01 August 2020

On 13 August 1891, soon after the conclusion of the Anglo-Manipur War, Tikendrajit Singh, the commander of the Manipuri army, is publicly hanged by British authorities at the polo ground in Imphal. Tikendrajit was a half-brother of Surachandra Singh, who ascended to the Manipuri throne after the death of their father, Chandrakirti Singh, in 1886. Having been named army chief after putting down an early revolt against the new king, Tikendrajit led a palace coup in 1890 that replaced Surachandra with Kulachandra Singh, their half-brother and the crown prince.

Surachandra left Manipur on the pretext of heading to Vrindavan for a pilgrimage. Once he reached Calcutta, he appealed to the colonial authorities for assistance. Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, the viceroy at the time, ordered JW Quinton, the chief commissioner of Assam, to travel to Imphal with four hundred Gurkha soldiers. They were to allow Kulachandra to remain king but to arrest and banish Tikendrajit, seen as the power behind the throne.

After Tikendrajit refused to answer Quinton’s summons, troops were sent to his residence on 24 March 1891. They encountered immediate resistance from Manipuri forces, and, after a day’s fighting, the British residency itself came under attack. During attempts to negotiate a ceasefire, five British officers, including Quinton, were taken prisoner and beheaded. A mob burned down the residency.

The British sent eight thousand soldiers to exact retribution. They encountered little resistance in taking Imphal, which had been largely deserted, and announced an amnesty for all except those who had participated in killing the British officers, burning the residency and desecrating graves. Most soldiers returned home on hearing this, and the British arrested Kulachandra and his supporters. Tikendrajit surrendered on 23 May. He was executed along with the senior government official Lungthoubu Thangal, while Kulachandra was transported for life to Andaman.