How Manipur lost internal autonomy, subsequent freedom and Kabaw Valley : Viceroy Lord Mountbatten


Dr Th Suresh Singh
Maharaja Bodh Chandra had close relationships with various VIPs. One of them was the Supreme commander of the Allied Forces in South-East Asia and Viceroy Lord Mountbatten. Others were Assam Governor Sir Akbar Hydary( previous article) and Air Marshal Arjan Singh . Had he, his advisors and Darbar Members able to take advantages of these close relationships, Manipur’s fate would have been otherwise.
Visit of Lord Mountbatten: According to Col. Bhubon, the Supreme commander of the Allied Forces in South-East Asia, Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, visited Manipur secretly several times during the 2nd world war.
British offered the Maharaja and his family a plane for safe evacuation in a safe place in India when Imphal was encircled by Japan and INA forces. However, the ruler refused saying “I can’t leave my people and the state at this hour of danger. I shall fight to the last.”
Bhuban further added that the ruler had a secret verbal agreement with “Mountbatten promised not to abandon Manipur to the Japanese and in turn, the Maharaja promised not to leave Manipur under any circumstances” during one of Mountbatten’s visit. After Japanese surrender, a secret letter from Mountbatten to Bodh Chandra was found containing “I kept my promise, Your Highness kept your word”.
If your writer is to pick up one piece of good work of Maharaja Bodh Chandra- it is this decision of the Ruler not to leave Manipur during the war. It was a piece of heroism and needs special mention.
More important for us is that GOI entrusted Lord Mountbatten on 25th July 1947, as Crown Representative, to the task of conducting negotiations with the Princes.
“He called a special meeting of the Chamber of Princes and advised the Rulers to accede to the appropriate Dominion in regard to the 3 subjects of Defence, External Affairs and Communication.
He further added that this accession will not involve any financial liability and there would be no encroachment on their internal sovereignty”.
He was very familiar with those intrigues going on at that crucial negotiating period including Instrument of Accession and Standstill Agreement. The king had also advantages of meeting him occasionally. The Manipur King attended the Chamber of Princes’ meeting addressed by Viceroy Lord Mountbatten at New Delhi in early July 1947 and signed the Instrument of Accession and the Standstill Agreement on 11th August just before independence.
Did he really know the pros and cons of these meetings and Agreements? The Maharaja, the Darbar Members, his advisors and other political players were ignorant of the finer points of these letters or the actual fluid situation prevailing then. They were busy fighting among themselves. Manipur might have obtained certain internal autonomy and the precious Kabaw Valley had these people, especially the Maharaja, took the mater diplomatically and sought Lord Mountbatten’s advice.
Refer to Cabinet Mission Memorendum, Simla of 12/5/1946, Sardar Patel’s statement of 5/7/1947 on Indian States and Lord Mountbatten’s advice as Crown Representative to the Princes(mentioned above). In all these statements, the emphasis was to accede to the Dominion of India on the 3 subjects of Defence, External Affairs and Communication with full internal autonomy.
It is sad that the Manipur King could not take any advantage with his friendship with Lord Mountbatten. But then, Bodh Chandra Maharaja was neither controlling the terrain nor determining any agenda at that critical juncture.
These parameters were also mentioned in my various preceding series.
Air Marshal Arjan Singh : Bhuban further added that Squadron Leader Arjun Singh, who later became Chief of Air Staff of India, was commanding a spitfire squadron at Tulihal airfield (present civilian airfield). He was a close friend of Bodh Chandra.
It is mentioned that their photographs taken together were found in many handouts and propaganda bills. India’s 1st Marshal of Air Force died last year on 16/09/2017.
He was a 2nd World War hero who contributed so much in the defeat of the Japanese at the Manipur-Burma sector. The flying Sheikh was in active service at that crucial time of negotiation.
If he was wise enough, Bodh Chandra could have definitely also used his friendship to Manipur’s advantage.
Mother Manipur’s misfortune continues, this is the 1st one of the misfortune. The 2nd was during Governor Sir Akbar Hydary’s period and the 3rd and last one was during the Merger Agreement negotiation. Thus Manipur lost internal autonomy, subsequent freedom and Kabaw Valley because of our own inability to understand and bring finer legal views at crucial negotiation periods.
Our historians, intellectuals, politicians and civil societies better know these historical legalities and perspectives in its true senses. We should keep these true historical perspectives for our young students and future generations to have a true sense of our own history.

The writer is Ex-Director, Health & WHO Fellow

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