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Statehood or Annexation? An Alternate Interpretation of the Politics that Determined the Granting of Statehood to Manipur

This essay is an attempt to critically re-read the context and implication of the Union of India’s granting of statehood to Manipur in 1972. Certain sections of the population of the region including the academic community and political activists seem to cherish 21st January as the day on which Manipur was elevated to the status of a full-Indian state from that of a Union Territory. This problematic interpretation seems to have been reinforced by a misplaced understanding of interconnected facts – first, Entry No. 19 of the First Schedule of the Constitution of India and second, the provisions of the North-Eastern Areas (Reorganisation) Act, 1971 (NEA) which have produced the illusory perception of the grant of Indian statehood to Manipur. It is time to put forth critical perspectives and provide fresh understandings on these misplaced interpretations of historical and political events which have shaped or influenced lives of everybody in the state in very profound ways.

The administrative and legislative arrangements made by the Indian State with regard to Manipur from 1949 till 1971 were inter-connected and cumulatively served one political purpose of formal constitutional incorporation of the territory of Manipur within the fold of India’s polity. At the onset, it needs to recall the political and juridical status of Manipur from 1947 till 1949. As per Section 7 (1) (b) of the Indian Independence Act, 1947 Manipur among other formerly Princely States such as Tripura, Travancore, Jodhpur, Bhopal, Hyderabad, Junagadh, Cooch Behar, Mysore, Jammu & Kashmir, etc. gained independence with the lapse of the British suzerainty. Restoration of Manipur’s political sovereignty was manifested in the establishment of parliamentary democracy with the adoption of the Manipur State Constitution Act on July 26, 1947. She became a proto multi-ethnic State in South East Asia to have inaugurated a People’s Democratic Republic under a written political document along-with the establishment of the Manipur National Assembly with 53 seats whose elections were held in 1948. Manipur was a sovereign independent multi-ethnic State from 15 August, 1947 till 14 October, 1949 the day before she was occupied by India. There is no dispute to the independent sovereign status of the Princely States under international law at the end of the British suzerainty as the same position had been repeatedly and consistently reaffirmed by the Supreme Court of India in a number of cases such as Virendra Singh v. State of U.P. (1954 AIR 447), Sarwarlal v. States of Hyderabad (1960 AIR 862) and Shri Ragunathrao Ganpatrao v. Union of India (1993 AIR 1267), etc.

Subsequent to the 21st September, 1949 signing of the Merger Agreement, the promulgation of the Manipur Administration Order on 15 October, 1949 effectuated the Indian State’s occupation of Manipur. By the same order, Manipur became a Chief Commissioner’s Province of the Dominion of India. She was also listed as a Part-C State of India between 26th January 1950 and 1st November 1956. The description of Manipur which is provided by Entry No. 19 of the First Schedule of the Constitution of India (inserted by the NEA, 1971) was plain reiteration of Entry No. 3, First Schedule added by the 7th Constitution (Amendment) Act, 1956 which read: “The territory which immediately before the commencement of this Constitution was being administered as if it were a Chief Commissioner’s Province under the name of Manipur”. By the Territorial Councils Act, 1956, Manipur became a Union Territory of India which status continued till 1971. Through the NEA 1971, the Union Territory status came to an end on 21st January, 1972 the date on which Manipur was granted Indian statehood and was recognised as the 19th state of the Union of India.

An analysis of Entry No. 19, First Schedule of the Indian Constitution, inserted by the NEA 1971, hints towards two basic facts on Manipur – first, it was a ‘territory which immediately before the commencement of this (India’s) Constitution’ and second, it was ‘administered as if it were a Chief Commissioner’s Province’. While the first fact acknowledges the existence of the territory of Manipur before the coming into force of the Constitution of India, the second one characterises the status of the territory of Manipur as a province administered by a Chief Commissioner. The significance of this constitutional entry is limited to highlighting the precedence of the territory of Manipur before the enactment of the Constitution of India (26th January, 1950). However, the status of the territory of Manipur as described in Entry No. 19, First Schedule of the Indian Constitution is that of the Chief Commissioner’s Province but not the independent sovereign multi-ethnic State of Manipur which existed from 15 August, 1947 till 14 October, 1949. It was the territory which was placed under India’s occupation as a result of the Manipur Administration Order of 15 October, 1949. In the given context, Manipur as the Chief Commissioner’s Province only points towards its status as a territory under India’s occupation.

Now, why should the grant of statehood to Manipur as the 19th State of India be called annexation? Annexation implies formal constitutional incorporation of a territory with the intention to permanently establish the sovereignty of the annexing State. Formal constitutional incorporation was necessary to clothe the territory annexed (Manipur) as a new constituent political and administrative unit of the Union of India. It also sends a message to the world that the territory of Manipur thenceforth been taken over or its administration and governance had been assumed by the Union of India and it is under the sovereign jurisdiction of India. Annexation is an act of the occupying power of acquiring all or part of the occupied territory and incorporating in its own territory with the intention to succeed all the sovereign rights of the dismembered State in the territory annexed (Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, ICJ Rep. 136, 2004, the Wall case hereafter).

Very oftenly, in situations of territorial occupations followed by annexation, two common characteristic features emerge: first, the formal incorporation of the occupied or annexed territory into the territory of the annexing State or Power and second, the extension of laws and institutions of the annexing State to that of the annexed territory. They have the effect of changing the status of both the territory and its people. The annexation or formal incorporation of Manipur into the Union of India was effectuated by the NEA, 1971 in the manner as provided under its Section 3 which read: “Establishment of the State of Manipur – On and from the appointed day there shall be established a new State, to be known as the State of Manipur, comprising the territories which immediately before that day were comprised in the Union Territory of Manipur”. By NEA 1971, Manipur was established as a new political and administrative unit of India. The ‘establishment of the State of Manipur’ by an Act of the Indian Parliament as the 19th State of India was in effect plain annexation of the territory of Manipur. It has the effect of obliterating the historical existence of the multi-ethnic State of Manipur as an independent political entity. It derecognizes Manipur’s juridical status before 1949.

The continuous efforts made by the Government of India from 1949 to 1971, with regard to the status of Manipur indicate its intention to provide justification for the governance of Manipur permanently. The implication is that it had sought to change the status of Manipur from an occupied territory to an annexed or incorporated territory or in the words of the Government of India an ‘integrated’ state. This is evidenced from the extension of various laws of the Union of India to Manipur from 1950 onwards. Notably, Indian laws concerning civil, criminal, property, succession, etc. were also extended to Manipur. Repressive legislations extended to the territory of Manipur includes the Seditious Meetings (Prevention) Act, 1911; the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 as amended in 1972; the Punjab Security of the State Act, 1953; the National Security Act, 1980; the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 and its amended versions of 2019, etc. The issuance of Indian passports and other documents such as voter identity cards, driving licenses to the people of Manipur whose status is characterised as ‘occupied’ under international law had the effect of changing their nationality from Manipuris to Indians.

Incorporation of Manipur as the 19th State of India does not signal the end of Indian occupation. Thus, NEA, 1971 which effectuated annexation of Manipur only legalised or formalised the incorporation so far as India is concerned but in international law the territory remains occupied. Indian annexation of Manipur in 1972 has no effect to its occupied territorial status. This normative understanding had also been reaffirmed by the anti-annexation jurisprudence of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) among other instruments, standards and practices concerning the law of territorial occupation. The ICJ in Wall case (ICJ Rep. 136, 2004, 5.99) stated: “The regime of occupation cannot…be brought to an end by annexation”. Thus, Manipur’s status since 1949 continues to remain an occupied territory and its people an occupied people under the rules of international law.

( This essay is a summary a full length article by him originally published in the Beijing Law Review (https://doi.org/10.4236/blr.2020.111022) under the title “Annexation of Manipur as the 19th State of India: The Status of the Territory of Manipur in International Law since 1949”)

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