DVG's Learned Analysis of the Infamous Manipur Notification

This article is part 37 of 57 in the series Life and Legacy of DVG

When DVG wrote the following words about the impending fate of the Princely States in the April 1949 issue[1] of Public Affairs, it was essentially his three-decade-old prophecy that had rung perilously true because the States had failed to heed his recurring warnings:

Our States signed their death-warrants first when they surrendered to Britain. The…State that has no army of its own, nor a protecting suzerain, is ever at the mercy of him who has armies at his command.

The foregoing is an extract from DVG’s detailed analysis of the report of the States Reorganisation Commission published on April 1, 1949. The Commission was headed by Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Pattabhi Sitaramayya.

***

An important insight that emerges from the entire corpus of DVG’s writings on the Princely States is the fact that he lived through both World Wars as well as a revelation of his astonishing grasp of international law as we shall see.

DVG’s note on armies contains several dimensions. The first is the fact that all the Princely States were in a state of perpetual quasi-military occupation by the British. Although these States had their own standing armies, they were fully under British control thanks to the aforementioned disastrous treaties that past kings had signed.

Perhaps the deadliest of them all was the notorious Manipur Notification of August 1891 which “once for all sealed the fate of the Native States in the eyes of international law.” When we study this alongside with and contrast it with the British rescinding all their treaties with the Princely States in 1947, the full extent of their perfidy becomes clear: India was thrown overnight into a situation in which 562 States were akin to independent nations without an army or other fundamental markers of sovereignty.  

Indeed, DVG’s exposition of the Manipur Notification is the work of a real master, and deserves to be read[2] in full. This tragic story of Manipur is among the countless of such crucial, buried histories. Only a cultural and historical archeologist of DVG’s caliber could dig it up. Writing as early as 1918, DVG calls it a “painful episode, now almost forgotten.” Forgotten just nineteen years after it occurred.

The Manipur Notification was the outcome of the last courageous rebellion against British imperialism at its peak. The Maharaja of Manipur had abdicated the throne, and the Regent Kula Chandra Singh and his Senapati (Commander in Chief), Tikendrajit Singh, sensed an opening when Quinton, the Chief Commissioner of Assam sought to meddle in the royal succession as was the British practice. The Senapati led a revolt, which led to the murder of several British officers. The predictable consequences were immediate and brutal. Kulachandra, Tikendrajit and most of the royal family were convicted for waging war against “Her Majesty, the Queen of England.” They were awarded death penalty which was later modified to “transportation for life and forfeiture of all property.” However, even this punishment was questioned in the courts given the fact that the British had so far recognized Manipur as an independent state. Besides, the lawyer, Man Mohan Ghose, who argued the case on behalf of Manipur, also held the punishment as unfair by the standards and rules of international law.  

The British response to this morally-valid objection[3] based on the grounds they themselves had devised was characteristic and entirely along the lines of the dark genius of the Doctrine of Lapse:

The principles of international law have no bearing upon the relations between the Government of India as representing the Queen Empress…and the Native States under the suzerainty of Her Majesty…The paramount supremacy of the former presupposes and implies the subordination of the latter. In the exercise of their high prerogative, the Government of India have, in Manipur as in other protected states, the unquestioned right to remove…any person whose presence in the State may seem objectionable.

This is the text of the said Manipur Notification. A more barefaced and shameless justification for imperial oppression is hard to find in history. DVG condemns[4] this in his patented style: “in the [Manipur] case, the law-giver was neither a radical reformer nor a high-souled statesman, but only a power-intoxicated administrator bent upon achieving success somehow.”  

In other words, the Manipur Notification implied that the ruler of any Princely State could be arbitrarily set aside if a case for rebellion or revolt could be made, with no recourse for redress in any court. In practical[5] terms, this is what it meant:

By virtue of its preponderating share in sovereignty, Suzerainty has put the States out of the jurisdiction of International Law.

Yet, the selfsame colonial Britain suddenly woke up to the sanctity of treaties and international political ethics during both World Wars when the so-called aggressors declared war against it. During both wars, Britain recruited vast contingents of the armies of the Native States it supposedly protected. In both wars, the total Indian contingent was the largest army in history fighting to defend and save its own oppressors. A multivolume work is waiting to be written on just this important epoch of world history.  

Neither was it just the army that the Princely States provided. They also supplied tremendous amounts of money, material and provisions at the cost of shortages to their own subjects.

This is the semi-detailed backdrop of and the other crucial factor why DVG urged the States to become equal partners with the British.  

Tragically, the far-reaching implications of the unjust Manipur Notification did not elicit even a murmur of protest from the larger and more powerful Princely States. They were either petrified of the British stranglehold or were scared to lose their unbridled privileges and autocracy or both, and both were guaranteed by their subservience. This is why as we have seen earlier, DVG advocated the Middle Path: of ushering in representative and Responsible Government in the States in a graded and graceful manner.

However, apart from Mysore, Travancore, Baroda and a handful of others, most Princely States were happy to enjoy privileges and unbridled power. In DVG’s words, these[6] were “exercised autocratically in all States, with some outward forms of constitutionalism in a few.”

We shall look at a high-level picture of how this autocracy operated in a majority of these Princely States.

To be continued

Notes


[1] p 31

[2] The Genesis of the Present Anomaly, Selected Writings of D.V. Gundappa, Vol I, Gokhale Institute of Public Affairs, 2020, Bangalore pp 299-302

[3] Quoted in: Ibid, p 301

[4] Ibid

[5] State Powers, Selected Writings of D.V. Gundappa, Vol IV, Gokhale Institute of Public Affairs, 2020, Bangalore p 11. Emphasis added.

[6] Ibid, p 12

 

Author(s)

About:

Sandeep Balakrishna is a writer, author, translator, and socio-political-cultural analyst. He is the author of "Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore" and "The Madurai Sultanate: A Concise History." He translated Dr. S L Bhyrappa's magnum opus "Avarana" into English.

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