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Practical But Soulless

We may have missed the 100 pc target by a whisker and no, we are not disappointed but rather pleased. Before Union Home Minister arrived on his recent two day visit to the State, we had indulged in some crystal ball gazing exercise and come to the conclusion that the Home Minister will not have anything new to say except repeat what has already been said before such as protecting the sanctity of the political boundary of the State. We didn’t do badly, but the point where we went wrong or where we had to eat our words was the Home Minister’s statement that a review of the Protected Area Permit has already been conducted and the decision of Delhi will be announced soon.

As a follow up story to this statement, we got in touch with our sources at the right places and were told that Delhi may have something positive to say and that is, the Protected Area Permit, may be relaxed with respect to Manipur for a period of 1 year and then decide on the future course of action or decision. This of course came with the standard line which goes something like, subject to the approval of the Union Home Ministry. This was the new development that P Chidambaram had when he came to Manipur, but though he did not have any other major announcement to make, it was clear that he had done a thorough home work on the issues confronting Manipur, where social issues are blown into political issues, which are the perfect opportunities to many trouble makers and rumor mongers.

Note the usage of words, when he interacted with students at GP Women’s College during his visit here. The Home Minister stopped short of using the term Naga and instead said that the Meiteis should talk to the Tangkhuls and the Tangkhuls to the Kukis. This statement may mean different things to different people, but to us this is significant and shows how keenly Mr. Chidambaram has been studying the underlying currents that define the relationships between different communities here. By using the name of a particular tribe, Tangkhul in this case, Chidambaram has shown that Delhi knows that the seeds of the deep divide between the Meiteis and the tribals, especially the Nagas, were sown in Ukhrul though the venue of the drama was Senapati.

Similarly, he talked about the feeling of insecurity that a minority community might face.  Apart from announcement on the Government’s changing view on PAP and his public demonstration that he has indeed done a good home work on the complex web of relationships and clashing aspirations of the different communities here, Chidambaram had nothing much to say. We remember how his views on the Armed Forces Special Powers Act surreptitiously became public knowledge, when Kashmir was on the boil in the summer of this year, but no, he did not say anything connected with the Army Act while he was here. Maybe his aides forgot to remind him that the icon against AFSPA is here in the form of Irom Chanu Sharmila Devi. Whether it was real politiks at play or not, Chidambaram did not utter a single word that would have caught the attention of the people. Nothing for the press to write and discuss and nothing sensational.

It was obvious that he was intent on focusing on the job at hand, but the irony becomes all that more prominent, when we acknowledge the fact that no one in the State, that is excepting the Council of Ministers and maybe the Governor, knew what was discussed and what was decided. What information/directive did the Home Minister have with regard to the July 31 Declaration of the Naga Peoples’ Convention to sever all ties with the Government and to urge the Centre to make alternative arrangements for the Nagas living in Manipur, which ultimately turned out to be a State for the Nagas of Manipur or a Union Territory, as the December 3, tripartite talk at Senapati demonstrated. Or did this issue fail to register in the mind of PC? Remember Chidambaram landed at Tulihal airport under the shadow of a number of sensitive issues which have not only been a threat but also a pain to all sections of the people and as Union Home Minister he could not project himself as espousing the cause of one at the cost of another.

That the Centre is not taking the Suspension of Operations agreement with the Kuki armed groups, who have come under two different groups, the KNO and UPF, lightly can be gauged by his visit to a camp of the ZRA somewhere in Churachandpur district. The only question and this is very important, whether the Central forces such as the Assam Rifles and CRPF or the Army have been briefed strictly to ensure that the cadres do not violate the agreements and cause havoc amongst the civilians.

The Home Minister did keep his door open at the Raj Bhawan for the public to air their grievances or to put up any issues which are of primary importance to the State. The media, under the All Manipur Working Journalists’ Union was also invited.  The initial euphoria of getting the opportunity to personally meet the Union Home Minister and raise critical questions was quickly snuffed out when the Minister refused to entertain any question and except  said that the citizens of the land may highlight their stand to him, in the form of memoranda etc.

Needless to say, to the media, the refusal of Chidambaram to entertain any queries came like a bucket of cold water after a hot shower. This is also the sentiments shared by many others, especially the veterans of society, who have retired from service but are still very much active mentally as well as physically. Chidambaram is not a Sonia Gandhi to maintain such an aloof and withdrawn posture. It was a good sign that he did not play to the gallery, but at the same time, he did not endear himself to the people of Manipur.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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