Hills – Valley ‘Divides’ in Manipur or Afraid of Modernity?— I

Manipur is a land of hills, valleys, rivers, lakes, paddy fields and forests. It is inhabited by over 30 communities with same number of languages and cultures besides five or more religions. These diversities have been due to internal and external influences. Demands have been made to re-organize these diversities on political and communal basis. The most significant influence on the culture, administrative system and politics in Manipur has been British colonial rule with its divisive systems. Indian State continues many of the colonial systems which are reflected in the functioning of highly centralized political, administrative and economic systems with exclusion/division with legal and constitutional sanction.

Hence despite the working of “democratic and federal systems” (virtually a unitary system in reality) for over six decades have only contributed to present situation in Manipur characterized by multiplication of armed movements, divisive politics based on community identity and all types of disorders. There are clear signs of systematic failure in the State and North East region. Failure to recognize modernity as an attitude and inability to follow principles of modern society by Indian State and leadership are the main causes.

Phobia or security centric approach and obsession with ‘law and order’ and ‘unity and integrity’ of India by the State by neglecting other aspects are seen in the continuation of legal restrictions like special permit for foreign tourists and ‘distrust’/blocking of foreign investment in North East India and Manipur.

It is also clearly reflected in the frequent visits of Army officers, Central Home Minister, Secretary and Home Ministry officials. Neglect of other aspects in Manipur and North East can be understood from no visits of/neglect by Central Ministers and officials of Finance, Tourism, Surface Transport, Railways, Commerce and Industry, Youth Affairs and Sports, Culture, Foreign, Health, Rural Development etc. which would have been more relevant for the State and region.

One direct consequences of functioning of centralized systems in India on States like Manipur has been the dependency attitude of political and bureaucratic leadership in Manipur. The emerging belief and practice in the State especially among political class and bureaucracy is that governance and ‘development’ means implementing Central schemes and spending Central funds. One often hears asking or ‘begging’ for more Central funds and stiff competition to enter politics, Government service and for Government funds in Manipur. This system has benefited only few, largely the political and bureaucratic class and their associates. It appears that there is no time/value for serious governance issues and financial administration like increasing capacity for revenue generation.

‘Lack of fund’ is the excuse by the leadership in Manipur for not performing their responsibilities including failure to provide even the basic daily necessities of life like safe drinking water, electricity, clean air and now petrol products. This excuse is also given in the delay or not implementing UGC (University Grants Commission – a National statutory body) scheme for colleges in Manipur and partial rather step-motherly implementation of pay scales after the 6th Pay for State Government employees. On the closer look it appears to be more of arrogance (ego + ignorance) as one famous author says with desire to maintain superiority and disrespect to other professions/services. If lack of fund is indeed the real reason why political and administrative leadership in Manipur have not made attempts to raise revenues or do not seek expert advice from economists, political economists and all knowing Central Planning Commission and Central Government?

If they realize difficulties in raising and collecting revenues in the State why not seek cooperation from public or civil society groups? These are serious issues which may be uncomfortable but bitter truths and need to address.

The above processes of centralized systems in India with security centric approach towards North East and inability of the leadership in the State to deliver have directly or indirectly contributed to the rise and multiplication of movements for ‘independence’ and separate homelands etc. and attitude of no need for economic growth and cooperation within Manipur and North East.

Manipur is reeling under lots of chaos. India actively intervenes in field of education, culture and socio-economic development besides in the political process. Imposition of laws like Armed Forces Special Power Act, 1958 and deployment of Army and Central security forces continue for over five decades in North East. Yet Indian State fails to protect the basic rights and dignity of the individuals who suffer by the undemocratic and often ‘inhuman’ actions of tribal chiefs and other traditional institutions and State and non-State forces.

One of the results of centralized systems and Central intervention in the States has been demands for “Alternative Arrangement for Nagas”. It reality it is an attempt to receive funds directly from the Centre rather than from Manipur Government. The changing demands among “Nagas” from “Sovereign Nagaland” to Greater Nagaland and now “Alternative Arrangement for “Nagas” of Manipur indicates realization of weak/unrealistic foundations of their demands. Those propagating hills-valley ‘divides’ and demanding division of Manipur have been “sabotaging, blocking, manipulating” democratic and modern processes in the hills besides taking away the Government ‘funds’ meant for the people of the hill areas.

The artificial fears and other phobia based politics include ‘threat to tribal land and rights’ and demands for separate homelands, besides call for “territorial integrity” of Manipur. Such politics along with ‘chauvinistic attitude’ among the Hindus/Meiteis and the inward looking/minority complex among other communities have contributed to widening the gaps among the people of Manipur. They include political and social elites/middle class in the hills and are the most afraid of modernity in Manipur and genuine democratic process. Their desire to keep traditions as untouchable reflects their fear of losing both traditional and modern privileges. In other words they do not wish to share what they are enjoying with their fellow tribe/community members.

In contrast to valley areas in Manipur, modern and progressive ideas and institutions have not been obstructed as in the hills. Kings of Manipur welcomed influence of all the cultures and people to settle in the valley from the surrounding hills and beyond Manipur. These trends continue even today. Therefore valley has one most of the diverse people with no restriction on the free flow of people, goods and ideas. For instance democratization and democratic institutions including Municipalities and Panchayats with 33 percent reservations for women are in function in the valley. Such are unthinkable in the hill areas as long as phobia/communal based politics continue. Demands for Sixth Schedule are an attempt to maintain status quo of traditional institutions like chieftainship which has no place for empowerment of women and general masses living in the hills. The middle class/elite’s commitment on democracy in Manipur is weak and constantly undermines public institutions. They “thrive” on connections, family, patronage and community/tribe and often bend/break rules without any fear or being punished. To them modernity means consumerism including modern gadgets and imitating acts like modern dresses and intoxication.  The middle class in ‘West’ there is little room for the politics of “patronage and privilege” to flourish, as they are seen not in consumption terms but on how it relates to, and interacts with others in the society.

In Europe, it is the middle class which has strengthen the institutions of democracy, eroded feudal/traditional privileges and ushered in the era of individualism. Even in states like Mizoram chieftainship has been removed and civic elections have been held. There is need to end capital/district headquarter centric governance and development in favor of every region and every individual in Manipur.

There is need to understand and practice modernity as an attitude which represents ‘universalistic norms’ where the dignity of the individual as a citizen is inviolable and where one’s achievement counts for more than family backgrounds and connections. Attempt must be made to move towards a modern society having the characteristics of dignity of the individual, adherence to universalistic norms, elevation of individual achievement over privileges or unprivileges of birth and accountability in public life. Selective or convenient understanding of modernity only leads to confusion and conflicts along with suffering of all kinds. Time has come to understand reasons and implications of the divisive politics on communal or hills/valley basis or of “integrity of Manipur” without addressing concerns of all. People of Europe have realized long ago the futility of division and conflicts including two “World Wars” and they have been working for European Union for peaceful co-existence and mutual benefits. The regions and people in the world who fail to realize this basic truth have been struggling by accusing and killing each other.

Hills and valley were not created by their dwellers but by nature and will continue as nature desires. Simple mathematics of addition and multiplication need to be learned rather than subtraction and division of people. Real Tradition means keeping what the forefathers and mothers believed and practiced: love and respect for one another and live in peaceful co-existence with dignity, not certainly use/misuse it to achieve narrow political/personal goals. To preserve and promote this Real Tradition should be primary task for the present generation both in the hills and valley for innocent future generation. Further only genuine democracy and federal systems with modernity as an attitude and principles of modern society as mentioned above can reduce/solve present chaos and conflicts in Manipur and India.

*The article is written by Dr N Somorendro Singh.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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