Story of Manipur from Independence to Merger
The dream remains a dream
- Part 2 -

Shantikumar Moirangthem *

True, every great dream begins with a dreamer. And there were dreamers galore on the eve of the merger with Manipur - the students who found themselves entrapped in a timeless contradiction between what they learned and what they experienced in the feudal Manipur; the civil society who were burdened by the obscurantism of the pseudo-monarchy; and the peasantry whose marginal agrarian economy had been exploited by the colonial greed.

Like any other citizen who had borne the burden of autocracy and gone through the horror of a world war, the people of Manipur dreamed of a state with freedom and democracy. They admired their neighbourly freedom fighters of India so emotionally that each one of them had become an icon in Manipur. It is no wonder that when the bell was tolled for freedom in India, there was a parallel movement in Manipur - for freedom from the autocracy of the king and a cry for peoples' government.

Leaders like Jayaprakash Narayan and Dr Ram Mohohar Lohia were in the loop when political agitations for a representative government were in progress in Manipur. In 1955, Dr Ram Monohar Lohia came to Imphal and was arrested on 11-4-1955 while delivering speech at Tikendrajit Park for violating prohibition under Sec.144 CRPC.

The students of Manipur were deeply influenced by the role taken by their counterparts in India's freedom movement. In 1946, on the eve of independence, Manipur had a total number of 178 schools including 4 high schools of Johnstone School, C.C. School, Tombisana School and Tamphasana School. The total number of school going students in the state were 20,000 including 2322 High School students.

Thus, there were a sizeable number of students sufficient to create an impact if involved in Manipur politics. Involve - they did actively, during the crucial period up to 1949 and went beyond. The entire community of students were covered under the single banner of All Manipur Students' Federation.

A conference was organised on 30th October,1946 at CC High School which highlighted the demands of the Federation: Establishment of responsible government in Manipur; Combined administration of the hill and plain; Human rights and other student related developments. The projected objective of the Federation was to work for the "Unity of students, community of Meiteis, Muslims and … the hills" which are still true and relevant.

The students gathered at the residence of Oja Thokchom Modhu Singh for the next annual meeting of the Federation where a lot of cultural and literary activities in addition to discussion on the political issues were organised. Some of the leading participants were Saarvasri H. Ranbir, Chandrakumar Sharma, Bhagabat, L.Achou, Manihar, N. Tombi, R.K. Maipaksana, Naorem Birendra Kumar, N. Jugindro, L. Joychandra and among the ladies - M.K. Binodini, Pramodini and Tamubi were prominent. After some time, the Congress and Socialists have separated from the organisation and the Federation was left to the Communists.

The wartime generation of the state was the pioneer of modern Manipur. They were dedicated, brilliant and above all unquestionably patriotic. Their ideas and concepts moulded the matrix of our future society. Their virtues created our assets; and the mistakes our liabilities. They were born and brought up in the colonial period, initiated in western education and inspired by the post war idealism: they grew up with a dream to reform their ignorant society with a vengeance.

The exposure to various academic circles outside the state in places like Calcutta, Dhaka, Syllet, Shillong and Gauhati gave them opportunity to imbibe and assimilate new ideas. It is rare in one's lifetime to encounter and pass-through such a multiplicity of growth stages of a particular society or state as they did in Manipur. Here, the pioneers not only passed through but also joined the struggle at every phase of the state's metamorphosis.

My father, late Shri Moirangthem Gojendra, who belonged to this generation, was born during the height of the Colonial rule in Manipur - 1922 to be exact. He joined a primary school wearing a traditional Dhoti and learned Bengali lessons by rote. His political status was that of a "Native" living in a "Regency State".

While studying B.A. in D.M College - after independence on 15th August, 1947 - he became a free citizen of a sovereign state. Then in October 15, 1949 after merger, he became an Indian citizen. He returned back from Calcutta University in 1952 as an M.A.LL.B dressed like a Bengali Babu in pants and shirts with a pair of gleaming oxford shoes and a beaming pride that his generation had accomplished what they wanted to be - a proud citizen of a democratic country.

But it was not to be - before he died in 1992 he saw the frustration and disillusionment of the teeming younger generation in Manipur who had lost their pride and had a crisis of identity. I overheard him murmuring to Dr Noren who was attending him on bed - "Doctor, as you are passed out from Calcutta –you might have seen the beauty of Calcutta and the pride of the Bengalis."

He was being nostalgic of the Bengali intellectual society of the 50s in Calcutta which was nationalistic to the core and idealistic in their approach to the society - a dream of the pre-merger Manipuri youth which they thought could replicate in Manipur.

After the coronation of Churachand Maharajah in 1907, the administration was divided into Hills and Plain. Mark it –the divide had started. Maharajah ruled the plain with the help of his Durbar and the Hills were the jurisdiction of the President of Manipur State Durbar (usually an ICS officer); but the real power was with the British dominion as "each and every rule or law had to be approved by the Governor of Assam."

Manipur again regained her independence in 1947 as the British dominion lapsed. But it was an independence with a difference. Manipur had already signed the Standstill Agreement and the Instrument of Accession on 11 August 1947, just four days before the independence, whereby Manipur retained internal sovereignty but agreed to hand over, the subjects of common concern including Defence, Foreign Affairs and Communication, to the new state of India.

Completely oblivious to the scheme of things being planned in Delhi, a democratic constitution for Manipur had already been drafted on the model of the British constitution. The drafting committee, with M.K. Priyobrata and J.F. Pearson, the PMSD in the lead, was assigned to finalise the constitution before the Independence Day. However, the date line could not be met and hence, an Interim Council was set up to function on the eve of the Independence Day from 14th August, 1947.

It lasted up to 7th October, 1948. As Controversy arose over the nomination of constituent members of Interim Council, the Congress Party of Manipur was split into two rival camps of Tompok Congress and Tomal Congress.

Tompok Congress started an agitation on 19 August 1947, under the leadership of Elangbam Tompok and R.K Maipaksana, with several demands: the dissolution of the Interim Government and its reconstitution based on election; finalisation of the constitution drafting process; suspension of the "pass system" which restricted the entry of outsiders into Manipur and last but not the least - "the Indian flag and the wearing of the Gandhi cap should be allowed in the temple of the palace, which had been disallowed even after the Manipur State had joined the Indian union."

To be continued...

* Shantikumar Moirangthem wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is a retd IPS
This article was first published on 11 Oct 2018 in the Souvenir, 94th Birth Anniversary of RK Maipaksana
This article was posted on 08 November, 2018 .

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