Was Manipur only 700 square miles in 1949?

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Map of Bengal and Assam drawn by the British in 1907 at the time of the Partition of Bengal, showing the territory demarcated as Manipur among others (Alamy Collections)

By Dr Malem Ningthouja

On July 27, 2021, ‘sensational’ information was posted on Facebook. This article does not intend to expose the name of the ID. The post reads, “The truth about Maharaja of Manipur merged his kingdom into the Union of India is also well recorded and published by Brigadier Sushil Kumar Sharma in his book the Complexities of Tribal Land Rights and Conflict in Manipur: Issues and Recommendations.” Five days back, on July 22, he posted, “Does Maharaja Sanajaoba Leisemba forget the actual size of their kingdom merger into Union of India? Tell him it was just only 700 sq. miles.” About thirteen days back, on July 9, he wrote, “The Inner Manipur, which is geographically about 700 sq. mile was annexed into the Union of India by Maharaja of Manipur Shri (L) Bodha Chandra Singh through the very hand of Shri V.P. Menon, the then adviser to the Government of India, Ministry of State on behalf of the Dominion of India on the 21st September 1949 in Shillong. Inasmuch, the inclusion of Outer Manipur (Hill Area), about 7,921 sq. miles, into Manipur state in 1972, when Manipur became a Part-C state, is politically illogical since the Kuki Chiefs were unconsulted and, no evidence of agreement with the Government of India is available.”

The sequence of the posts in July 2021 suggests that the person is deliberate in challenging the facts and history of the ‘merger’ of Manipur to India in 1949. He identifies the shape and size of Manipur with the “Manipur valley” and argues that the ‘merger’ did not include the present hill districts of Manipur and the people who were then living there. According to him, Manipur was never an entity comprising the present valley and hill districts. To substantiate his argument, he referred to the work of the Brigadier who has authored the book titled The Complexity Called Manipur: Roots, Perceptions & Reality. But the reference to the highlighted article, published in Issue Brief VIII (June 2017) by Vivekananda International Foundation, has a serious problem. The problem is, when the author writes, “The total area which the Manipur merger agreement covered was his territory of 700 square miles or 26,500 paris/hectares,” it fails to cite any source to substantiate it. The sentence is a biased opinion without an iota of facts. It is unfortunate that the article, meant to be an academic chapter, seems published bypassing a proper peer review by credible academics.

Map of the Inner Line as of 1891. The line was drawn in 1873 to demarcate the productive Assam plains from its “wild hills” which were claimed but not included in the regular administration. (Click to enlarge)

It is most likely that the Brigadier once posted in Manipur, for the reason he alone can explain, has relied on unauthenticated opinions of those who were advocating lies. Most probably, he has relied on a memorandum addressed to the President of India, dated 14th July 1999, submitted by the All Tribal Students’ Union Manipur, or, any other source identical with the memorandum. For instance, the article contains two subheadings, i.e., (1) Merger of Manipur With the Indian Union, and (2) No Merger of the Tribal Chiefs and Their Territories, which are almost reproduction from the memorandum. Some sentences under these subheadings are exactly matching. The lines of arguments are the same. Both the article and the memorandum challenge the established geographical coverage of the ‘merger’ agreement. They argue that the hills and ‘tribes’ were never under the Manipur administration. Ironically, while they refute the geographical coverage of the ‘merger,’ logically, it implies refuting any impact of the ‘merger’ on the ‘tribes’ and hills of Manipur. The weak point of their argument is that they are unable to substantiate what they are saying. They write anything they want. It may have different implications. But those texts/lines carry no academic value.

I will not emphasize the intentions, purpose, potential targets, and logical conclusions of their memorandum, article, and Facebook posts. But for those who are either ignorant of historical facts or deliberately fabricating lies, it is worth placing some points;

First, what was the geographical coverage of the ‘merger?’ Article No. 1 of the “merger agreement,” signed on 21st September 1949, reads, “His Highness the Maharaja of Manipur hereby cedes to the Dominion of India Government full and exclusive authority, jurisdiction and powers for and in relation to the governance of the State and agrees to transfer the administration of the State to the Dominion Government on the fifteenth day of October 1949.” The document is silent on the geographical coverage. Similar silences are found in the following documents that preceded the ‘merger,’ i.e., (a) the Agreements Agreement between His Highness the Maharaja of Manipur and His Excellency the Governor of Assam, dated 2nd July 1947, (b) the Standstill Agreement, and Instrument of Accession, dated 11th August 1947. These documents do not mention either 700 Sq. miles or Manipur valley. Practically, the agreements covered the entire Manipur. Geographical coverage was silent most probably because the need to mention it did not arise as Manipur was an undisputed and internationally recognized territorial entity. However, the geographical coverage was reaffirmed in the Manipur Administration Order passed by the Government of India, dated 15th October 1949. It defines Manipur as, “the whole of the area which, immediately before the commencement of this order, is comprised within the state of Manipur.”

Second, did the King or Maharaja of Manipur represent only the valley and a particular community when he signed the “merger agreement?” To answer this question let us examine at least two perspectives;

First, if one would examine from the classical Marxist principle of rights of the nations to self-determination, ‘post-independent international standards — such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and International Covenant on Civil and Political Right (1966), and the contemporary international humanitarian standards such as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007) — there can be no denying that the ‘merger’ was signed without popular consent. There was neither a plebiscite on merger nor ratification of the ‘merger’ by the Manipur Legislative Assembly. The National Convention on Manipur Merger Issue (1993) resolved that “the Manipur Merger Agreement, signed by and between the Maharajah of Manipur and the representative of the Dominion of India on the 21st September 1949 did not have any legality and constitutional validity.” Whether we accept this view or not is a different matter. Whether the ‘merger’ was arbitrary or not, it cannot be denied that the entire Manipur was ceded to India as a result of the “merger agreement.”

Second, whether a section of the present generation likes it or not the “merger agreement” was a culmination of a series of agreements and instruments signed in 1947 in which the King of Manipur played ‘local’ deciding roles. The events of 1947 were a continuation of sequential historical events beginning with the alliance between the King of Manipur and British authority to constitute a Manipur levy in 1824/25 to defeat the Burmese. It was followed by the treaties of 1833 and 1834, Sanad of 1891, and the rules of administration (1907, 1916, 1919-20, 1935, etc.). All these recognised an entity called Manipur, i.e., a princely state with the King as the central figure. Even during the colonial period after the “Anglo-Manipuri War” of 1891, the Manipur administration was organised from time to time in manners that certain designated British officials deputed in Manipur were entrusted with the executive power to administer the hills and tribes through the Manipur State Darbar on behalf of the King. It was a Manipur administration in the name of the King. When the British supremacy was collapsing the Manipur State Constitution Act 1947 and the Manipur State Hill Peoples (Administration) Regulation 1947, drafted by nominated influential persons from various communities, recognised the King as the constitutional head. For instance, the Regulation upheld that, “The responsibility for the administration of the Hill Peoples is vested in the Maharaja in Council and shall be exercised in accordance with the Constitution Act of the State and the provisions of this Regulation as amended from time to time.” Against this backdrop, the British officials and Dominion of India used the King as the rallying point of “taking over” Manipur. Logically, when the King signed the “merger agreement” it was not for a particular community or a portion of the territory. He signed it for the entire Manipur and the population inhabiting it.

Third, was the “merger agreement” applied to a particular community and Manipur valley? The impacts of the “merger agreement” were not confined to a particular community or a portion of the territory. First, following the ‘merger’ Manipur became a part of India. The Manipur Administration Order of 15th October 1949 abolished the hard-earned Manipur State Assembly— established on 18th October 1948 by members from across communities who were elected through universal adult franchise. The abolition attacked democracy and affected the civil and political rights of everyone. Entire Manipur became a directly occupied Part C State from January 26, 1950 onwards. Second, if one would argue that the tribes and hills were not covered by the “merger agreement;” (a) there is no evidence to substantiate when they separately became part of India, (b) there is no explanation as to why tribal representatives were present in the 30 members Electoral College of Manipur constituted in 1952 and the Council of Advisors to the Chief Commissioner established in 1953, and (c) there is no reason why a tribal was elected to represent the Outer Manipur (hills and tribes) in the India Lok Sabha in 1952. If the hills and tribes were not covered under the “merger agreement” it remains to be explained as to why the hills were the first to felt the impact of the Armed Forces Special Powers (Assam and Manipur) Act 1958. All these exemplify that the “merger agreement” was applied to all.

Finally, it is difficult to accurately foretell the unpredictable historical events that will unfold after decades and centuries. But well-established historical facts of the post-colonial past cannot be misrepresented by a hub of lies and fabrications in the present. Some sections are interested in manufacturing lies and misrepresenting history as the result of contemporary political influences and reactions. However, it is suggestive that the historical past is best studied and explained by locating it in its rightful historical time, space, and context. The territorial shape and size of Manipur before the ‘merger’ are found in official reports, Imperial Gazette of India (1909 and 1931), Census of India Administrative Atlas, researches, etc. Manipur on the eve of the ‘merger’ was a territorial entity composed of hills, valleys, lakes, rivers, swamps, and communities. One can question the legitimacy of the monarchy in the ‘merger’ and different degrees of administration and reach in different parts of Manipur in various historical times and contexts. One can challenge the concept of ‘merger’ and replace it with other political terms. But there are certain facts, whether one likes it or not, which cannot be refuted. No matter the volume of lies and fabrication are continuously manufactured to misrepresent the past, Manipur was ‘merged’ entirely as a territorial entity. It covered the Manipur valley and all those members of the villages in the hills listed in the Manipur State Hill Peoples (Administration) Regulation, 1947.

The writer is an independent researcher, Ph. D. in History from the University of Delhi and a former fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla

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