What had happened to Manipur ?
- Part 9 -

Puyam Nongdrei *

Lord and Lady Mountbatten taking leave of Sardar and his daughter at Mussoorie. In the rear is the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru
Lord and Lady Mountbatten taking leave of Sardar and his daughter at Mussoorie. In the rear is the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
Picture Source: Wikipedia

The 12-point Hydari Agreement on 1st July 1947 and the Merger Agreement on 21st September 1949 have a long story to tell

King as the Constitutional Ruler

The Indian (Provisional Constitution) Order, 1947 promulgated by the Governor-General on 14 August 1947 after adaptations and modifications of the Government of India Act, 1935 was to allow the Governor-General Lord Mountbatten to exercise the powers entitled to him within the meaning of the Government of India Act, 1935 as Governor-General in Council. This order issued before 15th August 1947 was for doing everything necessary to accede the Indian States to the new independent Dominion of India.

Section 6 of the Order mentions that any Indian State will be deemed to have acceded if the Governor-General has signified his acceptance of an Instrument of Accession executed by the Ruler of the State on behalf of the State. Anybody who has read the copy of the Instrument of Accession will know for sure that there is no room for any other authority other than the Ruler/King of the State to append signature.

After taking over the administration of the hill areas of Manipur on 10 August 1947, the King of Manipur Bodhachandra signed the Instrument of Accession and the Standstill Agreement on the next day and sent the copies to Delhi on 13 August 1947. The signing of the documents took place on 11 August 1947 and it was a historic event and a fact without any doubt.

Any curious mind will ask a question: what is the need for a secret file to keep the two documents? Instead, the Government of India should be happy to tell the people of Manipur that the then King signed the two documents to accede Manipur to the Dominion of India. To see things clearer, one must go back to July 1947.

The Assam Governor Akbar Hydari visited Imphal in late June 1947. It was a crucial time in the history of the Indian sub-continent as the British Government was preparing everything for transfering power to the natives including the States which were under the British Crown. In the Naga Hills of the then undivided Assam, he signed the 9-point Accord with the Naga National Council (NNC) to make Naga areas part of the independent India.

On 30 June, the Manipur State Darbar was dissolved and was converted into Manipur State Council on 1st July 1947. Most importantly, the new Rules for the Administration of Manipur, 1947 came into force on 1st July. All these happened during the visit of Governor Akbar Hydari to Manipur from 28 June to 3 July 1947.

As discussed earlier, the British Crown's Agent, Governor Hydari signed two agreements with Manipur State on 1st and 2nd July respectively. Manipur was a princely State as usual. However, there was something that differentiated Manipur from other princely States in the sub-continent. The 12-point Agreement signed on 1st July and the 2nd July Hydari Agreement were not executed by the King of Manipur alone. It was signed by the His Highness in Council including the members of the Manipur State Darbar (Council). The 2nd July Hydari Agreement was signed by F.F. Pearson besides other Manipuri members and the King himself.

President of the State Darbar was controlling the affairs of the Hill Areas of Manipur on behalf of the King and his signature gave a fuller representation. We have to ask a question here. Why did the King not execute the agreements without the presence of other members? What is the significance of 'His Highness the Maharaja in Council'? If the King of Manipur was exercising full sovereignty in and over Manipur, there was no need for the Council to get involved in the signing of the agreements with the Governor of Assam.

These two agreements were signed in July before signing the Instrument of Accession and the Standstill Agreement on 11 August 1947. Was there any room for the State Council to get involved in executing the Instrument of Accession? No.

The two agreements signed in July between Manipur and the British Crown's agent were not very different in terms of their contents from the Instrument and the Standstill Agreement except the exclusion of the 'external affairs'. Why did the Governor-General and Governor of Assam sign agreements with Manipur exercising the powers under section 9 of the Indian Independence Act, 1947?

Did Mountbatten has a different offer for Manipur? Did the authors of the Indian Independence Act want a special relationship between Manipur and the Dominion of India? If so, Manipur retained its sovereign status by having full control over her own 'external affairs' though limited because of defence ties with India and the need for advice from the Assam Governor. Why is there a secret file keeping the Instrument of Accession and Standstill Agreement hidden from us?

Under the new arrangements, the real executive power was held by the State Council with the King as Constitutional Ruler of the State. It was approved by the British authority. As there was no room for the real executive power to execute the Instrument of Accession, the Governor-General Lord Mountbatten did not and could not signify the accession of Manipur.

Under the provisions of the Indian Independence Act, the Crown's Representative and the Agent in India were empowered to enter into agreements on behalf of the Dominion of India before 15th August 1947. If the Instrument and Standstill Agreement could not help to accede Manipur to Indian Dominion, the agreements signed on 1st and 2nd July 1947 were the only agreements left standing.

If one cannot nullify the legal validity of these two agreements as provided by the section 9 and others of the Indian Independence Act, the agreements were still binding on and after 15 August 1947. In this case, Manipur was to maintain a special relationship with India but it retained its treaty-making power by controlling her external affairs. Defence and internal security were to be controlled by the Dominion of India. The agreements could be revised from time to time as Bhutan did. Even Nepal is talking about revising its treaty relations with India to assert full sovereignty.

The joint defence mechanism and Indian assistance to Manipur for a strong eastern frontier defence and security of Manipur as stated in the Proclamation of 18 October 1948 is worth discussion here. If the agreements of July 1947 were signed under instruction from the British authority to provide a separate status for Manipur, we have to accept the fact that the British Government wanted Manipur to be something more or less like Bhutan having special relations with India. It was an informed decision on their part to maintain Manipur's separate entity without accession to India.

Did Lord Mountbatten reveal anything about the status of Manipur from 15 August 1947 onwards? The first Governor-General of India was to exercise his functions in relation to Indian States for the purposes only of the Dominion of India as clearly stated in the Instrument of Accession. It was either because of lack of political awareness or the hidden agenda of the Indian authority that many people were still in the dark of the real status of Manipur in relation to India.

Till the January 1948 visit of Sardar Patel to Shillong, Manipur's status was intact with little interference from India. The abolition of the Dominion Agency and the departure of the first Governor-General Lord Mountbatten from India in June 1948 hastened the process of interference for taking over Manipur.

If there is no flaw in this analysis, the status of Manipur in relation to the Dominion of India from 15 August 1947 to 15 October 1949 was defined by the two July agreements signed between Manipur and Assam Governor on behalf of the Dominion of India. As a result, Manipur did not give up the Manipur Constitution Act and the control over external affairs till 15 October 1949.

Taking this into account, the attacks from the various circles at the Merger Agreement signed on 21st September 1949 is a fatal attack for India to defend. Attacking the Merger Agreement signed by Manipuri King under duress and coercion is a chink in the Indian Armour even after about 65 years of extracting the Agreement by detaining the King in Shillong.

Why didn't the King alone sign the 1st and 2nd July agreements? Did the Indian authority realise that the Manipur case was different from other Indian States? What is the significance of the king becoming the constitutional ruler since 1st July 1947? What had happened in early July 1947 has to say everything about the documents signed on 11 August 1947 and the Merger Agreement signed on 21st September 1949. The King was not fully empowered to enter into agreements.

The existence of the Manipur State Assembly and the Council of Ministers before the Indian take over is confirmed by the orders issued on 15 October 1949 by the Government of India. The Order issued by the Ministry of State clearly states that 'all powers exercisable under the said laws by His Highness the Maharaja or the Government of the State shall be exercisable by Chief Commissioner' appointed by the Government of India following the take over.

The orders also re-affirm that the State of Manipur was having a constitutional monarchy with the King and the elected government exercising powers as vested in them by or under the Manipur State Constitution Act, 1947. The existence of the Council of Ministers and the State Assembly was also duly established and recognised by the said orders. The Government of India cannot run away or simply wash its hands.

These two short orders issued by the Indian authority on 15 October 1949 can open the gateway to further study of the events leading to the formation of the State Legislature and the Council of Ministers under the Manipur Constitution Act, 1947 before the take over happened. So far many well-known public figures and intellectuals are shy of telling the truth.

Manipur should demand full knowledge of the status of the State in relation to India from 15 August 1947 to 15 October 1949. It would not be revealed easily as national interests and security of the country will pop as soon as one raises this question to any competent authority. Until the signing of the Merger Agreement, Manipur had treaty-making power. One cannot think about any agreement between India and Manipur after 15 October 1949. It was a great change indeed.

The July Agreements recognised the constitutional reforms that had taken place in Manipur thereby converting the King/Ruler to just a constitutional ruler of the State. If any competent authority could not vary or revoke the relevant order(s) or terms of agreements entered into between Manipur and India, the legal-constitutional status of Manipur since 1st July 1947 nullifies any agreement signed or executed only by the King. Ratification is something that has been cited for any approval.

Obviously, Lord Mountbatten would not signify such documents as he was well-informed of such constitutional reforms that had taken place in Manipur. The departure of Mountbatten was fully exploited by the Indian authorities to annex Manipur. The appointment of 'DEWAN' in 1948 was the first step. The first Chief Minister MK Priyobrata was appointed as dewan by Akbar Hydari. Stationing of an Indian Agent in Manipur was agreed upon in July Agreement.

The complication associated with this appoinment and the failure on the part of the King and the elected Government of Manipur to assert their lawfully established positions to fend off the unwarranted interference from India in the internal affairs of the State were great failures. The 'minimum of interference' was very subjective to be exploited by the powerful party in any condition. The sending of Major General Rawal Amar Singh to Manipur as dewan on 16th April 1949 was the final step.

On the other hand, the national consciousness and spirit to defend the land from external aggression as well as internal crisis was not strong. It was the gift of colonialism. The land-locked State inhabited by few lakhs people with just about five percent literacy rate was not on a good footing to face the aggressive interference of India. A militarily and economically weak State having no external contact to approach for support and guidance was left as a prey in the hunting ground of the Dominion of India. The Council of Ministers failed to approach any authority outside the State to ensure the operation of the Constitution Act of 1947 in spirit and in law on or after 21st September 1949.

Any such act on the part of the British Government to ensure the existence of this ancient kingdom as a separate entity between India and Burma was a futile exercise. The status of Kabaw Valley was left unsettled for such a long time even after annexing Burmese Kingdom as part of British India. Nehru did everything to secure a friendly Myanmar. Pakistan, China and Thailand were very far from Manipur politically if not geographically.

When the Britishers left on 15 August 1947, Manipur's status and the question of Kabaw Valley should have been properly declared to avoid unwanted interference from both India and Burma. They didn't do it. Even the SECRET FILE must not have existed had they declared in public the status of Manipur. Are there more secret files? Disinformation and secrecy could have played their roles in shaping the course of Manipur's history by taking heavy toll on the well-being and progress of this tiny State. Manipur is the Jewel of India?!

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 03, 2014.

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