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E-Pao! Opinion - Manipur's plebiscite case

Manipur's plebiscite case

By: Waikhom Damodar Singh *



Plebiscite is a word derived from the French word "plebiscite", from Latin "plebiscitum", "plebi" - common people and "seitum" - decree or "sciscere" - past participle of "scitum" meaning to approve, decree or to seek to know, from scire, to know, or to define in full form it is - a direct "vote" in which the entire electorate of a country, region, or other "political unit" is invited to accept or refuse the "measure", the programme or Government of the party of a group of people, in short to say - it relates to the "voting" whereby the group of an "independent political unit of people" exercises their "inalienable - non refusable or transferable right of national self-determination", i.e. polling of opinions for forming their own Government under which they are to live or exist according to their own free choice to be exercised as a fundamental "human birth right".

Such a submission of a proposed public measure to a direct "popular vote" is also known as "referendum" of the people concerned.

In the light of the above "definition" it may therefore be quite worth to discuss ingredient-wise the "plebiscite" case of Manipur if it was or is still a very much "fit case" for pressing its "demand" as a rightful "de facto claim" of the Manipuris.

From the above definition two most important "ingredients" or "factors" that have come out rendering the "feasibility" of pressing for a "plebiscite" as a de facto claim for the people of Manipur are:-
(1) that there should be a group of people irrespective of number of their population, caste or creed or ethnic divisions existed or existing as an independent political unit under a sovereign Govt of their own at the relevant time.
(2) Secondly, that the Government so formed or to be formed of such a group of people should be by "voting" exercising freely their "inalienable self-determination" rights.

It is based on the above two most important factors that the case of Manipur for a plebiscite has come up to the surface as a most glaring case still fit for due consideration or to be taken up in the right earnest, particularly attracting the "existing international Laws for de-colonisation of indigenous peoples" for the safeguard of such minority of indigenous groups of people from being forcibly dominated or crushed or wiped out by the bigger and more powerful group or groups.

The history clearly tells that Manipur, though small in her physical territory, existed as an independent and indomitable sovereign kingdom of her own as a little "jewel" shining brilliantly in the south-east Asia region well recognised and honoured or respected by its neighbouring giant countries - China, Burma etc. for the last almost two "millenniums" beginning from the time of the reign of great Pakhangba in 33 AD till the last ruling successor of his dynasty, Bodhchandra in 1948 when his monarchical ruling came to an end after he had handed over the sovereign independent power to his people who then had begun to have their Government formed "democratically" i.e. by exercising their "adult franchise" under their own required Constitution framed under an Act enacted under the name "the Manipur Constitution Act, 1947."

India formerly known as Bharat-Vasha and Manipur, which did not constitute at all as a part of it then were conquered by the invincible mighty British and ruled by them under the name "British India" for nearly two centuries till 1947 when they under heavy political pressures, both national and international, relinquished their imperial power, and therefore India, divided into two Dominions, secular India and Islamic Pakistan, and Manipur and all other native States numbering some 600 became independent from the yoke of the British, and they were free to live under their own Government formed democratically i.e. by carrying out general elections of the people under their new constitution framed for running the Governments.

It is in this respect that Manipur had gone quite ahead of all-the general election of the people under "adult franchise" was carried out in 1948 and a democratically elected Government under a peopleís Legislative Assembly started functioning from "October 1948" onwards with the king, of course, as the temporary nominal Head under the provisions of the constitution newly framed for carrying out the business of the Government.

But such a rightfully and democratically established Government under a "popular ministry" was not recognised by the newly formed Dominion Government of India (interim) and they got the State merged or annexed to them with effect from 15 October 1949 by "forcibly" obtaining the signature in the "merger agreement" prepared under their dictums "ex-parte" of the then king of the State, Maharaja Bodhchandra Singh who signed the same on 21 September 1949 under an atmosphere of "duress" at Governorís House at Shillong which was then the combined capital of the erstwhile greater Assam British Province after being treated the king as an helpless "captive" therewith the connivance of a few local self-interested political party.

Before signing the merger agreement Maharaja Bodhchandra Singh strongly argued in true spirits that since he was by then only a "nominal Head of the State" as he had already handed over the ruling sovereign power to the people the matter was required to be referred to the cabinet and their due approval to be obtained in the fitness of things, to which the Governor of Assam, Shri Prakasa who acted on behalf of the Government of India vehemently dictated, perhaps under very adament directives from Delhi, by saying that they did not recognise neither the newly formed Manipur Government nor the State Legislative Assembly, though done under their own new constitution framed, and that they take the authority of the Maharaja of Manipur in this regard as the "final authority" as they had been doing so in all the cases of annexations carried out in respect of other native States also.

Though the Maharaja signed the merger agreement as he was forced to do so ultimately and quite helplessly as he succumbed to the irresistible threats and dictates made on him he signed the agreement 'not' on behalf of the "people of Manipur" but on his own, his heirs and family members, which clearly indicates, whatever may be the hidden motives or purpose behind it, that the transaction so taken place was only in between the king and his family members and the Dominion of India, and not in between them and the people of Manipur as such, and it is in this very context that all the legal experts and other learned public members have said and unanimously resolved in plenum in the national "convention" held at Imphal from 28 to 29 October, 1993 that the merger or annexation of Manipur done with the Dominion of India with effect from "15 October 1948" is highly unconstitutional, illegal and "null and void" "ab initio" and "highly impugnable" as it was required to have been done with the due approval of the then Cabinet existed on behalf of the people who elected them democratically.

Also since the signing of the merger agreement was done under some "threats" as against the existing international Law requiring to have it done under no "tinge or smell" of it i.e. purely on "mutual agreements" in between the two parties.

It is the "unconstitutional factor" that makes Manipurís case quite different and distinct that the cases of the annexations or mergers of all other native States including even that of the two giant States Hyderabad and Kashmir whose Governments were then not the true people's Governments formed dem-ocratically, As had been already said earlier, Manipur formed her democratic Government in 1948 immediately after she was freed from the "colonial yoke of the British" under her own new Constitution framed.

And adopted which preceded not only all the native states but even the Dominion of India whose new Constitution came in only from the year 1950 onwards, and the "democratic right" that had been exercised in this respect by her people is the "Primogeniture Right" that had been endowed on them from the very beginning, and not something of a right "begged from India nor from any other power of the world", and as such the clear question that has come up is under what "democratic authority", unless it was "imperialistic" on the part of the then Government of India whose people themselves were by then (1947 to 1949) very much in the interim stage of becoming the people of a full fledged democratic Republic state "usurped" (seized power and rights of another democratically established power by force and without legal right and authority) the rightful and natural authority of the people of Manipur who were, beyond any doubt, an alien "Nation" till then and forcibly abolished their popular Ministry formed "subverting their constitution newly framed under lawfully enacted Act, which could be "amended", "rescinded" or "terminated" only by another "decree" or "voice" i.e. verdict of the majority of the people and not otherwise.

In fact, the Government of India should have allowed Maharaja Bodhchandra Singh to go back to Manipur as he had very fervently and honestly requested for it from his short stay at Shillong and obtain the views and the due approval of his cabinet who were the "plenipotentiary of the independent and sovereign State of Manipur by then" and not the nominal king and got signed the merger agreement by the then Chief Minister of Manipur who then had the status of a Prime Minister of an independent country as Manipur was very much in that status till then - this was not done at all and therefore came up the serious question of "unconstitutionally" in the process so carried out quite hurriedly, untactfully, intriguingly, and more importantly, forcibly.

Though Maharaja Bodhchandra Singh had already signed in the so called "Standstill Agreement of the Instrument of Accession" on 11.8.1947 paving the way for merger of Manipur ultimately with the Dominion of India it actually became "null and void" automatically i.e. its validity ceased or outlived after the state became a democratically ruled state under an elected popular Ministry from 1948 onwards or to say in other words the "interim treaty" signed in the Instrument of Accession on 11.8.1947" between the Maharaja and the interim Governor General of the Dominion of India, Lord Louis Mountbatten should be deemed to have automatically been terminated and Manipur automatically retained her rightful sovereignty and independence established since ages at the cost of the lives of so many of its most heroic and spartan forefathers.

The "plebiscite" for deciding the fate of the Manipuris is not for asking for something "anew" unlike the case of the Nagas as was initiated by late Phizo - their case definitely stands quite weak as they did not exist unlike the Manipuris as a group of people under an independent political set up of a sovereign Government duly recognised widely as such at that relevant time or prior to it as required under the provision elucidated at the outset, and hence the results of their "plebiscite" unofficially carried out by Phizo In the year 1955 under house to house campaign, though some 99 per cent of the Nagas of the then Naga Hills District is said to have opted for an independent sovereign state of their own, have not been entertained by the Government of India, and for that matter perhaps not possible to be entertained even under the charter of rules of the United Nations.

Since under the International Law concerning friendly relations and co-operation among states of 24 October 1970 (UN GA Resolution 2625, page 6), Manipur becomes very much within the "ambit" of a separate independent colony of self-governing Territory which shall exist so untill and unless its people opt out to do so, which should have been actually determined or confirmed immediately after she was "decolonised" in 1947 from the colonial yoke of the foreign power, the British colonial power, from which the Indian Dominion itself also got decolonised but she herself, on the other hand assumed, most despotically, the imperial power and colonised, then helpless Manipur forcibly without the due "mandate" of the people obtained as has been highlighted as above and hence it is strongly felt that the people of Manipur have every right for asking for a formal "plebiscite" to determine their "faith" once for all, even by taking the help of the United Nations who, under their well laid down Charter, have the "unshirking obligation" to "decolonise Manipur" even though her case is considered as a very late case that has come up due to unavoidable circumstances before them after decades for which there is no "time-bar" question fixed, it is presumed.

In fine, Manipur's case cannot be taken as a case of "cessation" from India but purely of "decolonisation" as has been thoroughly discussed as above.


Waikhom Damodar Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express. This article was webcasted on December 14th, 2006.


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