What had happened to Manipur ?
- Part 7 -

Puyam Nongdrei *

Kabo (Kabaw) Valley as seen from Imphal-Moreh Highway in August 2014
Kabo (Kabaw) Valley as seen from Imphal-Moreh Highway in August 2014 :: Picture - WT

An economically and militarily weak Manipur having no external contact was the product of the 56-year long period under the British Paramountcy

Special Relationship with India

The Memorandum on States' Treaties and Paramountcy presented on 12 May 1946 has many important points in regards to the relationship between the Crown and the Indian States and the Dominion Governments of India and Pakistan. The withdrawal of the British paramountcy had to be filled 'either by the States entering into a federal relationship with the successor Government or Governments in British India (read two independent Dominions), or failing this, entering into particular political arrangements with it or them.

The viability factor, Burmese threat perception, lack of political consciousness, aggressive interference of the Dominion of India, submissive negotiation of Manipur, China factor and Kabo Valley settlement were important forces acting upon Manipur during this period. In the book "Shillong 1949", the author has properly stated that the viability of Manipur State to be an independent country was very less. But it does not mean that Manipur had to be integrated to India on this ground.

The unique case of Manipur State having a written constitution of her own before India has to be noted here. Constitution of the State was the supreme law. It had some colonial fetters but the same could have been easily amended to adapt to the new development. There could be special arrangements with the Dominion of India as stated in the Cabinet Mission Plan.

The Instrument of Accession was the brainchild of India to integrate the States after the lapse of paramountcy. But the Standstill Agreement was the product of the Political Department to make sure that the necessary arramgements and agreements on common concern remained intact to avoid unwanted chaos and disruption to the services established earlier.

The Princely States had treaty making power under the Indian Independence Act of 1947. They signed the Instrument of Accession and the Standstill Agreement after the last Chamber of Princes was held in Delhi in July 1947. By exercising the power, Manipur also entered into agreements with Assam Governor on behalf of the Dominion of India on 1st and 2nd July 1947.

Under section 9 sub-section (2) of the Indian Independence Act, 1947, the Governor of Assam acting as the British Crown's Agent could enter into agreements with Manipur State on behalf of the Dominion of India. Here the legal validity and binding nature of the 12-point Agreement of 1st July 1947 and the 2nd July Agreement of 1947 to be studied. The Governor of Assam Akbar Hydari visited Imphal in late June 1947 after signing the 9-point Accord with the Naga National Council (NNC) in Kohima.

Under the British Crown's control, Manipur was militarily made dependent till August 1947 and there was no external contact. The birth of a new Manipur on 15th August 1947 was made insigificant because of the lost of military potency of the State and the loss of external ties with neighbouring kingdoms and countries during the period of 56 years under British paramountcy.

A careful study of the political developments point to the fact that the first Governor-General of India Lord Mountbatten did not append his signature to accept the Instrument of Accession signed by King of Manipur on 11 August 1947. He did this for the above mentioned reasons. Manipur was fast evolving into a Constitutional Monarchy with a written constitution which was adopted on 26 July 1947 before the Indian Independence Act came into force.

Why did Akbar Hydari sign the 12-point Agreement on 1st July 1947? What was the necessity of the 2nd July Hydari Agreement? Almost all the points of agreements were those already included in the Instrument of Accession and Standstill Agreement. Did the Rulers of other States sign similar agreements before the signing of the Instrument of Accession? A thorough study of the relevant documents can tell the truth behind this endeavour.

The Article 2 of the Treaty of Friendship Between India and Bhutan signed on 8 August 1949 is interesting for understanding of India's attitude towards Bhutan and Manipur. This treaty was signed not very long before the King of Manipur was detained in Shillong by the Indian security forces to extract the Merger Agreement. With the signing of the Merger Agreement, Manipur lost all her treaty/agreement making power. The Article 2 states as follows:

The Government of India undertakes to exercise no interference in the internal administration of Bhutan. On its part the Government of Bhutan agrees to be guided by the advice of the Government of India in regard to its external relations.

In addition Bhutan had special relationship with India in regards to economic and defence sectors. Bhutan was not a fully sovereign country. The new treaty signed on 8 February 2007 continues to maintain some special relations between the two countries despite recognition of Bhutan's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity by the Government of India.

Agreement point number 2 of the 12-point Agreement signed on 1st July 1947 between Manipur and Assam Governor on behalf of the Dominion of India is the crux of the relationship. It states: "It was agreed that there ought to be the closest relationship on a reciprocal basis between Manipur and Assam and the Indian Union." Another important point of the same agreement was the agreement for assistance both in external defence and in internal security by the Union Government and the retention of the Assam Rifles in Manipur State.

Controlling the external defence and internal security was something that V.P. Menon proposed to Sardar Patel while discussing the interpretation of the Instrument of Accession. Even if Manipur was not acceded like other States, the agreement for joint defence to protect the eastern frontier of India was something which is clearly stated by King Bodhachandra in his Royal Proclamation of 18 October 1948. Militarily, Manipur was a weak State fearing Burmese aggression at the time of the lapse of Paramountcy.

Agreement point number 6 and 7 are also very important. The stationing of an officer as Union Agent in Manipur was agreed upon as given in point 6. This led to the coming of Rawal Amar Singh as Dewan in April 1948. The point 7 states: "It was agreed that there should be the minimum of interference in the internal affairs of the State." The question is who was to decide what was the 'minimum interference' permissible?

The recognition of the Manipur State Constitution Act, 1947 (with associated Manipur Courts Act and Hill Regulation of 1947) by the Governor of Assam under point number 11 is something that needs to be understood. It was agreed that the new constitution should be inaugurated within a period of one year. The last point of the 1st July Agreement was about the future payment of the Kabaw Valley compensation.

Section 19 sub-section (5) states that "Any power conferred by this Act to make any order includes power to revoke or vary any order previously made in the exercise of that power." This sub-section of section 19 of the Indian Independence Act allows that Governor of Assam to 'revoke or vary' any previous order made in exercise of the power given by and under section 9 of the Act. Did the Governor-in-Council of Assam Province revoke or vary the order issued exercising the power provided by section 9 to derecognise the Manipur State Constitution? He had to recognise the Manipur Constitution Act which was passed in May 1947.

The 2nd July Hydari Agreement of 1947 also recognised the Manipur State Constitution Act, 1947. This agreement stated clearly that the His Highness in Council alone had the authority to amend the provisions of the new Rules for Administration of Manipur, 1947 and other allies measures including the Manipur Courts Act. Again, the Manipur State Constitution Act states that the His Highness in Council (Maharaja in Council) can amend the provisions of the Constitution Act with atleast 80 percent support from the State Assembly of Manipur.

The power to amend the Rules for Administration and the Constitution Act was solely in the hands of the Manipuris. There was no mention of Indian control of Foreign Affairs in the two agreements signed in July 1947 with the Governor. If Manipur was not acceded to the Dominion by accepting the Instrument of Accession by the Governor-General, the Foreign Affairs of the State was still in the control of the State. Here mention can be made of the 28 September 1949 State Assembly signed by Chief Minister MK Priyabrata, Speaker Tiankham and Finance and Foreign Affairs Minister Arambam Ibungotomcha.

Article 10 of the Manipur Constitution Act of 1947 gives the provisions for electing the six Ministers on the Council and allotment of portfolios. Was the Foreign Affairs Minister an additional charge created to reject the Indian annexation of Manipur on 21st September 1949? The portfolio of Foreign Affairs Minister, if allotted under the Constitutional Act following the inauguration of the Assembly on 18 October 1948, will have to negate the accession story of Manipur. However, the resolution taken by the State Assembly on 28th September 1949 has legal validity and sanctity if done so in exercise of the powers provided by the Manipur Constitution Act, 1947.

The Article 57 of the Manipur Constitution empowered the Council of Ministers to exercise its discretionary power to refer the matter for decision to an authority outside the State in case of any circumstance which prevented the proper operation in law or in spirit of the Manipur State Constitution Act. The Council of Ministers did not exercise this power to lodge a complaint against the forced signing of the Merger Agreement and the dissolution of the State Assembly and the Council on 15 October 1949 by the Government of India.

The 'closest relationship on a reciprocal basis' between the two separate entities and the 'minimum of interference in the internal affairs of Manipur' has to be re-interpreted if there has to be political settlement of any sort between India and Manipur. The 'aggressive interference' of the Dominion of India in the affairs of Manipur despite such agreements has to be found in the Asian Geopolitical gameplan.

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 does not clearly define what a 'disturbed condition' should be. It is subjective and New Delhi alone has to decide. The 'No Interference' in the Indo-Bhutan Treaty of 1949 was different from 'minimum of interference' in the 12-point Hydari Agreement of 1st July 1947 and the agreement of 2nd July 1947.

This was the trap that New Delhi made for the King of Manipur to consult the Governor of Assam thus providing the Indian Agent an opportunity to interfere in the State's internal affairs. King Bodhachandra's Shillong visit in September 1949 was because of this trap. New Delhi was different from London.

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 November 20, 2014.

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