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CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY OF INDIA & NORTH EAST FRONTIER AGENCY By Dr. Karam Manimohan Singh

The first issue of Irabot’s weekly journal Anouba Jug was produced on Sunday, the 13th April, 1947. It was a handwritten cyclostyled journal having 8 (eight) pages. Due to lack of a proper technical skill the result was not of a good quality and sometimes the handwritten print was found illegible. Also backed up by a great deficiency in the arts of journalism the paper did not have a good scope of reading public and so it could not last long. But the quality of the paper was that it contained the most challenging news of the political situation and a healthy criticism on the Government policy in its Editorial columns. In the first issue of the journal Irabot wrote an article under the heading Manipur State Constitution-Making Committee:
As a matter of fact, most of the Manipuri subjects do not realize the manner in which the Constitution-Making Committee was formed. They requested to postpone the election for a few days more, but the State authorities in a most undemocratic way and without heading to the public demand had assembled in camera, and immediately formed the Committee. Also in the manner of formation, there was no mention of the responsibility for voting rights, no representative of the minority section, no applied rules of general elections. Members of the Committee had been selected on the 20th January 1947, and His Highness’s announcement on the formation of the Committee was addressed on the 10th March, 1947.
This Committee has been playing double roles by overriding the existing democratic principles. Moreover, the Manipur State Congress have joined hands with the Committee would have the right to give administrative advice to His Highness the Maharaja; but now the Maharaja has confessed in his royal declaration that the Committee would suggest administrative advice to the State Darbar only.
It is not the proper time to realise the great loss of our national democratic rights, but the people will one day clearly understand their past mistakes when the proposed resolutions of the Committee have been approved by the Governor of Assam and the Governor General of India.
The Committee had their meetings consecutively on the 24th, 25th, 27th and 29th of March, 1947. Some candidates of the Manipur State Congress expressly announced that all resolutions adopted by the Committee and their meetings held at the Maharaja’s Darbar Hall would be made public. Now it has been proved to be apparently a Private Council in the State Darbar Hall giving no permission of entrance even to the Press-men. The Manipur Praja Sangha in this connection openly express that the Committee is not an assembly of the Legislative Members, but a soft cover to throw dust in the peoples’ eyes.
The committee held their meetings for 4 days, but still the Government Representatives or the Congress candidates have not revealed the proceedings so far. Dr. Leiren Singh editor of the Bhagyavati Patrika, who is also a member in the Committee has not published the resolutions in his paper too.
The Manipur Praja Sangha held their 3rd Session on the 16th and 17th of March, 1947, at Khurai under the President ship of Irabot. Some 230 representatives’ and people from distant areas of the State and members of Sangha nearly amounting to over one thousand attended the Session. In his presidential speech Irabot spoke on the political situation of Manipur in a comparative manner with the Indian scene. He also mentioned about the lack of a democratic principle in the formation of the Constitution-Making Committee, non-existence of a universal franchise in Manipur and the proposed move of a division between the Hills and the Valley. Some of the resolutions adopted in the Session were as follows:
1. To reconsider the Indian States Grouping of the Khasi Hills, Tripura and Manipur which represent only one seat in the Indian Constituent Assembly, special arrangements could be made on Tripura and the Khasi States in order to facilitate Manipur to have one separate representative.
2. To move for an abolition of the undemocratic body of Constitution-Making Committee and, to join hands with the Congress leaders for a common demand of a full-fledged Legislative Assembly.
3. To reduce taxes on Loukhol etc.2
As to the background of the resolution No. 1, in January, 1946, Mr. C.G. Herbert, Secretary of the Chamber of Princes, had informed the Maharaja of Manipur that as a result of the Bill taken for the group in which the Manipur State was included, one Mr. G.S. Guha, Revenue Minister of Tripura, had been declared elected to the Committee of Ministers.3 Mr. Guha was to represent Mayurbhanj, Tripura, Manipur and Sikkim. When working as an Under Secretary in the Political Department, Government of Assam, sometime in 1930, Mr. Guha came in touch with the affairs of the Manipur State, and in 1934, he paid a visit to the State while working as a Judge in the Assam Valley Districts. He retired as a Deputy Commissioner from Assam in December, 1945, and accepted the offer of the Tripura State to work as one of its Ministers. Again in November, 1946, Mr. Guha was invited by His Highness the Chancellor to discuss several matters in the Special Committee, as well as in the Committee of Ministers’ about the selection of Members to the Constituent Assembly from the Indian States. Ail of the Indian States had been allotted 93 Members based on population, one Member for each 10 lakhs of people, Sikkim, Manipur and Tripura could not, therefore, claim individual representation. It was thus suggested that these States along with the Khasi Hills State should among themselves select a representative.4
The Secretary to the Governor of Assam had strongly advised Maharaja Bodha Chandra to ask Mr. Guha to represent Manipur State and Depute Maharaja Kumar PriyaBrata as Adviser to Mr. Guha. The matter was of importance and great urgency because the Constituent Assembly of India had already begun. As the right of appointing a Member to the Constituent Assembly was based on a population of 10 lakhs, the only way for the Manipur State to participate in the Assembly was by combination with Tripura, Sikkim and the Khasi Hills State which Mr. Guha was representing. The Secretary wrote to the Maharaja of Manipur:
Unless this opportunity is taken, it will presumably not be possible for Your Highness’s State to get any representation at all at the Constituent Assembly, a position which, in view of the probably great changes likely to occur in this country, might have regrettable consequences for the future of the Manipur State.
In accordance with this instruction from His Excellency the Agent to the Crown Representative, Maharaja Bodha Chandra had agreed to depute his brother Maharaj Kumar Priyabrata as Adviser to Mr. Guha so long as he was the representative of the Manipur State in the Constitutional Assembly matters.6 But Maharaja Bodha Chandra has strongly impressed on his brother to observe two important points in the discharge of his works as adviser to Mr. Guha. Firstly, he was to represent only such cases as were agreed upon between himself and the Maharajah. Secondly, each of the States of Tripura, Sikkim, Manipur and the Khasi Hills would have a chance of representing in the Constituent Assembly by turn for specified periods.7
In the last week of January, 1947, Maharaja BodhaChandra sent a letter to the Director of the Constitutional Affairs Secretariat, Chamber of Princes at New Delhi. He Stated that in view of the grave importance and the outstanding features of the Manipur State, he determined to appoint additional Advisers (at least2) who were well conversant with the gradual political and historical development of Manipur, the matters concerning the Hill tribes and the valley people, and the existing day-today political problems. The grounds on which Maharaja Bodha Chandra expressed his desire to have a separate representative of the Manipur State on the Constituent Assembly were as follows.
(a) It was not quite safe to have a representative who would mainly depend upon information’s supplied by the Advisers without having full, personal and local knowledge of the matters he was dealing with.
(b) The representative for the Manipur State should for all practical purposes be a person, whether official, who was well conversant with, and experience in the Eastern Frontier problems which were of major importance to the coming Commonwealth of United India. And even this representative would have to be assisted by a special Advisory Committee consisting of the representatives of diverse Hill tribes and the valley people.
(c) With regard to the method of selection of representative, as there was no elected legislature in Manipur, Maharaja Bodha Chandra expressed his desire to reserve the power of special reference to the Darbar and public bodies competent to advise him where necessary and this would be subject to change of personal and demanded by circumstances from time to time.
Further the idea of a formation of common panel, or popular bodies, or an electoral college for the selection of representative of the proposed group of Eastern States was quite impractical and, moreover, there were difficulties of communications, geographical positions and diversity of political and social ideas. There were different sentiments of diverse tribes speaking different languages in each of the States especially in Manipur, and a total absence of affinity and collaboration in the political development among the proposed groups of the Eastern States.
Taking these factors together, Maharaja Bodha Chandra on behalf of the Manipur State, expressed his wishes to press for the inclusion of a distinct representative for each of the Eastern States, especially the Chamber States, in the Constituent Assembly of India.8
In the 3rd issue of Anouba Jug, dated 27th April, Sunday, 1947, Irabot wrote in his serialized article, Manipur State Constitution Making Committee.
A Sub-Committee has been formed in order to work out the Hills constitution. This plan of separation between the Hills and the plains has already been one of the important prearrangements of the British officials and it suggests a materialization of Professor Reginald Coupland’s plans into action.9 In short, Coupland’s plan was that – the Hill regions of the North Eastern portions of Assam could be amalgamated to form an Uttar Paschim Simanta. Beginning from the Sadiya Hills in the northern Assam, the Naga Hills, Manipur, Lushai Hills, the Arkan Hills, and the Chin Hills of Burma would form a province under the administration of a Commissioner. This secret policy of the British Political officers has already been made public in the Shillong Times in the Second week of November, 1946.
Thus the formation of a separate Province of the Hill regions has been a point of discussion in the first phase of the sitting by the Manipur State Constitution – Making Committee. If the proposed plan is put into effect, Manipur will be totally segregated from the Hills and thus became an incomplete geographical entity, Assam will also be incomplete and India a country without the Hills.10
The following were the background stories on the formation of a separate Province comprising of the North, Eastern Frontier areas of Assam. Early in June, 1946, His Excellency the Governor of Assam had invited the Political Agent of Manipur to attend a conference of Hill Officers on the 26th and 27th of July, 1946. In the conference Mr. Gimson was instructed to present the case of the Hill Tribes of Manipur to the Advisory Committee proposed in the statement by the Cabinet Mission to India on 16th May, 1946. The Proposal was read as follows:
20. The Advisory Committee on the rights of citizens, Minorities and Tribal and Excluded Areas will contain due representation of the interests affected and their function will be to report to the Union Constituent Assembly upon the list of fundamental rights, clauses for protecting Minorities, and a scheme for the administration of Tribal and Excluded areas, and to advise whether these rights should be incorporated in the Provincial, the group or the Union Constitutions.11
But all that the British officials in Assam knew was that the Constituent Assembly was to set up this Advisory Committee, and that part of this Committee’s duty would be to advise on the future of the Tribal and the Excluded Areas. They did not know what shape this Committee was likely to take. But His Excellency the Governor of Assam had assumed that some representatives of such a Committee would visit the Hill areas and take evidence on the spot.
It was impossible for His Excellency the Governor of Assam to say how far the major political parties in India had ever applied their minds to the problems of the North East Frontier as a whole. By the North East Frontier, it was meant from Nepal inclusive to Burma exclusive. The Muslim League solution was the affiliation of this entire frontier to a strong Assam-Bengal Group, though no doubt the Centre would be closely concerned on the side of external affairs and defence. This solution was of course prima facie logical and geographically sound. But the Assamese generally, not excluding the indigenous Muslim population, were strongly opposed to Bengal domination, and it was understood that the Mongolian Fringe was even less in sympathy with Bengal.
The Congress, locally the Caste Hindus, solution was that Assam could stand on its own legs, negotiating with Bengal merely in matters relating to trade, inland waterways and economic matters. But this party did not consider the neighboring Indian States at all, or the danger of pressure from China through Tibet. Such a Province would be very weak economically and could probably afford to do very little for the Hill tribes.


....Contd from yesterday

Other solutions were also proposed on more imperialistic lines. It was at one time suggested that these Excluded Areas and the Hill Tribes would be treated as a Crown Colony. But this solution had not commended itself either to Delhi or to Whitehall. Another proposal was that the entire North East Frontier would be administered on an Agency basis under the Central Government at Delhi. From the view-point of defence security this solution had attractive possibilities. On 26th June, 1946, His Excellency the Governor of Assam wrote to Mr. C. Gimson, the Political Agent of Manipur:
I am not sure that the best solution of all might not be a compromise involving grouping with Bengal and the Eastern States in one compartment, and Assam and the North East Frontier States and Tribes in the other. This would probably also involve a certain correction of provincial boundaries Sylhet and the whole or part of Goalpara going to Bengal, and Darjeeling, the Jalpaiguri coming into the Northern compartment. In any such Groups as this the compartments will be much more equal than they are under the present arrangement, and this might well remove the principal objections to C Group as at present constituted.12
The first suggestion, according to His Excellency the Governor of Assam was that, the Constitution making process in Manipur should go ahead in an orderly manner. Secondly, if violent resistances were to be avoided, Assam proper must remain essentially autonomous. In other words whatever Group was formed, the subjects that the Province would be prepared to hand over to the Group would be very limited. The Governor was of opinion that the small States and other Tribes bordering on Assam must look to Assam for administrative guidance, though considerations of defence and external affairs might bring the administration in contact with the higher levels. He was even ready to convince the Advisory Committee, when it came, that the Hill Tracts were not qualified immediately to take their place in a normally administered Province. According to him, if the new Constitution started with a strong Centre determined to maintain, or with the means to maintain a vigorous frontier policy, then the proposal to set up a North East Frontier Agency might conceivably be adopted and such an Agency would be the best possible arrangement for the future of the Hill Tribes.
From the material the British officers hoped to provide, it was considered that the Advisory Committee would certainly realize the peculiar position in which the Tribal Areas of Assam stood, and therefore, some arrangements would be made for the administration of these Areas in accordance with principles different from those adopted in a normally administered Province. The Centre had to extend financial help and perhaps special conditions of service were to be prescribed. In his letter of the 26th June, 1946, Governor of Assam had further informed the political Agent of Manipur.
I would remain content by saying that all planning whether material or political should be designed to fit our Hill Areas ultimately into a normal system of Provincial Government, and that therefore, we should not embark on any extensions of territory, extension of influence should be cautious, in our material planning we should avoid extravagant commitments, and in Local-Self Government institutions we should not look much beyond the village or Tribal Councils for the time being.13
The area of the Manipur State in 1947 was only 8,638 square miles with a total population of 5,12,000. But there were as many as 12 different tribes all around the Hills of Manipur. The Kukis, the Tangkhuls, the Kabuis and the Maos were the most prominent among them. They spoke different languages and when the members of one tribe met with another, they used Manipuri which was the language of the plain Manipuris, as their medium. Their total population was only 1,80,000 or 35 per cent of the population of the State.
The Hills in Manipur formed the part and parcel of the State. The Tangkhuls inhabited the north east, the Maos the north, the Kukis the south of the Manipur valley. They could in no way be separated from the valley, nor could be joined up with the Lushai Hills, the Somra Tract, the Chin Hills and the Naga Hills on account of geographical or physical difficulties. As has been mentioned above, the Political Department was hatching a Wazeristan as the North East Frontier stronghold of British Imperialism. According to this plan, the Naga Hills, Mikir Hills, Sadiya areas, Balipara Tract, Manipur, Lushai Hills, Khasi and Jaintia Hills in Assam, and the Chin Hills and Burma Hills were to constitute a Buffer State between Burma and India. But in spite of the strong propaganda by the Political Department that plan had been almost frustrated by the anti-British and anti-Imperialist attitude of some of the prominent Hill tribes and specially the strong protests lodged by the Manipuris who knew the mischievous intention of enticing the subjects away from the Union of India and of creating division among the Hills tribes. But up to February, 1947, the political Department was still trying to create another disruption and division among the Manipuris by encouraging the Hills to secede from the plains and join those Hill Districts around Manipur State so that they might still carve out a Hills Zone to prolong their sphere of influence. It would be clear from the following facts by exposing their attempts at the furtherance of this aim:
1. A separate Hills Cadre was formed for the administration of the Hills apart from the valley administration, which was directly under the Manipur State Darbar.
2. Pro-British Hill men were appointed as Hills Welfare Officers who were paid from the State coffers, for propaganda of the Political Department.
3. No British-Indian were allowed entry into Manipur State and the adjoining Hill Districts without permission. Political workers were generally prohibited to enter these areas and when they were allowed, of course after the Congress coming into power in the Province, they were looked with suspicion and not even allowed to mix with the villages. The most irritating and obnoxious part of it was that Manipuri political workers of the valley were not allowed to go to the Hills within the State territory itself.
4. Missionaries were also used by the Political Department to carry on their propaganda of mischief-making. The British missionaries were whole-heartedly co-operating with the Political Department to sow the seeds of discontent and separation. While preaching the message of exclusivism among the Hills in the name of religion as the self-made trustee of these Hill man, they did not encourage the Hill people to keep any political contact.
5. The British officers in the Hills sub-Divisional Head-quarters acted as agents of the Political Department. Moreover, the Political Agent and the President of the Darbar toured the Hills for days together and invited some Hill Chiefs, gave them money and offered them feasts and tokens of loyalty.14
With the vast resources of men along with the help of the above agencies the British were in a position to create a psychological make-up among these Hill people which led to so much enmity and distrust towards the plains people. The separatist tendency was so strong among these people as in the case of the whole of India. The agents of the Political Department had incited the innocent Hill men by engineering communal and religious hatred among them. Serious clashes were apprehended at one time on account of British mano Cuvred attack of the Hill men over the plains, of which some were much afraid because arms and ammunitions were in the hands of the these people. The timely and prompt handling of the situation by the Bordoloi Cabinet and the Assam Provincial Congress Committee and the immediate attention of the Interim Government, particularly of Pandit Nehru, had averted any untoward incident.
Although the problem was of a very subtle and complex nature, the findings of enquiry on the separatist tendency among the Hills of Manipur might be described as follows.
1. The Hill men were naturally poor and backward owing to the scarcity of water for cultivation and bad communications in the Hills. A Hill man not necessarily quarrels with a plains man. Used to endless suffering rain, cold and heat, he thought of his family’s stomach problem and when he was in want of food, he generally superstitiously resigned to his fate.
2. The British Government took up the administration of these Hill areas directly in their hands from 1919. But they could do nothing to improve their lot. Though the sources of income from these areas were very small, the Manipur State Darbar had to pay for their education, social and economic uplift. On the other hand, the Political Department was importing British officers to carry out their imperialistic motives by propping up some Chiefs or educated Hill-men to suit their purpose. Innocent Hill-men were made to believe the baseless insinuation that their backwardness were due to the plains-men and their administration.
3. The Hill-men were not allowed to freely mix with the outsiders. As in the excluded and partially excluded areas in other parts of Assam, they were not given any scope for cultural and social contacts. An idea of exclusivism and separatism was always encouraged. The British officers looked with suspicion at any attempt for mutual contact and understanding.
4. Some educated Hill-men from the northern and western Hills of Manipur raised the question of cessation from Manipur State partly as a sort of political bargaining and partly due to British diplomacy. They did not, of course, represent the general Hill opinion. Other Hill tribes in the east and the south raised objections to their proposal. These so-called educated Hill-men’s view about separatism did not even reflect the opinion of the whole population of their own tribes. The Chirus and the Marings vehemently opposed this move and added that their close social, economic and administrative contacts would nullify any such suggestion and any separatist policy would be just suicidal.
5. They made claims for political safeguards in the course of the Constitution making process in Manipur. They demanded a separate electorate and a coalition ministry with individual responsibility were also being contemplated for the administration of the State in the new Constitution. But these political and constitutional safeguards would not solve the problem as the common Hill-men’s problem of stomach could not be solved in that manner and spirit.
From the above considerations it was clearly evident that the Hills-problem was an economic one. They were ill fed, ill clad and uncultured. Their life was short, shabby and brutish. Their social and cultural backwardness was an adjunct of their economic backwardness. The economic and social uplift of these tribes was an all India problem. Their backward condition was an instrument in the hands of the British Political Department who exploited the situation for their own ends. The division of the Hill-men and the plains-men was a creation of that Department. The Hill-men had suffered a great deal due to the INA attack during the Second World War. Their house had been burnt down and their farms uncultivated. They were living on roots and fruits due to scarcity of food stuff. The responsible British officers instead of relieving them in their intensified economic struggle during the period of rehabilitation and reconstruction were just fanning the flame of separatism by putting the blame to the plains-men. But the economic interdependence between the Hill-men and the plains-men could never be permanently weakened in spite of their propaganda and insinuations. It would be a folly on their part to join other Hill Districts of Assam as the communications were very difficult and their social, economic, culture and ethnic connections with the plains Manipuris were closer and the communications easier.
Dr. R.M. Lohia in his draft proposal during the Congress Socialist Party Conference at Calcutta in February, 1947, concluded with the following remarks.
These Tribal are militant people like the Manipuris on the plains, and if they are taught how to fight their day to day economic struggles, we will gradually he able to install self-confidence among them and the inferiority complex with them can be finally removed. The exploited classes in the Hill have a common cause with the exploited classes in the plains. Only through class organizations can we get rid of the economic and social exploitation of the Hill-people. ( Concluded)

Last modified onThursday, 06 September 2018 17:27
William Gurumayum

William Gurumayum, Sub-Editor of Imphal Times is a resident of Sagolband Salam Leikai. He has been with Imphal Times since 2013. An avid adventure lover, writes mostly travelogue. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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