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Constitutional development of Manipur in a nutshell

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By – Rajkumar Maipaksana

Definition of Constitution:
The Oxford Illustrated Dictionary gives the meaning of constitution, ‘as made in which a state in organised or body of fundamental principles according to which a state is governed’. So the constitution of Manipur will mean the body of fundamental principles according to which the administration of Manipur is governed. From the reign of the first historical monarch of Kanglei Pungmayol or Kangleipung (now known as Manipur), Nongda Lairen Pakhangba the administration of this small monarchy had been carried out under a system of representative form of government under a constitutional monarch till 1891, when Manipur was kept under the British Paramountcy.

Phamthou or Phamdou:
During the reign of Nongda Lairen Pakhangba (34 AD to 159 AD) a 64 member Parliamentary body known as Phamthou or Phamdou Humphumari was set up. It functioned like a modern Parliament though the members were not directly elected by the people but were selected by the monarch. A council of Ministers known as Ningthou Pongba Tara, consisting of ten members guided and advised the monarch in all important matters of the Kingdom. This body though selected by the monarch from the Phamthou Humphumari exercised supervisory powers over the decision of the monarch, who never disregarded the opinion of the Ministers and abided by the opinion of the Phamdous. Though the members of the Phamthous were selected by the monarch they were very influential leaders of different localities having exceptional qualities of head and heart.
The Ningthou Pongbas of Ministers hold charges of different departments of the kingdom.

Loyumba Shilyen :
The duties, powers and functions of the king, the Ladies, the ministers, the members of parliament and other officials under the royal authority were formulated and put down in writing during the reign of Meidingngu Loyumba who reigned in the 11th century A.D. The name of the book containing these rules is “Loyumba Shilyen”. This treaty may be regarded as the Landmark of the beginning of a written constitution of Manipur. The Ningthou Pongbas were also popularly known as Ningthou Ngamba Angamba meaning Courtiers who were more powerful than the monarch. They had overriding powers over the king whenever he becomes an autocrat or a despot.

Administration under the British:
After the British annexation of Manipur in 1891 the administration of the kingdom was carried out by the political Agent, a European ICS officer appointed by the Viceroy of India. He was assisted by an Assistant officer. The Political Agent was also the Superintendent of the State.

Churachand as Chief of Manipur:
Churachand, son of ChaobiYaima (properly known as Bhubon Singh s/o Nara Singh), a descendent of Meidingngu Nara Singh was selected by the British government to be the Chief of Manipur State in 1891 when he was only five years of age. The appointment order was contained in a document known as ‘Sanad’.

Copy of the Sanad

“The Governor General in Council has been pleased to select you, Churachand, son of Chaobi Yalma, to be the Chief of the Manipur State; and you are hereby granted the title, the Raja of Manipur and a salute of eleven guns”.
“The Chief ship of Manipur State and the title and salute will be hereditary in your family; and will descend to the direct line by primogeniture, provided that in each case the succession is approved by the Government of India”.
“An annual tribute, the amount of which to be determined hereafter will be paid by you and your successors to the British Government (The tribute was later fixed at Rs. 50,000 annum)”.
Further you are informed that the permanence of the grant conveyed by the Sanad will depend upon the ready fulfillment by you and your successors of all orders given by the British Government with regard to the administration of your territories, the control of the hill tribes depended upon Manipur, the composition of the armed forces of the state, and any other matters under which the British Government may be pleased to intervene.
“Be assured that so 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”.
Viceroy and Governor General of India.
The 18th September, 1891.

Manipur was a state during the British rule:
Though Manipur was under the British paramountcy (Supreme Power) the name ‘state’ was conferred on it. But the then state did not connote a sovereign nation as defined in the Political Science but one of the 563 Native States of India subordinate to the British Crown.
Creation of Manipur State Durbar:
During the time when Raja Churachand Singh was a minor the administration of the state was carried out by the British Political Agent (namely major Maxwell) from 1891 up to 1906. In 1906 the young Raja became major, the administration was handed over to Churachand Singh with a Durbar on the 15th May 1907.
Composition and functions of the Durbar:
The Raja would be responsible for the administration of the state. He would be assisted by i Durbar, which would consist of an officer specially selected by the Government of Eastern Bengal and Assam who would be styled as Vice-President and of at least three Manipuri members who might hold charge of departments and should be called Ordinary members. Three other additional members might be appointed who, while not holding charge of any department might attend all meetings of the Durbar and might speak and vote equally with the other members.
Raja’s Powers:
The Raja should be the President of the Manipur State Durbar and would preside over the meetings of the Durbar. The Durbar would submit copies of its proceedings to His Highness who might (1) approve these or (2) refer any matter back to the Durbar for further discussion or (3) veto and resolution.
After His Highness had passed the orders, copies of the proceedings and orders, would be submitted to the Political Agent.
The Vice-President would have charges of Revenue and Finance. His Highness would on consultation with Political Agent arrange for the distribution of work between himself and the ordinary members. No bills on the treasury would he cashed nor any payments made without the signature of the Vice-President to draft the annual budget and submit it to hi’ Highness, who would forward it to the Durber for consideration. The Raja’s approval was after the budget would be sent to submission to the government.
The Political Agent enjoyed some other powers. He might (a) refer to the Local Government any matter brought to his notice regarding Rules 6 and 9, (b) submit to the Local Government for orders any criminal case under which it appears that justice had not been done.
The ordinary Members of the Durbar were entrusted with other departments of the state, though the additional members did not hold charge of any department. They were responsible to the Raja for the proper administration of their respective departments.
The Durbar was the highest criminal court in the state and tried all cases beyond the jurisdiction of Chirap (Cheirap) except as regard Hill tribes.
The first meeting of the first Manipur State Durbar was held at Imphal on the 17th May, 1907. The then Raja of Manipur Churachand Singh who was the President of the Durbar Presided over the meeting. The other persons who attended the meeting were the Vice-President Mr. W.A. Cosgrave Esq. ICS, three ordinary Members of the Durbar namely Rajkumar Dumbra Singh, Senapati Ningthoujam Gokul Singh, Naharup Lakpa and Saogaijam Ibunga Chouba and three Additional Members of the Durbar namely Bindu Madhop Shastri (father of the Lalitamadhob Sharma), Ningombam Ningthouba, Yaiskul Lakpa and Maibia Tamra Singh. The persons were the members of the first Manipur State Durbar.
The most important item of business transacted on that historic day was the distribution of portfolios among the members of the Durbar. The Raja would hold the charges of the state works and Medical, RajKumar Dumbra Singh, the charge of Judicial, N. Gokul Singh, the charge of Police, S. Ibungo Chouba in charge of Jail and Education.
Charges in the structure of the Durbar:
The Raja Churachand Singh had been presiding over the meeting of the Durbar from 1907 to 1916.
Raja’s power increased
His Highness in consultation with the Political Agent would appoint the ordinary and additional members of the Durbar. No member would be removed without the expressed consent of the Political Agent in writing. The President of the Durbar and each of the members would be responsible to his Highness for the proper administration of their portfolios. His Highness would appoint all the title holders and officials drawing pay of more than fifteen rupees a month and the members of the Chairap and Panchayat courts. Other officials would be appointed by the member in charge of the Department, His Highness in consultation with the Political Agent would arrange for distribution of works between himself and the ordinary members.
But in 1916 the Raja abstained himself from holding the President ship of the Durbar and vested it with the Vice-President though he retained the supervisory control over the Durbar. The Durbar became the highest original and appeal late court for both Civil and Criminal Cases. Subsequently such kinds of arrangement continued till the 1st July, 1947. The Durbar changed to council: From the 1st July 1947 the name of the Manipur State Durbar was changed as Manipur State Council and the name of the erstwhile Members of the Durbar to that of the Ministers of the council from that time. Instead of the President of the Manipur State Durbar (P.M.S.D. in short the incumbent became to be called the Chief Minister of Manipur). It will be interesting to note that the then president of Manipur State Durbar Mr. F.F. Pearson became the 1st Chief Minister and held it from the 1st July, 1947 to the 14th August 1947.
Constitutionally speaking the Manipur State Durbar with the Maharaja (after 1918 Churachand was conferred with the title of Maharaja and C.B.F., K.C.S.I. etc.) had exercised the powers of the legislature, the executive and judiciary during the British rule in Manipur.

On the eve of the implementation of the Indian Independence Act the British Government made advance Special preparations in respect of the native States of India for the transitional period between the transfers of power and finalization of the Constitution of free India. So a Stand Still Agreement was brought out by the Government. Most of the rulers signed it. The Maharaja of Manipur, Bodhchandra Singh also entered into much a Stand Still Agreement with the Government of India on the 2nd July, 1947.
The British Parliament passed the Indian Independence Bill, 1947 on the 10th June, 1947. It became the Indian Independence Act, 1947 the next day but it would come into force on the 15th August, 1947. The Act provided the division of the India into the Indian Dominion and Pakistan Dominion and the transfer of power would be effected in the exact time just after the midnight of 14th August, 1947. The Act further mentioned that with the transfer of power from the British Government to the Indian Government the known as the British Paramountcy over the 563 Native States in India also lapsed and the administrative power would be returned to the rulers of the States. These rulers were given the option of accede according to Indian Dominion or Pakistan Dominion or to remain free and independent, since the administrative and constitutional powers returned to the rulers of the states with the lapse of the British Paramountcy.
The Maharaja of Manipur Bodhchandra Singh, who was the legal head of the State decided to accede to the dominion of India. On 11th August, 1947 he signed the Instrument of Accession to India. According to the Instrument of Accession Manipur Acceded to the Indian Dominion in three subjects only namely Foreign Affairs, Defence and Communication. In all other subjects Manipur enjoyed full autonomy and was in no way under the Government of India. Analogous to the interim Government at the Centre in India, an interim Government was also constituted on the 14th of August, 1947 a day prior to the Independence of India. The interim Government of Manipur was headed by M.K. Priyobrata Singh as the Chief Minister and consisted of six other ministers. Two were nominated by the Manipur State Congress and they were Rajkumar Bhubonsana Singh and S. Krishnamohon Singh.
Two of them represented the Hills namely R. Khathing and T.C. Tiangkham. The remaining two Ministers who were nominated by the .Government of Manipur were K. Gouro Singh and Md. Basiruddin Ahmed.
The dissident members of the Manipur State Congress under the leadership of Elangbam Tompok Singh however were not satisfied with the composition of the interim Ministry and demanded that four Ministers should be offered to the Congress instead of two.
Moreover the draft constitution prepared by the Constitution Making Committee was described inadequate to fulfill the aspiration of the people for a full responsible government, became the Council of Ministers envisaged in the constitution, would be responsible to the Maharaja.
So in the later half of November 1947 the Manipur State Congress (Tompok group) launched the biggest ever Styagraha movement in Manipur demanding the establishment of a full responsible government in the state.
The dejure and defacto constitution of Manipur was the Manipur Constitution Act, 1947. It was framed by a Constitution making Committee popularly called the Constituent Assembly consisting of 16 members representing the people and officials of Manipur.
The political development event in India during 1946 and 1947 were also reflected in the State of Manipur. The Constituent Assembly for framing the constitution of Free India, as envisaged in the Cabinet Mission Plan, was constituted in the last part of 1946. It consisted of 229 representatives from the then 12 provinces and 70 nominated representatives of 92 Indian States (Native States) and groups of States. Manipur, Tripura and Khasi States group was represented by one person namely one Guha from Tripura. The constitution of free India was framed by and adopted by the Constituent Assembly (Consembly in short) on 26-11-49 and came into effect on 26-1-50, on which the first Republic Day of India was celebrated.
A similar event also took place in Manipur. The idea of setting up a Constitution Making Committee to frame a constitution of Manipur was mooted by the Maharaja (Bodhchandra Singh, son of Churachand). The Committee would consist of two Durbar Members; one representative from the Chief Court, one non-official nominee, five representative from the valley and the Hills. The President of the Manipur State Durbar would be its Chairman. On January 21, 1947 five members representing the valley were elected by Chowkidars and Numbers. Five representatives and others were virtually nominated by the Government of Manipur.
The constitution of the constituent Assembly was announced by the Maharaja on 10-3-47. The members were 1. F.F. Pearson (P.M.S.D.) Chairman, 2. S. Somorendra Singh, 3. Md. Kazi Walliullah (representing the Durbar), 4. L.M.. Ibungohal Singh (Chief Court). 5. S. Bijoy Singh (Jiribam), 6. A. Ibotombi Singh (alias Minaketon) (non-official), 7. H. Dwijamani Dey Sharma (8) Dr. L. Leiren Singh, (9) L. Jogeswar Singh, (10) S. Krishnamohon Singh, (11) Mera Jatra, (five representatives of the valley)(12) Daiho, (13) Thangkhopao Kipgen, (14) Tiangkham, (15) Teba Kilong and (16) R. Suisa, (five representatives of the hills).
The constitution Making Committee finalized the framing of a constitution of Manipur and adopted it on 26-7-47 and submitted it to the Maharaja for his approval In a Public declaration of Maharaja, announced that he gave his assent to the constitution which came to be known as the Manipur Constitution Act, 1947.
Main features of the Manipur Constitution Act,1947 was one of the outstanding contribution of the Maharaja of Manipur towards the decentralization of powers in the modern democratic line wherein be would remain as a constitutional monarch.
The following points may be noted: (1) There should be constituted a State Assembly, which would be elected for a term of three years. It would comprise representative freely elected by the people on an adult franchise and on the basis of joint electorate. The representatives’ returnable from the General, Hill and Mahamaden constituencies shall be in the ratio of 30:18:3 respectively with an additional two seats, are representing the educational and commercial interests. Precisely the Assembly would consist 53 members of which 30 members from 30 General constituencies, 18 members from 18 hill constituencies, 3 members from 3 Mahamaden constituencies, one member representing educational interest and one member representing commercial interest.
(2) The executive authority for the administration of Manipur was delegated to a Council of Ministers which shall consist of a Chief Minister and six other Ministers. The six Ministers would be elected by the Assembly subject to the provision that two of them would be elected representatives of the hill people. The Chief Minister would be appointed by the Maharaja in consultation with the Ministers. The Chief Minister and Ministers would receive letters of appointment over the seal of the Maharaja. The Council of Ministers would be jointly responsible to the Maharaja for the administration of the State (art, 12). A vote of no confidence against a Minister for his individual acts the motion would be signed by not less than 10 MLAS and would receive the support of at least 75 percent of the Members present and voting before it is passed.
(3) The Maharaja in Council was empowered to exercise his absolute right to promulgate during emergency cases order having the force of law without previous reference to the Assembly.
(4) The Manipur Appointment Board shall be constituted and the Council shall issue rules regulating the constitution, functions of the Board.
(5) There would be a complete separation of the judiciary from the executive. The judicature from the State would be laid down in the Manipur State Courts Act, 1947. A Chief Justice of the State and two puisne judges would be appointed by the Maharaja and would hold office until the age of 65 years.
“The whole territories for the time being and hereinafter vested in the Maharaja were governed by and in the name of the Maharaja. All rights authority and jurisdiction which appertain or any incidental to the Government of such territories and exercisable by Maharaja subject to the Provision of this Act”.
(6) Lastly the constitution laid down in Chapter X the fundamental rights and duties of citizenship. It provided that all citizens shall be equal before the law. Titles and other privileges of birth shall not be recognized in the eyes of the law. The identity of the individual shall be guaranteed. The Chapter also provides that no person shall be tried except by a competent court, who shall give full opportunity to such person to defend himself by all legal means. All penalties should be determined by law. Capital punishment may not be inflicted for purely political crimes. Article 52 provides that there shall be guaranteed to all people justice, social and po1itical equality of status, of opportunity and before the law, freedom of thought expression of belief, faith, worship, vocation, association action subject to Law and public morality. Article 55 provides that all officials of the state of Local Government shall be answerable before the law for their individual and unlawful action.
The constitution provided that its provision may be amended if at least 80 P.C. of the MLAs present and voting would give the consent for any amendment.
Criticism of the Constitution: There are of course some defects in the Manipur Constitution Act, 1947. The first defect is that the Council of Manipur was to be responsible to the Maharaja and responsive to the Assembly. This Clause deprives the powers of the Assembly to whom the Council of Ministers should be made responsible in the modern idea and in a responsible form of government. The second defect was that whereas the six Ministers were to be elected by the MLAs, the Chief Minister was to be appointed by the Maharaja in consultation with the Ministers. This gave the Maharaja Powers to appoint any person of his choice even though the person might be an unpopular one. Moreover the absence of any provision in the Act that “A Minister who is not a member of the Assembly for a period of six months consecutively shall at the expiry of that period cease to be Minister” as provided in Indian Constitution the most important post among the Ministers that is the Chief Minister, might be given to a person who was not elected by the people.
According to the constitutions in the democratic countries a no confidence motion against the Council of Ministers or an individual Minister shall have the same effect if the motion was to be passed by a simple majority of the MLAs present and voting. But the 1947 Manipur constitution provided the support of 75 P.C. of the members present and voting on a no-confidence motion to be moved by the ten MLAs. This was the third defect.
In spite of these defects the constitution itself might have given greater autonomy to Manipur if it was not superseded by the Manipur Merger Agreement, 1949.
The interim Ministry in Manipur functioned from the 14th August, 1947 to the 7th October, 1948. Meanwhile the Manipur Constitution Act was implemented and in pursuance of its provisions the election of the Assembly envisaged in the Act took place in the later half of 1948. Elections in the valley were held on the 11th & 30th June, 1948 and in the hills on the 26th and 27th July, 1948.
The 53 member Legislative Assembly of Manipur was not only the first of its kind in the state to be elected on adult franchise but also was only the first law-making body to be elected on adult franchise in India. Adult franchise in India was introduced in 1952 to elect the popular representatives to the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies.
The first meeting of the first Manipur State Assembly was held on the 18th October, 1948 at the Durbar Hall in the palace compound. The first popular Ministry also started functioning from that time. The Ministry was headed by M.K Priyobrata Singh. The other Ministers were Dr. N. Leiren Singh, A. Ibungotomcha Singh, A. Gourabicihu Singh, Md. Alimuddin, R. Khathing and Teba Killong. The Speaker of the Assembly was T.C. Tiangkham and Deputy Speaker was T. Bokul. All of them except the Chief Minister were popularly elected MLAs.
During the period from the 14th August, 1947 to the 14th October, 1949 Manipur enjoyed full autonomy in the Indian Dominion in the administration of all internal matters except Defence, Foreign Affairs and Communications which were subjects added to the Government of India under the instrument of Accession. However the Government in New Delhi evolved a plan to integrate all the native States with India to counter a move for Balkanization of the country. The iron man of India, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, who was in charge of the State Department a newly set up department, launched the grand operation to rope in the 563 Native States into the Indian union and it was popularly known as Bloodless Revolution.
Under this scheme the Merger Agreement’ drive was brought out to be entered into with the rulers. Bodhachandra Singh Maharaja was one of the few rulers including the Nizam of Hyderabad and the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, who refused to sign the agreement.
However he was coaxed and compelled to sign the Manipur Merger Agreement through threat and coercion by the then Governor of Assam Shri Prakash, who summoned the Maharaja to Shillong. The agreement was signed on 21st of September 1949 by Bodhachandra Maharaja of Manipur and the Governor of Assam, Shri Prakash and V.P. Menon, Secretary to the States Department, Govt. of India were the witnesses.
Main points of Manipur Merger Agreement: The Maharaja ceded to the Dominion Government all his administrative powers and he would retain the powers over the religion, customs and usages etc. The Dominion Government guaranteed Bodhachandra Singh to enjoy the title of Maharaja a privy purse of three lakh rupees annually and succession to the gaddi according to the law of primogeniture and custom.
The administrative powers of the state were vested with the Dominion Government and would be exercised by an administrator to be appointed by the Government of India.
15th October 1949.
The Manipur Merger Agreement came into effect on the 15th October 1949. The then Dewan of Manipur, Major General Rawal Amar Singh announced the merger of Manipur with India on that day at a ceremonial function held at the 4th Assam Rifles Ground. Rawal Amar Singh also became the first Chief Commissioner of Manipur. He was assisted by an advisory Board whose members were nominated by him along with the merger of Manipur with India not only the administrative powers of the Maharaja, who was a constitutional monarch were divested but the popularly elected Assembly and Council of Ministers also stood abolished with immediate effect, according to the provision of the Central Govt. known as the Manipur Order 1949. The Maharaja was neither allowed to consult the Council of Ministers nor refer the matter to the popularly elected Assembly on the question of merger. The Merger Agreement also caused the lapse of the Manipur Constitution Act, 1947.
Status of Manipur lowered.
The after effects of merger of Manipur with India also lowered the political and constitutional status of Manipur. It became a Part-C state with a popular Ministry without responsible to an elected Assembly. All key posts of the state, which were enjoyed by the sons of the soil even during 56 year rule of British, were given to non Manipuris. All the democratic institutions were abolished or suppressed. The overall result was popular discontent creation of an atmosphere of public agitation and suspicion of bonafide of nonassist and advise the Chief Commissioner. They were nominated by the Chief Commissioner from Manipur.



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