Remedies for merger ills

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In the wake of the recent historic `Naga Accord` or now more accurately known as the `framework agreement` between the leaders of the NSCN(IM) and the Government of India, quite understandably the issue of the Merger Agreement signed on September 21, 1949 between Manipur`™s then king Bodhachandra and the Government of India, and enacted from October 15, 1949, is coming up for discussion on various internet forums. The farcical emptiness of the Manipur Merger Agreement, as it virtually contains no issue of gravity pertaining to the political status or economic welfare of the former princely state of Manipur, is among the focus of these resurfacing discussions. The king is often blamed and ridiculed for the frivolous nature of the agreement, but it must be recalled that the king had pleaded with the Government of India representative, Assam Governor Sri Prakasa and his assistant Nari Rushtomji, that he be allowed to return to Manipur and consult his government, which by then was an elected one, and his people. He also pledged that he only wanted this prior consultation and that he would not renege on his promise to sign the merger agreement. This request however was not granted. This is not surprising, for India`™s then Deputy Prime Minister also in charge of the Home portfolio, Sardar Vallabhai Patel, who was already critically ill by then, and whom the government negotiators met earlier, was in a hurry to settle India`™s incomplete territory consolidation issue, and would have no further delays in having Manipur and Tripura merge with India. When he was told Manipur was posing a problem, he is famously is known to have said, `Don`™t we have a brigadier in Shillong` (Nari Rushtomji in `Imperilled Frontier`).

It is everybody`™s knowledge now that king Bodhchandra was coerced into signing the Merger Agreement after being held under house arrest at the Redlands, his beautiful estate bungalow in picturesque Laitumkhra area of Shillong, and now the Manipur House under the care of the Manipur Government, where he had gone for some work. After resisting it for four days he finally put his signature on a hurriedly drawn document on September 21. Much water has flowed down the many rivers of Manipur and the Northeast ever since and there is now hardly any point in decrying the manner in which the treaty was signed or seeking its reversal. However, certain things which are grossly unfair in the treaty can be and should be rectified, not necessarily by a renegotiation of the same treaty, but by a subsequent treaty that overrides the earlier. Consider this point. The king had less than four days to negotiate the 1949 treaty a good part of which was spent resisting the proposal, assisted only by his private secretary, S. Gourahari, (Haobam Bhuban: `The Merger of Manipur`). This brevity of deadline and the paucity of consultants and counsels made available to the king, has become stark now when we see that it took nearly 18 years for the Government of India to negotiate a `framework agreement` with the NSCN(IM), assisted as we now know by very reputed constitutional experts from The Netherlands, America and Kenya. Even then, it is still not sure how many more years it would be before a conclusive accord can be reached.

Even if it cannot anymore be said the Manipur Merger Agreement 1949 was illegal, from the moral standpoint at least, it is clear from the text of the document how unfair it was for Manipur. It is time therefore for another more comprehensive, more consensual, more informed, and absolutely coercion free treaty to supersede it. We do hope, in the not so distant future, such a treaty which has the welfare of the land and its people, comes to be negotiated and settled. But the society is much more complex now than what it was seven decades ago. If and when such a settlement does come about, it will have to be in perfect consonance with the ethos of the entirety of the state, but of the whole Northeast region and beyond as well. Only the peace brought about by such a regional understanding and cooperation can be conclusive and lasting.

Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam

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