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(A Speech delivered by Prof Lal Dena* on the occasion of Patriots’ Day Observation at Manipur University on 13 AUGUST, 2011).

On this day of 120th years ago, the brave sons of Manipur, Koireng Jubaraj Tikendrajit Bir Singh,Thangal General, Niranjan Subedar, Kajao and Chirai Naga had laid down their life in defense of Manipur’s integrity and independence. Some questions may be raised in this connection. Was their arrest, trial and condemnation to death justifiable on charges of waging war against the British rulers? Did the British colonial officials have the right to intervene in the internal affairs of an allied independent country? Did the rulers of Manipur owe any sort of allegiance to British paramount power by their own deeds or otherwise? The answers to these questions can best be analyzed in the context of the status of Manipur vis-à-vis to British India during the 19th century.

Manipur had established a formal relationship with British India since the late 18th century. This relation was based on friendship and close understanding. Throughout the 18th and 19th century, Manipur had been an independent kingdom. The so-called sanads which guided the relation between British India and Indian native states were not operative in Manipur. In other words, Manipur was not a sanad state like other native or princely states in the Indian sub-continent. Therefore, the British laws cannot be applied to a person of another independent country. Nor does the international law permit this.

Was there any treaty by which British India could claim Manipur’s allegiance to British empire? The first treaty on 14 September, 1762 concluded between Haridas Gossain on behalf of Bhagyachandra (Jai Singh) and Harry Verelst on behalf of the East India Company was essentially a defense alliance between Manipur and British India. It was not a subsidiary alliance as it was concluded between Indian states and British India. The terms of the treaty was that the two signatories should help each other in times of external war. As agreed upon in the treaty, the two powers helped each other during the first Anglo-Burmese war, 1824-1826.

After the ejection of a Burmese army from Cachar by a joint British and Manipuri forces in 1826, Burmese had retreated into Manipur. Gambhir Singh, a young dynamic leader with his 500 Manipuri troops had driven out the Burmese army out of the valley of Manipur and across the Ningthi river. The actual liberation of Manipur which had been under the domination of Burmese rulers and their vassal rulers in Manipur for about seven years from 1819 to 1826, did not involve direct British intervention. It was accomplished by the Manipuris themselves on 22 January, 1826. By the treaty of Yandaboo on 24 February, 1826 which closed the first Anglo-Burmese war, both Burma and British India solemnly reaffirmed their recognition of Manipur’s independence.

The third and the fourth treaty concluded between Manipur and British India in 1833 and 1834 were concerned only with defining of the borders of Manipur with Cachar which was annexed to British India in 1834. A careful study of all these treaties shows

that there is nothing in them which affect Manipur’s sovereignty. There is also no condition for Manipur of ‘owing her allegiance’ to the British India. There is no clause in

all these treaties which directly or indirectly prejudice the state of Manipur as an independent kingdom.

James Johnstone, former political agent and Alexander Mckenzie, bureaucrat-turned historian, claim that Manipur, though independent, is at the same time a ‘protectorate’ or a ‘protected state.’ In the strict sense of the term, the so-called protected state was never incorporated with an imperial state. Historically and theoretically, protected states were independent states which at most voluntarily requested or accepted the protection of another power which promised to defend the former against all third parties. Moreover, from the standpoint of an imperial state, the purpose of establishing a protected state rather than a former colony was to achieve a specific objective without commitment to full control but to exclude some other rival powers in such protected states.

Let us now see the role and position of the political agent in Manipur. To what extend did the presence of the political agent make an inroad on the sovereign power of Manipur? The political agent was to act as mainly a medium of communication between Manipur and Burma. As occasion might require, he was also to prevent border feuds and disturbances which might lead to hostilities between Manipur and British India. James Johnstone, one of the most influential political agents has rightly defined the role of the political agent thus: “The political agent is dependent on the wish and pleasure of maharaja for everything”. This sums up the limit of the political agent’s influence on the day-to-day decision-making processes of Manipur and his presence was not related at all with the sovereign power of Manipur.

Another sensitive issue which was often the cause of anxiety is the issue of succession. For succession, sons sometimes murdered father and brothers murdered brothers and fathers. This is a common occurrence in the history of Manipur. But the question we are concerned with here is: did the colonial agent have any say as to who would be the king or ruler of Manipur before 1891? Could the colonial authorities in Fort William dictate the people of Manipur in the selection of their king? Gambhir Singh, by virtue of his own merit and strength became the ruler of Manipur in 1826. Nar Singh assisted his brother Gambhir Singh in the reconstruction work of Manipur after Burmese had evacuated Manipur. After Gambhir Singh’s death, Nar Singh became king as Chandrakirti, the infant-son of Gambhir Singh was hardly two years old. Devendra Singh succeeded his brother Nar Singh who died on 11 April, 1850. Devendra was of course given British recognition which was not conditional.

When Chandrakirti became mature, he made an elaborate preparation to regain the throne of Manipur and moved towards Manipur from Cachar. Chandrakirti soon gained popularity and a large number of Manipuri soldiers began to join him. Unable to resist Chandrakirti’s forces, Devendra fled from Manipur at night.

On 13 July, 1850, Chandrakirti duly became the king of Manipur. On the suggestion of McCulloch, political agent, British India recognized Chandrakirti on 3 October, 1851.When Chandrakirti nominated his eldest son by the principal queen, Surchandra as his successor, he further went to decree that thereafter his (Chandrakirti’s) younger sons by junior queens should occupy the throne before it passed to Surchandra’s own son.

As a result of the so-called palace revolution in September, 1890, Surchandra abdicated the throne of Manipur and left Manipur. The Manipuri princes then acted in accordance both with Manipuri custom and with their deceased father’s wishes, and Kulachandra became the king of Manipur in the place of his elder brother, Surchandra. Did the colonial rulers in India and their agent in Imphal make any choice as to who would be the king of Manipur before 1891? Certainly not.. Whoever became a victor in the war of succession with the support of the people was the king of Manipur. British India’s recognition of Manipuri king was based purely on political expediency.

All the above stated facts clearly show that Manipur was a de facto independent kingdom with de jure dependence on British paramountsy till she finally succumbed to the onslaught of the war in 1891. Judging from the existing sanad sytems, treaties and Manipuri custom, the British rulers had no right to meddle with the internal affairs of independent Manipur. The British action and its declaration of war against Manipur in March, 1891 can in no way be justified. Since Manipur did not form an integral part of British India, Manipuris were not the subjects of British India and they did not owe any sort of allegiance to the British rulers. Nor could they be tried by British laws.

In his last appeal to the Queen Empress Victoria, Tikendrajit wrote thus: “There never was any such reservation or declaration of allegiance on the part of any ruler of Manipur to Her Majesty…on 24 March last, Manipur was a sovereign state.” After 27 April, 1891, when the Union Jack was hoisted at Imphal, Manipur was thus reduced to a de jure independence with a de facto dependence on British India and since then the colonial agents in Imphal assumed the role of king-makers by saying that “the chiefship of the Manipur state, the title and salute will be hereditary and will descend in the direct line, provided in each case the succession was approved of by the government of British India.” H.St.P.Maxwell was made the de facto ruler and the young raja Churachand as a de jure king of Manipur.

What followed after the occupation of Manipur by the British forces in April, 1891 is a drawn conclusion. The arrest of Tikendrajit Bir Singh, Thangal General and others and their trials were just a mere formality. Maxwell had only one agenda in conducting the so-called military trial: to avenge the death of five English officers. This he did by sending Tikendrajit Bir Singh, Thangal General and others to the gallows on this fateful day in the presence of more than 8000 eye-withnesses thereby turning the Sanakeithel Pheidapung into a sea of tears.

Fellow citizens, as we are observing this Patriots’ Day, let us continue to uphold the Ideals, Values and Spirits of Freedom for which our patriots laid down their lives.

*About the writer:- Prof Lal Dena is a regular contributor to Inpui.com. He is a historian and teaches at the Manipur University.

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