Manipur’s lost legacy - Merger Agreement
This day 70 yrs. ago (i.e. 21st Sept.1949) was the day Bodh Chandra Maharaj signed the Manipur Merger Agreement with the Dominion of India. Before coming to the nitty gritty of the Merger Agreement, let me put Manipur’s true historical perspective before the merger. It is unfortunate that almost all of our historians, educationists and intellectuals are still not aware of where Manipur stands before the Merger. It is because we are not accustomed to the in-depth research and inability to grapes finer points of our inimitable history. Hence, let me put straight the following :
1. Many historians and scholars, while referring to various published and unpublished Puyas and other traditional sources, described the reign of various kings/principalities from around 3000-2500BC in Manipur. It is also a fact that various kings and chieftains ruled in different parts of the present day Manipur and there was no centralised king around the present day Kangla at that time. Those periods were known as Hangkok era and it is clearly mentioned that 108 chiefs reigned in 4 different Hangkok eras. Record of reigns of another 111 chiefs in Chak era was also mentioned.
2. With the event of Pakhangba around 33AD at historical Kangla fort, consolidation of the present day Manipur started slowly and steadily. The subjugation of hill areas started in 1195 AD with the raid on Chingshong hills by king Thawanthaba( and not with raids on the Marings in 1302 as quoted by various authors). It must have started even in 518-65AD during king Sameirong’s reign if recent discovery of a stone inscription in Khoibu Maring village is to be believed.
3. In respect of valley, the Ningthouja clan who ruled in Kangla subdued the other 6 clans. It started around 4th century by king Naokhomba and ended with conquest of Moirang principality by king Ningthoukhomba around mid-14th century.
4. In the beginning, the relationship between hill people and Meitei king were as subjects or allies. Later on, by sheer military might, the hills were brought under subjugation to Meitei kings who ruled at Kangla.
5. The 1st official Manipur-British relationship started with the signing of 1st defence cum trade treaty on 4th September 1762 between Maharaja Jai Singh and the British. It became more and more formalised during Gambhir Singh’s reign with the establishment of Gambhir Singh Levy in April 1824 after 7 year devastation of 1819-25. Gambhir was forced to do so to save Manipur from Burmese York. The Agreement Regarding the Kubo Valley-1834(9thJan.) and Agreement regarding Compensation For the Kubo Valley-1834(25thJan.) during Gambhir’s reign led to temporary handing over of Kabaw Valley to Burma and is another topic left for another article. However it is clear that British interfered more and more in respect of defence and external affairs of Manipur. The same arrangement continued up-to Nara Singh’s reign with no interference in internal affairs.
6. The situation changed dramatically during Chandrakirti’s period with the British declaring Manipur as a British Protectorate state and as an Asiatic Power in Alliance with the Queen in 1851 with certain condition imposed to the weak king who was facing 10 times rebellion during his 1st 16 years of reign. The declaration was, however, unilateral from British side. Thus the 1st real interference in Manipur’s internal affairs started during Chandrakirti’s reign.
7. The situation further changed with the British conquest of Kangla fort on 27th April 1891 after Khongjom war. The British, however, after thorough discussion in their parliament, British India and other fora, did not annex Manipur after the Anglo-Manipuri war. This is proved by British India’s resolution of Manipur dt. 21st August 1891 where it stated “... had graciously assented to the re-establishment of the native rule under such condition...”. Hence, Churachand remained as native king (i.e. as princely state just like others in other parts of India) and the same is continued during his son Bodh Chandra’s reign till merged to India on 15th October 1949.
8. Though I will not be discussing nitty gritty of what is a protectorate state, various treaties and other alliances the British Empire had with various countries (these are kept for future articles/books), it is clear that Manipur remained a vibrant, independent princely state except defence, external affairs and communication. No doubt, there was some unwanted interference in internal autonomy from British India here and there. The interference was less during Chandrakirti time and maximum during Churachand’s reign. Bodh Chandra, with all his faults, withstood various pressures from British Assam Governors stationed at Shillong till merged. History is proof that there was no interference up-to Narasingh’s reign.
9. We should also be clear that there was no British rule post Anglo-Manipuri war as cited in sl.no.7 above. British Presence, however, increased after the Anglo-Manipuri war due to fear of more resistance from the Manipuris. Divide and rule policy among the hills and the valley was one such concrete example. When the British left Manipur on 15th August 1947, the British handed over their Paramountcy power to the Indian Dominion. Hence, the Governor stationed at Shillong during British Paramouncy, continued to exercise the same power after they left, under the Dominion of India. In Indian context, Paramountcy is the British Power where native states were bound to it by various Treaties, Engagements and Sanads. Out of 600 native states, 40 had Treaties, Manipur was one such. The remaining states had Engagements and Sanads. However British also gave a no. of Sanads to the Manipuri kings. The same is true in respect of many other countries/states/regions/autonomic regions of the world with British Paramountcy.
10. Reign of Both Chandra is an interesting one with various ups and downs. Future historians should minutely scrutinise his period with praise whatever due and criticism whenever due. With all his eccentric character, the king resisted many wishes from the Assam Governors who also happen to be his close friends. One such example is the appointment of Dewan (Prime Minister) of Priyabrata. Governor Sir Akbar Hydary wanted to abolish Dominion Agent and establish the office of the Dewan. Initially the Maharaja objected, but after repeated assurance from the Governor, he agreed. Accordingly, on 20th August 1948, Governor Hydary dissolved the office of the dominion Agent and installed the office of the Dewan. Subsequent to that, vide Palace order no 46 p.11dt.29th November 1948, the Maharaja appointed Priya Brata as Dewan in addition to the post of Chief Minister. Maharaja’s closeness to the Governor can be seen from the fact that, though he was a muslim, Sir Akber Hydary was buried at Kangla where it is still preserved.
11. Unknown historical facts before merger : With the inevitable British departure looming large on Manipur’s political horizon following British PM Attlee’s announcement and subsequent enactment of Indian independence Bill, which was given Royal assent on 18th July 1947, unknown historical facts emerged then were –
i) Manipur was 1 among the 3 states which had Prime Minister, the other 2 being Hydrabad and Kashmir. Perhaps , Governor Hydary was preparing to give more autonomy to Manipur after merger, something like present Bhutan, i.e. Defence, Foreign Affairs & Communication assigned to Dominion India. The idea died with the premature death of the Governor in early 1949. It is also a fact that Governor Hydary loved Manipur so much and visited the state frequently. None of us knew that Manipur had a Prime Minister and its office which is a higher one then a Chief Minister.
ii) Agreement with Governor Hydary : The Manipur Darbar led by Pria Brata entered into a Point of Agreement with the Governor on 29th June 1947. It was agreed to maintain Manipur’s status quo i.e. defence, foreign relation & communication along with trade with Indian Union while maintaining internal autonomy of Manipur prevailing then. It was further agreed to take up further compensation of Kabaw Valley
iii) Holding of the 1st election under Manipur constitution act of 1948 on 11/06- 27/07 of 1948 for 53 members. The Assembly was inaugurated by Maharaja both Chandra on 18/10/1948 with the swearing of a council of 7 ministers with Pria Brata as 1st Chief Minister and T.C. Tiankham as 1st Speaker at Darbar hall. The election was based on adult franchise and the 1st one in Indian sub-continental history.
iv) British never occupied/ruled Manipur. It remained a vibrant, independent native state with defence, foreign relation & communication under British as explained in sl.nos.7, 8 & 9 . Hence reference by many historians, educationist & intellectuals to British occupation of Manipur after Kangla occupation is a misnomer and shows lack of historical in-depth knowledge. I often wonder where Manipuri historians stand in respect of many finer points of our history. What I am trying to emphasis is that British never ruled in Manipur, often repeated word of ‘British Ruled Period’ be referred to as ‘British Stayed Period’ i.e. more British stayed in Manipur.
v) Instrument of Accession and Standstill Agreement : It was executed on 11th August 1947. Here again, many historians and scholars expressed the view that once the 2 were signed, Manipur automatically became a part of India. What a poor and ill-formed view. It just can be countered by the signing of the Merger Agreement on a later date. Why signing of Merger Agreement if the 2 were enough for integration to India? In that political scenario, Merger Agreement was a must for many complicated states like Manipur and because of this, 20 native states signed the same.
(To be contd)