Manipur's Independence and Merger Agreement 1949
The author explains how Manipur attained freedom from the British colonial rule and merged with India.

ByMilan Luwang

Updated on 26 Nov 2021, 5:13 am

Imphal, Manipur (Photo: IFP)

Imphal, Manipur (Photo: IFP)

Manipur, being a part of British India, got freedom the day India got independence from the British colonial rule on August 15, 1947. The then political agent of Manipur, Stewart wrote  to Maharaj Bodhachandra, stating that the Maharaj should come at the residency in the midnight of August 14/15, 1947. First, Maharaj Bodhachandra thought Stewart should come to the palace as the later was a lower rank. Maharaj Bodhachandra soon realized that Stewart was a representative of British crown. On a stipulated time, Maharaj Bodhachandra, private secretary Gourahari and ADC Anandmohan came to the residency. Stewart welcomed them warmly. They entered the bungalow. Stewart sat facing east, while Bodhachandra sat in opposite direction. Both private secretary and ADC sat behind the Maharaj. The moment was so still. They waited for a short time. As the clock struck 12 midnight, they stood up. Then Stewart said - the British rule over Manipur will lapse from today. The state administration is handed over to you. Maharaj Bodhachandra and Stewart shook hands. The next moment, the duo said good morning, good morning. Then Maharaj Bodhachandra, the private secretary and ADC left the residency for the palace. Since that moment, Manipur attained freedom.

Viceroy Mountbatten summoned a meeting of all princely states of British India on July 25, 1947. He said that all the princely states should get freedom after the British left. He announced that the British paramountcy will divide the Indian subcontinent into two separate dominions viz dominion of India and dominion of Pakistan. He advised that each princely state should join in either India or Pakistan for their betterment. The princely states must hand over their authority of external affairs, defense and communication to the authority of India or Pakistan, he reiterated. Believing this, Maharaj Bodhachandra signed the Instrument of accession and standstill agreement on August 11,1947 at Imphal. In the morning of 14 August 1947, Maharaj Bodhachandra entrusted his brother Maharaj Kumar Priyobrata to form an interim council, a provisional government. Bodhachandra appointed Maharaj Kumar Priyobrata as chief minister. In the interim council, there were seven council of ministers, including the chief minister. Other ministers were Major Bob Khatting, minister in charge, hills administration and Manipur Rifles, Krishna Mohan finance, RK Bhubansana revenue, Moulavi Basiruddin Ahmed medical, PWD and jail, K Gouro Singh education and local self government and TC Tiankham forest and agriculture.

Later on, the Manipur state Constitution Act 1947 was constituted. Under this Constitution, the first assembly election of Manipur was held in June July 1948. The election was based on universal adult franchise. Total number of seats was 53 - 30 seats from valley, 18 seats from hills, three seats from Muhammadans and two nominee of Maharaj Bodhachandra with the Maharaj being head of the Constitution. MK Priyobrata and E Nilakanta were the two nominees. Hijam Erabot won from Utlou A/C. Md Alimuddin, Laishram Achou, Sekmai Chaoba, Moirang Koireng, Elangbam Tompok, S Somerendra, RK Bhubansana, Dr Leiren, Giri, Major Bob Khatting, etc were worth mentioning elected persons. Manipur state Congress won only 14 seats and failed to form government. A coalition government of Praja Shanti supported by 12 independent MLAs was installed. MK Priyobrata was sworn in as chief minister by Maharaj Bodhachandra. Six other ministers were also sworn in. S Somerendra was the opposition leader in the assembly. The term of the assembly was three years. Manipur state Congress was so disappointed after the election.

The first assembly session was held on 18 October 1948 at Darbar Hall, palace. Maharaj Bodhachandra inaugurated the session by giving speeches. Let us recall some classic speeches of Bodhachandra. Let unity be the strength of Manipur. Let truth be treated as the brave. Sincerity among the pen works and speech works is preferred. Be man in action. Number of buildings is not counted as developed country, honest people indicate development. Shining for the country is always preferred. This will be the rules and regulations. Let us pray the God for country's welfare."

After the election, there was turmoil, unrest in the society despite a responsible government iin place. The political agitations influenced by the Congress movements in India spread to Manipur and they were demanding a responsible government in the state. Among the politicians, there were quarrels, allegations, claims, and counter claims. Tompok Congress agitated, demanding formation of Purbanchal Pradesh. Tomal Congress opined that the sorrow of Manipur will be resolved if it joins in Purbanchal Pradesh. Keeping this in mind, he and his followers went to Assam and agitated demanding Purbanchal Pradesh. At that time, there was a rumour of formation of Purbanchal Pradesh, including Manipur, Lushai hills, North cachar hills, Jaintia hills whose capital would be at Shillong. Jana Neta Hijam Erabot strongly objected to the proposal of formation of Purbanchal Pradesh. At that time, he was an MLA. He organized a public meeting at MDU Hall on 21 September 1948. A crowd from Lamlai side came to participate in the meeting. A team of Manipur police stopped the rally at Pungdongbam. Confrontation between the police and the crowd occurred. A sub inspector Naranbabu was killed in the incident. Consequently the government ordered immediate arrest of Erabot. On hearing this information, Erabot quickly left the meeting. The Government proclaimed him as wanted. Since that incident, Erabot became underground forever. Eventually he died on 26 September 1951 at Tangbo hill Burma.

At this juncture the political leaders of India were thinking of how to annex Manipur in Indian Union. Assam governor Akbar Haidari sent Deveshor Sharma, a politician of Assam Congress to Manipur to observe the political loopholes of Manipur as a dominion agent. He frequently intervened in the political affairs of Manipur. After that the leaders of Delhi after thorough discussion sent one Rawal Amar Singh, giving a post Dewan in place of agent to Manipur. After independence, the political status of Maharaj Bodhachandra was only in namesake. Just only as head of the Constitution. The dewan did many works in place of Maharaj. Maharaj Bodhachandra was disappointed with it. This was a pre plan of Delhi.

It may be mentioned here that there was a plan of Sardar Patel, then deputy prime minister, to form a union of India by annexing all princely states within three years. Assam governor Prakash officially came to Manipur and talked with Maharaj Bodhachandra about the annexation of Manipur to India. However, Maharaj Bodhachandra didn't give any final decision regarding the annexation of Manipur. He thought that he should go to Shillong to meet governor Prakash to restrain the oversmart nature of Dewan Amar Singh and to discuss some political issues.

Bodhachandra sent a telegram to governor Prakash, stating that he would come to Shillong in the first week of September 1949. On hearing this information, governor Prakash and his advisor Rustumji were full of joy. Both were troubled over how to annex Manipur in India. At this time, they had a golden chance to execute the plan. Governor Prakash immediately rushed to Delhi to meet political leaders of India to discuss about Manipur. Then he went to Bombay to meet Sardar Patel to tell about Manipur. Sardar Patel asked, Is there not a single brigadier of Indian Army at your Shillong? Prakash understood that he was given permission to force Maharaj Bodhachandra if the later doesn't sign the merger agreement. Maharaj Bodhachandra left Imphal for Shillong on 16 September 1949. The total number of persons in the team, including private secretary Gourahari and ADC Anand Mohan were 15. They were traveling on vehicles. Next day, they reached Shillong in the evening and halted at Red Lance's Shillong. On 18 September 1949 at around 11 am Maharaj Bodhachandra along with private secretary Gourahari and ADC Anand Mohan went to Raj Bhawan to meet governor Prakash. They were traveling on vehicle. They saw a vehicle of Indian CID chasing them. Soon they came to know that the campus of Raj Bhawan was under tight security.

Governor Prakash warmly welcomed Maharaj Bodhachandra. Then governor Prakash took an envelope from his private secretary TS Krishna Murti and opened it. Governor Prakash gave the documents to Maharaj Bodhachandra and said, please sign it. He told that the Government of India had decided to annex Manipur state in dominion of India. It is for betterment of Manipur state. Maharaj Bodhachandra flashed his eyes and expressed disappointment. He replied that he should consult the council of ministers and the assembly as the matter was a state concern. So I could not sign it. All the efforts of governor Prakash went in vain.

Governor's advisor Rustumji threatened Maharaj Bodhachandra by saying that Maharaj could not leave Shillong unless he signs the merger agreement. Governor Prakash told Rustumji to keep quiet. Then governor Prakash said Maharaj Bodhachandra that the signing of the document will be done tomorrow in the same room. Maharaj Bodhachandra returned to Red Lance's. On that day, the Indian CID personnel surrounded Red Lance's. Bodhachandra didn't come to the governor house on September 19, 1949. Letters were sent to both sides. Maharaj Bodhachandra was like a house arrested person in Red Lance's. He may be compared with the lion caught in a trap. He was helpless there. At last, he decided to sign the merger agreement. On September 21, 1949, Maharaj Bodhachandra, private secretary Gourahari and ADC Anand Mohan went to the governor’s house and signed the Manipur merger agreement. On October 15, 1949, the Government of India announced that Manipur had become a part of India.

(The Views Expressed are Personal)

First published:26 Nov 2021, 5:13 am

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Milan Luwang

Milan Luwang

Senior Journalist, Manipur Mail, Imphal, Manipur

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