What had happened to Manipur ?
- Part 1 -

Puyam Nongdrei *

The Shillong Accord 1949
The Shillong Accord 1949
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The interplay of submissive negotiation, aggressive interference and political favouritism led to the Merger Agreement, 1949

The controversial Merger Agreement signed by king Bodhachandra of Manipur on 21st September 1947 in Shillong has been the subject of debate for a long time. To get a better picture of what had happened, one has to start from the Government of India Act, 1935 which was enacted before the WWII. The subsequent events led to the signing of the Merger Agreement on 21st September 1949 and the official took over on 15 October 1949.

Some of the interesting arguments in this connection have been made long time ago by many scholars such as Waikhom Damodar, R.K. Jhalajit, Lt-Col (Retd.) Haobam Bhubon, Kangujam Sanatomba, Naorem Sanajaoba, John Paratt and Saroj Arambam Paratt and others. Many books and articles have discussed the validity of the agreements from various legal-constitutional viewpoints. The increasing interest is a healthy sign for all those who are working for the collective interests of Manipur and others.

Understanding the politics behind the merger and the conferment of statehood only in 1972 after long bloody movements in the history of Manipur is the deeper current. Mass movement against fake-encounters, voices for development and demand for repealing AFSPA, 1958 are either the surface of this political undercurrent or part of the deeper politics itself according to how one understands the particular movement. Any genuine political movement for the liberation of Manipur will naturally join the political current. Connecting the pre-merger political current and post-merger current is very necessary to see the right picture in a comprehensive manner.

The lack of political consciousness, submissive negotiation on the part of Manipur, aggressive interference of the Indian Dominion, policy of the British Government and other global forces were to be understood to get a clearer view of the subject under study. The politics of viability and imperialistic and colonialist policy favouring the Dominion of India shaped the situation under which Manipur was forced to join the Dominion of India in an undemocratic manner. The inability to do something substantial to change the political leverage in favour of the struggling people has also something to do with the prime political current that connects the pre- and post-merger political currents.

There is no doubt that Manipur lost the prestige and glow of being an Asiatic kingdom after the defeat in the Anglo-Manipur War of 1891. But the decline of Manipur kingdom began in the period of seven years devastation. It could not regain a better position to engage in a symmetrical power relationship with the neighbouring powers after the devastation caused by the Burmese during their occupation.

The rise of Konbaung dynasty in Burma (Myanmar) and the expansion of British Indian empire towards the northeast to check the Burmese and Chinese powers put a blanket on the glow of Manipur power in the Asiatic geo-political landscape. The loss of territory, depopulation, drain of both natural and human resources and most importantly disunity played major roles in the decline of Manipur.

A realisation on the part of Manipur to see the rising powers in its vicinity and its minuscule size compared to the British Indian empire, Burmese empire, French colonial power and Chinese empire was very much demanded by the course of history. A clear line of action to strengthen Manipur's position, consolidation of power, and good diplomacy were the luxuries the then Manipuri leaders could not enjoy in relation to these powers. Instead of that, palace intrigues like in many royal families elsewhere took toll of the shrinking kingdom pushing it down the pit of oblivion.

A new manifestation of the game of throne took place in the post-WW II period which served the Dominion of India in the crucial period. The Manipur State Congress, Praja Shanti party with king's blessings, educated elite class, Hijam Irabot-led communist ideology based organisations were the parties in the game of power struggle in the immediate period before the signing of the Merger Agreement.

We could not forget the games of throne played by Bheigyachandra and Moirang Chief Khelleinungnang Telheiba, Chourjit and Marjit, Surchandra (Pakasana camp) and Kulachandra (Tikendrajit camp) etc in the annals of Manipur kingdom. The cost of disunity in such crucial times is born by one and all in various ways even though some political opportunism of certain section of the society can not be entirely ruled out.

It was a different time and different people. There was no repetition of the April 1891 incident in 1949. Was there any potent nationalist force to act against the forced merger? Why didn't the nationalists and patriots join the armed movement led by Hijam Irabot to form a coalition to challenge the Indian expansion?

The clash of ideology between the educated elite class and communist party of Manipur was vivid. The Manipur State Council banned the Krishak Sabha and Praja Shangha after the Pungdongbam incident. Why didn't the Council constitute an inquiry committee to study the controversial death of the police officer on 21st September 1948?

The period from 21st September 1948 to 21st September 1949 was exploited by the Indian Dominion in the name of controlling the communist insurgency in a strategic border area. Was there any Indian hand in the act of outlawing the two communist-oriented organisations on 21st September 1948? Or, was it because of power-cum-ideological struggle in the yet-to-be born State Assembly? Did the police action in Hyderabad had anything to do with the step? Only substantial records and documents can say something concrete.

This article is not the last one to be written on the subject but it will try to give a thorough analysis of the political circumstances under which Manipur became a part of India in 1949 despite public resolutions against the merger. It is a humble attempt to understand what had happened during this period that has almost everything to do with the present situation of Manipur in the 21st century.

What is important was not just the act of signing the Merger Agreement but the politics that led to the signing of the Agreement. One cannot do anything without a thorough study of the following Acts, documents, memorandums and agreements. Some of these are:

1) The Government of India Act, 1935;
2) The Memorandum on States' Treaties and Paramountcy presented by the Cabinet Mission on 12th May 1946;
3) the letter to Political Agent, G.P. Stewart dated 29th June 1947 signed by MK Priyabrata on behalf of the Manipuri members of the State Darbar;
4) the (secret) Memorandum to Assam Governor signed by king of Manipur and Manipuri members of the State Darbar on 1st July 1947;
5) the (secret) Memorandum to Assam Governor signed by king, Manipuri Darbar members and F.F. Pearson on 2nd July 1947;
6) the Instrument of Accession, 1947;
7) the Standstill Agreement, 1947;
8) the Indian Independence Act, 1947;
9) the Merger Agreement, 1949;
10) the Extra-Provincial/Foreign Jurisdiction Act, 1947;
11) the Manipur State Constitution Act, 1947;
12) the Manipur State Courts Act, 1947;
13) the Manipur State Hill Peoples (Administration) Regulation, 1947;
14) Proclamation of His Highness Maharaja Bodhachandra Singh on 18 October 1948;
15) the Manipur State Administration Rules and others.

Pre-WW II Political Situation

The Government of India Act, 1935 was an important Act in terms of constitutional development in British India. Under the Act, the Princely States were free to join or not join the proposed Federation. An Instrument of Accession was to be signed for joining the Federation by the rulers mentioning the extent of authority and power to be surrendered to the Federal Government. The nomination of the States' representatives was to be done by the rulers. The nomination of GS Guha in 1947 after the signing of the Instrument of Accession and Standstill Agreement by king Bodhachandra was in line with this clause.

With the enactment of the Act, Viceroy Lord Linlithgow tirelessly tried to get enough of the Princes to accede to launch the Federation but the Princes rejected the it en masse. In September 1939, Linlithgow declared that India was at war with Germany and as a result, the federal system envisaged in 1935 was not implemented.

Maharaja Churachand did not take part in the third session of the Nikhil Manipuri Hindu Mahasabha (NMHM) held on 2nd and 3rd March 1937 in Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma) because of his visit to Delhi to attend the Chamber of Princes held in March 1937. The king of Manipur attended the Chamber of Princes and the clauses of the Government of India Act, 1935 with special focus on the formation of a Federation were discussed.

Not long after the enactment of the Act, a Memorandum was submitted by R.K. Shitaljit Singh and L. Jogeshwor Singh on 24 November 1938 to the Maharaja requesting for a Legislative Council in the State and other reforms. Similar representation was made by 356 leading citizens of Manipur in the same month for establishing a Legislative Council.

A radical change took place in the NMHM in its fourth annual session at Chinga. A Memorandum in connection with the Legislative Council and other administrative changes was submitted to the king on 2nd November 1939 by the Mahasabha. However, the intended changes to be made in relation to the administration of the State was disrupted by the outbreak of the World War II.

A landlocked State like Manipur had to bear the burnt of the World War II and as a result of the State's services provided during the war, the annual tribute of Rs. 50,000 was exempted from further payment. In remembrance of the happiest moment of receiving the telegram report from George RI (Rex Imperator) on 8th October 1945, the State observed the day as state holiday for a long time. According to a Sanad of 1918, king Churachand was given the title of Maharaja in lieu of Raja for the services rendered during the WW I. Since 1907, Churachand was reigning as Raja of Manipur until it was upgraded to the title of Maharaja in 1918.

Interestingly, Manipur had to pay annual tribute to the British Government according to the Sanad of the Governor-General in Council of 1891. This tribute amounting Rs. 50,000 had to be given till the end of the WW II for defending the sovereignty of Manipur in April 1891. The position of Manipur after the 1891 war was in violation of the treaties signed between the two entities. Victorious power wrote the history in favour of itself and Manipur was made to suffer for British interference. The carrot of exempting the annual tribute was something worth celebrating for a poor princely State like Manipur.

Both Burma and the British Indian Government wanted to eliminate able princes and leaders from Manipur. It was further followed by economic subjugation to keep the people impoverished. Looting of the kingdom of all valuables, natural resources, skilled artisans and policy of depopulation was an act of subduing the kingdom of Manipur by the Burmese court.

Besides other economic exploitation in the State, the annual tribute was something that kept Manipur subjugated not only economically but also in various fields during the British rule. The Burmese court was strongly against the installation of Gambhir Singh as the king of Manipur after the first Anglo-Burmese War (1824-1826). It is not right to cover one of the principal war Manipur kingdom fought against the Burmese under the garb of colonial history writing. The Manipur Liberation War against the Burmese occupation was followed by another war of historic importance for Manipur- the Anglo-Manipur War of 1891.

Like the Burmese court, the British authority in India wanted to remove Tikendrajit alias Koireng Singh, the ablest prince of the Manipur royal family. Able leaders or princes are roadblocks to subordination of the rival power in all ages irrespective of race, culture and place of occurrence. Friendships between Frank Grimwood and Tikendrajit Singh (while in Manipur) and between Bodhachandra Singh and Sri Prakasa (in Benares) were fried in the oil of national interests.

In the late 19th century, Tikendrajit Singh's presence in Manipur was a threat to British interest in Manipur and beyond. The fratricidal fightings were regular games in the history of monarchy. But Tikendrajit's place in the history of Anglo-Manipur relationship had something to do with British geo-political interests in Asia by subordinating small but friendly kingdom of Manipur for all time to serve their interests. Victorian period in the history of Great Britain was known as the land with no sun set marking greatest colonial expansion.

Another significant character had to be sacrificed in the 20th century when Manipur was badly in need of great sons and daughters to sail Manipur towards the destination of progress and prosperity. When the merger of Manipur was a hot issue in the political life of Manipur, Hijam Irabot had to become an underground leader of the Communist Party of Manipur.

Who was responsible for this move on 21st September 1948 is something we need to know clearly on the basis of records. It will be wrong for me to make a wild guess or speculate based on the circumstances leading to the incident (I'll try to find out). Those who tried to fish in the troubled water of 1948-49 got drowned with the Shillong shipwreck in September 1949.

By any measure Hijam Irabot was a visionary leader with qualities enough to direct the course of Manipur's political history. His ideology was made a roadblock in the eyes of many educated elites and royalists. A culture of resistance worth the name was missing. Hijam Irabot went underground and fought for the people of Manipur against exploiters in the society of his time and he criticised the fascist policy of the Indian government. The armed communist movement under his leadership was a potent political force until his death and the movement was crushed by the Chief Commissioner-led administration under the direct control of New Delhi.

On the other hand, King Bodhachandra spent his last days worshipping Shiva Mahadev on the hilltop and foothill of Nongmaiching/Langmaiching and died a miserable death in a thatched hut near the Shri Govindajee Temple on 9th December 1955. The democratic protests, State Assembly resolution(s), public resolutions and resistance writings in the press and journals, however, fill the gap upto some extent.

Disarming of the Manipuri population after the Anglo-Manipur War, westward looking attitude of the educated elites influenced by hinduised world view, political opportunism, power struggle and ideological divide delayed any strong resistance movement. The Dominion of India appealed to some of the educated elites of the State and the political opportunism of the State Congress became the centre of public criticism till date.

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 October 09, 2014.

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