Its legality and constitutionality in the context of Manipur Constitution Act, 1947 and International Law: By: A.NILAMANI (Sr . Advocate)
On the conclusion of the Anglo- Burmese War with the signing of the Treaty of Yandaboo on the 24 th of February 1826, Manipur was declared independent. The Anglo Manipuri War broke out in 1891 following the arbitrary intervention by the British Crown in the internal political affairs of Manipur and the massacre of some British Officers by the infuriated mob of local people provoked earlier by the British Forces. 2. With the victory of the British Forces, Manipur State became a vassal State under British Crown, like any other Indian Princely States, in 1891, in accordance with a proclamation of Her majesty the Queen of England-dated August 21, 1891, whereby Her majesty the Queen Empress of India had been pleased to forego her right to annex to Her Indian Dominion the territories of the Manipur State and had graciously assented to the re- establishment of Native rule. Under a Notification of the Governor- General of India dated September 18, 1891, the Sanad was granted to the Raja of Manipur , later made Maharaja of Manipur . 3. Thus Manipur State exercised internal sovereignty only under the suzerainty of the British Crown till the British paramouncy lapsed in 1947 with the passing of the Indian Independence Act 1947. By virtue of Section 7 of that Act, which bears the heading “Consequences of the setting up of the new Dominions”, the Indian States including Manipur became fully independent and their full suzerainty was revived on 15-8- 1947. 4. By sub-section (4) of Section 2 of that Act, room was, however , left to these States to accede to either of the new Dominions of India and Pakistan. Stand-still agreements were made followed by instruments of Accession in the forms set out in Appendix-DC and Appendix-WI of the white paper on Indian States. An examination of those forms will show that the stand-still agreement was only in respect of such matters as communications, arms, currency , Indian State Forces, etc., as already existing on the aforesaid date. The instrument of Accession, while giving jurisdiction and authority to the Dominion of India over certain matters like defence, etc., still maintained the sovereignty of the Ruler over the Indian State. This was followed by the merger agreement, by which the Rulers of the Indian States ceded to the Dominion Government full and exclusive authority , jurisdiction and powers for and in relation to the governance of the States, and agreed to transfer the administration of the States to the Dominion Government. 5. Before accession of Manipur to India, the Manipur State Constitution Act 1947 had been adopted by the Interim government and assented to by the Maharajah. This enacted the law for the governance of the Manipur State. Under section 3 of this Act, all rights, authority and jurisdiction which appertained or were incidental to the Government of the territories of Manipur were exercisable by the Maharajah subject to the provision of this Act. 6. Again, Section o of the Manipur State Constitution Act 1947 contained the Maharajah’ s Prerogatives which could not and should not extend to the legitimate interest of the S tate Administration. Under this Act, the Maharajah of Manipur was only a constitutional Head and the law making authority in the State vested in the Maharajah in Council in collaboration with the State Assembly , was expressly provided in Section 9(b) and Section 26 of the said Act. 7. It is common knowledge to the people of Manipur that the Maharajah was invited to Shillong for some unspecified discussion with the Governor of Assam in September 1949 and he was compelled to sign the Merger Agreement dated 21-9-1949 under threat, duress and/or misrepresentation of facts and circumstances. The said Agreement purporting to be between the Governor General of India and His Highness the Maharajah of Manipur did not in terms cede the territory of Manipur State to the Dominion of India but purported to cede only the full and exclusive authority , jurisdiction and powers for and in relation to the governance of the State of Manipur and to transfer the administration of the State to the Dominion Government of India on the 15th day of October , 1949. The said Agreement was signed by Shri Bodhachandra Singh, as Maharajah of Manipur , and Shri Vapal Pangunni Menon, as Adviser to the Government of India, ministry of State, on behalf or as a delegate or plenipotentiary of India. 8. Accession of Manipur S tate to India assumed the character of an international treaty between two sovereign States. Such a treaty is evidence of the fact that the State of Manipur was a Sovereign State and never a vassal or protectorate State in September 1949. Under the international law , accession is the transfer of sovereignty over State territory by owner-State to another State by means of a bilateral agreement or treaty . 9. But the Maharajah of Manipur as the Ruler had no right, power or jurisdiction to accede the territory of Manipur to the Dominion of India. The Ruler had no right to transfer the sovereignty of Manipur or to barter away the allegiance and liberty of the Manipuri Nation, only for some personal advantages in return, even assuming he was a consenting party to the Agreement. The Ruler of Manipur lacked the capacity to enter into the transaction and sign the Agreement. He was neither an appointed plenipotentiary nor a delegate of the State of Manipur by virtue of his being a nominal constitutional Head of the State. Nor was there any approval or ratification by the Council of Ministers which was the State Executive or by the State Assembly which was the State Legislature. 10. The purported cession should have been conditioned upon the will of the people of Manipur expressed in a plebiscite. According to universally accepted democratic principles, the State Government should consult public opinion either in the Legislature of Parliament or elsewhere as to whether the Mer ger Agreement or for that matter any treaty having far- reaching effect on the liberty and welfare of the nation should be confirmed or not. In case of cession, it should be determined by a plebiscite of the inhabitants of Manipur , or it ought to be followed by such a plebiscite. 11. It will be pertinent here to advert to what President Wilson of the United States declared: “People and Provinces are not to be bartered about from sovereignty to sovereignty as if they were mere chattels and pawns in the game. Peoples may now be dominated and governed only by their consent. Self-determination is not a mere phrase; it is an imperative principle of action which statesmen ignore at their peril”. 12. Kashmir also acceded to India under an Instrument of Accession signed by the Maharajah of Kashmir and accepted by the Government of India. After the accession, the Indian Prime Minister Shri Jawaharlal Nehru made a declaration that the accession was subject to plebiscite of the people of Kashmir when peace and order would be restored to the State. Kashmir is still an autonomous State in all matters other than defence, foreign affairs and communications which are delegated to India. Jammu and Kashmir State sent a representative to the Constituent Assembly of India and accepted the Constitution of India. 13. But no representative of the State of Manipur was sent to the said constituent Assembly and accepted the Constitution of India. The Mer ger Agreement which partook of the nature of a treaty between two sovereign States of Manipur and India has got to be ratified, and it can have no binding effect unless it has been ratified. There is no clause or provision in the said treaty that it should be binding at once without ratifications being necessary at all. Failure to ratify the same by the competent authorities of Manipur and India should be taken as refusal to ratify . 14. Further , when a treaty is concluded by a party , who was not invested with necessary power or who acted in excess of the power conferred on him, the treaty may be considered null and void, even where the treaty was concluded by the Head of State. Where the Maharajah of Manipur as the State functionary had exceeded his powers and the treaty concerned matters in regard to which constitutional restriction were imposed upon him by the Manipur State Constitution Act 1947, the so- called Mer ger Agreement could not be sustained as valid in international law . 15. The people of Manipur feel and think that India has been treating Manipur as the former ’s colony , as if India is the conqueror and Manipur the conquered in the continuing process of the Indians subjugating and exploiting the Manipuris and in the ceaseless struggle of the latter to assert a right of self-determination. It is for the people of Manipur to decide whether they will revolt against the Indian colonial rule as a political community struggling to attain or retrieve its lost separate independent statehood by reasserting their right to self- determination.
(This article is reproduced by Imphal Times from the Book called “Annexation of Manipur-1949 )
William Gurumayum, Sub-Editor of Imphal Times is a resident of Sagolband Salam Leikai. He has been with Imphal Times since beginning. A avid adventure lover, writes mostly travelogue.