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EDITORIAL: Ethnic Boundaries

Has Phungyar Assembly Constituency MLA, Wungnaoshang Keishing bitten off more than he can chew, in the face of the strong opposition raised against his “brain child,” which is the transformation of Phungyar Assembly Constituency to a full fledged revenue district. On the surface, the MLA’s stand, backed by the Phungyar Assembly Constituency District Demand Committee, is fine and some of the arguments put forward from their side appear logical, given the fact that this Assembly Constituency comprises four sub-divisions, Phungyar, Kasom Khullen, Kamjong and Sahamphung besides having a healthy population.

Moreover the argument that since this Constituency is located too far away from Ukhrul district headquarters administration has become extremely difficult and the poor road connectivity has only made things worse, seems plausible, if one were to recall the numerous times that student organizations from Kasom Khullen have had to petition the Government to do something about the pathetic condition of the road that connects it with Imphal and other parts of the State. This is something surprising, if we take into account the fact that the longest serving Chief Minister of Manipur, Rishang Keishing hails from this Constituency, Kamjong being his birth place.

However this is how things stand. Apart from this, what may add muscle to the stand of the MLA and the District Demand Committee is the fact that Phungyar AC is largely dominated by the Tangkhuls and hence there should be no problem amongst the people of the four sub-divisions, which make up the whole of this AC. The United Naga Council has already made its stand clear and in doing so has opened fire in the dark, without naming any target but which is nevertheless, obvious from its tone and gesture.

Not surprisingly all the Ukhrul based or Tangkhul civil society organizations have backed the stand of the UNC and have come out strongly against the idea of Wungnaoshang Keishing and his men in the District Demand Committee. This is not surprising, and we are more than sure that the MLA too must have anticipated this and the question of why W Keishing, and it is intriguing to see a man like him, whose political career rests on the foundation of the slogan that all Nagas must be united under one administrative unit, should come out with such an idea, which appears to run contrary to the aspirations of the Naga people. Perhaps, only the MLA can answer this question, but the timing of the district demand is something too significant to miss.

The demand to transform Phungyar AC to a full fledged district did not come yesterday or last week. In fact, if we remember correctly, the demand or the proposal to upgrade this Assembly Constituency to the status of a full fledged district was forwarded before the Chief Minister last year. It is only now that it has come to occupy centre stage and it is something of a surprise to see the UNC react to the demand at this stage and not earlier. Districts like States should be created along administrative convenience and not due to any other factor, but unfortunately India is yet to shake off the Nehruvian concept of creating States or demarcating the boundaries of a State along linguistic basis.

The linguistic factor may then be turned on its head and identified along ethnic lines, never mind the fact that there is no common form of verbal communication amongst any of the group that make up the  ethnic group. This is the ground on which the seeds of a Greater Lim were sown by the NSCN (IM) and whether one agrees with this idea or not, credit should be given to Mr. Muivah and his peers for giving shape and breathing life into the concept or belief of the Naga Nationhood. So a Poumai from Senapati who has nothing in common with a Zemei from the Zeliangrong tribe in Tamenglong does not hesitate to sing the Naga unity anthem, in Meiteilon!

It is against this emerging culture of ethnicisation of politics that one should view the stand of the UNC and Ukhrul based organizations against the idea of upgrading Phungyar Assembly Constituency to a full fledged revenue district. The official reason that UNC has given for opposing the demand for a district status for Phungyar is not convincing enough to bowl all the people over and there are examples galore to counter the point laid down by the UNC. On the other hand, the concern expressed by some civil society organizations from Ukhrul is understandable in the context of the prevailing politics in the State, where everything is seen and viewed through the prism of ethnicity. It is not for the sake of opposing that some of these organizations have spoken out against, as it could be a genuine concern that bifurcating the district, which is solely identified with the Tangkhuls, is contrary to the idea of a unified Naga family.

Moreover, we also need to ask why Keishing should suddenly appear so keen in upgrading his Home Constituency to the status of a full fledged revenue district now. Remember this is not his first term in office, and he made his debut in the State Assembly as early as 2002 by defeating Rishang Keishing. The same story was repeated in the 2007 election, with the son of Rishang Keishing being the man suffering defeat at the hands of Wungnaoshang. If this issue has not been raised in all these years, why raise it now, is a question that definitely needs an answer, and a plausible one at that. Is it just a demand for a district or does it go beyond this? Anything is possible, especially in the type of politics that is practiced and accepted here and therein lies the most complex point.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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