By: Lt. Col. H. Bhuban Singh
The following is an article by Lt. Col. H. Bhuban, author of the book `Merger of Manipur` . We are reproducing this article published in the IFP 15 years ago as a homage to the respected ex-Army officer, who was also minister under the Wahengbam Nipamacha Singh MSCP ministry, a state party which is now defunct. The maverick who is also known for his scholarly researches into the history of Manipur of the colonial period,breathed his last recently.
There has been a strong notion of recent origin in Manipur that the State became independent from midnight of 15 August 1947, when the suzerainty of His Majesty (of the United Kingdom) over Indian states lapsed and further that this independent status was lost from the noon of 15 October 1949, when Manipur got merged into the erstwhile Dominion of India. There is no denying that Maharaja Bodhchandra Singh was coerced into signing the Merger Agreement after long and tiresome parleys of four days (18-21 September 1949) at Shillong. In fact, he was virtually put under house arrest at his Redlands Palace, Shillong by a guard of Jat Regiment, on the pretext of VIP security. His plea that he did not need Army Security, since he brought his own guard of State Military Police, fell on deaf ears.
The strongest point of argument of Manipur independence theorists is that any agreement/accord/confession made under duress or pressure is illegal and untenable in the eyes of law. Hence, Manipur Merger Agreement signed by the Maharaja under house arrest was and is still untenable and unlawful, since Maharaja Bodhchandra Singh was coerced into signing it.
The main point of the Maharaja`™s reluctance to sign on the dotted line was that he needed to go to Manipur to consult his people and apprise his government, since a constitutionally elected government existed in Manipur. He promised to come again to Shillong, soonest.
On the other hand, the pressure of Delhi on Shillong was that time for execution of Merger Agreements for the last three Princely States (Manipur included) was fast running out and that the Manipur Merger Agreement should be got signed immediately and now, and that the Maharaja should be allowed to leave Shillong. This hurry was necessitated because the Dominion of India was to become Republic of India on 26 January 1950, which was just four months away. There were lots of loose ends to be tied up like the number of parliamentary seats in Lok Sabha and in Rajya Sabha from Manipur, the status of Manipur after merger, the kind of administrative arrangements for Manipur in post merger period etc.
Obviously, Delhi was in a frantic hurry. The meeting with Governor Sri Prakasa on the first day, 18 September, ended abruptly, as the Maharaja got emotionally super-charged, when Nari Rustomji, Advisor to Governor unceremoniously and abruptly produced the Manipur Merger Agreement (first draft) for signature. The Maharaja was in the same plight as experienced by Dr. Ha`cha, the President of Czechoslovakia, when he was bullied by Hitler for signing the merger of his country into Germany, on the morning of 15 March 1939. Dr. Ha`cha fainted and Nazi leaders and doctors go panicky that he might die. It was possible that Sri Prakasa might have panicked or felt embarrassed.
On the second day, 19 September, despite an appointment, the Maharaja did not go to meet the Governor. On the contrary, His Highness informed Sri Prakasa of his intention to go back to Manipur. Thereafter, a ding-dong exchange of letters took place between Governor Secretariat and Red Lands Rajbari. Ultimately, by evening the Maharaja gave up his plan of returning to Imphal and agreed to meet the Governor on the next day (20 September) as proposed. Incidentally, it may be mentioned here that neither the Red Lands Rajbari nor the La Chateau Rajbari in Shillong had telephones.
In the evening of 19 September, one Sri Das Gupta, who was earlier Superintendent of Police, (whole of) Manipur, called on the Maharaja. He was, at that point of time, S.P. (CID) at Shillong. Das Gupta politely informed the Maharaja that if he did not agree to sign the Merger Agreement, the Dominion Government of India could and would make someone else as Maharaja, who would sign the Merger Agreement. So, the loss would be that of Bodhchandra, in person. Das Gupta was right because the Dominion Government of India as successor to the earlier British Government of India inherited all rights, privileges and obligations to Treaties/Agreements/Grants/Sufferances/Usages etc. and hence Maharaja Bodhchandra Singh could be removed on account of disloyalty to India and he be replaced by someone.
As per the Sanad granted to Churachand (father of Maharaja Bodhchandra) to be the Chief of Manipur State (after Manipur lost the Anglo-Manipuri War of 1891), vide Government of India, Foreign Department Notification No. 1862 E, dated Simla, the 18 September 1891, it was clearly stated that `the Chiefship of Manipur State and the title and salute will be hereditary in your family and will descend in the direct line by primogeniture, provided that in each case, succession is approved by Government of India ……………. Be assured that as long as your house is loyal to the Crown and faithful to the conditions of this Sanad, you and your successors will enjoy the favour and protection of the British Government.`™ This notification was signed by H.M. Durrand, Secretary to Government of India. It is believed that Das Gupta told his story with tears in his eyes. Whether Das Gupta was planted by Rustomji or he acted voluntarily, being sincere to his old master, the Maharaja, it is difficult to say now. But the fact is, even acting as a double agent he was honest to both parties and stood to gain from both. The Maharaja trusted his advice and Nari was happy with Das Gupta`s performance.
The meeting at Government House, Shillong on 20 September was eventful in many ways. The entire battalion of the Jat Regiment was paraded inside the Government House compound. Policemen swarmed the area. The Inspector General of Police, Assam, in full uniform was displayed. His Highness realized the exhibited threat, but suppressed his anger and joked about the tamasha (show) to Nari. Perhaps because of the advice tendered by Sri Das Gupta, the Maharaja agreed to examine articles of the Merger Agreement in detail. The articles were again drafted and redrafted several times. Though the Maharaja did not commit anything, the meeting ended in a cordial atmosphere.
But time was running out and pressure of Delhi was mounting. Sri Prakasa was in a fix. He had known the Maharaja since August 1934, when he was young and Yuberaj as well. Bodhchandra was banished by his father for attempting to ascend the throne through the worship and grace of a sylvan deity, when the father, His Highness Maharaja Sir Churachand Singh KCSI, CBE, was away on pilgrimage to Nabadwip. Yuberaj Bodhchandra Singh spent about three years in exile under the patronage of Sri Prakasa, a nationalist politician of Benares, now known as Varanasi. The relationship between Governor Sri Prakasa and Maharaja Bodhchandra Singh was like that of a father and son. The Maharaja addressed Sri Prakasa as Baba.
Suddenly, the Governor decided to cash on this relationship and made up his mind to pay a lone and private visit to the Maharaja. Though he sent a note to Rajbari that he would come around 5 pm, he went earlier without escort and personal staff. When the Governor arrived at Red Lands Rajbari, the Maharaja was enjoying his afternoon nap. The Governor told the servants not to wake up the Maharaja. He waited in the Gol Kamara (round room). When Bodhchandra came in, His Excellency stood up and lovingly said, `Hai, Bodhchandra:`, not `Your Highness`. The Maharaja replied, `Haa, Baba`. Sri Prakasa continued `I have come as your Baba, not as Governor`.
Then, Sri Prakasa requested the Maharaja to send all his officers out of the room so that he could have a heart to heart talk. He told the Maharaja that New Delhi would not permit any delay. Sri Prakasa told the Maharaja that he was prepared to resign his Governorship, but a new Governor would forcibly affect the merger under terms and conditions more harmful to Manipur and to the Maharaja. The Governor said, `Mein bhig mangne aya (I have come to beg)`. Then the Maharaja agreed to sign the Merger Agreement. They stood up and embraced each other. The Manipur Merger Agreement was signed on the next day, 21 September 1949, and Manipur got officially merged into India on 15 October 1949.
Now, in a topsy-turvy manner let us examine if Manipur was, indeed independent at midnight of 14-15 August 1947. The Indian Independence Act, 1947 passed by the British Parliament on 18 July 1947, allowed the setting up of ONLY two independent Dominions in India to be known respectively as India and Pakistan. There was no room for a third Dominion. If any ruler wanted to be free, he would be inviting that blessed thing called`war`. Indeed, war was actually fought over Nizam`s Hyderabad, a war-like show of force was displayed over Junagadh (in Gujarat), a public outcry with an impending use of force over Travancore and an on-going, three times fought Indo-Pakistani War, over Jammu & Kashmir. In sum, the Instrument of Accession, 1947 and the Standstill Agreements, 1947 decided the fates of Princely States as regards which Dominion they had to join and the Merger Agreements were simply for transfer of administration from Native Rulers to the concerned Dominion, like Chief Commissioner etc.
As for me, I want to be citizen of the strongest nation of the world. I want to feel as proud as the Americans are now, or as the Chinese are beginning to feel, recently. Though I am no lover of Punjabis, but instinctively, I feel very thrilled when Jeev Milkha Singh does well in international golf circuit. The bond of love between Jeev and me are our Indianness. Similarly, I shed exhilarating tears when our Manipur contingent picks up medals in National Games. Let us all be good human beings and hope that we will soon belong to the greatest and most powerful nation of the world.