21st September 1949: Manipur is Merged with the Indian Union


On 21st September 1949 Manipur was merged with the Indian Union. It was once an independent princely state, which was taken over by the British in 1891.


The picturesque state of Manipur in North-eastern India has a long and culturally rich history. After India gained independence from British rule in 1947, India's first Home Minister, Sardar Vallabhai Patel, set about the task of integrating more than 500 princely states that existed in the Indian subcontinent with the newly formed Indian union. This process of integrating the princely states took place over a period of time. Manipur was one such state which merged with India on 21 September 1949.


In order to understand how the merger of Manipur with India came about, we need to take a brief look at the geography and historical background of this state. Manipur is a landlocked state and shares its borders with the Indian states of Nagaland to its North, Assam to its West and Mizoram to its South. Towards the East and Southeast of Manipur is its international neighbour Myanmar, with which Manipur shares a 352 km long international border.


In the early 1700s both Manipur and Myanmar were independent kingdoms and the then King of Manipur, Maharaja Pamheiba or Garibaniwaj invaded his Eastern neighbour Burma (as it was then known) several times. The Burmese rulers retaliated in 1890 and their fierce attack led to a period referred to as 'seven years of devastation' in the history of Manipur. Maharaja Gambhir Singh of Manipur sought refuge in the princely state of Cachhar (in present-day Assam) and reached out the British for assistance, since they had advanced arms and armaments, which could help him wage war against the Burmese king and recapture his kingdom. The British forces helped Maharaja Gambhir Singh's army and he was able to evict the Burmese forces and retake his kingdom.


However the British help was not unconditional and soon the king began to feel they were taking over his adminstration. This resulted in an armed conflict between the Manipuri army and the British forces, known as the Anglo-Manipur war of 1891.The conflict was a terribly unequal one since, while the British had firearms, the Manipuri army had only spears and swords. Led by the brave Major Paona, the Manipuri army fought with great valour but was defeated on 23 April 1891 at Khongjom. Major Paona and many other brave Manipuris died fighting against the British, and their sacrifice is commemorated as a state holiday, 'Khongjom Day', in Manipur even today. The British then overran the Kangla Fort, which was the seat of power of the Manipuri king and on 13 August 1891 they put an end to the then Manipuri ruling dynasty by executing the Crown Prince Yuvraj Tikendrajit and General Thangal. This day is still revered by the Manipuri people as 'Patriots Day'. The British then established absolute dominion over the state of Manipur, though they placed another member of the Manipuri royal family Meidingngu Churachand on the throne.


In 1941 his son Meidingu Bodhchandra Singh became the ruler of Manipur. He was loyal to the British and in January 1942 he called for a National War Front meeting to mobilize support for the British side in the Second World War. As the Japanese attacked the Malay Peninsula and Singapore fell in February of 1942, Japanese bombers attacked the capital of Manipur, Imphal. This led to a mass exodus from Manipur particularly by members of the local adminstration. The Indian National Army (INA) led by Subhash Chandra Bose was allied with the Japanese forces and the Indian National flag was hoisted for the first time in the Indian subcontinent when General Malik of the INA unfurled the flag in Moirang on 14 April 1944. However, the Japanese forces and their INA allies were defeated by the British before they reached Imphal.


Reacting to changes in the world around him, as well as developments in other pricely states in the Indian subcontinent, Bodhchandra Singh set up a committee to draft a constitution for a new government in Manipur. This task was completed in 1947 and in June 1948 the first election was held in Manipur. M.K. Priyobarta was elected the first Chief Minister of Manipur and a State Assembly was formed. Meanwhile the Maharaja was asked to meet with representatives of the Indian Government in Shillong and after a few days of negotiations signed an instrument of accession with India on 21 September 1949.


The signatories of the Instrument of Accession were the Maharaja Bodhchandra Singh on behalf of the state of Manipur, and V.P. Menon and Sri Prakash for the Government of India. The Maharaja was guaranteed full privileges and customary rights and three lakh rupees as a privy purse. He could also retain the use of his private properties. The Government of India assured the Manipuri people that their rights would be protected and their customary laws and cultural practices could be followed without any hindrance. The Manipur State Assembly was dissolved and the first Indian Chief Commissioner of Manipur, Rawal Amar Singh took over. Manipur was a Union Territory of India from 1962 and achieved full statehood within India in 1972.



Also on this day

1746: The Seige of Madras (in the first Carnatic War) comes to an end. The French capture Fort St George (Madras) from the British.

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