The Manipur Merger Agreement of 1949 - the wide gap between theory and practice
The people of Manipur feel and think that India has been treating Manipur as the former’s colony, the author writes
Manipur, a state in the Northeast of India, is the ancestral territory of the Manipuri people. It is bounded in the east by Myanmar (Burma). Manipur has been geo-strategically important for India. The British occupied Manipur from 1891 to 1947; to rule it and to fulfil their interest in Burma, now Myanmar, as well. During the Second World War, Manipur was a battlefront for the Axis and Allied forces; the Indian National Army claimed the territorial occupation in Manipur by unfurling its flag on 14 April 1944 at Moirang. After 1949, the Indian State upholds that Manipur was voluntarily and peacefully merged with India. This is being substantiated by the fact that on September 21, 1949, the then titular constitutional head of Manipur king Bodhachandra signed a ‘secret’ accord with the Dominion of India in Shillong. The ‘secrecy’ was not disclosed to the public until October 15, 1949, when the administration was taken over by enforcing an order known as the Manipur Administration Order (MAO).
A striking feature of the Indian political system is the wide gap between theory and practice. The Manipuri people had been painfully aware of this fact even when, in the first flush of India’s freedom, its leaders were giving lectures to the world about the historical necessity of decolonization and of granting freedom to dependent peoples. Because, in sharp contrast to their outward postures, India had annexed Manipur on 15 October 1949 and its very first official act were the dissolution of the elected State Assembly and the dismissal of the Council of Ministers. All legislative and executive powers were then concentrated in a Chief Commissioner appointed by New Delhi and he was responsible only to his masters.
The idea of a voluntary merger is refuted by those who emboss the Shillong Accord with colonial meaning. The Communist armed resistance (1949-51), rebellious assertions from the 1960s, polemical journals from 1970s, and several civil assertions from 1990s combined to formulate a theory of forced annexation by India. The annexation theory achieved a milestone in 1993 when a three-day ‘national’ seminar, held in Imphal, resolved that the ‘[Indo-Manipuri Shillong Accord] signed by and between the [king] of Manipur and the representative of the Dominion of India on September 21, 1949, did not have any legality and constitutional validity.’ The proceedings and debates of the seminar was published in 1995 under the title “Annexation of Manipur 1949”. This was followed by the circulation of a booklet entitled Why Manipuris Fight for Right to Self Determination (United National Liberation Front 1996), and Revolutionary People’s Fronts’ memorandum submitted to the United Nations Decolonisation Committee in 1996. Added to these were the eyewitness accounts of the complex and humiliating courses of ‘annexation,’ reproduced in the memoir entitled Shillong 1949, published in 2005 (Anandamohan 2005).
The Historical point of 1949
The aforesaid constitutional Government continued from 1100 AD till the international conflict arose in between the Manipuris and the Burmese in the 18th and 19th centuries AD when the Manipuri king Pamheiba alias Garibaniwaj invaded Burma in the 18th century several times with as many as 30,000 warriors. A large part of the Manipur 1 territory was later ceded by the colonial power of India to Burma (now Myanmar) – the Kabo(or Kabow) Valley, that had been a part of the Manipur Territory till the early part of the 19th century. The British gave annual revenue of Rs.5,000 to the Government of Manipur on behalf of the Burmese till Indian occupation of Manipur in 1949. The Government of India, which had annexed Manipur in 1949 unlawfully and unconstitutionally, ceded the Kabo valley to Burma (present Myanmar) after signing a secret Indo-Burma Treaty in 1953. The provision of the secret treaty is not yet made known to the people of Manipur as well as to the citizens of India. The colonial government of India holds up "Right to information" to the occupied territory and people of Manipur on this account. The colonial government operates like a Mafia on Kabo Valley.
On the conclusion of the Anglo- Burmese War with the signing of the Treaty of Yandaboo on February 24, 1826, Manipur was declared independent. The Anglo Manipuri War broke out in 1891 following the arbitrary intervention by the British Crown in the internal political affairs of Manipur and the massacre of some British Officers by the infuriated mob of local people provoked earlier by the British Forces. With the victory of the British Forces, Manipur State became a vassal State under British Crown, like any other Indian Princely States, in 1891, in accordance with a proclamation of Her Majesty the Queen of England- dated August 21, 1891, whereby Her Majesty the Queen Empress of India had been pleased to forego her right to annex to Her Indian Dominion the territories of the Manipur state and had graciously assented to the reestablishment of Native rule. Under a Notification of the Governor-General of India dated September 18, 1891, the Sanad was granted to the Raja of Manipur, late made Maharaja of Manipur.
Thus Manipur State exercised internal sovereignty only under the suzerainty of the British Crown till the British paramountcy lapsed in 1947 with the passing of the Indian Independent Act 1947. By virtue of Section 7 of that Act, which bears the heading “Consequences of the setting up of the new Dominions”, the Indian State including Manipur became fully independent and their full suzerainty was revived on 15-8-1947. By sub-section (4) of Section 2 of that Act, the room was, however, left to these States to accede to either of the new Dominions of India and Pakistan. Standstill agreements were made followed by instruments of Accession in the forms set out in Appendix- DC and Appendix- WI of the white paper on Indian states. An Examination of those forms will show that the stand-still agreement was only in respect of such matters as communications, arms, currency, Indian State Forces, etc., as already existing on the aforesaid date. The instrument of Accession, while giving jurisdiction and authority to the dominion of India over certain matters like defence, etc., still maintained the sovereignty of the Ruler over the Indian State. This was followed by the merger agreement, by which the Rulers of the Indian States ceded of the Dominion Government full and exclusive authority, jurisdiction and powers for and in relation to the governance of the States, and agreed to transfer the administration of the States to the Dominion Government.
Before the accession of Manipur to India, the Manipur State Constitution Act 1947 had been adopted by the interim government and assented to by the Maharaja. This enacted the law for the governance of the Manipur State. Under section 3 of this Act, all rights, authority and jurisdiction which appertained or were incidental to the Government of the territories of Manipur were exercisable by the Maharaja subject to the provision of this Act.
Again, Section of the Manipur State Constitution Act 1947 contained the Maharaja’s Prerogatives which could not and should not extend to the legitimate interest of the State Administration. Under this Act, the Maharaja of Manipur was only a constitutional Head and the lawmaking authority in the State vested in the Maharaja in Council in collaboration with the state Assembly, was expressly provided in Section 9(b) and Section 26 of the said Act.
The Constituent Assembly was eager to disable Manipur from being protectionist so that all Indians would be allowed to freely move in and around Manipur (Kumar Chaudhari 2 December 1948). They were worried that many in the Naga Hills were ‘misguided by certain persons into thinking that, with the withdrawal of British authority, the country would go back to them...’ (Jaipal Singh 30 July 1947). Assam should at any cost be controlled: if Assam were to go into the hands of somebody who is ‘not in favour of the whole of India, if Assam were in the hands of an adverse power, the whole of India would have gone too’ (Nichols Roy 19 November 1949). Accordingly, Sardar Patel had to take up ‘my bounden duty to work for the consolidation of freedom’ (Menon 1985: 93). He used coercive tactics to ensure that the Shillong Accord was signed at any cost. (Rustomji 1971:107-9).
It is common knowledge to the people of Manipur that the Maharaja was invited to Shillong for some unspecified discussion with the Governor of Assam in September 1949 and he was compelled to sign the Merger Agreement dated 21-9-1949 under threat, duress and/or misrepresentation of facts and circumstances.
The said Agreement purporting to be between the Governor-General of India and His Highness the Maharaja of Manipur did not in terms cede the territory of Manipur State to the Dominion of India but Purported to cede only the full and exclusive authority, jurisdiction and powers for and in relation to the governance of the State of Manipur and to transfer the administration of the State to the Dominion Government of India on October 15, 1949. The said Agreement was signed by Shri Bodhachandra Singh, as Maharaja of Manipur, and Shri Vapal Pangunni Menon, as Adviser to the Government of India, Ministry of State, on behalf or as a delegate or plenipotentiary of India.
The accession of Manipur State to India assumed the character of an international treaty between two sovereign States. Such a treaty is evidence of the fact that the State of Manipur was a Sovereign State and never a vassal or protectorate State in September 1949. Under international law, accession is the transfer of sovereignty over State territory by owner- State to another State by means of a bilateral agreement or treaty.
When the Constitution of India was finally adopted in 1950, it incorporated the provision of future annexation of territory but there is no provision of the right to secede. The Acquired Territories (Merger) Act (1960), the Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Act (1958) and the Criminal Law Amendment Act, (1961) were superimposed to suppress political dissent. Manipur was downgraded to Part C status because of ‘strategic necessity’ (Menon 1985: 297); where there should be a network of ‘communications for the movement of troops and provisioning of supplies in the event of an attack from the north’ (Rustomji 1983: 18). Perhaps Toynbee’s argument that ‘the present consecration of these British-made lines as heirlooms in the successor state’s national heritages is an unexpected and unfortunate turn of History’s wheel’ (1996: 190) substantiates the theoretical understanding of India’s capital interest in Northeast.
But the Maharaja of Manipur as the Ruler had no right, power or jurisdiction to accede the territory of Manipur to the Dominion of India. The Ruler had no right to transfer the sovereignty of Manipur or to barter away the allegiance and liberty of the Manipuri Nation, only for some personal advantages in return, even assuming he was a consenting party to the Agreement. The Ruler of Manipur lacked the capacity to enter into the transaction and sign the Agreement. He was neither an appointed plenipotentiary nor a delegate of the State of Manipur by virtue of his being a nominal constitutional Head of the State. Nor was there any approval or ratification by the council of Ministers which was the State Executive or by the State Assembly which was the State Legislature.
The purported cession should have been conditioned upon the will of the people of Manipur expressed in a plebiscite. According to universally accepted democratic principles, the State Government should consult public opinion either in the Legislature of Parliament or elsewhere as to whether the Merger Agreement or for that matter any treaty having a far-reaching effect on the liberty and welfare of the nation should be confirmed or not. In the case of cession, it should be determined by a plebiscite of the inhabitants of Manipur, or it ought to be followed by such a plebiscite.
It will be pertinent here to advert to what President Wilson of the United States declared: “People and Provinces are not to be bartered about from sovereignty to sovereignty as if they were mere chattels and pawns in the game. People may now be dominated and governed only by their consent. Self-determination is not a mere phrase; it is an imperative principle of action which statement ignore at their peril”.
Jammu and Kashmir also acceded to Indian under an Instrument of Accession signed by the Maharaja of Kashmir and accepted by the government of India. After the accession, the Indian Prime Minister Shri Jawaharlal Nehru made a declaration that the accession was subject to the plebiscite of the people of Jammu and Kashmir when peace and order would be restored to the former state. Jammu and Kashmir is now become a union territory. Jammu and Kashmir sent a representative to the Constituent Assembly of India and accepted the Constitution of India even it behaved like a state of India.
But no representative of the State of Manipur was sent to said constituent Assembly and accepted the Constitution of India. The Merger Agreement which partook of the nature of a treaty between two sovereign states of Manipur and India has got to be ratified, and it can have no binding effect unless it has been ratified. There is no clause or provision in the said treaty that it should be binding at once without ratifications being necessary at all. Failure to ratify the same by the competent authorities of Manipur and India should be taken as a refusal to ratify.
Further, when a treaty is concluded by a party, who was not invested with necessary power or who acted in excess of the power conferred on him, the treaty may be considered null and void, even where the treaty was concluded by the Head of State. Where the Maharaja of Manipur as the State functionary had exceeded his powers and the treaty concerned matters in regard to which constitutional restriction was imposed upon him by the Manipur State Constitution Act 1947, the so-called Merger Agreement could not be sustained as valid in international law.
It is, therefore, greatly needed to do something to “restore” the most extraordinarily admirable sight of the grand Imphal Palace of Manipur, the hoary hilly-land existed for thousands of years as an indomitable kingdom which “shone” like a little but the very bright star on the Political Horizon of south-east Asia, at the earliest possible in the best public interest, particularly for the people of the next generations to come.
Before the “issue” trues to a situation of “a spark neglected burns the House” the State Government may reconsider their decision of taking over the Sana Konung building and its lands, and instead take the steps of repairing the present Palace building which is in a dangerously dilapidated condition and, in which Maharaja and his family members to continue to live as the “customary Head” of the State and the people without disturbing the place which is serving not as a “mere residence of a king and his family” but quite a “sacrosanct Temple (institution) of the people” for observing their customary, usages and religious matters.
Taking steps for making the Palace area to look cleaner and mare admirable is quite welcome by all but not the idea of transforming its building into a “historical Museum of Manipur” as the same had already been established in a befitting manner inside Kangla with an exhibition of 8 ancient relics” connected to its age-old sovereignty.
The people of Manipur feel and think that India has been treating Manipur as the former’s colony as if India is the conqueror and Manipur the conquered in the continuing process of the Indians subjugating and exploiting the Manipuris and in the ceaseless struggle of the latter to assert a right of self-determination. It is for the people of Manipur to decide whether they will revolt against the Indian colonial rule as a political community struggling to attain or retrieve its lost separate independent statehood by reasserting their right to self-determination.
Slogan: “No to Merger Agreement of 1949 in Manipur”
(The views expressed are the writer’s own)