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Only Power, Damn Decentralization

It is only about power and the accompanying perks and privileges, to put it in its crudest and most fundamental term. On a more sophisticated tone, we may say it is about authority and the corresponding responsibility and to give it a touch of respectability and dignity, top it off with a yarn about power coming from the grass root level, which is the mantra of democracy.

As in other aspects of life, the more dangerous of the two sides of the same coin is the unsaid but which is akin to hiding a lethal weapon in one’s kurta, to be used when the time is right or when the situation comes to the stage of ‘Loha Garam Hai.’ It is also sensitive, especially when it comes to the question of devolving power and authority against the backdrop of a bigger agenda, which has already been spelt out resulting in politics being viewed and understood only through the realm of community or ethnic affiliations or politics interpreted with ethnicity.

It makes matter worse, when we have a Government, that is rightfully or wrongfully depicted as a regime representing the interest of only one community, the majority in this case, and to a large extent, Manipur fits the bill of the brief description we have just mentioned. For years the Autonomous District Councils have for all purposes been lying defunct, though there are quite a number of people employed in the Councils, either as teachers, cashiers, clerks or in some capacity. And as democracy is primarily about people’s power coming from the grass root level, at least on paper, it is not surprising to see so much importance being attached to the election of the local bodies, such as the Municipality Councils in the urban areas, the Zilla Parishads at the village level or the Autonomous District Councils in the hills.

The first decade of the new millennium will go down in history as the period in which the State was gripped by a series of problems and sensitive issues, all having to do with the election to the ADCs under the 3rd Amendment of 2008 and its nuisance value. For over two decades, the ADCs have been lying defunct following the vociferous demands of quite a number of tribal organizations, notably the Nagas, to devolve more power to the Councils. This was before the Greater Lim idea or objective became the clarion call around which almost all issues of the Nagas of Manipur are now centered.

After the ceasefire was signed between Delhi and the NSCN (IM) on August 1, 1997, the Lim shadow began to cast itself over the horizons of Manipur and the blood and gore, sans any communal violence, will remain etched in the history of the people, on either side of the Lim divide. Despite the call given by the United Naga Council and supported by the All Naga Students’ Association, Manipur to boycott the ADC election held in April and May this year, the State Government stood its ground and went ahead with the election. All that has happened is now history, but politics, the kind which reeks of all the ugly facet of saying something and doing something else, promising the moon and not even delivering drinking water facilities, continue to dog the State and there is no reason to suspect that the same trend will discontinue once the ADCs become fully functional.

We perfectly remember the Chief Minister saying that if needed, the 3rd Amendment of 2008 can be studied and rectified, if necessary, after the election. This was a promise which cast the Chief Minister as a seasoned politician though it is now becoming doubtful, whether he is ready to keep his words or not.

On paper, the UNC boycotted the ADC election on the ground that it cannot accept the 3rd Amendment of 2008 since not enough provisions have been provided for the development of the hill areas. In short, no tangible authority or power have been devolved to the ADC, in matters concerning finance, legislation etc. No, the Chief Minister has not said No to the need to revise the provisions of the 3rd Amendment after the election, but what is clear is that the SPF Government is in no hurry to devolve power to the ADCs and this is a question, which the Government should answer.

Like other mechanisms worked out under the Constitution of India and in keeping with the ideals and principles of democracy, procedures to devolve power and authority to the grass root level like the Panchayati Raj system and the 6th Schedule were processed and fine tuned for the States, which have a sizeable number of tribal population. The objective was to implement it according to specific circumstances. Nobody can dispute the lofty ideals behind such a policy, but with politics as understood and practiced in this country, nothing comes without a string or two attached to it.

We may ask why the Chief Minister has so far not been able to chalk out the powers and authorities to be delegated to the ADCs. We can find no explanation, and perhaps Mr. Ibobi and his men can answer this question. Our stand is, let’s all live by the spirit of democracy which says that power should come from the grass root level. The beautiful point in this lies in the acknowledgement of the fact that every man, regardless of status or position, can and should have a say in the affairs of the State. Can anyone come out with a better model than this?

However, as we have said, politics in India has come to such a state that even a fundamental question of devolving power to the grass root level, the ADCs in this case, has the potential to divide the chasms between the hill and valley people further, thanks to the Lim demand. The Naga organizations in Manipur too should have the moral conviction and courage to admit that their opposition to the ADC election was based on the foundation of a Greater Lim and nothing to do with devolution of power or authority. It is only when we speak out and sincerely at that, can we hope to move forward.

Mr. Ibobi has no business to keep on delaying the process of devolving power to the ADCs and as promised he should see whether more autonomy should be given or not. As for us, we believe in the autonomy of a people in certain key areas. Those who boycotted the election should also be morally courageous enough to admit that it was not the 3rd Amendment per se which directed their course of action.

Ultimately it all boils down to the basic tenets of power being in the hands of a few people, albeit at the grass root level, and politics in India is such that power at the grass root level does not necessarily mean power to the people, but only to a few.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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