TODAY -

Revisiting the Merger of Manipur
- Part 1 -

Sanatomba Kangujam *

The Shillong Accord 1949
The Shillong Accord 1949
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(Peaceful transformation of the armed conflict in Manipur should involve recognition of the numerous lapses inherent in the Merger Agreement)

Posing the Problem : Revisiting the Manipur Merger Agreement, 1949 and the circumstances surrounding the signing of the same between the Maharaja of Manipur and the Indian authorities at Shillong on September 21, 1949 is highly called for mainly in view of the search for a peaceful political solution to the seemingly intractable armed conflict in Manipur. A fresh debate on the "merger of Manipur" is also needed in the light of new findings in order to discern the finer nuances of the conflict and the basic incompatibility underlying it.

In fact, the Manipur Merger Agreement, 1949 (or MMA-1949) has become one of the most contested historical documents in contemporary Manipur. For the Government of India, the merger issue is a closed chapter. Likewise, many scholars have also taken the merger issue for granted without subjecting it to any critical study. There are also certain quarters who feel uncomfortable or rather embarrassed to talk about the Merger Agreement. They complained about repeated reference to the Merger Agreement as too stereotype a debate besides questioning the rationale of reviving the past again and again.

As for the insurgent groups of Manipur, the Agreement has become central to their political mobilization against what they call occupation of Manipur by the Indian State. Citing the Merger Agreement as the root cause of the prevailing conflict in Manipur, the major insurgent groups and responsible non-state actors like the Revolutionary People's Front (RPF) and the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) consider the Merger Agreement as illegal and unconstitutional. Many scholars have also questioned the validity of the said document on various grounds. Therefore, it is highly crucial to re-examine the legality and validity of the Agreement in the light of the Manipur State Constitution Act, 1947, the International Laws, other relevant procedural norms duly recognized by civilized Nations across the world and also in the light of new research findings.

The MMA-1949 under Vienna Convention 1969 : The first important point of contestation often raised by informed quarters on the Merger Agreement is that the Maharaja was made to sign the Agreement under 'duress' and 'coercion'. This alone constitutes a serious allegation on account of the fact that any agreement or treaty whose conclusion was secured through application of force or threat is rendered invalid as per relevant provision of International Law. For example, Article 52 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, 1969 provides:

"A treaty is void if its conclusion has been procured by the threat or use of force in violation of the principles of international law embodied in the charter of the United Nations."

Various claims point to the fact that the Maharaja was virtually kept under house arrest thereby subjecting him to tremendous psychological pressure. Ultimately, the Maharaja succumbed to the psychological torture, emotional blackmailing, prolonged detention and military threat. It has been revealed that the Government of Assam dispatched a section of the Jat Regiment (regular army) to the Redland bungalow where the Maharaja and his team were holding up. Two tents were pitched inside the Rajpari area within which the bungalow was located.

The Maharaja refused to sign the Merger Agreement without consulting his Council of Ministers and conveyed his desire to return to Manipur to obtain the approval of the people. Rejecting such a reasonable proposal, Nari Rustomji, Advisor to the Governor of Assam suggested that the Maharaja might as well, finalize the merger issue during that current visit only, and further reminded that the Maharaja might not leave Shillong before signing the Agreement.

Then the Governor wrote to the Maharaja that he had received instructions from the Ministry of States that the merger issue must be decided by September 20, 1949 at the latest. To this, the Maharaja replied that eliciting the opinion of the people in whom the sovereignty had been vested, was necessary to render constitutional validity to the proposed line of action.

Realising the futility of his attempt, the Governor sent a telegram to Sardar Patel seeking permission to detain the Maharaja by force at Shillong when the necessity arose. Thereafter, surveillances over the Maharaja got intensified with the CID men swarming the Rajpari area and the strength of the Jat Regiment being increased from one section to two sections. Besides, with all the communication lines remained cut off, the Maharaja was ipso facto under house arrest (Source: The Merger of Manipur by Haobam Bhubon Singh 1988, 109).

On September 19, 1949, the Maharaja wrote to the Governor that he would return home immediately. Replying to this letter, the Governor informed the Maharaja that very strict instructions were received from the Government of India that the negotiation must be completed before the Maharaja would leave Shillong. On September 20, 1949 a meeting to finalise the Merger Agreement was held at the Government House, Shillong.

In what can be described as sheer display of military strength to intimidate the Maharaja, the entire battalion of the Jat Regiment was paraded within the Government House compound. A number of policemen were also scattered all around the area. In order to render maximum psychological impact on the Maharaja, the presence of the Inspector General of Police, Assam in full uniform was ensured.

It can be concluded that the whole events and circumstances leading to signing of the Agreement exhibited the treachery of the worst type. As the Maharaja vacillated, the case was referred to the States Ministry and the matter was placed before Sardar Patel. When the Governor of Assam expressed his apprehension regarding the Maharaja's reluctance to sign the Agreement, Sardar Patel said something like, "Isn't there a Brigadier at Shillong?" Such a casual statement indicates the militaristic approach of the Government of India in tackling any issues relating to Manipur.

The MMA-1949 and the Manipur State Constitution Act, 1947 : Another important point of contestation is that the conclusion of the Merger Agreement violated the Manipur State Constitution Act, 1947. Before the signing of the Merger Agreement, Manipur had already adopted a written constitution of its own and a partially democratic government was already functioning. Under the new constitution and the new government, the Maharaja was a mere constitutional head with the real sovereign authority vested in the popular ministry. It is, therefore, significant to examine the power and status of the Maharaja under the Manipur Constitution Act, 1947.

Under Section 3 of the Manipur State Constitution Act, 1947, all rights, authority and jurisdiction which appertained or were incidental to the government of such territories were exercisable by the Maharaja subject to the provision of this Act. Section 8 of the said Act provided the Maharaja's prerogatives, which could not and should not extend to the legitimate interest of the state administration or a civil right sustainable in a court of law was involved.

The executive authority of the state had been delegated to and vested in the Council of Ministers as per Section 10 of the said Act. Similarly, according to Section 26, the law making authority in the state was vested in the Maharaja in Council in collaboration with the State Assembly. A minute perusal of the above stated provisions would indicate beyond doubt, that the real power was not vested with the Maharaja.

Over and above, Section 9(b) of the Manipur State Constitution Act, 1947 would certainly dispel any doubt about the titular status of the Maharaja, which was expressedly stated thus: "The Maharaja means His Highness, the Maharaja of Manipur, the constitutional head of the state".

(The views expressed here are solely that of the writer)

To be continued..


* Sanatomba Kangujam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is Post Doctoral Fellow, Department of Political Science, Manipur University. He is currently working on "Peace Initiatives and Conflict Transformation in Manipur". He can be reached at sanatombak(at)yahoo(dot)com
This article was posted on October 28, 2013.


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