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Response To Ethnic Politics: Beyond The Knee Jerk Reactions

Knee jerk response! That is what sums up the Cabinet decision to disallow the meeting of the NPF at Senapati twice in a short span of 48 hours with full support from other political parties. The implications of that will go in history as one classic example of how governance and political culture in the State has lots to do with the mess that we are in today. Having said this, one is glad that the meeting has happened without any atrocious drama like the last May (2010) fiasco at Mao.

However, it must also draw our attention to the need for a holistic and realistic response to ethnic politics that seeks to destroy a healthy society and the State of Manipur as such. This entails us to remember that one strand of Naga politics has been deeply informed and driven by an “ethnic” rather than “civic” political perspective is not a new fact. And that this strand of politics has nearly become the defining characteristic of not only the politics but also the worldview of certain segment of the population in Manipur is also not a strange fact.

It is arguably a politics that has almost obliterated the distinction that the Naga nationalists (who claimed the heritage of 9 POINT AGREEMENT and later fought a bitter and bloodied war with the Indian State for their freedom and dignity) used to make between them and those who were implicated in the 16 POINT AGREEMENTS (and those who carry that heritage such as the so-called “mainstream” political parties in Nagaland which partake in “Indian” electoral affairs).

That ethicized politics is not alien to the violence that soaked the hills of Manipur with blood in the 1990s or to the latest move of the NPF, despite being a Political Party of Nagaland which reportedly allows till recently primary membership only to the citizens of the state of Nagaland, to open a unit in Manipur. There is no point in shying away from these facts. This being the case, therefore, there is no need to episodically respond to the challenges thrown up by that kind of politics.

Addressing Splits in Politics: Towards an Ideologically Informed Approach

There are demands for “Frontier Nagaland” in Nagaland and a separate district in Ukhrul district in Manipur based on real or perceived discrimination or neglect and underdevelopment. Threat to the integrity of the geo-political entity called Manipur has similar roots. This being the case, one must take a holistic response to the challenges of the development issues (e.g., road connectivity) in the Hills and remote areas of Manipur. This in turn cannot be done without a holistic response to the issue of serious developmental lacuna in the State as a whole.

Besides, the challenge cannot be carried out meaningfully and effectively without an ideological component which must define what kind of Manipur we were, are and want to be. This ideological component must address some of the dogged splits in the politics of Manipur: between the hills and valley, between the hills itself (amongst different communities or “tribal” as some would still like to call themselves) and lastly but not the least, between the destiny of Manipur espoused by the rebel groups/parties and those political parties which partake in the electoral politics of Manipur as an Indian State. It goes without saying that if we do not address such splits within a comprehensive framework, ideologically and administratively, we will not only end up wasting time and energy but also deepen the splits and fragmentation.

It is high time for our political parties and civil society groups to work together towards such an approach. And insofar as they love and want to protect Manipur, they must have the gut and conviction to accept the historicity of Manipur and act accordingly to serve the present and envisioned future. Only then, the sword of Damocles that hangs perpetually on Manipur’s head and the insults and insinuation against the state and its citizens can be countered effectively.

Owning up the Historicity of Manipur: Towards a Holistic and Realistic Approach

It must go without saying that such an approach can only come about only when there is the conviction and political acumen to own up the historicity of Manipur. Here, it’s worthwhile to note that the Manipur Cabinet reportedly quoted parts of Maharajah Bodhchandra’s inaugural speech at the Manipur Legislative Assembly in 1948 in a communication to the Union Government at New Delhi during the fiasco last May (2010) following Muivah’s intended visit to Manipur. Similarly, the State Assembly had also condoled the death of Mono Monsang (a member of the Manipur Legislative Assembly, 1948) as a former member of the State Assembly (despite the difference in the constitutional/legal status between the Assembly of 1948 and the present one).

Just as condemning the elections as “Indian elections” while surreptitiously partaking in it or condemning “neo-colonial economy” as something that has made Manipur’s economy a “captive economy” and yet partaking in “contracts” and other forms of transactions that strengthen the same economy, selectively and without conviction taking note of historical moment such as the State legislative Assembly of 1948 by the members of the present Legislative Assembly are nothing but signs of a lack of political acumen, if not sheer ill-informed mis-adventures.

The political ploy of playing one community up against another and encouraging fragmentations in society and polity is to present the people in the region as a beleaguered people who are “inherently” at war “ethnically” with each other in a “remote” and “backward” region. One must not forget that it is as much a “manufactured” reality of a vested epistemology (knowledge) as the western scholars’ idea of “natural” reality of “tribalism” in Africa and “communalism” in South Asia. More importantly, it is a ploy to blackmail or sap the energy of the people so that they cannot attend to other pressing challenges by perpetually ensuring them to be bogged down by avoidable conflicts. And finally, it is also a maneuver to enable external forces to come in as the savior and mediator of an “ethnically” beleaguered people in a place called the “remote” and “backward” India’s “Northeast region”.

Such politically orchestrated ploy can be countered by a people, who are not alienated from their historical moorings, a people who haven’t lost his capacity for realistic assessment of his present and project/pursue informed visions of the future based on basic moral and political principles.

On the other hand, Government of India must be cautious with how it deals with the situation. Historically speaking, its policies have lots to do with the mess that the State has today. For instance, the turmoil and violent post-colonial politics in the State are critically related to its denial of a legitimate demand for Statehood to Manipur while it went ahead and created the State of Nagaland. Therefore, its response to the present imbroglio vis-à-vis Naga politics with respect to Manipur can take a complicated turn for it to handle. For instance, if any mainstream political party in the State, if not Manipur State Assembly, instead of its hitherto selective acknowledgement of the 1948-49 Assembly, were to endorse the legacy of that Assembly and its political status, the face of politics will change drastically in Manipur. If such a move were to happen, there would be nothing that could be termed illegal and unconstitutional as that moment (1948-49) was a post-Instrument of Accession scenario. Besides, its ongoing negotiation with the Nagas reportedly has demands for a separate flag and Constitution for the Nagas. Such demands will be legally and historically stronger if voices in Manipur were to claim the same as the State had those aspects before the controversial Merger of 1949. In short, if the Government of India is not cautious, honest and firm in addressing the issue, the “little paradise” (Manipur) can become another paradise (Kashmir) that burns like hell for it to cope with. In the meantime, our political and civil society leaders must show political acumen and work together with a historical sensibility and futuristic visions to take morally and politically justifiable and realistic steps to counter the threat to the very existence of Manipur.

*The opinion is written by A Bimol Akoijam.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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