Maharajkumar Priya Brata Singh (1912-2005) in History

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by Prof. Gangmumei Kamei(The birth centenary of Maharajkumar Priya Brata Singh falls on 17th February 2012. This article is a centenary tribute to the Late Maharajkumar Priya Brata Singh who passed away on 29th October 2005)

Maharajkumar Priya Brata Singh was the most popular prince of Manipur in the 20th century. He was the second son of Maharaja Churachand Singh. His mother was Rani Shyamasakhi Devi of Chingakham lineage, the second queen (Apanbi) of the Maharaja. He was born on Friday the 17th February 1911 in the new palace of Manipur. He was fondly called ‘Sanayaima’ or ‘Shamu phaba’ by his father, the Maharaja. He was popularly known as Sanakhya Sanayaima to the common people because of being the second son. Among the hill people, especially the Tangkhuls, he was known as Sanayaima. Among the Kuki Chin tribes, he was known as M.K. P.B. or P.B. Singh. Maharajkumari Binodini, the youngest daughter of Maharaja Sir Churachand Singh in her memoir, the family of Maharaja Churachand, described him as an affectionate brother, an intellectual and a statesman. The most learned of all the children of Maharaja Churachand Singh, he entered into the public life being associated with British and Indian officers; he came to be known as P.B. Singh or just P.B.Maharaja Churachand Singh is reported to have shown his affection for his daughters; the first was princess Maharajkumari Tamphasana, followed by Maharajkumari Angousana, Maharajkumari Tombisana and the youngest daughter was Maharajkumari Binodini (Wangolsana). But the Maharaja showed equally his love for Priya Brata Singh. The Maharaja looked after the education of his sons. Prince Priya Brata Singh started learning English and Hindi when he was six or seven years of age. He learnt English from one Manipuri tutor named Bihari Singh and Hindi from a Marwari tutor. Since his childhood days he was introduced to the different royal ceremonies, protocols and decorum inside the palace. His love for animals was imbibed when the Maharaja was presented with different animals by the tribal chiefs. Maharaja Churachand Singh was a well educated ruler. He tried to give the best education to his children. Maharajkumar Priya Brata Singh was sent to the Rajkumar College in Raipur which was attended by the children of the princes, nobles and high officials of India at that time. The Rajkumar College was actually a school. While residing in the Rajkumar College Campus, Maharajkumar P.B. Singh was exposed to several extra curricular activities. He learnt gymnastics, Indian wrestling, painting and landscape drawing and even carpentry as a hobby. His father objected to his taking the carpentry as a hobby. So he took to sketching and electrical toy making as his hobbies. The Maharaja insisted that his two sons Maharajkumar Bodhchandra Singh and Priya Brata Singh should go to England for exposure to English life for at least six months. So in April 1921 young Priya Brata Singh left for England. In his old age he remembered later on that he left Bombay by a ship, P&O Liner ‘Egypt’ and landed at Marseillis in France. From there he went to Paris by train and then to England. He was admitted to St. Pleasant Mount School located at Christ Church near Bournemouth in England. After spending six months in England where he was taken to several palaces and castles in London he was very much impressed by the English way of life. He returned to India via Gibraltar and Suez Canal. Returning from England he continued his school studies in the Rajkumar College, Raipur. While in Raipur he got training in fine arts specially painting from a painting artist from Sir J.J.School of Art of Bombay named Gopal Gobind Kanet Rai and a well known painter from Manipur named Ningthoujam Bhadra whom he called Epu Bhadra. He completed his school education in Raipur. He was admitted to the Ewing Christian College in the Allahabad University in 1928. He graduated from Allahabad University in 1934. Maharajkumar P.B. Singh was groomed to be a perfect prince who was to rule his state. He was attracted by fine arts, painting, sports and cinematography (1). Further he got opportunities for contact with different friends and communities throughout the country. He was a learned and civilized gentleman. Maharaja Churachand Singh was proud of his learned son and groomed him up for future politics and administration in the state. When he was a college student in Allahabad in 1932 Maharajkumar Priya Brata Singh was deputed by his father to accompany Political Agent C. Gimson in the mission to Calcutta to submit a representation of the Manipur Government for the retrocession of Kabaw valley to the State Enquiry Committee appointed by British Government to look into the constitutional reforms of the princely states in India as a part of the Simon Commission. The problem of Kabaw valley was discussed at different levels by the Government in India and decided not to return it to Manipur. Membership of the Manipur State Durbar (1936)Maharajkumar Priya Brata Singh graduated from Allahabad University in 1934. He was a very handsome and popular young man at the age of 23. His father appointed him as a member of Manipur State Durbar on 12 February 1936 as an ordinary member. He was given the portfolio of Police, PWD and Arts and Craft. As an active young man he handled the three portfolios with grace and efficiency. The Police department was under one Inspector named Khomdram Dhanachandra Singh who married a daughter of the Maharaja.  The PWD was headed by C.F. Jeffery as a State Engineer of Manipur. Jeffery was an intimate friend of the Maharaja. He was a qualified civil engineer with a degree of M. Tech from England. He came to India in search of job. But unfortunately he could not get any job. The Maharaja invited him to be the State Engineer of Manipur. Jeffery constructed hydro-electric power from Leimakhong and distributed electricity for public consumption. He also successfully supervised the supply of drinking water from Imphal water supply works. There were several agitations from the public against the introduction of water tax initiated by the chief engineer. The two princes Bodhchandra Singh and Priya Brata Singh were friendly with Jeffery. After retirement Jeffery settled in Australia and left behind the endowment for Manipur students for study in Australia. A trust in the name of Jeffery was established by Maharajkumar P.B. Singh later on. He also looked after an interesting department of Arts and Craft. This was a very small department established by Mrs. S.M. Jolly (Mrs. Jolly) wife of a former State engineer of Manipur. Mrs. Jolly was separated from her husband and settled in Imphal. She started one institute of Arts and Craft. Mrs. Jolly’s institute became a popular show piece of Manipur. The Government of Manipur patronized the institute. During the time of Maharajkumar P.B. Singh, one Mrs. Taylor wife of Civil Surgeon Colonel Taylor was in-charge of the department of Arts and Craft. With three heads of departments under him he had little worry for the administrative works. As a young and energetic member of the Durbar he made extensive tour of the state particularly the hills where lived different communities. Once he wanted to visit the eastern hills inhabited by the Tangkhul Nagas. But he realized that the administration of the hill areas was exclusively under the jurisdiction of the President of the Manipur State Durbar who was the member of the British ICS. According to the Rules for the Management of the State of Manipur revised in 1935, the hill tribes were administered by the Political Agent on behalf of the Maharaja. And the President of the Manipur State Durbar (PMSD) did the actual administration of the hill areas with the help of four sub divisional officers who were of the Assam Commission. When he joined the Durbar, the President of the Manipur State Durbar was G.P. Stewart and the SDO of north east sub division (Ukhrul) was S.J. Duncan, a young member of the Assam Civil Service. He wrote to SDO Duncan through Pushkar Singh, head clerk of the State Durbar for permission to visit Ukhrul. He also realized that the hill administrative authority did not encourage visit of a prince or a member of the Durbar to visit the hill areas. But there was no law restricting a prince of Manipur to visit any part of Manipur. Reluctantly his proposal to visit Ukhrul was accepted by the Political Agent. His visit to Ukhrul was described by R.K. Ranjan Singh (2). The then Political Agent accepted his proposal with two Lambus and sufficient porters for the visit. “During those days road connectivity was bridle path only. From Palace at Imphal to Yangangpokpi he traveled by car then to the hills on foot crossing Litan, Lambui, Nungsangkhong and Hungdung. He was overwhelmed by the warmth and grandeur of the reception by the highlanders. He returned from Ukhrul by Peters Road (3) via Toloi, Sirarakhong, and Mahadev etc. On his return journey he was surprised to see the Union Jack flying atop the Assam Rifles Post of Ukhrul. He asked the then Political Agent why it could not be the Manipuri Flag. Duncan quickly returned, “You supply me one, and we’ll hoist there”. In fact P.B. knows that there was no Manipuri flag at that time. So he had to design one. He took it up as a challenge and with one Keisham Tombi and Haobam Amubi, after a month’s hard work, produced Manipuri Flag – on violet silk with Pakhangba in gold. Duncan took the flag and did hoist it in Ukhrul, at the SDO’s Office”. True, the traditional flag of Manipur was not used since the British Conquest of Manipur in 1891. It was Hijam Irabot Singh who hoisted a flag with the imprint of emblem of Pakhangba on it in the Chinga Session of Nikhil Manipuri Mahasabha in 31 December 1938. It was SDO Duncan who had earlier imprisoned Jadonang in 1928 and helped the Political Agent J.C. Higgins in the suppression of Zeliangrong Revolt of 1928 – 33 during which Jadonang was executed in 1931 and Gaidinliu was imprisoned in 1933 (4).Maharajkumar P.B. Singh was friendly with all the members of the royal family including Hijam Irabot Singh who was appointed a Judge of the Sadar Panchayat. He addressed him as ‘Ebai Ebungo’ (my royal brother-in-law). He was aware of the activities of Nikhil Manipuri Hindu Mahasabha. He inaugurated the handloom exhibition which preceded the foundation of the Nikhil Manipuri Hindu Mahasabha in 1934. The exhibition was held at the Police Line Bazaar (5). He was an admirer of Hijam Irabot Singh though politically as a member of the Durbar, he was opposed to him in consideration of his father’s opposition to Irabot Singh. It was strange that he was silent on the oppressive policy of the Brahma Sabha and the ‘Mangba-Sengba’ scandal. He was new to the political and social life of Manipur perhaps he did not like to oppose his father nor the Manipur State Durbar nor the Brahma Sabha. Later on he said that he was not happy with the orthodox behaviour of the Brahmins who took advantage of their nearness to Maharaja Churachand Singh.Maharajkumar P.B. Singh during the Second Nupi Lan (1939 – 40)He continued to be a member of the Manipur State Durbar holding the charge of Police and Education when the Second Nupi Lan occurred in December 1939. Maharajkumar P.B. Singh was fully aware of the bad harvest of that year and the impending shortage of food. He forcefully pleaded for the ban on the export of rice to outside Manipur. It was because of his insistence coupled with the support of other members of the Durbar that the export of rice was banned for 40 days in the month of October – November, 1939 but it was because of the vested interests of the Marwari trading community and their pressure on the Maharaja and Political Agent that the ban was lifted on 23rd November, 1939. T.A. Sharpe, the new President of the Manipur State Durbar was very young and inexperienced in the affairs of the state of Manipur. He was friendly with Maharajkumar P.B. Singh, the Maharaja and the Political Agent. The Women Agitation broke out with the protest of market women against the export of rice and supply of paddy by the local farmers to the Marwari traders on 12 December 1939. Incidentally the Maharaja Sir Churachand Singh was out of station as he was in Nabadwip due to the illness of his daughter Maharajkumari Tombisana. Political Agent C. Gimson was on a birthday outing in the hills south of Sugnu. The women folk went to the office of Political Agent, and not finding him there, went to the office of the President of the Manipur State Durbar. The women delegates demanded the immediate ban on the export of rice. PMSD, T.A. Sharpe pleaded his inability to do so in the absence of the approval of the Maharaja. He assured the women leaders that he would seek permission from the Maharaja. Sharpe was forced to proceed to the Telegraph Office by the women folk.  Maharajkumar P.B. Singh and some members of the Durbar like L.M. Iboongohal Singh and S. Nodya Singh were in the office. Maharajkumar P.B. Singh hearing the commotion between the president and the women delegates came to the office. He found them proceeding to the Telegraph office on foot. He saw off Sharpe on the verandah of the office building. Since there was no violent altercation, he decided to leave the office for visiting the centres of examination for the primary schools held on that day (6). The gherao at the Telegraph OfficeWhile reaching the Telegraph office T.A. Sharpe wrote out a draft of the telegram to be sent to the Maharaja at Nabadwip in Bengal. Finding that the Maharaja was not at Nabadwip at that time he asked his staff to find out his whereabouts. Sharpe explained the contents of the telegram to the women leaders. Meanwhile the exact whereabouts of the Maharaja was located and the telegram was sent. After sending the telegram Sharpe wanted to return to his bungalow for lunch. The women objected to his leaving the Telegraph office and insisted that they waited for the reply of the Maharaja. Sharpe was thus confined to the office till about 2.30 in the afternoon. The Civil Surgeon Dr. Cummings of the Indian Medical Service heard of the confinement of Sharpe and rushed to the rescue of the PMSD. He was allowed to enter the Telegraph office but was prevented to leave the office. Hearing the confinement of the two officers, Major Bulfield Commandant of the 4 Assam Rifles also came to the office with few escorts. He was also confined in the office by the women folk. Captain Stone the deputy commandant of the 4 Assam Rifles was keeping a platoon of the soldiers ready to rush to the rescue of the officer. Unfortunately the contingent included some Nepali and Kuki riflemen and they rushed to the Telegraph office and after some scuffle rescued the officers. The Telegraph office was surrounded by a mob of 4000 women folk and some men bystanders who were shouting slogans. We have already narrated the skirmishes at the Telegraph office in the chapter on Women Agitation. The crowd was dispersed. Maharajkumar P.B. Singh accompanied by the Inspector of Police, Khomdram Dhanachandra rushed to the Telegraph office. He found some injured women agitators and Assam rifle men. Civil Surgeon Cummings himself gave first aid to the injured women. Maharajkumar P.B. Singh advised the injured women and their relatives to go to the Civil Hospital where some of them were treated. In early morning of 13th December, Political Agent Gimson met the leaders of the women agitators, and tried to pacify them through negotiation. Maharajkumar P.B. Singh as a police member of the Durbar collected information hour by hour. He met Sharpe who was gheraoed in the Telegraph office. He provided police escort to the officers. He did not desire the Assam Rifles men to come to the British reserve. In the night of 13th December, Political Agent Gimson, PMSD T.A. Sharpe and the women agitators visited Mantripukhri, a locality to the north of Imphal town to stop the rice mills there. Maharajkumar P.B. Singh also went to Mantripukhri to persuade the women folk to disperse. The electricity connection to the rice mill was destroyed on the insistence of the women agitators and the crowd dispersed at 8 p.m. of that night. He was also present at the dispersal of the crowd at the public meeting at Police Line on 13th December 1939 in which men folk using pieces of cut fire wood attacked the police men. Maharajkumar P.B. Singh himself shot his revolver in the air to threaten the crowd to disperse. During the subsequent days of the agitation, he was involved in the protection of the bazaar area of the town of Imphal. In the trial of Hijam Irabot Singh for his seditious speech delivered at the public meeting of 7th January 1940 the Manipur State Durbar of which Maharajkumar P.B. Singh was a member, Irabot Singh was sentenced to three years simple imprisonment.Maharajkumar P.B. Singh started a library movement and with the help of his friend Akham Surendra, a teacher of Manipur Institute (present Churachand High School) collected books, journals and other materials to establish a library in the Palace. He used to collect Yakairol Journal and other publications to start a library at Khamlangba Shrine at Sagolband. He helped the Durbar to prepare Manipuri text books for B.A. level. With the help of his friend Dhumra Roy and L. M. Iboongohal Singh, he got the Manipuri Sankritan of Ojha Natum Singh broadcast from Indian Broadcasting Unit of Calcutta. During the Yaoshang holidays, P.B. Singh planned visits to hill stations like Layang now Tamenglong head quarter, Moreh and Churachandpur. He tried to improve agricultural practice and the culture of using cattle for ploughing, milking and transportation. He influenced the Durbar to stop the export of Manipuri cattle to Assam. He also succeeded in persuading the Maharaja and the Durbar to extend equal status to the Yaithibi (Harijan). Military ServiceHis father Maharaja Churachand Singh died on 6th November 1941 and he was succeeded by Bodhchandra Singh as the Maharaja of Manipur. The rule of Bodhchandra Singh was a tumultuous period of Manipur history. During the World War II Imphal was bombed by Japanese on 10th May, 1942. Manipur started a war effort to help the British and their allies. Several young men mostly from the hill tribes joined the army particularly the newly established Assam Regiment. Maharajkumar Priya Brata Singh as a young man of 31 joined the Indian Army on emergency King’s Commission. Maharajkumar P.B. Singh underwent training at the Indian Military Academy at Dehra Dun. After completion of training he was commissioned and given the rank of Captain in consideration of his status of a prince of Manipur. He was posted in Assam Regiment and worked in the 2nd Battalion Head Quarter. Because of his political and royal connection, he was not given duty in the front during the war. But he was entrusted to mobilize guards in the line of communication in south India. After the war he returned to Shillong and continued to be in the Army for nearly two years. During this period he travelled extensively the entire north east region. He toured the entire Naga Hills district. During this period Maharajkumar Priya Brata continued to be a member of the Manipur State Durbar on leave by the Maharaja of Manipur. He was a member of the Durbar during the Presidency of T.A.Sharpe, E.F. Lydall and F.F. Pearson. F.F. Pearson was as narrated earlier a member of the Indian Political service, he participated during the war, rose up to the rank of a Major and was awarded the title of MBE (Member of the British Empire). Maharajkumar Priya Brata met Major Pearson who requested him to retire from the army and rejoined the state service as theoretically he was on leave from the Manipur State Durbar. Maharaja Bodhchandra Singh also wanted his younger brother to return to Manipur politics and participate in the administration of the state. Thus Maharajkumar Priya Brata Singh joined the state service on 6th June 1946. Minister of First Interim CouncilGovernor Sir Akbar Hydari of Assam had a very high opinion of Captain Maharajkumar P.B. Singh. He was a Governor of Assam during the period of transfer of power on 15th August 1947. Even after the independence he continued to be the Governor of Assam. On many occasions he expressed a wish that Maharajkumar Priya Brata Singh should be in the administration of Manipur when the British were going to depart from India and power being transferred to the Maharaja of Manipur. The Maharaja took a decision to dissolve the Manipur State Durbar. He framed the Rules for the Administration of Manipur and he constituted the Manipur State Council to look after the administration during the interim period. We have narrated how Major F.F. Pearson, the former President of the Manipur State Durbar was appointed the Chief Minister of the Manipur State Council constituted on 1st July 1947. Both Governor Sir Hydari and Major Pearson advised the Maharaja to include Maharajkumar Priya Brata Singh as a minister of the first Interim Council. The term of the Interim Council expired in the morning of 14th August 1947. The Maharaja made the decision to accede to the Dominion of India and constituted the second Manipur State Council in which Major Pearson was to retire and Maharajkumar Priya Brata Singh was appointed the Chief Minister of the Manipur State Council. Since he was the first Manipuri Chief Minister therefore he was regarded by the people as the first Chief Minister of Manipur though Major Pearson was the first Chief Minister of Manipur from 1st July to 14th August 1947. There was no change amongst the ministers of the Council except the Chief Minister. The term of the second Council with the Maharajkumar as the Chief Minister was from 14th August 1947 to 9th November 1948 when he was appointed Chief Minister after the election to the Manipur State Legislative assembly held in June – July 1948 as per the Manipur Constitution of 1947. During this period Maharajkumar P.B Singh administered the Manipur State Council with knowledge and understanding. He was 37 years old when he became the Chief Minister. He occupied an advantageous position; the Maharaja was his own elder brother, the Governor of Assam was his well wisher. The Dominion Agent, G.P. Stewart was friendly and left Manipur in September 1947. However the political issues that confronted the state of Manipur were mainly directed against the Maharaja of Manipur. The political parties both the two factions of Manipur State Congress and the political parties led by Hijam Irabot Singh, Manipur Praja Sangha and Manipur Krishak Sabha openly demanded for the granting of a responsible government in Manipur. ï»¿

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