What had happened to Manipur ?
- Part 10 -

Puyam Nongdrei *

The Shillong Accord 1949
The Shillong Accord 1949
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Only the Hydari Agreements of July 1947 were applicable to Manipur on 15th August 1947 as the State could not be acceded to the Dominion of India after the lapse of paramountcy

Options We Couldn't Choose

The letter submitted to Political Agent G.P. Stewart dated 29 June 1947 reflected the position of the some educated leaders in regards to the status of Manipur in relation to India after the lapse of British paramountcy. An excerpt of the letter is given below:
With the grant of Dominion Status and the transfer of power in August next it is now certain that Paramountcy will lapse. For the state this will necessitate choosing between arriving at agreements with the Indian Union and the Government of Assam on the one hand or of maintaining a status of aloofness, by declaring independence.

We have after much consideration come to the conclusion that the second alternative is impracticable and it is our wish that the State should forthwith declare that we join the Constituent Assembly and that steps are being taken to appoint a representative with advisors from the State who must represent both the Hills and the Valley interests.

The first point of the 12-point Hydari Agreement of 1st July 1947 mentions agreement on the nomination of GS Guha as the representative of Manipur to the Constituent Assembly of India. The 11th point was for the introduction of the Manipur State Constitution within a period of one year.

The 2nd July Hydari Agreement has something interesting about the future political status of Manipur. It begins as follows: 'Without prejudice to whatever Agreement or Treaty may in due course be arrived at between the Manipur State and the Union Government and till such time as an agreement or treaty is reached with Union Government after the New State Constitution is introduced His Highness the Maharaja in Council agrees...'.

The line 'till such time as an agreement or treaty is reached with Union Government after the New State Constitution is introduced' points to any new agreement or treaty that could be entered into between Manipur and India after the introduction of the Manipur Constitution. The concerned authorities in Manipur especially the King agreed to introduce the constitution on 1 April 1948 after various protests and pressure from the political parties in the State.

Before introducing the Manipur Constitution in 1948, the king signed the Instrument of Accession and the Standstill Agreement. Was there an agreement between the two parties to negotiate for an agreement or treaty only after the introduction of the Manipur Constitution? If so, the signing of Instrument of Accession and Standstill Agreement were not necessary or uncalled for.

After introducing it, the conterversial Merger Agreement was signed on 21st September 1949. These lines in the 2nd July Hydari Agreement of 1947 were reflective of an ongoing negotiation process between the Dominion of India and Manipur.

However, the Article 7 of the Instrument of Accession did not commit the Ruler of Manipur to acceptance of the Indian Constitution or fetter his discretion to enter into arrangements with the Government of India under any such future constitution. It was to allow Manipur to negotiate for keeping the State Constitution in operation.

Agreement reached between the two parties to appoint a representative to the Constituent Assembly of India and other points of agreement to introduce the Manipur State Constitution at the same time would open few options to Manipur in 1948-49 period. There were most likely three options opened for Manipur after signing the July Agreements and the Instrument and Standstill Agreement on 11 August 1947.

On 29 August 1947, the Constituent Assembly of India set up a constitution drafting committee under the chairmanship of BR Ambedkar to draft the Indian Constitution. Manipur had adopted the State Constitution on 26 July 1947. But some provisions were already introduced under the Rules for Administration of Manipur, 1947 since 1st July 1947.

The Indian Constitution was adopted on 26 November 1949 and the members appended signatures to it on 24 January 1950. It included GS Guha representing Manipur, Tripura and Khasi States. Finally, the Indian Constitution came into force on 26 January 1950. Did GS Guha negotiate with Indian framers to make room for the Manipur Constitution even though the State was to be made part of India? There was nothing that Indian leaders would allow to grant such an arrangement for Manipur. India was for full authority and control in and over Manipur.

Sardar Patel instructed the relevant authorities to finalise the merger of Indian States by September 1949 so that the States were merged before the adoption of the Constitution. As Manipur nominated GS Guha as representative to the Constituent Assembly of India and also the Manipur Constitution was approved by the Indian authority there were three possible options.
1) Making a place for the Manipur State Constitution in the Indian Constitution;
2) Sovereign political status of Manipur by maintaining special relations with India; and
3) Merger of Manipur as part of Indian Union.

The Government of India could have given the first or the second option to Manipur. But it did not happen. Manipur was also not in a position to fight for it. Instead, the State was merged forcibly by extracting a signature of the king of Manipur in Shillong. The destiny of Manipur could be different if any one of the first two options was achieved or provided. Manipur was forced to choose the last option that too by using undemocratic means and in a controversial manner. A cordial relationship between India and Manipur is hard to find now.

An Indian team constituting of the Governor of Assam Sri Prakasa, Joint Secretary to the States Ministry of the Government of India, A.B. Chatterjee and N.K. Rustomji visited Imphal on 22 March 1949. They also discussed the communist movement in Manipur led by Hijam Irabot. The communist operation in Manipur and Hijam Irabot's close ties with the Royal family of Manipur was exploited for aggressive interference in the affairs of Manipur.

King Bodhachandra was suspected of sheltering Hijam Irabot in the palace. Sardar Patel's letter to Jairamdas Doulatram dated 5th June 1950 is worth reading. Even M.K. Priyobrata was not trusted by the Indian agents. These developments in Manipur were further articulated by Assamese leader Gopinath Bordoloi in his letter to Sardar Patel dated 4 May 1949. An excerpt of the letter is as follows:
"...I have not the slightest doubt that the Manipur Government will not be able to do anything substantial to help the Assam Rifles or our forces, if a serious situation arises. It would be dangerous to maintain a weak and vacillating State near our borders and also to give them independence to act as they liked".

New Delhi appointed Rawal Amar Singh as the Dewan. The suspicion on the part of New Delhi of the King and his brother MK Priyobrata having connections with Hijam Irabot was also a major factor. New Delhi was looking for every opportunity to annex Manipur. Indian Government could have strengthened defence and security to check external forces based on the closest relationship on reciprocal basis. Like what the British authority did in 1891, India was waiting for an excuse to take over the State.

The king of Manipur wanted Indian assistance for defence and security to safeguard Manipur in particular and India as a whole by strengthening the eastern frontier. When Burma was facing internal crisis situation because of Karen and communist insurgency just few months after independence in 1948, India Government sent financial and military assistance besides providing diplomatic support to the newly independent country neighbouring Manipur.

India has also done so for Bhutan and many other countries to enhance the defence capabilities of these countries in the name of frienship and for mutual benefits. India did not want any Indian State to go away from the clutches of the British Crown.

Bhutan is lucky because of China factor unlike Sikkim. Even Kashmir is luckier than Manipur because of Pakistan and China factor. Kashmir has a separate Constitution of its own with no equal among the Indian States. How many Indians know that Manipur had a written constitution by 1947?

Respecting Manipur's special status in 1947-49 period and assisting the small State lying between India and Burma was something that the Indian nationalists did not want to ever dream. Lack of external ties, small landlocked territory, small population, poor economy and lack of political awareness favoured the Indian players. The United Nations was not on the hilltop of Koubru. Any complaint to the UN for intervention against the Indian aggression would be meaningless without support from atleast the British authority. Were they there for Kashmir and Hyderabad? Was Manipur's case unique?

Banning of the Krishak Sabha and Praja Sangha by the Interim Council on 21st September 1948 after the 'Pungdongbam Incident' was an important historical event. On 24th September, the Praja Sangha held a Working Committee meeting and requested to withdraw the State Council's ban order. Another meeting of the Krishak Sabha was held on 28 September and made similar request to the King for his intervention.

Petitions were submitted to the King and Chief Ministers for instituting an enquiry committee in connection with the Pungdongbam incident firing and requested for withdrawing the warrant against Irabot and cancel the ban order. The new elected Government of Manipur could neither withdraw the arrest warrant nor cancel the ban order as the Government of India was already in control of the defence and internal security of Manipur.

In this crucial period, the Tomal Congress was spearheading protest movements against the monarch and demanded immediate take-over of the Manipur administration by the Government of India. On the other hand, Tompok Congress demanded for the formation of the Poorvanchal Pradesh by merging Manipur with Tripura, Cachar and the Lushai Hills (present Mizoram). Larger section of the people of Manipur rejected the 'Poorvanchal' proposal and also stood against the Merger of the State to the Dominion of India.

Many elected members of the State Assembly took a resolution against the Poorvanchal proposal on 15th September 1948. An excerpt of the resolution reads as follows:
"...the Manipuri people will never desire to have such an administrative set-up imposed upon them. What the people of Manipur demands is the existence of Manipur State as a component and distinct unit of the Dominion of India with her own special entity and internal administration undisturbed."

The appointment of Rawal Amar Singh as the new Dewan on 16th April 1949 was one of the measures to strengthen the hold of New Delhi over Manipur and clear the road for merger of the State. The secret Memo of Assam Governor Sri Prakasa to King Bodhachandra dated 25th June 1949 stating that the Government of India does not recognise the State Assembly and the State Council was a direct threat to the distinct entity of Manipur with her own constitution.

One should remember few lines from the Royal Proclamation of King Bodhachandra on 18 October 1948. The King of Manipur realised the weak position of Manipur and the viability factor bogged down any aspiration for a better status of Manipur. Ethnic plurality and dirty power struggles in the State were also affecting it. The lines given below have something to say about the King's aspiration for maintaining a separate entity of Manipur under the Constitution of Manipur.

"In the large galaxy of heroes in the imperishable roll of honour, there were and there are now and there will never cease to be, beloved Manipuri names testifying to the fact that out people would rather die unsullied than outlive the disgrace of surrender to any measure that work prejudicial to the preservation of the separate entity of the State, while fostering the good and cordial relations with the Dominion of India. I am confident that the members of the Assembly will please see that this fair record is never breached."

The State Assembly and the Council failed to stop the merger of the State. Instead of a separate entity enjoying larger autonomy or a sovereign status outside India, the State of Manipur is struggling to maintain her territorial integrity. Using the ethnic plurality to maintain the status quo and checking the pro-independence groups is what India has mastered in the last few decades.

See a List of Reference Materials for this article

To be continued ...

* Puyam Nongdrei wrote this article for
The writer can be contacted at khuman_mei(at)yahoo(dot)com
This article was posted on December 14, 2014.

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