Political And Economic Ramification Of Manipur's Merger With India In 1949

Laishram Tarajeet Singh *

 Red Land Shillong - the place where Maharaj Bodhachandra and his team were kept under house arrest and forced to sign the Merger Agreement in 1949
Red Land Shillong - the place where Maharaj Bodhachandra and his team were kept under house arrest and forced to sign the Merger Agreement in 1949 :: Pix - IT News

After the lapse of British paramountcy on 14th August, 1947, Manipur chose to remain an independent country. It adopted a Constitution for the state with the King as the head of the state. However, the then King signed the Merger Agreement with India at Shillong on 21st September, 1949, which came into effect from 15th October, 1949. It abolished the institution of the King as the political head of the state and ended the State's sovereignty.

The merger was disputed to be an illegal act as it was not ratified by the State Assembly formed in 1947 as per the provisions of Manipur State Constitution. The placing of Assam Rifles in the heart of the capital at Kangla marked the final act of Indian occupation of Manipur.

Kingship To Administered Areas

The existing state assembly was not recognised by India and Manipur was made a PartC state and later an Union Territory as an administered area under the Central Government. Manipur attained Statehood in 1972 after a long gap of 23 years. However, there was blatant maladministration and misuse of powers in the State.

Insurgency and armed conflicts in the State was suppressed brutally through the use of security forces aided by draconian laws such as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1958. AFSPA provided legal immunity to the Armed Forces to exercise unchecked power, arrest without warrant and the most dreaded power to kill any person on mere suspect.

This had the effect of overriding the powers of State Government in matters of law and order. Generally, a Nation uses its Armed Forces to guard its territorial boundary. But, it was used against its citizens to suppress their dissents and create fear psychosis among the people.

The worsening law and order situation left the innocent people deprived of a sense of security even in their own homes and led to a strange fear of the Armed Forces.

Further, the resourceful region of Kabow valley was handed over to Myanmar in exchange for islands in the Andaman and Nicobar group being taken over by India. This was a terrible destruction on the parts of territorial integrity and State's economy. Recently, the election of the incumbent King of Manipur as a Rajya Sabha member has brought about an irreversible change to the legacy of Kingship in the State.

The People's March Against Tyranny

The political awareness of the people became slowly evident in the Hunger March on 27th August, 1965 protesting against the famine like condition in the State, demanding ration cards and food reserves. The role of student organisations and civil societies was prominent in educating the masses of their rights and spreading the message of democratic ethos.

The rise of Meira-Paibis or women torch-bearers can be accounted to the stand of women against the apparent lack of security in the localities. Women torch bearers had to perform the function of local defenses against illegal unwarranted arrest of youths during night-times by security agencies. Later on, they organised ban against consuming alcohol and drug abuses.

The violent armed struggle of the inhabitants of the State also weakened the State economy. Many youths lost their lives in the struggle and many children lost their parents. There were numerous cases of fake encounters and civilian casualties in the clashes of the security agencies and the insurgencies. This left an indelible mark in the State's path towards democracy.

The Centre government led ceasefire agreement and suspension of operations with the armed groups have partially succeeded in controlling the insurgencies in the state, although illegal extortions and taxations still continue. However, lack of coordinated talks and non-participation of state actors, civil society organisations and other stakeholders in the peace talks have resulted in a situation where the peace talk remains disconnected with the political reality of the state, ignoring the intricately woven social fabric of the region.

The June 18 uprising of 2001 illustrated that the peace talks agreements have failed to integrate the public sentiments within the demands of the insurgent groups. Such a rushed in solution should not ignore the aspirations of various ethnic groups residing in the state.

Ethnic Divides and Violence

The Indian Constitution granted special provision to Manipur under Article 371C for constituting a Hill Areas Committee of the State Legislative Assembly to report on the administration of the Hill Areas in the state. The enactment of the Hill Village Authorities Act and the Autonomous District Council Act were meant to bring about the development of tribal regions in the State and to safeguard their interests.

However, lack of administrative capacity and scarcity of funds have failed to bring meaningful welfare measures to the tribal residing in remote areas of the State. This has led to competing claims for resources-land, river, forest, hills, etc. among the various ethnic groups.

Communalism slowly began to take grip over the frustration as violence leading to deaths of many innocent people made the people believe that other communities were always against their own progress. Its effect still lingers today in the demand for separate state and political identities. Lack of harmony and cooperation among the people in the state has hampered the achievement of development and welfare goals.

Demographic Burden

The democratic principle of governance brought the burden of migrant labourers, traders and merchants from outside the state. As the state was trying to recuperate from the exploitation meted out by the British, the premature economy of the state was opened to the capitalists and profit seeking businessmen from other States.

Import of cheap industrial products in the state and expansion of trade caused a shortage of labourers and wiped out the existing traditional agricultural based economy and handicrafts. Cheap industrial products were dominating the markets and the old handloom and handicraft industries suffered. These skilled craftsmen were reduced to unskilled labourers who were in search of employment and were further exploited with low wages and poor working conditions.

Furthermore, cheap labourers poured in from bigger states who competed with the unemployed youths of the state. Lack of protective tariffs and subsidized investments in existing industries led to the ruin of the State economy, which became importdependent and a consumer dominated economy. This has led to drain of wealth in the form of land sold to others, impoverishment of peasants and finally a slow degradation of traditional culture.

The Path To Development

The path to development in the state has been troubled by the law and order situation as an after effect of the State's merger. Only after attaining Statehood in 1972, the economic developments could be planned by the state people's representatives. However, a weak administrative machinery plagued by corruption and favoritism in the bureaucracy failed to fulfill the state's requirements for development.

Moreover, the fiscal and monetary planning is dependent on the Centre's allocation of funds as the State's source for revenues is limited by the Constitution. The centralized planning by the Union Government has failed to appreciate the different nature of demands of the nascent economy in the State compared to other industrialized states.

In the open economy, the traditional artisans and craftsmen could not compete with the cheap industrial products. Also, lack of huge capitals, unfavorable infrastructures, and modern technology prevented the state from setting up industries. This has led to unemployment and youths venturing into drug-trafficking and drug abuses for easy money and comfort.

The promising 'Look East Policy' failed to satisfy the aspirations of the State. The major chunks of India's trade with Myanmar and South East countries continue to be through the sea routes. Although 'Look East' became 'Act East', even after 21 years of Manipur's accession into India, all weather roads to every villages and railways reaching the State capital are yet to be a reality.

Lack of employment opportunity in the State has driven the educated youths out of the state in search of jobs. The human resources of the State have become assets for other states, leading to 'brain drain'. These educated youths staying outside the state, have failed contribute in the State's dev elopment directly and to inspire the younger generations in the path of progress.

For the residents of the State, grass seems to be greener outside the state. Private sector companies and foreign investors shy away from investing in the State due to its poor infrastructure and law and order problems. The local entrepreneurs are in dire need of cheap capitals and formal credit opportunities. Co-operatives and Self Help Groups are also trying hard to survive due to want of credits.

Huge investment is the need of the hour to bring about an active private sector contribution in the State's economy and to create employment opportunities. Government jobs continue to be the top-most fav orites among the unemployed youths.

On the other hand, Ponzischemes of unregistered financial institutions and a black money economy created by money involved in corruption and illegal trade of contrabands have created a shadow economy where associated risk is quite high but with huge short term returns. This has severely impacted the formal economy leading to sky-rocketing of land price and use of unaccounted cash in democratic elections of the State.

The State's Endeavour

Although the state's power is limited under the present distribution of constitutional powers, democratic decentralization has created local bodies of panchayats, municipalities and village authorities in the State. Active people's participation is the need of the hour in strengthening the governance of the state.

Citizen's grievances redressal should be given importance to avoid bandhs and blockades affecting the state's economy. It is quite sad that huge inequality in incomes and concentration of wealth among a few individuals have led to opposing demands for development models in the state.

A capitalist profit driven model of development may further lead to a skewed income distribution. Better distribution of wealth can occur only when the community appreciates its ancestral culture and works for promoting indigenous products.

The sorry state of higher education in the state have led to students migrating outside state for engineering, medical and other professional courses. Higher education needs to be oriented according to the demands of new technological advancements in fields of Information Technology and Communication to generate employment opportunities.

Way Ahead

In democracy, political power lies with the people. The elected representatives are meant to work according to the people's mandate. Nations rise and fall depending on the support of its people. Local representative bodies need to be strengthened through delegation of financial powers and adequate fund allocations.

The solution for ethnic divides lies in promoting multiple ethnicity and traditions. Communal clashes seldom come up when there are multiple communities involved and freedom is given to individuals to choose their identity. We may defend our own opinion but we should always respect other's right to express their stand as well.

The Civil Society Organisations and Media outlets need to be supported in the community for an unbiased and inclusive development. Latest IT infrastructure and digital connectivity may be utilized to mobilize public opinions in social media. A meaningful development of the community can be realized only when we remember our past and plan accordingly for the future.

(This write-up is the first prize winner of the on line essay competition organized by Imphal Times)

* Laishram Tarajeet Singh wrote this article for Imphal Times
This article was webcasted on November 04 2020.

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