A RECOLLECTION OF THE FIRST DEMOCRATIC GOVERNMENT IN MANIPUR

by Prof. Ksh. Bimola Devi
This article was originally published by Manipur Mail on 19 Oct 2010

The Manipur State Constitution Act, 1947 marked a very important chapter in the political history of Manipur. It was the fulfillment of a long cherished dream of the people to be under a democratic system having a government run by their own representatives. In a sense it took about 20 years to achieve the desired goal of having a democratic government in Manipur.

The emergence of political awareness and political consciousness in Manipur may be traced back in the beginning of 1930s. The formation of voluntary organization/bodies having social oriented objectives indicated the growth of social and political awakening in the mind of educated persons in Manipur. 

Mention may be made of Manipur Seva Committee. Praja Mandal etc. Under the leadership of Hijam Irawat. The establishment of Nikhil Hindu Manipuri Mahasabha on 30th May, 1934 under the presidentship of Maharaja Bodhachandra shows the adjustment between the traditional political element and the emerging trend of democratic trends, the Maharaja representing the tradition and Hijam Irawat, the Vice President representing the new emerging trend of democratic elements. 

The year 1938 in which the Nikhil Hindu Manipuri Mahasabha had become a political party by deleting the word ‘Hindu’ under the presidentship of H. Irawat symbolized the completeness of the emerging force of political consciousness, sowing the seed for the movement of constitutional reforms in Manipur. Some of the political resolutions passed in this Chinga session, 1938 were that (a) a full responsible government should be established in Manipur, (b) adult franchise should be the basis of elections, (c) the administration of the hill and the valley should be amalgamated etc. The second women’s movement, 1939 had added another political element in raising the growing political consciousness of the people of Manipur. 

The next hectic political activities took place in the year 1946 as envisaged by the joint meeting of Manipur Praja Mandal and Nikhil Manipuri Mahasabha on 5th April, 1946, formation of Manipur Praja Sangha by Manipur Praja Mandal and Manipur Praja Sammelini with R.K. Bhubonsana as President and H. Irawat as Secretary in September, 1946 etc.The formation of Manipur State Congress on 4th October, 1946 in Aryan theatre in a meeting convened by Nikhil Manipuri Mahasabha had resulted in the emergence of two rival political groups namely the Manipur State Congress on the one hand and the Manipur Praja Sammelini and the Manipur Krishak Sabha on the other. Before the formation of Manipur State Congress, the Nikhil Manipuri Mahasabha, the Manipur Praja Sammelini and the Manipur Krishak Sabha with delegates from the hills already had demanded the formation of a commission which will initiate the drafting of a constitution for introducing a democratic responsible government in Manipur. Maharaja Bodhachandra had accepted the proposal in September, 1946. The Political Agent and the President of the Durbar were not in favour of the introduction of democratic principle in Manipur. Nevertheless the Maharaja constituted a constitution making committee consisting of 17 members, six from the valley, six from the hills and five officials. The committee framed the Manipur State Constitution Act, 1947.


Manipur State Constitution Act, 1947
The Manipur State Constitution Act, 1947 consists of eleven chapters. Chapter I mainly deals with the position, succession and prerogatives of the Maharaja. The rules governing the Act are in chapter II. The powers and functions of the Council of Ministers acting as the executive of the State are elaborately dealt with in Chapter III. The Chief Minister and six other ministers are the members of the council of ministers.

The six ministers were elected by the State Assembly. Two ministers out of the six ministers were the representatives of the hill people and elected only by the representatives from the hills. The remaining four ministers were elected by the representatives of both valley and hills. But the hill representatives did not participate in the elections. The Chief Minister who was the President of the Council of Ministers was appointed by the Maharaja, acting as a bridge between the Maharaja and the democratically elected council of Ministers. As a leader of the council of Ministers, the Chief Minister in consultation with the Ministers had to distribute the portfolios among the Ministers. The quorum necessary for the transaction of business was three excluding the President. Section 10(b) of the Manipur State Constitution Act, 1947 lays down the relation between the Maharaja and the Council of Ministers. The Chief Minister had to seek the approval of the Maharaja for any measure adopted by the council of Ministers.

The Maharaja had the power to withhold his approval to any measure adopted by the Council of Ministers. The Chief Minister and the Ministers had to swear an oath of loyalty and allegiance to the Maharaja to the effect that they will be loyal and faithful and bear true allegiance to the Maharaja his heirs and successors and will faithfully discharge their duties. Thus the Maharaja-in-council with the appointed Chief Minister acting as a link form the executive for the administration of the State.


The State Assembly 
The composition, the powers and the functions of the legislature called the State Assembly are enumerated in chapter IV of the Manipur State Constitution Act, 1947. The representatives of the people freely elected by the people on the basis of adult franchise were the members of the Manipur State Assembly. The constituencies were divided into general, hill and mahamadan in the ratio of 30:18:3. There was two additional seats for the representatives of educational and commercial interests. The Manipur State Assembly altogether consisted of 53 members.

The State Assembly may discuss any matter concerning the government and the well being of the State if the members of the Assembly think that it is in the public interest. The matter was to be passed by majority of the members and tender the advice to the council of Ministers.” But the Assembly could not touch the prerogative of the Maharaja and any matter which was of primary concern to the hill people.

The Assembly had the power to pass a vote of no confidence in a minister for his omissions and commissions by a majority of 2/3 vote of those present and voting. The motion of no-confidence passed by the Assembly must be forwarded through the Chief Minister to the Maharaja. The Maharaja was free to accept or not to accept the decision of the Assembly. The minister against whom the motion of no-confidence was passed must resign if the Maharaja directed him to do so. It may be noted that the Manipur State Constitution Act, 1947 did not provide for no confidence motion against the ministry as a whole. It might be due to the fact that the Chief Minister being appointed by the Maharaja, a vote of no confidence in the Assembly against the ministry would amount indirectly a vote of no confidence against the Maharaja.The members of the Assembly enjoyed freedom of speech and were not liable to any proceedings in any court of law.The law making authority was the Maharaja in council in collaboration with State Assembly.


First Democratic Government
When the Council of Ministers or the Assembly considered that a law should be enacted, the council had to draft a bill. It was laid before the Assembly which could make alternations and amendments. The bill as finally passed by the Assembly was sent to the Maharaja who could either give or withhold his assent. If the assent of the Maharaja was not forthcoming within one calendar month from-the date of its submission to him, it shall be deemed to have been voted. The same bill could be introduced in the next session of the Assembly, it became a law without the assent of the Maharaja. The Maharaja in council also enjoyed emergency powers. The Maharaja in council in order to promote public interest could promulgate in emergency cases orders having the force of law without previous reference to the Assembly. Such order had the force of law for a period of six months.

Chapter IX of the Manipur State Constitution Act, 1947 deals with judiciary section 41 laid-down that the judiciary is completely separated from the executive. The Chief Justice and two other judges were appointed by the Maharaja in Council. The judges could be removed on grounds of misbehavior or of infirmity of body or mind by the Maharaja in Council. The Council was responsible for the welfare and the good administration of the hill people and had to see that the local authorities exercise the powers as laid down in the Manipur State Hill (Administration) Regulations, 1947.

The fundamental rights and duties of the citizens are laid down in chapter X of the Act. The fundamental rights were (a) all citizens are equal before law (b) no-person may be subjected to any judicial interrogation or placed under arrest or deprive of his liberty save as provided by law (c) no banishment of citizens from the state, freedom to reside in any place of the state (d) justice, social, economic and political, equality of status, of opportunity and before the law, freedom of thought, expressive of belief, faith worship, vocation, association and action etc. are guaranteed to the people. All officials of the State and local governments are answerable for their unlawful actions before the law and the individuals may go to the law courts for redressing their grievances.Any provision of the Act may be amended by the Maharaja in Council by receiving the support of at least 80 percent of members present and voting.


Elections, 1948
The first Elections in Manipur under the Manipur State Constitution Act, 1947 were held in 1948. The whole valley was divided into 29 constituencies. Out of these, three constituencies were multimember constituencies and one was a reserved seat. The entire hill areas was divided into 18 constituencies. There were also two special constituencies, for Education and Commerce and Industry.

There were only 47 territorial constituencies which returned 53 members. There were six special constituencies. Lilong, Mayang Imphal and Yairipok constituencies were to elect to Muslim member from each in addition to the general candidate. Moirang constituency was to elect a Hillman in addition to the general candidate.Most of the parties both national and local contested the elections. The national parties were the Indian National Congress and the Socialist party. The local parties were the Manipur Krishak Sabha and the Praja Shanti Sova.

The Congress appealed to the people to vote for its candidates as it can usher Mahatma Gandhi’s Ramrajya and Prajaraj. It promised full responsible government accountable to the people in near future. The Manipur Praja Shanti Sova attacked both the Congress and the Krishak Sabha. The party warned the people to be very cautious .about thu: Congress, because, if voted to power they might merge Manipur with Assam. And the party called the members of the Krishak Sabha as imposters. Most of the members of the Krishak Sabha were really communists, although they are afraid to reveal their identity. With these manifestoes put before the people by different political parties elections to the first Legislative Assembly was held from 11 June, 1948 to 27 “July, 1948. There were 48 constituencies and five special constituencies. The special constituencies were Lilong, Mayang Imphal and Yairipok. In these constituencies seat were reserved for muslims as well as Meiteis. Moirang wasalso double member constituencies, electing one tribal and one Meitei. Another two special constituencies were education and commerce representing special interest. Altogether 30 seats were allotted for the valley, 18 for the hill areas, 3 Muslims and 2 professionals. There were four-cornered and five cornered contest in most constituencies. In some constituencies such as Yajripok and Lilong as many as 10 candidates contested the election. The following was the break up of the party position in the Assembly after the election.


Results of the Assembly Elections, 1948 
Manipur State Congress 14 Manipur Krishak Sabha 5 Socialist Party 3 Hills (Independents) 18 Independents (Praja Shanti) 12 Nominated 1  53


Formation of Government, 1948
No party secured a majority in the elections held in 1948 under the Manipur State Constitution “Act, 1947. A Coalition ministry led by Independents known as Praja Shanti and supported by, the Manipur Krishak Sabha and hill Independents was formed. The lone nominated member Maharajkumar Priyobrata, the younger brother of the maharaja became the Chief Minister. The Chief Minister was appointed in consultation with the elected ministers. From the hills R. Khathing and Teba Kilong were appointed by the Maharaja as ministers other ministers from the valley were (1) Arambam Ibotomcha Singh (2) Dr. N. Leiren Singh (3) Ayekpam Gourabidhu Singh and (4) Alimuddin. They were elected as ministers by the members of the Manipur State Asembly.


Members of the Council

Capt. P.B. Singh – Home and Revenue
Major K. Khathing – Hill Areas
Arambam Ibotomcha – Finance, Local Self-Govt. (Town Fund, Hydro, Elec-Board, Water and Vehicle tax and Chairman, Bazar Committee)
Dr. N. Leiren – Education, Press and PWD.
Ayekpam Gourabidhu – Commerce and Industry
Taba Kilong – Forest, Agriculture and Veterinary, Mohammad Alimuddin – Jail, Medical, Public Health and Sanitation.

Thus the Manipur State Constitution Act, 1947 for the first time brought into existence a representative democratic government in Manipur. It is said that Manipur was the first princely state to have a democratic government based on universal adult franchise, women enjoying the right to vote along with men. The Maharaja enjoyed the position of being a constitutional head of the state, exercising control over the council of Ministers. The Maharaja, at the same time, enjoyed limited powers in the relationship with the State Assembly as he could withhold a bill only for one month. The Chief Minister appointed by the Maharaja had acted as a link between the Maharaja, head of the state and the Council of Ministers. The real democratic element in the Act was the election of the ministers by the members of the State Assembly. But the Act was silent about the collective responsibility of the ministers to the State Assembly.

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