Reinventing Ourselves

The Imphal Free Press
May 14 2010

Manipur is today having an experience of what the reality would be if it were to be independent. It is no point shifting the responsibility for this sorry predicament to the past or to the key dramatis personae of a bygone era, for even if the present troubles have a genesis in the doings of external forces, it would not help to hide behind this lame alibi anymore. The only way forward is to take stock of the present and reinvent itself in a manner that would equip it to meet the future from a commanding position. In any case, even if politics in the state had been allowed to develop without any interference, there is no guarantee that the situation would not have been as bad or worse. Like it or not, Manipur is a divided house and the seed for this division was visible even before the pivotal Merger with the Indian Union as evident in the unruly fight over representation in the then Assembly. Today, the liberation that a section of the population seeks is not the liberation that another wants. Can this be more visible than in the tussle over the ongoing economic blockade of the state over the issue of revival of the Autonomous District Council, ADC, in the hill districts, especially in the Naga dominated ones? Now this economic blockade has hardened after the Manipur government refused entry of Thuingaleng Muivah into the state to visit his ancestral village Somdal in the Ukhrul district. Not only this, there is a counter blockade as a reply in disgust to the addition of the latter issue which is centred around not just a dispute of the administrative model followed by the state, but on the question of supporting or opposing an idea that involves the prospect of disintegration of the state.

Let not the unity of ethnic populations that so many self-proclaimed saviours of Manipur integrity harp on, appeal any more on the fiction of past fraternity which is supposedly aeons old. Let this sweet illusion be put in the perspective it always needed to be. If unity of the hill and valley communities is seen as vital, let it be on the consideration of the real needs for survival. Life in the valley cannot be comfortable without a sense of control over the surrounding hills, and as the counter blockades of movement of freight from the valley to the hills are now seeking to demonstrate, the hills too need the valley. Let this be the equation of future relationships. In this sense, as we see it, the highway blockade in the hills which is meant to teach the valley a bitter lesson by starving it, is ironically teaching it and the rest of all observers of political developments in the state a lesson, but one which is directly the opposite of what was intended. It is only strengthening the case as to why the valley (or any valley for that matter), will never agree to give up the surrounding hills unconditionally. Whatever truth there is in the emotional bondages it has with the hills, the fact is this bondage is also beyond the emotional or spiritual. It is, on the other hand, more about hard and tangible geography. Just as the rivers and their catchment areas or the basins they flow in cannot be seen as separate entities, the valley and the surrounding hills cannot be seen as separate too without detriment or without provoking deadly conflicts. At this moment, the hills seem to think this is a problem of the valley alone. Let nobody be too sure about this. Geography is neutral and not prone to any such biases. If the hills and the valley are part of the same organism, this organism cannot live or die in parts and parcels. Either the whole organism thrives or perishes.

We hope all involved parties come to acknowledge the problem in this light soon. Let this inevitability as well as vulnerability of destiny be the guiding principle of future ideologies of co-existence and for that matter sovereignty. While this is a composite and fragile geographical region we live in, it is also very much a divided house politically. Once upon a time, before the birth of democracy or the awakening of diverse political visions of different communities in the state, it was possible to presume the state had only one political destination. The awareness of rights as well as notions of political entitlements have literally metamorphosed amongst all the communities, so that presuming a return to the past can change the situation would be at best naive. However, as they say, when things are at the rock bottom as it is now in Manipur, they cannot sink any further. The only way for any movement is up. Let the depressing and difficult times we face now be a signal that we all have to reinvent ourselves so that the rise can begin.

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