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Friday, October 30, 2020

/ Published by Simon L Infimate

“He who speaks of the past has a future in mind. He who speaks of the future has no right to forget the past.’ –V.Chulkov.

~ Lal Dena

As India’s independence was closing with the coming of WW II, people of Manipur became restive and soon raised a demand for a responsible government in Manipur. Rightly sensing the mood of the time, maharaj Bodhachandra Singh abolished the Manipur state durbar and set up an interim council consisting of some selected elites both from the valley and hills and this council was to function till popular government was installed in Manipur. The maharaja also made an order to form a constitution making committee consisting of 21 members including one representative each from Churachandpur, Mao, Tamenglong and Ukhrul and Southeast area chaired by F.F Pearson, former president of Manipur state durbar on 12 December, 1946. As a result, the Manipur State Constitution (MSC), 1947 was made and adopted on 26 July, 1947. The constitution provided the establishment of the Manipur state legislative assembly (MSLA) with 53 members to be directly elected on the basis of adult franchise by the people of Manipur. In other words, the assembly became the sovereign decision making body with its council of ministers holding the highest executive power within the state of independent Manipur. Since then maharaja became a constitutional monarch guided by the advice of his council of ministers.

What is most crucial was the future relation between Manipur and India which was to be settled sooner or later. Well aware of the fast changing political situation in Manipur and the agitating mood of the people, the Government of India strongly felt the need for appointment of a dewan (more or less like prime minister) in Manipur to represent India and to advise the maharaja of Manipur. The central government therefore sent a letter on 2 July, 1947 for the purpose. The maharaja Bodhachandra flatly rejected the proposal on the plea that there was no provision of appointment of a dewan in the new constitution. Further he argued that he could not appoint a dewan without the approval of his council of ministers. 

As per the provision of the new Manipur state constitution, 1947, general election was held during June-July, 1948 for the first time in the history of modern Manipur. Party-wise election result was as given below: (a) Manipur State Congress Party (MSCP) – 13; (b) Krishak Sabha Party – 5; (c) Praja Shanti -12; (d) Socialist Party – 3; (e). Hill Independents’ Union – 18. After two months’ of heated confabulations and intense bickering, a coalition Prajashanti (non-Congress) ministry was finally formed with the support of 1 MLA nominee made by the maharaja. The council of ministers were: Captain M.K Priya Brata Singh (younger brother of maharaj Bodhachandra Singh)- Chief Minister, Major R. Khathing, Teba Kilong, A. Ibotomba Singh, Dr.N Leiren Singh, A. Gourabiddhu Singh and Md Alimuddin as ministers. T.C.Tiankham got elected as speaker and T.Bokul as deputy speaker.

Right from the start, two conflicting groups were at loggerheads. The first group was the lumpen pro-Indian nationalists who represented the Manipur State Congress Party. They were pro-mergers. Even on India’s Independence Day at Polo-ground on 15 August, 1947, they had already declared that the party would launch a movement for the merger of Manipur into India.  The other group was the newly emerged Manipuri nationalists who represented more or less the conglomerate regional parties which formed the new coalition ministry. Their political stand was that Manipur must remain as a state enjoying a responsible government with His Highness, the maharaja of Manipur as a constitutional head and with her sovereignty undisturbed. 

For this reason, the new government had two potential opponents within and outside the state – the Congressmen and the central agents who left no stone unturned to fish in Manipur’s troubled waters and exploited any chance or flimsy excuses to discredit the government. For the second time, the Government of India again proposed the immediate appointment of a new dewan through the governor of Assam. This time too, the maharaja Bodhachandra Singh objected the proposal with all his abilities. Despite his objection, Major General Rwal Amar Singh was appointed as a new dewan in mysterious circumstances. In this connection Prof Senjam Mangi Singh observes thus “Once R.A Singh was appointed as the dewan, the administration was to be done under his general superintendence, guidance and control. They should have realized earlier that the appointment of such an official would be in contradiction not only with the provisions of the Manipur State Constitution of 1947, but also with their own existence. Having failed to do this, perhaps they realized that it was too late in the day to assert their meaningful existence by the time the merger agreement was about to be implemented”.(Annexation of Manipur, 1949,p.90). According to Col.H Bhuban Singh’s version, unhappy with this unwanted interference, maharaja Bodhachandra went to Shillong on 17 September,1949 with an intention to thrash out this problem (appointment of R.A.Singh) with the governor of Assam, (Prakash) and in the process, the former found himself house-arrested, manipulated and forced to sign the merger agreement.(Ibid.135).

Obviously the new dewan strengthened the hands of Manipur State Congress party  and on the other hand, began to weaken the smooth functioning of the coalition government. Emboldened, the Congress party began to charge the government that it failed to maintain law and order, and so Manipur had remained under constant threat of the infiltration of communists from Burma. The Congress party also alleged that Neta Hijam Irabot Singh, who went underground, collided with Burmese leaders.  Irabot’s political stand was to preserve the sovereignty of Manipur by any means. So his communist ideology was also highly colored by his Manipuri nationalism. In fact, his long-cherished dream was the establishment of socialist republic of independent Manipur. (Gangmumei Kamei,Leftist Movement and Hijam Irabot Singh in History of Modern Manipur, 2019, p.166). The Congress party vehemently demanded that integration of Manipur with India was the only way to bring peace and development in Manipur. The party in its meeting on 29 April, 1949 had also decided to send a three-member delegation to the leaders of All India Congress Committee for immediate merger of Manipur into India.

Not surprisingly, the new government as a true representative of the people could not effectively counter the Congress’s mud-slinging propaganda and charges. It also failed to take up the merger issue on the floor of the assembly when it had sufficient time to do so and to mobilize the masses of Manipur. Of course, T.C Tiankham, speaker, wrote to the private secretary of maharaja, saying:”Since we have got an assembly elected on adult franchise, will it not be advisable for His Highness to call the assembly to discuss the matter first?”This proposal came up only after the reported departure of the maharaja to Shillong for his consultation with the governor of Assam. This was how situation got mixed up to further complicate the already charged political situation in Manipur.

Having come to know that the agreement was being finalized, the Manipur state legislative assembly hurriedly met at the assembly chamber on 29 September,1949 with T.C Tiankham, speaker, on the chair and declared the draft merger agreement null and avoid. (Pros. of the 4th sitting of the 3rd session of the MSLA, 1949). Sadly it was too late. Nothing was done beyond this to stand against the merger accord, nothing arose in the form of protest and demonstration in the streets of Imphal. In this connection Prof S.Mangi Singh again lamentably remarks thus, “Manipur, during the time of her merger into the dominion of India, had a very low level of political culture. Except for a small politically aware section of the population who were showing signs of having subject political culture, the common people remained politically ignorant”. (Ibid,p.92). When the fate of Manipur was being decided, no serious protest, nothing of the sort was seen in Imphal. From what has been discussed above, it is quite clear that the so-called merger agreement was made between the maharaja as an individual and the government of India. It did not have people’s mandate. 

According to senior advocate, A. Nilamani Singh, such an act of great magnitude affecting the liberty and fundamental rights of the nation which had been an independent kingdom for almost two thousand years, should have been discussed and debated upon and its final implementation ought to be done by a plebiscite. Besides the agreement was more in the nature of a treaty between two sovereign states of Manipur and India; and it ought to be rectified.  Also having signed the document willingly or unwillingly, the maharaja of Manipur also had acted in excess of the power conferred upon him by the Manipur state constitution of 1947 and hence it could not be treated as a valid document. If the people of Manipur felt that Manipur was forcibly annexed to India, A. Nilamani concludes thus, “they had every right to revolt against India as a political community struggling to retain or retrieve the lost separate independent statehood by reasserting their right to self-determination”.(ibid,p.141). In a final analysis, the merger of Manipur into India was the victory of the Manipur state congress party and also mainly the failure of the popularly elected government. The merger of Manipur into India in 1949 reminds me of the innocent lamb’s helpless pleadings before the hungry wolf in Aesop’s fable. 

This was what happened on the fateful day of 15 October, 1949. Let the people rethink of it afresh to learn new lessons, keeping in mind people of Manipur have full right to reclaim its lost sovereignty 

The writer can be reached at

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