What had happened to Manipur ?
- Part 4 -

Puyam Nongdrei *

On the way to Jila Durbar.
On the way to Jila Durbar.
Warning: These images CANNOT be reproduced in any form or size without written permission from the RKCS Gallery

What Manipur lost to Queen Victoria in 1891 could not be regained from King George VI in 1947

After the Last Chamber of Princes

In the last Chamber of Princes held in July 1947, the princely States (or Indian States) were given the copies of the Instrument of Accession and the Standstill Agreement for the necessary procedures of accession to the two Dominions. A few of these States did not sign these till they were defeated and were coerced to sign. Some of the major States such as Hyderabad and Kashmir made every attempt to use the 'escape hatch' delivered to them by Sir Conrad Corfield after his secret visit to London.

Manipur King Bodhachandra signed the two documents on 11 August 1947 and sent them on 13th August from Imphal after much delay. Some scholars have questioned the legal validity of these documents signed before the independent Dominion of India was established on 15th August 1947 under the provision of the Indian Independence Act, 1947 (hereafter Independence Act).

The princely States were under the paramount power of the British Crown unlike British India. Under this paramountcy, the external affairs of the States were not in the hands of the Rulers of the States. Therefore, the King of Manipur had no treaty-making power with foreign entities. The limited power exercised by the King was within the State.

The Manipur State Darbar which was established in 1907 during the reign of King Churachand was dissolved on 30 June 1947. It was constituted/renamed as the Manipur State Council on 1 July 1947. According to the proclamation of Bodhachandra on 18th October 1948, he was a Constitutional Head of the State since 1 July 1947. Meanwhile, an Interim Council was constituted on 14 August 1947 just before the Independence Act came into force.

After becoming the Constitutional Head of the State since 1st July 1947, King Bodhachandra signed the Instrument of Accession and Standstill Agreement on 11 August of the same year. Was there any resolution against the king exercising his power to sign the two documents? Some sources mention about a resolution taken against the King's signing of the documents without the approval of the State Council. But the authenticity of the document is not confirmed.

The Instrument of Accession and Standstill Agreement had no provision to accommodate the legal-constitutional implications of such changes in Manipur. It only sought for the execution of the Instrument and the Standstill Agreement by the Ruler of the State. The King of Manipur was not forced to sign those documents like in the case of the Merger Agreement in September 1949.

The Instrument of Accession and the Standstill Agreement

The Instrument of Accession states clearly that there would be an independent Dominion of India from 15th August 1947 as provided by the Independence Act, 1947. Here the Instrument is talking about a futuristic event that would take place on 15th August 1947. With this, the Governor-General of India could issue order to specify the 'omissions, additions, adaptations and modification' to the Government of India Act, 1935 to be applicable to the independent Dominion of India.

The Government of India Act, 1935 (hereafter Act of 1935) had an All-India Federation scheme which could not materialised because of rejection by the parties including the princely States. But the same was to be adapteded and modified to suit the new developments as to be specified by the Governor-General on 15th August 1947.

The adapted version of the Act of 1935 creates space for the princely States to accede to the Dominion of India by an Instrument of Accession. In this regard, the India (Provisional Constitution) Order, 1947 was promulgated by the Governor-General on 14 August 1947 to bring into operation the Act of 1935 with necessary omissions, additions, adaptations and modification.

There was no place for any other authority to append signature except the Ruler of Manipur in the Instrument of Accession. Was there any other arrangement for a State like Manipur where the Ruler/King had already become a constitutional head? This has to be raised within the confines of the British Crown. In the Instrument, the birth of an independent Dominion of India on 15th August 1947, accession of States by virtue of an Instrument, adaptation of the Act of 1935, authority of the Governor-General to make necessary changes to the Act of 1935 are thus clearly stated.

King Bodhachandra executed the Instrument of Accession by exercising his 'sovereignty in and over the State of Manipur'. With this, the Governor-General of India, the Dominion Legislature, the Federal Court and any other Dominion authority established for the purposes of the Dominion shall, by virtue of this Instrument of Accession but subject always to the terms thereof, and for the purposes only of the Dominion, exercise in relation to the State of Manipur such functions as may be vested in them by or under the Act of 1935, as in force in the Dominion of India on the 15th day of August 1947.

There are reservations in the Article 1 of the Instrument. The Governor-General of India and other Dominion authorities would be able to exercise such functions only as may be vested in them by or under the Act of 1935 as in force on 15 August 1947 in relation to Manipur. But these functions are to be subjected to the terms of the Instrument and should be for the purposes only of the Dominion. The other changes brought by amendments had to be in accordance to the terms of the said Instrument or will have effect only after a suplementary Instrument is executed by the Ruler.

No Dominion authority had the power and authority to do anything against or beyond the terms agreed upon by the two parties in the Instrument. Any such act would be taken as alteration of the terms of the Instrument through amendment. We have to read this together with the Article 5 of the Instrument which provides further reservations on the Instrument.

It means the terms of the Instrument should not be varied by the amendments to the Act of 1935 and the Independence Act of 1947 after 15 August 1947. If there was any amendment to the one of the two Acts or both were amended by the Dominion authority and the Governor-General of India in the course of establishing a functional and independent Dominion of India, a supplementary Instrument was mandatory in addition to this Instrument signed on 11 August 1947.

Section 9 (1) (c) and section 8 (2) of the Independence Act of 1947 provided power and authority for the Governor-General to amend the Act of 1935. Section 8 of the Independence Act provided powers, and authority to both the Governor-General and the Constituent Assembly (acting as the Dominion Legislature) to bring the Government of India Act, 1935 into operation and make laws for the Dominion. Moreover, section 6 (2) of the Indian Independence Act empowered the Dominion Legislature to repeal and amend the Independence Act.

We can not understand the legality or illegality of the Instrument and the Standstill Agreement without proper knowledge of the powers and authority of the Governor-General as provided in the Independence Act and other provisions of this Act. Ascertaining any alteration to the terms of the Instrument can be useful but not necessary. It has to be found in the legal invalidity and inapplicability of the Instrument of Accession. So far, we have not come across any supplementary Instrument executed by the then King other than the controversial Merger Agreement.

Article 2 of the Instrument also talks about reservation regarding the functions to be exercised by the Dominion authorities and the Governor-General. It is said that due effect is given to the provisions of the adapted and modified Act of 1935 within Manipur so far as they are applicable therein by virtue of the Instrument of Accession. Any change and adaptation to the Act of 1935 will not be applicable to Manipur State except wherever applicable. Therefore, any other provision of the Act of 1935 not applicable to Manipur would become extraneous and in variance with the terms of the Instrument.

Because of these limitations, any order, ordinance and Act, enacted or enforced on or after 15 August 1947 by the Governor-General and other Dominion authority during the period from 15 August 1947 to 15 October 1949 would have to be applicable to Manipur. By exercising the 9th schedule of the Act of 1935, the Governor-General promulgated an ordinance called 'Extra-Provincial Jurisdiction Ordinance' on 27 August 1947.

But it did not apply to Manipur and the power conferred by the Extra-Provincial Jurisdiction Act, 1947 (later on Foreign Jursidiction Act, 1947) which came into force on 24 December 1947 was exercised only after the extraction of the Merger Agreement on 21st September 1949. If the Instrument of Accession and the Extra-Provincial Jurisdiction Act, 1947 were legally valid and applicable, the powers conferred by them could have been exercised to control Manipur in 1947 itself. However, the establishment of Dominion Agency in Manipur was under section 9 (1) (g) of the Independence Act of 1947.

Article 6 of the Instrument reserved the land acquisition right of the Dominion of India in Manipur. Again, Article 7 has clearly stated that the King of Manipur did not commit to acceptance of any future Constitution of India or fetter his discretion to enter into arrangements under any such future constitution. Here, the appointment of G.S. Guha as the representative of Manipur to the Constituent Assembly of India in August 1947 is interesting. Could King Bodhachandra reject the Indian Constitution in 1949 after sending GS Guha to the Constituent Assembly under this Article?

G.S. Guha wrote a letter to Assam Governor Adviser, G.E.D. Walker on 25th August 1947 that is as follows:

I have been informed by the States Department, Government of India that His Highness the Maharaja of Manipur has signed the Instrument of Accession and Standstill Agreement like the other States which have joined the Union of India. What other agreement has been reached by His Excellency the Governor with His Highness the Maharaja?

The interrogative sentence in this letter has something to do with political and legal-constitutional status of Manipur. Furthermore, the Manipur State Constitution Act, 1947 is something which they can not easily ignore at this point of time. We have many questions to be answered about the failure of the Indian Constituent Assembly to make any linkage point between Manipur Constitution and the draft of the Indian Consitution in the making. That could have been part of a mutually respectful negotiation between the two entities after the transfer of power. That remained a dream for those Manipuris who thought of a rightful place for the State in the new political landscape.

In relation to the Article 7 of the Instrument, there are some interesting questions that have remained unanswered for quite a long time. It is written clearly that the Manipur State Constitution was adopted on 26 July 1947 even though the democratic election was held in June-July 1948. What did the King of Manipur say about the future constitutional position of Manipur State while negotiating with the Dominion authority? What was the position of the Manipur State Interim Council on this? Did G.S. Guha raise this point in the Constituent Assembly of India, by chance?

The Article 8 establishes the truth that the King had his sovereignty in and over Manipur. Was his sovereignty in any way get affected by the signing of the Instrument? In fact, by virtue of the Instrument, he lost some powers as described in the words, 'save as provided by or under this Instrument'. He had conceded some powers to the Dominion of India but other powers and authority and rights including the validity of any law in force at that time in the State remained unaffected. Did he really concede any power to the Dominion of India?

The Standstill Agreement was signed between Manipur and the Dominion of India to maintain the status quo of 'existing agreements and administrative arrangements in the matters of common concern' that existed between the British Crown and Manipur for the benefit and advantage of the two parties on and after 15 August 1947.

The clause 1 of the agreement says that such agreements and arrangements should continue 'in so far as may be appropriate' between the Dominion and Manipur 'until new agreements in this behalf are made'. These reservations were important indications of limited concession given by the King of Manipur thereby retaining enough negotiating space in relation to the Dominion of India, assuming that it was legally valid.

Clause 2 is just about dispute settlement in case of any such problem arising out of the Agreement. But clause 3 says something very significant. It reads: 'Nothing in this Agreement includes the exercise of any paramountcy functions'. The Indian Independence Bill was passed on 15 July 1947 by the House of Commons and got the Royal Assent on 18 July 1947. However, the Act came into force on 15th August 1947 and the two independent Dominions of India and Pakistan were set up. What about the princely States/Indian States?

Section 7 (1) (b) and (c) of the Indian Independence Act, 1947 declared the end of the British Crown's suzerainty over the Indian States including Manipur. The proviso of the section 7 also talks about the continuance of 'any such agreement as is therein referred to which relate to customs, transit and communications, post and telegraphs, or other like matters, until the provisions in question are denounced by the Ruler of the Indian States or person having authority in the tribal areas on the one hand, or by the Dominion or Province or other part thereof concerned on the other hand, or are superseded by subsequent agreements'.

This proviso was an incorporation of the Standstill Agreement in view of administrative convenience and mutual benefit in continuing the said provisions of the agreements. But paramountcy as given the clause 3 of the Agreement prepared by the Political Department led by Sir Conrad Corfield was not to be affected at any cost. The proviso has no place for replacing the Crown by the Dominion of India as successor state to exercise the power in control of defence and foreign affairs of the States including Manipur. Any incorporation of these subjects in the Section 7 will be in violation of the lapse of paramountcy as executed by the British parliament and the Crown. This will be minutely discussed in the next section of the article.

Did King Bodhachandra denounce those provisions? Or, Were they superseded by subsequent agreements? One has to bring in the Instrument of Accession, the Standstill Agreement and the Merger Agreement in addition to the Independence Act of 1947 to see this clearly. These agreements if not denoucned earlier by the King of Manipur got superseded with the signing of the Merger Agreement as he conceded full power and authority to the Dominion Authority though controversially in September 1949.

The take over of Manipur was thus effected fully with the controversial Agreement. Thus Manipur was denied of any meaningful negotiating space by detaining the King. Anyone expecting a respectable place for Manipur in relation to India has to note this political blunder committed in the best interests of Manipur and the Dominion of India as stated in the Merger Agreement.

Section 9 (1) states that 'the Governor-General shall by order make such provision as appears to him to be necessary or expedient-(f) for enabling agreements to be entered into, and other acts done, on behalf of either of the new Dominions before the appointed day (i.e., 15 August 1947)'. What is the meaning of the the section 9 (1) (f) of the Indian Independence Act, 1947? Was the Governor-General empowered to sign the Instrument of Accession and the Standstill Agreement before 15 August 1947? It seems so.

Some are of the view that the two documents signed with the pre-independent Dominion of India were legally invalid. If it was authorised by the Crown to do so before 15th August 1947, one has to conclude that the Rulers signed the documents under the authority and power sanctioned by the British Crown.

Under section 19 (2) of the Independence Act of 1947, whatever order to made or other act done before the appointed day i.e., 15th August 1947, shall be construed as references to the Governor-General of India within the meaning of the Act of 1935. The Governor-General in Council as in the Act of 1935 has special responsibilities and power of individual judgement which includes protecting the rights of the Indian States and Princes to be exercised in the name of ensuring fair and good administration.

The Independence Act of 1947 with Royal Assent on 18 July 1947 empowered the Governor-General of India to exercise his power and responsibilitie as an agent of the British Crown to enter into agreement with the Rulers before 15th August 1947 as given in and under section 9 (1) (f) of the Independence Act of 1947. Defence and External Affairs were under the control of the Paramount Power i.e., the British Crown.

The Independence Act legally validated what Lord Mountbatten did as representative of the Crown on behalf of the Indian Dominion before the establishment of the independent Dominion of India. But it does not ensure the legal validity and applicability of the provisions of the Instrument and Standstill Agreement. The detail will be explained in the subsequent paragraphs.

If the Instrument of Accession and Standstill Agreements signed with hundreds of princely States were to be legally invalid, there was no point of doing it before the appointed day. The Congress leaders of India wanted to do anything possible to ensure the integration of the States. What did they get in return of the lobby? What did Sir Conrad Corfield has to say on that? It has to be understood that the British parliament and King George VI could authorise the concerned authorities to enter into such agreements before 15th August 1947.

Anyone who has gone through the book "The Story of the Integration of the Indian States" authored by V.P. Menon will conclude that the proviso of the section 7 (1) of the Independence Act of 1947 was a well-crafted political trap which was fully exploited by the Dominion of India to integrate the States.

The press conference held on 5 July 1947 to discuss the provisions of the Independence Bill is a very important moment in the history of the Indian States. Answering a question on agreements between the States and the Government of India on matters of common concern, Sardar Patel, who presided the conference said: 'whoever denounces such agreements takes the responsibility for the consequences.'

Did the King of Manipur had the power to denounce those agreements? The 'consequences' had the political traps to dilute any act of the Ruler to assert Manipur's independence on and after 15 August 1947. This proviso was the 'entry hetch' created by the Independence Act to make way for the Dominions to assert their claims to the States. In fact, there was no way paramountcy power could have been tranferred to the Dominion of India in violation of the 'express provision' of the Independence Act, 1947.

The lapse of paramountcy took place on 15th August 1947 and Manipur severed all ties with the British Crown. As the Standstill Agreement did not transfer the paramountcy power to neither Manipur nor the Dominion of India, it was retained till the appointed day. So the agreement was entered into to let the Dominion retain the agreements and administrative arrangements that were appropriate leaving untouched the paramountcy functions.

If the Independence Act of 1947 is not a crafty work of some legal experts, the Act is nothing but political favouritism of the British Crown and His Majesty's Government towards the two independent Dominions. However, it can be read as manifestation of both. The explaination lay in the motives of the authors of the Independence Act, 1947. The contributions of Louis Mountbatten, Conrad Corfield, Nehru, Sardar Patel and V.P. Menon were made obviously part of the Act. A total severing of the ties between the Dominion of India and the States was what they did not like the most. It paid well.

During the period from 15 August 1947 to 15 October 1949, the 'viability factor' and 'lack of political consciousness' clouded many in the political class from seeing the real political picture of Manipur. Lack of legal-constitutional expertise and political opportunism of the some section of the educated people were fully supportive to the designs of New Delhi. But the Manipur State Legislative Assembly resolution dated 28 September 1949 was an act of asserting the sovereign political status of Manipur (if the authenticity of the document is established).

The presence of the Foreign Minister Arambam Ibungotomcha has something to say about the legal validity and binding nature of the Instrument of Accession with reference to the subject of 'external affairs'. In addition, the Manipur entry-exit permit system abolished on 18 November 1950 by Chief Commissioner Himmat Singh also suppported the political status of Manipur which was taken over by the Dominion of Indian on 15 October 1949. Those who took over Manipur in October 1949 were aliens/foreigners according to the permit system issued by the Foreigner's Department.

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 22, 2014.

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