TODAY -

Revisiting the Merger of Manipur
- Part 2 -

Sanatomba Kangujam *

'INSTRUMENT OF ACCESSION' executed on 11-8-47 between Governor-General of India and His Highness the Maharajah of Manipur
'INSTRUMENT OF ACCESSION' executed on 11-8-47 between Governor-General of India and His Highness the Maharajah of Manipur
Courtesy : RK Jhalajit Singh



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

The Maharaja of Manipur was not authorized by his Council of Ministers to enter into such an agreement. In this context, it is pertinent to point out that the Merger Agreement had assumed the character of an international treaty for the simple fact that Manipur was a sovereign independent state before its integration with India.

The Maharaja lacked the capacity to enter into such a transaction and sign the Merger Agreement as he was neither an appointed plenipotentiary nor an authorized delegate of the Manipur Government. The Maharaja, without the concurrence of the State Assembly and without the consent of the Council of Ministers, in which the executive authority of the state was delegated and vested under the Manipur Constitution, did not have the authority to conclude the Merger Agreement.

Another weakness of the Merger Agreement lies in the fact that the king knowingly or unknowingly had signed the agreement on behalf of himself, his heirs and successors only and significantly not on behalf of the people of Manipur or the Popular Ministry. This fact certainly left a room for the people of Manipur to reject or approve of his action, which greatly diminished the binding character of the said Agreement.

The said Agreement was also in the form of a 'personal contract' between the Maharaja and the Government of India and therefore the Agreement does not reflect any imprint of a formal agreement concluded between two states. The agreement does not envisage any provision that defines the kind of relation that Manipur should have with India. It does not specify any concrete political and administrative arrangement on the basis of which the merger was effected.

On the contrary, the agreement envisages only the privileges and entitlement of the Maharaja. The Maharaja also did not negotiate with the Indian authority on any substantive issue but vigorously pressed for enhancing his annual allowances. The Merger Agreement was not an agreement in the true sense of the term; it was rather the most ignominious sell-out in the contemporary history of Manipur. It was also an act of complete capitulation committed under the most treacherous circumstances.

The signing of the Merger Agreement also lacked constitutional endorsement. Before October 15, 1949, Manipur was a sovereign country with a written constitution and a partially democratic government. The Manipur State Constitution Act, 1947, which was already in operation at the time of signing of the Merger Agreement, did not envisage anything that enabled or empowered the king or the government to effect accession to another State.

In other words, there was no provision in the Constitution of Manipur for entering into a Merger Agreement. Therefore, if such an agreement was to be concluded at all with the Indian Dominion, the Constitution of Manipur required to be amended beforehand. Constitutional amendment was never carried out in the case of Manipur as a consequence of which the signing of the Merger Agreement by the Maharaja had been rendered ultra vires.

No Ratification & No Plebiscite : There had been numerous procedural lapses, which the Government of India committed in the process of transacting the Merger Agreement in 1949. One such lapse is that the Manipur Merger Agreement, 1949 was never ratified either by the Indian Parliament or by the Manipur State Assembly within an appropriate timeframe. As per relevant provision of International Law, a treaty without ratification has no binding on the high contracting parties. In his International Law: A Treatise (Volume 1), Oppenheim writes,

Ratification is the term for the final confirmation given by the parties to an international treaty concluded by their representatives and is commonly used to include the exchange of documents embodying that confirmation. Although a treaty is concluded as soon as the mutual consent is manifest from acts of the duly authorized representatives, its binding force is, as a rule, suspended until ratification is given. The function of ratification is therefore; to make the treaty binding; if it is refused, the treaty falls to the ground in consequence (Oppenheim 1905, 903).

In the absence of ratification by both the parties, the Merger Agreement lacked the binding character of a treaty. It was also not approved by the Council of Ministers. As such, integration of Manipur with India on the basis of the said Agreement was devoid of any legal sanction. There was no provision in the merger document that it would become operational once entered even without requiring confirmation by ratification. Failure to ratify the Agreement after the conclusion of the same has rendered it operationally invalid.

Another lapse of the Merger Agreement often cited by those who questioned its validity is that the same has never been subject to a plebiscite. It has been a universally accepted democratic norm to ascertain the will and opinion of the people concerned on issues which have far reaching effect on their political future. A plebiscite is normally held to determine the options regarding whether a people residing in a specific territory want to remain independent or join another country.

Whenever there has been a controversy regarding the question of accession of one state to another such state, the issue can best be settled through the mechanism of a plebiscite, most probably under the supervision of a neutral third party like the United Nations. Likewise, any agreement involving the question of accession could become legally valid only if it has been finally endorsed by the people through a UN supervised plebiscite.

Inspite of this fact, a plebiscite was never held in the case of Manipur on the issue of its merger with the Dominion of India. This constitutes one of the most serious shortcomings inherent in the process of the merger. It is held in various quarters that the integration of Manipur with India was carried out without free and informed consent and prior consultation of the people of Manipur in whom the sovereignty was vested.

The Indian Independence Act, 1947 and the Merger : It is also worthwhile to examine the legality of the various orders issued by the Indian Government in the light of the Indian Independence Act, 1947. As a matter of fact, two orders namely the Manipur (Administration) Order 1949 and the State's Merger (Chief Commisioner's Provinces) Order, 1950 were issued by M.K. Vellodi, Secretary to the Government of India, Ministry of States and C. Gopalachari, the Governor General of India respectively, to consummate the process of integration.

Here, the question is whether M.K. Vellodi had the power to make an order for dissolving the democratically elected Manipur State Assembly notwithstanding the signing of the Merger Agreement. Similarly, could the Governor General of India, C. Gopalachari issue the State's Merger (Chief Commisioner's Provinces) Order, 1950 on January 22, 1950? The moot question is; was the Governor General endowed with the authority to promulgate such an order on the said date?

As per Section 9 of the Indian Independence Act, 1947, it remained the sole prerogative of the Governor General to make any order. Therefore, the Manipur (Administration) Order 1949 which was issued in the name of M.K. Vellodi lacked constitutional sanction. Besides, the State's Merger (Chief Commissioner's Provinces) Order made by the Governor General on January 22, 1950 was also legally invalid as per Section 9(5) of the Indian Independence Act, 1947, which envisaged that no order shall be made by the Governor General under that section after March 31, 1948. Therefore, the order made by the Governor General of India on January 22, 1950 was well beyond the authority guaranteed to him by the Indian Independence Act, 1947.

(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 November 02, 2013.


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