Based on personal interview
The Second World War exposed Manipur and North East India to the outside world with its ravages and sufferings caused to the people. There were hopes and aspirations and at the same time of fear and apprehensions about the future of the hill people of North East India including Manipur – Professor (late) Gangmumei Kamei.
As per the newly adopted Manipur State Constitution Act (MSCA), 1947, the first general election to the Manipur legislative assembly of 53 members within the broad framework of a limited constitutional monarchy, was held in independent Manipur during June-July, 1948 On 11 and 30 June elections were held in the valley and on 26 and 27 July,1948 in the hills. Manipur State Congress party got the single largest seats; but a Prajashanti (non-Congress) formed a coalition ministry. According to the MSCA, Maharaja Bodhachandra Singh nominated his younger brother Maharaj Kumar Priyabrata Singh (hereafter referred to P.B. only as he was popularly known) as Chief Minister with other six ministers, four from the valley, Dr.N.Leiren Singh, A.Ibungotomcha Singh, A.Gourabidhu Singh and Md.Allimuddin and two from the hills, R.Khathing and Teba Kilong. T.C.Tiankham got elected as the first speaker and T.Bokul Singh as deputy speaher. The first session of the assembly met at the Durbar Hall on 18 October, 1948. Maharaja Bodhachandra Singh addressed the maiden assembly session and expressed his happiness over the establishment of the legislative assembly which was a long-cherished desire of the people of Manipur. “.
However, all was not well on other sides of Manipur. On the north, A..Daiho started a movement aiming at the merger of Mao-Maram inhabited areas with the Naga Hills. Daiho and his friends boycotted the 1948 election and Mao-East constituency had no representatives in the Manipur legislative assembly in 1948. On the south-west Manipur, the Hmar community of the Mizo Union of Manipur branch led by L.Tawna (an ex-service man who worked as a clerk in the British Airforce sector in Singapore during the World War Two. He later on retired as an MCS officer) decided to boycott the election with a demand for integration with the proposed “Mizo Hills District”. L.Tawna, endowed with dynamic personality and oratory, could easily mobilize the Hmar people and some Hmar poets even went to the extent of eulogizing him “(Pu Tawna, ram le hnam hmangaihtu, Ei ta dingin thi chenin a huom). “:Pu Tawna, A great patriot and lover of our nation, who is ready to die for our cause”.
As India got independence in 1947, different minority tribal groups of North East India had became restless and more conscious that if they remained divided geographically with each tribe trying to maintain a separate identity, they would remain weak and an easy target for exploitation and assimilation. Hmars were not exception. Therefore, the main issue which motivated the Mizo Union leaders was the formation of a separate administrative unit by merging all the Hmar inhabited hill areas of South-west Manipur with Mizoram.
There was a fear that the more populous and advanced Meiteis of the Manipur valley would dominate the ignorant hill people sooner or later. In this connection, Nari Rustomji in his Enchanted Frontiers writes, “with the coming to the fore of popular democratic forces, the hill tribes of both areas (Manipur and Assam) tend to feel that there was safety in numbers and that they should therefore join together for self preservation”. Therefore, the Hmar people for their sheer economic survival tenaciously tried to maintain their separate identity and wanted to join their brethren outside the state in their demand for a separate administrative unit which would give them a rightful place in the determination of their own fate.
L.Tawna had sometimes landed himself in a contradictory situation. He had attended the all-party meeting of the hills and valley at MDU hall, Imphal on November 30, 1947 which demanded a full responsible government and decided to keep the territorial integrity of Manipur.. But against of what had been decided upon, L.Tawna immediately came back to Pherzawl and intensified the agitation. But the tribal chiefs, village authorities and their supporters loyally collaborated with the newly formed government of Manipur. Contrary to the wishes of the Mizo Union party, Sandam Hmar, Pherzawl village, contested the election from Senvawn constituency but lost to Tualchin Paite of Senvawn village.
The Union agitation continued more intensely and then the volunteers directed their anger against the chiefs and village authority. Gradually the movement assumed a violent character and the volunteers began to pelt stones at the chiefs’ and village authorities’ houses. They shouted slogans that they threatened to boycott the state schools, to stop paying busung- sadar (a kind of feudal practice of paying a certain fixed amount of paddy annually and surrendering a hind lag of any animal shot within the village chiefdom to the chief), to stop pawtthak (pothang bekari and pothang senkhai) and to ex-communicate all the chiefs and village authorities including their relatives socially.
Concerned with what had happened in Tipaimukh areas, P.B decided to meet the Union leaders. (P.B and L.Tawna knew each other closely before and became close friends later on). I have reproduced here what I had written in 1997 in my book, “In Search of Identity: Hmars of North East India” (Akansha Publishing House, New Delhi, 2007: “On February 2,1949, the then Chief Minister Maharaj Kumar P.B.Singh, accompanied by R.Khathing, Minister for Hill Affairs and the commandant of the 4th Assam Rifles, arrived at Parbung, Tipaimukh. In his public address at Senvawn, P.B.Singh reiterated that while the Hmars had all his sympathy, he was not prepared to take up any measures which were likely to affect the territorial integrity of Manipur. The soft-spoken P.B.Singh was said to have offered a ‘regional council’ to the Union leaders. To know P.B.Singh’s version, the author went to the palace of the Maharaja at Imphal one fine morning to interview him. As soon as the subject was opened, P.B.Singh instantly recited the song composed in Mizo dialect:
In Mizo: State lalber P.B. Singh-an,
Union kawng a dal theilo;
Authority bawm khaia chuan;
Artui khawn I phu tawk e.
In English: P.B.Singh, the state’s supreme leader,
Cannot stand on the Union’s way;
Ye authority members, are only fit
to collect eggs (a kind of pothang senkhai for touring colonial officialsin the hills).
We sang the song together and then I asked P.B directly whether he had really made such offer. P.B. had just kept smiling, neither admitting nor denying it and I decided not to push it further”.
To be contd
The writer is retired professor of history, Manipur University and former Vice Chancellor, Sangai International University, Manipur. He can be reached at [email protected]