Manipur’s lost legacy - Merger Agreement

Contd from previous issue
12. Let me now come to the finer points of the signing of the controversial Merger Agreement. Though it is still a hot topic, I will only touch the finer points and give an in-depth analysis as below :
i) The Maharaja had increasing trouble with the new Dewan (Prime Minister) General Rawat Amar Singh and wanted to discuss the matter with Assam Governor. After fixing appointment, Bodh Chandra left Imphal on 16th September 1949 for Shillong. The new Assam Governor Prakasha, along with his advisor N.K. Rustomji, met Sardar Patel who was ailing at Birla House, Bombay as per advice of V.P. Menon, Adviser, State Ministry, New Delhi. The Sardar told Assam Governor that the Merger Agreement must got to be signed, even by using force, during the Maharaja’s impending visit to Shillong. The Maharaja along with P.S. Gaurahari and ADC Anandamohon, reached Shillong on 17th September 1949. There were intense negotiation on 18th &19th where Manipur Raja resisted all pressure of signing the Merger Agreement. He told the Governor that he would go to Manipur, discuss with the Council of Ministers and come back for further discussion. At one point, the Ruler even refused to meet the Governor.
ii) The turning point was the visit of Das Gupta, former SP of Manipur and serving as SP(CID) Shillong at that time on 19th. Das Gupta told 2 things clearly to the Manipur Ruler; a) Maharaja will not be allowed to leave Shillong without signing the Merger Agreement and b) In case of non-signing, a new Maharaja, who would sign on dotted line, will be appointed. Das Gupta was acting as double agent. At the discussion on 20th, Bodh Chandra was a very much subdued one and agreed to examine the draft agreement in detail. Das Gupta’s meeting + Governor Prakasha’s personal visit to Bodh Chandra at Rajbari Residence at Redlands Road, Shillong in the evening of 20th made the Ruler an U-tern and signed the Merger Agreement on 21st .
iii) Prior to this, security of Rajbari area was strengthened by posting of 2 Jat Regiment section from previous 1 section. Basically the Manipur Ruler was under house arrest. This was further confirmed by Governor Prakasha’s telegram to Sardar Patel on 18th Sept. 1949 where he stated that the Ruler was detained and sought permission for the same until he signed the Agreement.
iv) The Ruler returned on 25th September. Meanwhile, the Manipur Assembly, in its 3rd session held on 28th Sept. 1949, passed a resolution rejecting the Merger Agreement as obsolete by stating that the Maharaja entrusted all his powers to the State Assembly. This resolution only remains in paper with our elected MPs & Assembly even not discussing it once. 1st Chief Commissioner of Manipur, Major General Rawat Amar Singh at noon of 15/10/1949, issued a notification for taking over the Administration of Manipur. Duly elected Manipur Legislature was also dissolved on the same day.
v) That 15th August 1947 is not Manipur’s Independence Day, it is the day of transfer of British legacy and its power to the Dominion of India represented by a governor at Shillong. This British legacy was bound to defence, external affairs and communication to some extend and not all. Hence, if one is to celebrate this day, one can observe as end of ‘British Stay Period’(and not as ‘British Rule Period’) as explained in previous paras. The misnomer and confused mindset must be removed and 15th October 1949 be observed as the day Manipur merged to Dominion India. British also clearly declared that they would stick to non-interference in the succession issue.
13. Lost opportunities : During this period of hot political steam, political permutations and combinations are crystallised into 3 distinct groups :- i)The Praja Santi Party which is fiercely pro-Royal, but anti- Congress and anti-merger ii) the Manipur State Congress (becoming a part of Indian National Congress) which favours merger to free India and iii) Irabot and co. led remaining party which is deadly anti-Congress, anti-royal, anti-merger but for an independent state. In the hills-formation of Vaiphei National organisation and Hmar Association in 1944 and 1945 respectively and formation of Manipur Zeliangrong Union, Zeliangrong council, the Kuki National Army(KNA), agitation by Mizo Union for a union of Kuki areas with Lusai Hills etc. in 1947 were worth mentioning. Another important aspect was the coming up of Daiho’s Mao Naga Party under the influence of Phizo’s Naga National Party (limited to a few in the beginning). If Irababot’s labour at this critical juncture to form a United Front to fight the election with others viz, Shimray of Tangkhulong, Lunneh of KNA, Kakhangai of Kabui Association and some other valley organisations succeeded, Manipur’s political landscape might have another re-writen page. Unfortunately for Mother Manipur, this did not happen.
14. Disunity among the Ruler, State Darbar, advisors & political Parties :
i) It is here that we require an in-depth analysis of the role of Darbar Members, his advisors & other political parties. Thus, at this every critical juncture, Manipur’s disunity and division was witnessed. Had the ruler able to bring all these stakeholders and crystallise into one opinion, we would never have lost our freedom and Kabaw Valley. Alas, that was not so. Definitely there were differences between the Ruler and Darbar Members. With political parties going to different directions, the situation was also very fluid and difficult to crystallize into 1 opinion. But, a good leader is the one who sacrifice his/her personal interest for the sake of common people. Bodh Chandra was lacking in this. We have to blame others also i.e. State Darbar, Advisors & Political Parties. But the grater blame is to be consigned to the Ruler. Bodh Chandra can’t escape this.
ii) Once the British left, Mountbatten and Sardar Patel were busy for merger of all native states to either Indian or Pakistan Dominion as per the wishes of the Princes. The call for merger was in respect of defence, external affairs & communication with no interference in the internal autonomy of the princely states. This is clearly seen in the statement of Cabinet Mission, Simla, 12th May 1946, Sardar Patel’s statement of 5th July 1947 on Indian States and Lord Mountbatten’s call to the states to accede to the appropriate dominion in respect of defence, external affairs and communication. In all these, it is further stated that ceding to either Dominion is to be voluntary. Add to this, we had the Manipur Darbar’s Point of Agreement with the Governor on 29th June 1947( ref. 11(iii) above). In spite of all these, we lost our internal autonomy and Kabaw Valley. Hence, if one sees it from hindsight, it is very painful and disgusting. This tragedy is haunting every Manipuri now and then and will continue to do so in future as well.
iii) The Maharaja, who attended princes meeting called by Mountbatten in early July 1947 and signed the Instrument of Accession and the Standstill Agreement on 11th August just before India’s independence can’t say that he is ignorant the nitty gritty of the Merger. The ruler who had close personal friendships with Mountbatten, the Supreme commander of the Allied Forces in South-East Asia, and Squadron Leader Arjun Singh, who later became Chief of Air Staff of India, commanding a spitfire squadron at Tulihal airfield, (present civilian airfield) can’t say that he is ignorant of the then political clouds prevailing in Manipur and Indian subcontinent. The same is true of his Darbar Members and Advisors. Once the Maharaja knew that he could not leave Shillong without signing the Agreement, he should have negotiated with pointing to the terms of Agreement entered by the Manipur Darbar with Governor Hydary on 29/06/1947 and stick to it. This is the 2nd golden chance. The 1st chance would have been negotiation during Governor Hydary’s perod. Hydary’s love for Manipur and his friedship with Bodh Chandra would have clinched the merger in Manipur’s favour. Bodh Chandra and the Darbar missed both and Manipur missed freedom along with Kabaw Valley.
Had Governor Sir Akbar Hydary continued as Governor, he could have guided Both Chandra and the Darbar to the logical conclusion as done in his Points of Agreement with the State Darbar. The slippery Governor Prakasha, though having close personal rapport with the Manipur king, used all his wisdom and diplomacy and tamed the Manipur Maharaja in signing the Merger Agreement. It is, therefore, not surprising that he was rewarded a cabinet post in Nehru’s 1st cabinet.
Conclusion : Your writer had tried to present the best logical conclusion of Merger Agreement and the surrounding politico-historical clouds by bringing new ideas and thoughts. Worth mentioning are- i) Manipur was never under British rule, remained a vibrant state with full internal autonomy with defence, external affairs assigned to the British and afterwards to Indian Dominion. The relationship with the British was very peculiar and never found anywhere in Indian native states. Manipur was a British Protectorate state and as an Asiatic Power in Alliance with the Queen and after Anglo-Manipuri war, Manipur was never annexed to British India. ii) written Indo-Manipuri relationship started form Gaurashyam’s reign and continued till they left on midnight of 14/15 August 1947. British interference in internal affairs started from Chandrakirti to the end, but less in his time and more after Anglo-Manipuri war. iii) 15th August is not our independence day, It is India’s one. This is the day British left Manipur, we merged to India only on 15th October 1949. Hence, observance of occasions are to be re-aligned. Meaning of Protectorate state had been defined by stating that through this, by various Treaties, Engagements and Sanads, Indian Princely states are bound to British India. iv) Important historical facts are distorted by our historians, educationist & intellectuals as they don’t do en-depth research of the politico-historical events. v) In the Shillong Merger Agreement, 2 persons, namely, Das Gupta and Governor Ved Prakasa were responsible for signing the same by Bodh Chandra. They used all the tricks under them to the emotive Manipur Ruler. vi) There was disunity among the Ruler, State Darbar, Advisors & Political Parties leading to the fiasco. They should have crystallized into 1 opinion at that critical juncture of history and present the same to Lord Mountbatten and Sardar Patel. That our internal autonomy and Kabow Valley were in a platter ready to be offered to the Manipuris were seen in Manipur Darbar’s Point of Agreement with the Governor Sir Akbar Hydary on 29th June 1947 and Sardar Patel’s statement of 5th July 1947 on Indian States and Lord Mountbatten’s call to the states to accede to the appropriate dominion in respect of defence, external affairs and communication. We just missed our Freedom and Kabaw Valley by a whisker. vii) And lastly, the writer also hoped that young historians and students will read this article and crystallise their own un-biased opinion for future generations to come. The writer is Ex-Director, Health & WHO Fellow