What had happened to Manipur ?
- Part 11 -

Puyam Nongdrei *

The Treaty of Chittagong 1762.
The Treaty of Chittagong 1762.
Warning: These images CANNOT be reproduced in any form or size without written permission from the RKCS Gallery

The Last Phase of British Rule

Sir Andrew Gourlay Clow was the Governor of Assam from 4th May 1942 to 24th April 1946. Frederick Chalmers Bourne succeded him as Acting Governor (25th April-3rd September 1946) and then was succeded by Henry Foley Knight as Acting Governor (4th September-23rd December 1946). Sir Andrew Clow held the post again from 24th December to 3rd May 1947.

He was succeded by the first and the last British-appointed Indian Governor Sir Akbar Hydari on 4 May 1947 and continued till 15th August 1947. Hydari continued to hold the post till his death on 28 December 1948 in Manipur. He died in Manipur not long after the newly elected State Assembly was inaugurated on 18 October 1948. His visits in June-July 1947 and December 1948 were important missions.

The demand for constitutional reforms were raised during the reign of King Churachand. After the World War II, Bodhachandra was under strong pressure to introduce some responsible form of government in the State. In this regard, the King sent a memo dated 21st September 1946 to the Political Agent for reforms in the State. Similarly, a letter was submitted to the Political Agent for Christopher Gimson on 30 October 1946 to establish an elected assembly. He sent a copy of the letter to the Chancellor of the Chamber of Princes, the Nawab of Bhopal.

Gimson also welcomed the idea taking into account the political discontent in the State and asked the King to send him a copy of the draft rules for administration of Manipur and assured that he would forward it at once for the order of the Governor of Assam. King submitted the draft rules to the Political Agent on 6th November 1946.

When did the Governor give the approval order for the new rules for administration? Henry Foley Knight (4th September-23rd December 1946) was the Acting Governor of Assam when the draft rules was submitted. He was succeded by Andrew Clow. The new rules for administration came into force on 1st July 1947 when Akbar Hydari was the Governor of Assam. Why did it take so long to introduce the new rules? Who gave the approval order?

The Centre of South Asian Studies Archives at Cambridge University is a great mine for useful information that the interested individuals can visit. The archives has 'Clow Papers' (restricted), Corfield Papers and Governor's Reports,1943-1947. Has anyone from Manipur checked this archives? Conrad Laurence Corfield was the political adviser to Crown's Representative during 1945-47. He went to London to bargain for a better deal in the interests of the Indian States unlike Lord Mountbatten.

Andrew Clow was the Governor of Assam from 4th May 1942 to 3rd May 1947 with two Acting Governors in between him. The Clow papers (though restricted) could open useful materials regarding Manipur's constitutional reforms from late 1946 to 1947. It was on 12 December 1946 that King Bodhachandra issued the Royal Order to constitute a Constitution Making Committee. One can also ask why Clow papers are restricted.

There is no 'Hydari papers' in this archives. But the Governor's Reports, 1943-1947 in the archives can be fully utilised to get something concrete about the British position on the status of Manipur. Did the British authority want to grant a special status to Manipur unlike other Indian States on 15th August 1947?

During that time the 'Rules for the Management of the State of Manipur, 1935' was in force. Under the provisions of the Rule 6 and Rule 9 of this, the Political Agent was to submit the copies and the orders for the Government of Assam's approval orders. The Governor of Assam and the Governor-in-Council exercised powers in relation to Manipur State under the Government of India Act, 1935 as Crown's agent.

The draft rules for administration of Manipur submitted on 6th November 1946 was approved by the Governor of Assam and came into force on 1st July 1947. The Rule number 2 of the 'Rules for the Administration of Manipur, 1947' is as follows:
Subject to the previous of these rules and subject also to such other direction as His Highness may be pleased to sanction hereafter, the Executive Authority of the State shall be exercised by the Manipur State Council, which shall consist of the Chief Minister as President of the Council and six Ministers.

The Rules for Administration of Manipur, 1947 and the Manipur State Constitution Act, 1947 were written in such way to maintain the new political system subjective to each other. The Rule number 2 of the administration rules of 1947 points to the Manipur Constitution Act and the Constitution's Article 10, 13 and 40 are also subjected to the Rules for Administration of Manipur, 1947.

In fact, it was done to maintain the continuity of the administrative system under both the rules for administration and the Manipur Constitution Act, 1947. The king was the Constitutional Head of the State as given in the Article 9 of the Manipur Constitution Act. As a result, the executive power of the State was the Council consisting of the Chief Minister as the President and six other Ministers. This system is similar in both the rules for administration, 1947 and the Manipur Constitution Act, 1947.

The coming into force of the rules on 1st July 1947 brought a change in the constitutional status of Manipur. It was re-affirmed by the 12-point Hydari Agreement of 1st July and 2nd July Hydari Agreement of 1947. It followed the Rule number 28 (ii) of the Rules for Administration of Manipur, 1947. The His Highness in Council was the supreme authority to execute any agreement.

The Governor recognised the State Constitution in the July Agreements of 1947 and acknowledged the new legal-constitutional status of the State. Even the King of Manipur was advised not to do anything against the provisions of the Manipur Constitution as he was a mere Constitutional Head of the State.

Did Akbar Hydari sign the July Agreements without the knowledge of the British Crown's representative-Governor-General Lord Mountbatten? The answer is: No way. The Governor of Assam was the Crown's agent in Assam Province and he was responsible for the protection of the interests of the State and the Ruler under the Government of India Act, 1935.

The Assam Governor exercised the power given to him by or under section 9(2) of the Indian Independence Act, 1947. He could enter into agreement with Manipur on behalf of the Dominion of India before 15th August 1947 as given under section 9 (1) sub-clause (f). The Governor of Assam could by order make the necessary provision to enter into agreement with the State in July 1947 before the lapse of paramountcy.

The Governor of Assam also made an order approving the 'Rules for the Administration of Manipur, 1947' under the provisions of the Rules for the Management of Manipur, 1935. Also, he made necessary provision by order to enter into agreement with Manipur. We have two important orders of the Assam Governor that are clashing.

We can see five major developments as follows:
1) Coming into force of the Rules for Administration of Manipur, 1947 and the King of Manipur as Constitutional Head since 1st July 1947
2) Signing of the July Agreements between the Assam Governor and His Highness in Council of Manipur State
3) Signing of the Instrument of Accession and the Standstill Agreement by king Bodhachandra on 11 August 1947 with no room for the State Council to append signature to the documents
4) Election was held under the Manipur Constitution in June-July 1948 and an elected government was established on 18 October 1948
5) Signing of the Merger Agreement by King Bodhachandra on 21st September 1949 with no ratification by the State Assembly

There was no way the Governor of Assam could enter into agreement without the knowledge of the Governor-General Lord Mountbatten. The July Agreements were executed with the full knowledge of the changed political status of Manipur and the coming lapse of paramountcy. In exercise of the Governor's individual judgment under Government of India Act, 1935 as empowered by the British Crown and the functioning of the Governor-in-Council of Assam in early July 1947 make the agreements legally valid and binding on 15th August 1947.

The Sylhet Referendum was held on 6 and 7 July 1947. Except a small portion of the Barak Valley which is currently the Karimganj district in Assam, the rest of Sylhet which has long historical ties with kings and people of Manipur was integrated with East Bengal to form East Pakistan under the Radcliff Commission. The referendum took place few days after Akbar Hydari signed the 12-point agreement and 2nd July Agreement with Manipur.

If the July Agreements were to be applicable to Manipur, the State Constitution and the External Affairs of Manipur would defend the sovereign (though limited) status of Manipur. If so, there was no need for signing the Instrument of Accession and the Standstill Agreement on 11 August 1947. The two documents could not be legally valid as the King of Manipur was not fully empowered to enter into agreement with India since 1st July 1947.

Neither the Instrument nor the Standstill Agreement has any room for the Manipur State Council to append signature. They were to be executed by the Ruler of the State. The section 6 of the Indian (Provisional Constitution) Order promulgated by Governor-General Lord Mountbatten on 14 August 1947 also did not have room for the Executive Authority of Manipur to append the signature. It was most likely not to be signed as Manipur had already entered into agreement with the Dominion of India on 1st and 2nd July 1947.

The points of July Agreements were not very different from the Instrument and the Standstill Agreement. It could have been designed especially for Manipur under the instruction of the British authority to ensure an independent status of Manipur while maintaining special relations with India after the transfer of power. Relevant documents only can prove this.

Now, there were only three possibilities opened to India and Manipur. The first was to accept the July Agreements only. The second is to abrogate the July Agreements to accede the State like other Indian States by executing the Instrument of Accession. The third option was to make both the July Agreements and Instrument of Accession applicable.

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 22, 2014.

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