949, there was a revival of the party's activities for the first time since their failure to form the government after the 1948 elections. The Congress perfectly knew in which favor to wind was blowing. The new Dewan who had already become the most dominant structure inside the political system of Manipur will only be too happy to see their aspirations fulfilled.

Soon they started complaining to the Maharajah for oppressing the people in social and religious matters, and demanded immediate abolition of the monarchy and integration of the state into the Dominion of India for the benefit of the people15. About two months earlier also, they had resolved the consolidation of the Government of India through integration and merging of the native states, especially Manipur State, as urgently required16.

The Manipur State Legislative Assembly and the Council of Ministers:

For all its highly vaunted popular basis, the Manipur State Legislative Assembly, as a body, failed to raise even a plausible murmur of protest against the merger of Manipur. Was it not supposed to be the true representative body of the people? Is it not mainly on the basis of having this popularly elected assembly that many have tried to invalidate the Merger Agreement?

Of course, one finds the Speaker of the Assembly writing to the Private Secretary of the Maharajah: 'Since we have got an Assembly elected on adult franchise will it not be advisable for H.H. to call the Assembly to discuss the matter first17. But this too was after a local paper reported that the Maharajah may discuss with the Governor of Assam matters relating to the future of Manipur State when he visits Shi1long. Otherwise the Manipur State Legislative Assembly remained silent for most of the time.

About the Council of Ministers, it was worse. They can't say that they did not have any idea about what the Maharajah and the Governor of Assam may discuss at Shillong. Yet it also remained silent. Even after the signing of the Merger Agreement become public knowledge, the Council of Ministers did not bother to call a general session of the Assembly to discuss the matter. And though it had its weekly sessions till Oct. 12, 1949, their proceedings shows the discussing appointments motivated by personal interest or matters like levying tax on liquor, fire-arm licenses, war compensation etc. and not the merger.

Why the Manipur State Legislature Assembly and the Council of Minister remained silent? This question still evades a satisfactory answer. It may remember that earlier the two did not resist the appointment of Major R. A. Singh as the new Dewan of Manipur on 1614/1949. Once he was appointed as the Dewan, the administration was to be done 'under his general superintendence, guidance and control'19. They should have realized earlier that the appointment of such an official will be in contradiction not only with the provisions of the Manipur Constitution Act, 1947, but also with their own existence. Having failed to do this, perhaps, they realized that it was too late in the day to assert their meaningful existence by the time the Merger Agreement was about to the implemented.

The General Public

There were very few, if any, protest from the general public against a possible merger that was in the air before the Merger Agreement was signed. One such instance can be seen at a public meeting held on 318/1949. The Congress Leaders had called a public meeting on this day saying that they would declare the mandate of the Indian government as to the abolition of the Gadi and integration of the state, with written assurances from Dr. Pattavi Sitaramaya and Sardar Patel2.

But when the meeting started the people realised that the meeting was not going to be a public meeting hut a congress meeting with the President of the Manipur State Congress appointed as the President of the meeting by the Congressman. Then the congress also announced that the meeting was a congress meeting and not a public one, contradicting their notice calling the meeting. They also revealed to the people that the assurances of the government of India was 'for' and 'not against' the merger of Manipur.

The result was that there wert chaos and confusions. Feeling justly annoyed at this undesirable conduct and behaviour of the Manipur State Congress, the assembled people of several thousand moved to the Gandhi Meidan and held a public meeting there, leaving the handful of congressmen21.

The result was that the congress organized meeting at Rupmahal Theatre ended in a fiasco with only five speakers out of a scheduled eight speaking and with no resolutions passed. On the other hand regular resolutions against the proposed integration or merger were unanimously passed in the public meeting at Gandhi Meidan22.

Then the was the Manipur daily Bh.iabat Patrica, trying to mould public opinion against the merger. It said that Manipuris do not want to be sub-servant to another nation. It also repeatedly voiced its opinion in favour of maintaining the distinct identity of Manipur and that the monarchy must be preserved. It also appealed to the king not to surrender the dignity and honour of the Manipur nation to India23.

There are the two instances of protest of some significance from the public. Otherwise, by and large, the people were ignorant of the historic significance of the merger. But still, perhaps, there was a possibility of the common people for becoming anti-merger. For, as noted earlier, there was conspicuous absence of the issue in the Congress Election Manifesto of 1948.

One may take it for granted that the Congress do not have to put up the issue specifically and that the party was bound to endeavour for it because of its parent body. However, it may also be that the Congress deliberately refrained itself from raising the issue actively fearing that the mass, through ignorant as it was then, might become against the merger it they were made conscious of the significance of the issue. Certainly, if the Manipur State Congress had confidence in making the people conscious of the issue and their subsequent response to it, then they would have done it without any hesitation.

Conclusion

While examining the response of the people to the issue, one has to remember the fact that Manipur during the time of her merger into the Dominion of India, had a very low level of political culture. Except for a small politically aware section of the population who were showing signs of having subject political culture, the common people remained politically ignorant.

What with the low degree of literacy, their tradition of participation in the political system, etc. The fact that they remained more or less completely silent when major R.A.Singh was made the Dewan of the State clearly shows the type of political culture which the people had. It was sadly a parochial type of political culture. Therefore, it will not be fair to expect them to understand them significance of the political problems posed to them by the changing times.

However, for the elected representatives of the people, they had no excuse. They should have at least done something for or against the merger keeping in view the best interests of those people whom they represent. They were the elected representatives of the people enjoying privileges which were not entitled to the common people and were getting paid for their duty of looking after the welfare of the people.

Their responsibility cannot be equated with that of a common man. Their apparent inaction in connection with the issue is an example of monumental failure by a popularly elected legislative assembly and a council of ministers originating from that assembly in the due discharge of their basic duty.


* Senjam Mangi Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is Assistant Professor, Dept. of Pol.Science Manipur University, Canchipur
This article was posted on June 01, 2018.


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