By Prof. Lal Dena
At the time India achieved her independence, Manipur also got back her independence. This was soon followed by realignment of new forces in Manipur. The representatives of Tangkhul Long, Kuki National Assembly, Kabul Association, Khul Union, Mizo Union, Manipur Praia Sabha, Manipur Krishak Sabha, Meitei Marup and Nongpok Apunba Marup had a joint meeting at MDU Hall in November, 1947 and formed a United Front of Manipur under the leadership of Hijam Irabot Singh. The main objectives of the Front were to demand full responsible Government in Manipur and to preserve Manipur’s territorial integrity.
In the first election which took place in 11 June, 1948, not a single political party could get an absolute majority. As a result, the independent MLAs both from the valley and the hills together formed the Praja Shanti Sabha and formed a coalition government. The attitude and response of the hill people to the merger issue must therefore be seen in the context of their respective party affiliations.
Dhabalo Singh, President of the Praja Shanti Sabha in his letter to the Maharaja on 17 December, 1948 expressed that Manipur was to remain as a state and autonomous unit enjoying responsible government with the Maharaja as the constitutional head and with her sovereignty undisturbed. Again, in another memorandum to the Governor of Assam by N. Ibomacha Singh, claimed that almost cent per cent of the people of the State were quite against integration and merger of Manipur to India. The Sabha felt that the existing arrangement under which the Dominion Government of India had control over defence, communications and external affairs was satisfactory. Later on, the ruling members in its meeting on 25 August, 1949 decided that (a) the existing relations between India and Manipur under the Instrument of Accession be continued; (b) home rule run by local figures under the democratic constitution of Manipur state be also continued; and (c) the representatives of India, if there would be any in Manipur, be bound by the constitution of Manipur, without any interference in day-to-day internal administration of Manipur.
In their desperate attempt to preserve the identity and sovereignty of Manipur, the PSS went to the extent of saying that if merger was imposed, it would cause double loss to India and Manipur and concluded thus, “If the people have been sinned against or wronged, the people themselves have to be watched over in addition to the watch over the enemies of India across the frontiers”.
In this connection, T.C. Tiankham, Speaker of the Assembly in his letter to private secretary to the Maharaja also expressed his anxiety that, if at all matters relating to the future of Manipur were to be discussed with the Governor of Assam, it should first be referred to the Assembly for discussion. Tiankham seemed to be well aware of the Bhagyabati Pratika’s editorial on 21 September, 1949 which runs thus “Manipuris do not want to be subservient to another nation, history provides ample proof for that. However, Manipuris like to have friendly relations with other nations. We are a nation faithful to truth. The Manipur State cannot tolerate subjugation by another nation. What we want to have is.... nothing more than self-rule in this land, as we had always since the beginning of history under a King”. Later on, N. Ibomacha Singh and S.L. Lunneh, were deputed to meet the Central Government of the issue.
Among the hill leaders, it was only A. Daiho, a tribal leader of Mao Nagas, who reacted more violently against the merger of Manipur to India. Daiho got excited with the prospects of independence. He who advocated complete secession of the hills from Manipur and the formation of the Lushai Hills, Somra Tract; Chin Hills, Naga Hills, etc. into a federated hills in the sphere of future hill administration in 1946, again objected tooth and nail the merger of Manipur to India. He even sent a telegram to the Governor General of India saying that the tribal people of Mao did not approve of accession and declared their independence. As the anti-merger agitation in North Manipur under the leadership of Daiho gained momentum, the Mao Nagas blocked the Imphal Dimapur Road and in the process, one young boy was killed in the Police firing.