The Instrument of Accession
- Part 1 -

RK Jhalajit Singh *

By the 'Instrument' of Accession we mean the Instrument of Accession executed by His Highness the Maharajah of Manipur, Bodha Chandra Singh, on the 11th August 1947 acceding the State of Manipur to the Dominion of India. On the eve of the 14th August 1947, India consisted of the British Indian Provinces plus 600 Indian States plus French India plus Portuguese India. No part of India was independent.

The figure of 600 Indian States is the figure given by the Joint Parliamentary Committee i.e. the Joint Committee formed by the British Parliament with some members from the House of Lords and some members from the House of Commons. French India and Portuguese India were small parts of India dependent on France and Portugal respectively. They are integral and inalienable parts of India although they did not get independence when we got independence from Britain.

Before April, 1937

The Crown took over the governance of India under the Government of India Act, 1858. This was just after the suppression of the First War of Independence. From 1858 right upto the 31st March 1937, the Crown placed India depsite its vast area and social complexity under a unitary government called the Government of India.

There were no such things as provincial governments. They were simply called Local Goverments. Section 45(1) of the Government of India Act, 1915 says "Every Local Government shall obey the orders of the Governor General in Council, and keep him constantly and diligently informed'of its proceedings". Local Governments were simply agents of the Government of India.

Before 1919, the 600 Indian States were called Native States ~ a somewhat derogatory name. Out of these 600 States, only Hyderabad, Mysore and Kashmir could have direct relation with the Government of India. The States in the Rajputna Agency and the Central India Agency had the relation with the Government of India through the Resident concerned.

There was one Resident for Rajputana Agency and there was another Resident for Central India Agency. The vast majority of the States were included in British Indian Provinces. Thus for instance, Tripura was a part of Bengal and Manipur was a part of Assam. In those days, Assam had 13 districts. Manipur was one of them.

A settled fact

Our statement that the overwhelming majority of Indian States were parts of the Provinces may sound strange today. Some youths may even disbelieve it. But it is a settled fact of history that during the British Rule, all Indian States barring Hyderabad, Mysore, Kashmir and the handful of States in the Rajputana Agency and the Central India Agency were parts of the British Indian Provinces. How? To illustrate the truth of our statement, let us take the case of one of the Indian States at random say, Manipur.

The British decisively, defeated the Manipuris in the Manipur War, 1891. After this, the fate of Manipur was hanging in the balance. The question before British statesmen was whether Manipur should be annexed outright or should native rule be restored by regranting Manipur.

The matter was debated in a high plane in the House of Lords. Accepting the submissions of two former Viceroys, Lord North Brook and Lord Rippon, the British Government decided to regrant Manipur and restore native rule. A little boy was appointed the new Rajah and when he attained majority at the age of 21, a carefully limited amount of authority was given to him and his Darbar to rule the State while undefined and unlimited power called Paramaouncy and in addition, highest financial and judicial power

were reserved by the British to be exercised by a high British official. The high financial and judicial powers were exercised by the Chief Commissioner of Assam when Assam was a Chief Commissioner's province. When it became Governor's Province they were exercised by the Governor of Assam. When Assam was a part of the Province of Eastern Bengal and Assam, the Lieutenant Governor of Bengal exercised the power of a High Court in relation to Manipur.

Let us be a little more precise. The Manipur State Darbar did not have the power to pass the budget for the State of Manipur, nor could His Highness pass it. The power to pass the budget for the State of Manipur was vested in the Governor of Assam.

Of course the Darbar had the authority to send budget proposals. Manipur States had a Reserve Fund. The Darbar had the authority to deposit money in the Reserve Fund. But the power to withdraw money from it was vested in the Governor of Assam. Neither the Darbar nor His Highness had the power to create posts.

The power to create posts was vested in the Governor of Assam. However, if a post was created by the Governor, the State Authority had the power to fill it. The Governor of Assam had the sole authority to remit taxes in Manipur. If a building costing more than Rs 10,000 (ten thousand) was to be constructed, the State Authority had to take the sanction of the Governor of Assam.

In health care, the principal hospital was Civil Hospital in Imphal. The salaries of the doctors and the clerical staff were paid by the State but the administrative control of the medical and non-medical staff was in the hands of the Governor of Assam.

Next to His Highness, the Manipur State Darbar was the highest executive, legislative and judicial authority in the State. It had the right to be consulted on all matters of importance. Without first consulting the Darbar, His Highness could do nothing. On the other hand, no resolution of the Darbar was operative unless approved by His Highness.

A copy of every resolution of the Darbar had to be sent to the British Political Agent in Manipur for his information. His Highness could veto any resolution of the Darbar. But if he did so, he had to send to the Political Agent the reasons for the veto. The Political Agent sent the reasons to the Governor of Assam, whose decision was final and binding on His Highness and the Darbar.

In judicial matters, the Darbar, like a Sessions Court, could pass death sentences. But a death sentence passed by the Darbar was inoperative unless confirmed by the Governor of Assam.

Thus it will be seen that the Governor of Assam had very important powers in the administration of Manipur. In fact the administration of Manipur was run by the Governor of Assam and His Highness the Maharaj assisted by the Darbar. Lord Curzon while he was the Viceroy of India rightly claimed that the Princes of Native States were his colleagues in the governance of the Indian Empire.

Manipur was very much a part of Assam during the British Rule. The Governor of Assam, in relation to manipur, was called Agent to the crown representative.

What has been said above applied mutatis mutandis to all Indian States except Hyderabad, Mysore, Kashmir and the States in Rajputana Agency and the Central India Agency. They were very much parts of the Provinces in which they were situated. Thus the States of Travancore and Cochin were parts of Madras residency, Baroda was a part of Bombay residency, Mayurbhanj was a part of Orissa and so on.

Chamber of Princes

When the Great War, now called World War I broke out in Europe the whole of India i. e. the British Indian Provinces and the Indian States (called Native States in those days) helped Britain wholeheartedly in her war. Even an economically poor State like Manipur with a small population tried its best to help Britain. Of course, the help

India rendered was not altogether altruistic. She expected that after the war, Britain would give her independence. But Britain was not yet prepared to part with her most precious possession called India, the fairest jewel in the British Crown.

When the war was drawing to a close, Britain honoured Indian Princes. On the 1st January 1918, Lord Chelmsford the then Viceroy conferred on the ruler of Manipur the title of Maharajah as a hereditary distinction. Before this, the ruler was called Rajah. Thenceforth the ruler, Chudachand Singh, and his successors would be called the Maharajah.

After the war, Britain merely gave the Government of India Act 1919 to British India and the Chamber of Princes to Indian States Act., 1919.

A Federation of India?

During World War I, the Secretary of State for India, Mr. Montagu made a very significant policy announcement in the House of Commnos on 20 August 1917. The policy was the progressive realisation of responsible government in India as an integral part of the British Empire. To implement this policy Mr Muntagu came to India and had long discussions with the Viceroy Lord Chelmsford.

They finally prepared a report which came to be known as the Montagu-Chelmsford Report on Indian Constitutional Reforms.This report was made public in 1918.

The proposals in the report were disappointing to nationalist India. We expected Swaraj but the proposals fell far short of Swaraj. At the other end of the spectrum the elite of the British public thought that the proposals went too far and gave too much to Indians. The reaction of the average English bureaucrat in India to the Montagu-Chelmsford Report makes curious reading at this distance of time.

The English bureucrates feared that if the proposals were implemented they would result in inefficiency, corruption and disorder, eventually destroying the administrative system.

In the midst of public reactions some positive and some negative, the British Government decided to implement the Montagu-Chelmsrord scheme. The result was the Government of India Act, 1919. This Act was the constitution of India upto the 31 st March, 1937. The Montagu-Chelmsford scheme clearly mentions the establishment of a Council of Princes with some definite functions.

Only, the Council of Princes contemplated in the scheme was named Chamber of Princes when the Scheme was implemented. We therefore believe that Mr Montagu and Lord Chelmsdord envisaged some sort of federation covering British Indian Provinces and Native Status in some unspecified future.

Events moved very fast in India thanks to the leadership of Gandhiji. He launched two India-wide agitations-the Non-cooperation movement and the Civil Disobedience Movement. Although India is a poor country her people are endowed with a strong common sense. British statesmen also realised this. A federation of India was only a vague possibility in 1919. Towards the beginning of 1930, it became a practicable proposition.

That a federation covering the whole of India should be formed, became a generally accepted proposition as the years passed. Now the only unsettled question was: Should it be compulsory for all the States to join the proposed federation or should it be optional? In the eye of law, the Indian States were not British territory although they were parts of the British Empire as they were under the suzerainty of the British Crown.

So the British Government came round to the view that it should be left to the discretion of the Rulers, called variously the Rajas, Maharajas, the Nawabs etc, whether to join or not to join the federation of India. The discussion now cleared the way for the passing of the Government of India Act, 1935.

To be continued....

RK Jhalajit Singh

* RK Jhalajit wrote this piece originally. This was published in "Manipur Today" - a publication from DIPR, Govt. of Manipur. This article was webcasted on October 12th, 2009.

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