By- Dr. Kh. Ibochou Singh
Prior to the advent of the British power in Manipur, the State had no constitution to govern the state authorities. The king was the seat of political powers. The administration was run on the wise counsel of the nobles with overriding power of the king. To be true, there was a system of absolute Monarchy. The establishment of a responsible government in Manipur under the Manipur State Constitution Act, 1947 was the result of prolonged strains on the part of the people of the state in their attempt to discard absolute Monarchy and adopt, in its place, a democratic constitutional Monarchy.
1.2 Administration Rules, limiting the powers of the state administrative agencies, were introduced consequent upon the British subjugation of the state after the Anglo Manipuri War in 1891. Since then, some sort of limited Monarchy emerged under the British suzerainty. However, there was no proper legislature. The Manipur State Darbar (the Darbar henceforth), which later became the Manipur State Council since 1 July, 1947, performed the combined functions of an advisory executive body and a legislature.
The Darbar acted as the judiciary as well before the establishment of the Chief Court in 1940. Such administrative practice continued till the framing and implementation of the Manipur State Constitution Act, 1947. However, the proper functioning of the Constitution was, at times, hampered by the calculated design of the Government of India in their pursuit to become the successor government after the lapse of British Paramountcy in India. It will be worthwhile to mention about the role played by Manipuri Nationalism in the process of the change.
2. Manipuri Nationalism Revitalized
The British occupation of Manipur showed n scene of domination and exploitation. The old Palace site, Kangla, had been converted into garrison for the British forces in Manipur. A large area of land in the heart of Imphal town, including Kangla, was declared ‘British reserve’ meant for settlement of the British Indian subjects in Manipur. The non-Manipuris, known as Foreigners’ controlled all the spheres of economic and political life of the State. The people of Manipur suffered such a sorry plight without any sort of protest for about three decades.
2.2 By 1920 the Manipuri Nationalism got revitalized. It had gathered spirit and strength to rise in protest openly against foreigner’s exploitation. In September, 1920 a peaceful agitation was launched by the people known as ‘Bazar Boycott’. The main slogans were: (i) Stop export of rice; (ii) Boycott all shops owned by foreigner’s for purchase and sale of goods: (iii) Reduce prices and stop looting the illiterate state subjects; etc.1 The agitators went to the extent of requesting the Maharaja for a separate market place for the state subjects. The movement subsided peacefully without any positive result as the Maharaja made an appeal on 19 Nov. 1920 to return to normal condition. But, the agitation proved a severe blow to the suppliers of rice from Imphal to military outposts outside the state.
2.3 The Nationalist feelings increased as time rolls by. The liberal policy of the Darbar had promoted expansion of education horizontal and vertical. The number of educated Manipuri citizens multiplied with a higher degree of political and social awareness among the people. In 1928, when the Indian States Committee
(known as Butler Committee) was formed, the Darbar ventilated their wishes by adopting resolutions sharply reacting against the British Government’s arrangements in Manipur administration. The Darbar demanded:
(a) Restoration of possession of Kabo Valley to Manipur;
(b) Retrocession of Kangla to the State of state use;
(c) Redemarcation of Manipur boundary according to existing records;
(d) Handing over of hill administration to the Maharaja;
(e) Maharaja’s decision in appeal and revision cases should not be subject to approval of the Political Agent;
(f) Appointment of permanent President of the Darbar;
(g) Removal of trade restrictions imposed by the Government of India; etc.2
At the time of adopting the resolution, the Darbar contended to place it before the Indian states Committee; but later on, changed mind and submitted it to the Government of India for consideration through proper channel. Unfortunately, the proposal could not get favorable recommendation from the local agents. Thus, there was no encouraging response from the Government of India in any of the items listed above.
2.4 The birth of the Nikhil Manipuri Hindu Mahasabha (later Nikhil Manipur Mahasabha) in May, 1934, accommodating members from Manipur and the adjoining states like, Assam, Burma, Cachar, Tripura, etc, further intensified the Nationalistic trend. Since 1938, apart from religious aspects, the Mahasabha took up political and social issues. The Mahasabha fought for removal of social evils like, Mangba-Sengba, Wakheisel, Chandan Selkhai, Dolaireng, etc., which were considered as evil practices at the whim of the Maharaja and the Brahmasabha. Side by side, the Mahasabha, been turned into a training ground for the inexperienced young British officers who were misfits if not trained in states like Manipur. The educated elites in the Darbar even challenged the competency of the superiority of the British officers to the local talents. They claimed that the qualified Sons of the soil should be given suitable appointments in the state services.3
3. Constitution Making Committee:
Drafting of the Constitution
During the period 1941 to 1946 there could not be much headway towards constitutiOfl31 reforms in Manipur due to a cluster of factors. Firstly, since 1938 the Government of India had declared that they would not pressurize the Indian Princes to introduce constitutional changes in the states. Secondly, Maharaja Sir Churachand Singh, during whose reign hectic discussions on the subject took place, had become inactive on health grounds; and he died in Nov.1941.
His eldest son, Bodhachandra Singh, succeeded him in 1942. Thirdly, in May, 1942, Imphal, the capital of Manipur was bombed by Japanese War-planes; and subsequently, Manipur was converted into a war front between the Allied and the Axis powers during the Second World War. Nevertheless, the constitutional issue was revived in 1946.
3.2 On the demand of the Indian Peoples’ Conference, in Jan. 1946 the Chamber of Princes adopted resolutions to safeguard the civil and political rights of the people with full freedom of individuals in the states4. The Government of India instructed the British agents to see that democratic institutions were introduced in the states in line with the resolution of the Chamber of Princes, with sufficient provision for rights of the people in consideration of the impending lapse of British Paramountcy in India. Further, to accelerate the progress of democratization in Manipur, the Governor of Assam, while on tour to Manipur, also advised the Maharaja to take steps for introducing constitutional government in Manipur at the earliest5.
3.3 With a view to fulfilling the aspirations of the people and abiding by the instructions of the Governor of Assam, Maharaja Bodhachandra Singh issued orders for formation of a Constitution Making Committee on the principle of equal representation. The Committee was to comprise of 5 representatives of the valley, 5 members from the hills and 5 members from the Official side. The 5 representatives of the valley were to be elected while the rest were to be nominated. Of the 5 Officials, the Darbar was to send 3 including the President; Later Chairman of the Committee 1 from the Judiciary and 1 Maharaja’s nominee.6 Later on, one member from Jiribam and one for the Kabui Nagas were represented on the Committee. A democratic constitution integrating hill and valley administrations was contemplated.
3.4 It took time to give a final shape to the proposed constitution. There were differences of views between the Constitution Making Committee and the Maharaja on various items. The Maharaja wanted to induct a nominated Chief Minister in the new Government which the Committee opposed as it vitiated the democratic norm. The Maharaja pleaded for qualified franchise; while the Committee preferred universal adult franchise. The Maharaja advocated for a constituency limited to the people of that constituency alone; but the Committee stood for an open constituency. On the issue of transfer of power, the Maharaja wanted to transfer it dose by dose RR they gained experience, the Committee contended it should be done at a time as they were the peoples’ representatives. Thus, the Constitution could not be made ready by the expected time.
- Interregnum Arrangement
The Government of India considered the undue delay in implementing the Constitution as a deliberate move by the Maharaja to prolong his autocratic rule. To limit the powers of the Maharaja, a new rule, called Manipur State Administration Rule, 1947, was framed and introduced with effect from the 1st July, 1947. The hill and valley administrations were amalgamated. The Manipur State Darbar was changed into Manipur State council. The President of the Darbar was to be the head of the council as Chief Minister. There were six Ministers in the new Council: four from the valley and two from the hills, all nominated. The Maharaja was re- designated Maharaja in Council. The members of the darbar were made members in the new council. Side by side, other administrative laws namely, Manipur State Courts’ Act, 1947, Manipur State Appointment Board Rules, 1947, Manipur State (Administration) Regulation, 1947 ,etc. were introduced in Aug 1947.
4.2 The Interim Government in India was set up in Sept.1946 with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru as the Prime Minister. In that line, there was a move in Manipur also for establishing an Interim Council. So an Interim Council was established in Manipur with two Officials, two Non Officials and two nominees from the hills. It took charge from the State Council on 14 Aug. 1947. The former Chief Minister, Mr. F.F. Pearson, being a British officer, was to leave Manipur on 15 Aug. 1947. In his place, Sri Priyobarta Singh was appointed Chief Minister in the Interim Council.
- Constitution implemented.
After a long tussle between the Maharaja and Constitution Making Committee ultimately there was a compromise. The Maharaja surrendered other items except that of nominated Chief Minister. The Committee, winning in all other items, yielded to the Maharaja on the item of nominated Chief Minister with this compromise, the Maharaja issued orders in Feb, 1948 implementing the Constitution called, Manipur State Constitution Act, 1947. Election to the State Legislative Assembly was held between 11 June, 1948 and 27 July, 1948. The ratio was to be 30 for the valley, 18 for the hills and 3 for the Muslims*. In addition to it, one from Commerce and one from Education were also represented; total number of elected members being 53 members. Sri P.C. Deb was appointed Returning Officer for the said election, Mr. T.C. Tiangkham was elected Speaker and Sri T. Bokul Singh, Deputy Speaker. A popular Council of Ministers comprising of one nominated Chief Minister, four ministers from the valley and two ministers from the hills was sworn in and took office with effect from 26 Nov. 1948. Sri M.K. Priyobarta Singh, the younger brother of Maharaja Bodhachandra Singh, was appointed Chief Minister of the new popular ministry.
5.2 The Manipur State Constitution Act, 1947, might be regarded as a democratic constitution establishing a responsible government, except the feature of a nominated Chief Minister. Questions were raised in the Legislative Assembly itself challenging the propriety of a nominated Chief Minister in a popular ministry. But, the answer was that it could not be undone so long as Rule 10 (d) of the said Constitution, which laid down appointment of the Chief Minister by the Maharaja, remained unamended.7 The Rule in question remained unaltered, though undemocratic, till the abrogation of the whole Constitution itself since October, 1949 consequent upon the implementation of the Merger Agreement signed on 21 Sept. 1949 taking effect from 15 October, 1949.
- Appointment of Dominion Agent and Appointment of Dewan.
It was made clear well ahead of the day of Transfer of Power that Manipur would have no link with the British Government of India after the passing and implementation of the Indian Independence Act, 1947. The stand of His Majesty’s Government was that with the lapse of British Paramountcy in India from 15 Aug. 1947, the British control over the Indian states would cease to operate. All sovereignty and powers surrendered by the states to the
Paramount Power would return to the states. The future relations of the states with successor Government of India should be settled by political arrangements arrived at through negotiations between the states and the successor Government of India.8
6.2 The successor Government of India under the Prime Minister ship of Pandit Nehru contended that the earlier relation between India and Manipur should continue even after the lapse of the British Paramountcy in India. During the days of partition of India, Prime Minister Nehru had declared that the Indian States
could not be regarded as Independent States after the lapse of Paramountcy in view of their geographical contiguity with the Indian territories and also from the point of Indian security.9 Accordingly, steps were taken to contain political autonomy of Manipur within the ambit of Indian suzerainty. Confidential instructions were issued to the Governor of Assam and the Government of Manipur on these lines. To make things doubly sure, an agreement was signed between the Maharaja of Manipur and the Governor of Assam on 2nd July, 1947 highlighting the future relation of Manipur with the Government of India and the Government of Assam, representing the Government of India.
6.3 The appointment of the Dominion Agent in Manipur was the aftereffect of the agreement of 2nd July, 1947 mentioned above. Since the transfer of power on 15 Aug. 1947, the political Agent in Manipur had ceased to function. The Dominion Agent was to step into the shoes of the Political Agent in Manipur. The Dominion Agent was to look after the relations between the Deminion of India and the State of Manipur. He had to safeguard the interests of the Government of India with the power to report any matter of importance to the Government of India. The Governor of Assam, as the Agent of the Government of India in that area, appointed the Dominion Agent. He would have the same powers and functions as enjoyed prior to 15 Aug. 1947 by the political Agent.10 Siri Deveswar Sharma of Assam was the first incumbent for the post of Dominion Agent at Manipur.
6.4 The appointment of Deveswar Sharma as Dominion Agent did not prove to be a good choice. Though there were allegations against him on certain political issues in the north east India, Sri Sharma was removed from office, without much detail, on the simple ground that the post was superfluous. The post of Dominion Agent was abolished simultaneously. The Governor of
6.5 After the abolition of the post of Dominion Agent, there was the necessity for posting one officer at Imphal to represent the Government of India. Taking advantage of Clause (d) of the Agreement, dated 2nd July, 1947, the Government of India opened the issue of appointing a Dewan by the Maharaja to aid and advises him, on behalf of the Government of India, in the administration. The Maharaja pointed out that such appointment would be violating the Constitution as there was no provision for it in the Constitution. He also expressed that he could not act without consultation and consent of the Council of Ministers. However as the Government of India had assured full protection against any eventuality, the Maharaja agreed to the proposal.12 At the outset, Sri M.K. Priyobarta Singh was appointed Dewan by the Maharaja. He functioned as the Chief Minister and Dewan.13 But., later on, the Government of India appointed Major General Rawal Amar Singh as the Dewan. He took over charge on 18 April, 1949. The position of the Dewan being unconstitutional, no specific powers and functions could be laid down. However, the Government of India coast rued that, as per terms of the agreement, the Maharaja was obliged to accept any advice of the Dewan in the name of good government in the state. The post of Dewann was abolished with the creation of the post of Chief Commissioner of Manipur on 15 Oct. 1949 as Manipur became a Centrally administered area since that day. Major General Rawal Amar Singh, the former Dewan, was appointed the first Chief Commissioner of Manipur.
Manipur State, which had an absolute Monarchy in the early days, switched over to a Constitutional Monarchy since 1948 with an elected responsible government. It was possible with the growth of political and social awareness due to the spread of education among the people. Manipuri Nationalism had played important role at different phases of Constitutional development. The only blot in that democratic government was the feature of a nominated Chief Minister. But, it was defended to be more democratic for the reason that not only the elected members but also the Maharaja were involved in the appointment of the Chief Minister as the Maharaja had to appoint the Chief Minister in consultation with the Council of Ministers.
The people did not raise objection to the appointment of the Dominion Agent taking him to be the normal representative of the successor government of India in Manipur. But, the appointment of the Dewan was very much controversial as it was violative of the Manipur State Constitution newly enforced. The role played by the Dewan was extra constitutional and extra territorial.