Caught Between Terror & Xenophobia

by Patricia Mukhim [Editor, The Shillong Times]
The Imphal Free Press
May 4 2010

This article, like many others, is not a meticulous documentation of the historical facts of Manipur and the bitter aftermath of the romantic history of a lost kingdom. Several fact-finding teams have visited Manipur for various reasons and given their considered opinion about what ails the state. The Justice Jeevan Reddy Commission toured the entire region after a protest by naked Manipuri women who called for a repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958. In November 2009, Dr KS Subramanian, IPS (retd), formerly of the Manipur-Tripura cadre and now a visiting professor at Jamia Milia University, also visited Manipur to assess the situation after a section of the media created a national uproar about the encounter killings where an alleged ex-militant was gunned down in broad daylight and a pregnant woman was killed in the crossfire. The problem with all such visits is that the report is handed over to the Union home ministry but there is hardly any action taken.

In a perennially troubled state like Manipur, there is very little space between one crisis and the next. Sit-in demonstrations are almost routine. A casual reading of the situation may tempt us to infer that there is not enough time for the state to implement carefully laid-down suggestions of various fact-finding missions. But the larger question is whether the state actually exists and whether its top heavy administration is actually delivering. The mere fact that there is an “elected” government in place and a huge bureaucracy does not necessarily imply that there is governance. Elections happen because militants sanction them. Without elections there would be no government and without a “popular” government the money taps to Manipur might run dry. If so, where will militants get their fuel from? So Manipur is a classic case of a state that has failed on all fronts. The empty shell of democracy that is put on display is merely to camouflage the rottenness.

Gangmumei Kamei, a retired professor of Manipur University, speaking at a recent seminar on peace, countered the notion of Manipur as a failing or failed state. Taking strong exception to the use of the term “failed state” to define Manipur, he pointed to the economic vibrancy in the state despite the protracted armed insurgency. But Kamei might like to read Bruce Sterling’s Failed State Index 2008. Sterling lists the different features of a failed state. Amongst the social features he lists (a) Mounting demographic pressures; (b) Massive movement of refugees or internally displaced persons creating complex humanitarian emergencies; (c) Legacy of vengeance-seeking group grievance or group paranoia; (d) Chronic and sustained human flight (note the huge numbers of Manipuris settled all over India).

Sterling’s economic indicators include (a) Uneven economic development along group lines; (b) Sharp or severe economic decline. The political indicators are more telling. They include (a) Criminalisation and/or delegitimisation of the state; (b) Progressive deterioration of public services; (c) Suspension or arbitrary application of the rule of law and widespread violation of human rights; (d) Security apparatus operates as a “state within a state”; (e) Rise of factionalised elites; (f) Requiring intervention of other states or external political actors.

Nearly 99 per cent of Sterling’s analytical features are visible in Manipur. If there are counterpoints I would like to be educated. There is virtually no rule of law. EN Rammohan, IPS (retd) and former advisor to the governor of Manipur, states, “The civil policemen and officers who were selected and trained as commandos soon deteriorated into a state terrorist force due to faulty leadership.” He says the Manipur commandos also extort money from the business community and over a period of time they have learnt to protect their own turf. There is a clear clash of interest and jurisdiction between the militants and the commandos. The continued presence of the AF(SP) Act is nothing but a licence for the security forces (read Army and paramilitary) to operate as a “state within a state”.

Although law and order is a state subject, the Union home ministry has often had to rap the Manipur chief minister on the knuckles for his failure to stem the tide of violence in the state. And Manipur continues to lean heavily on the Centre for its security apparatus. It is evident that Manipur has lost absolute control over the maintenance of even basic law and order, leave alone the violence unleashed by over a dozen armed underground groups. According to the 1999 National Crime Records Bureau report, only .04 per cent of heinous crimes, which include killing, maiming and rape, are taken to trial, meaning that the perpetrators are chargesheeted and face due legal processes. Of 2,302 cases, only 11 were tried. The national average of pendency of trials of heinous crimes is roughly about 80 per cent and Manipur is one of the rogue states that has added to that national average.

In Manipur, heinous crimes are usually not registered because of the fear of reprisal from the police and the perpetrators. Rape and other heinous crimes are on the rise. People are shot and killed without provocation almost on a daily basis and the state cannot be bothered. Only family members are left to mourn the dead. Cases almost end up with the phrase, “accused not found”. How can such a state not be called a failed state? A state that cannot protect the life and property of its citizens has lost it legitimacy to rule. The theory of social contract is that citizens submit to the state in return for safety and security. This theory has been put on its head in Manipur.

And now we have another more serious problem. We now have a rerun of the Quit India Movement except that this time around the non-tribals residing in Manipur, including those born and brought up there, have been told to pack and up and leave by 31 May 2010. The bugle was first sounded by the Revolutionary People’s Front, the armed wing of the People’s Liberation Army. Today several other armed outfits have joined the war cry. But the state is caught in a paralysis. Only recently the cabinet has set an embargo on the sale of property in Imphal with the hope of stemming the exodus of non-tribals from Manipur. The government is also probing the sale of property in the last 10 years to see if someone is acting as a front for laundering black money.

But this addresses only part of the problem or maybe none at all. At least about three per cent of the non-tribal population are small traders, cobblers, barbers, fruit-sellers, labourers and those doing laundry. Roughly about two per cent may be in bigger businesses and employed in different state and Central government organisations and in the public sector. There is a significant Nepali population that accounted for one legislator from that community some years ago. Overall, the non-tribal population may not exceed 10 per cent of the total indigenous residents. But the battle cry of the armed groups of Manipur is that they are trying to correct the demographic balance. The United Committee Manipur, in fact, wants the introduction of the Inner Line Permit which, to my mind, is one of the worst instruments of segregation.

I asked Pradip Phanjoubam, editor of Imphal Free Press, if the exodus of labourers would not create a vacuum in the labour market and would that not also create space for Bangladeshi labourers who are waiting in the wings to enter any such vacant space. Phanjoubam said the fact that only about less than 10 per cent of non-tribals lived in Manipur was not problematic if one only considered the ratio. But the troubling fact was that they were all congregated in and around Imphal and were therefore very visible and threatening for some. About Bangladeshis coming in and being aided by their co-religionists, the Pangals, Phanjoubam said this might not appear so simple because the Pangals themselves constituted a huge chunk of the labour class and they would not want the labour market to be hijacked by others. However, even the most optimistic Manipuri (Meitei) will agree that come 31 May some killings are bound to happen and, sadly, those killed will be the defenceless street hawkers or labourers.

This might take Manipur on another violent trajectory that may have undesirable consequences on society and the state. The state may embark on its own vendetta and it will be back to the dark days. As of now, even though landlords are told not to allow their non-tribal tenants to quit, they would not do so because they know the price of resistance is death. Looking to the state for protection and swift action is something Manipuris have given up a long time ago.

On the other hand, it would be interesting to watch how Manipur responds to this crisis. How can one state of the Indian Union ask Indians to quit its territory even while the Manipur government plays the fiddle? A similar xenophobia had afflicted Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland in the past and subtle pressures were put on non-tribals to leave, but never before have they been told upfront to obey the ultimatum or be killed. This phenomenon does not even yet have a name. Here is an internal insecurity of a different kind.

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