Coming to terms with the historicity of a geo-political entity

By Angomcha Bimol Akoijam
This article was originally published by the Imphal Free Press on 25 June 2012

The news of ‘Magnificent’ Mary making it to the London Olympics brings cheers and a sense of pride to the people of Manipur. And come July-August 2012, as the images of this demeanor daughter of Manipur, sweating it out in the boxing ring of the global sports extravaganza, hit the televisions screen, millions of sport lovers in this country will be on their feet while many in Manipur will feel her heart beats as well. And whatever may be the outcomes of the competitions, these Olympics moments are bound to generate a moment of visibility as the state shall emerge once again from its relative anonymity through her denizens like Mary Kom.
 And, as the visibility brings a sense of being “recognized”, the London Olympics shall be another occasion for the people of the state to take pride in something called “Manipur”.

Indeed, some kind of “patriotic” sentiments, emotions and thoughts shall fill in the air. For some, it might even rekindle nostalgia: the excitement, the expectation and the sense of participation that they had gone through as they stayed up late in the night or got up in the wee hours of morning to catch a glimpse of Nilkamal, the first Olympian from Manipur, on the fields during the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. In fact, the sense of visibility that some might experience during this coming London Olympics may not be very different from the one that came along as the flickering images of this gutsy goalkeeper of Indian hockey team appeared on the tiny television screen that dotted a few houses then in the state.

But what is this “Manipur” that we often talk of with such feelings and thoughts? What is this Manipur about which we talk of with such pride as we refer to the “rich culture” (dance, theatre, cinema etc), sports or whenever some people achieve something in their life or professions?

I suspect that solutions for many of our contemporary problems will entail some answer to such questions.

Manipur as a historically Evolved Geo-political Entity

As it stands today, Manipur is one of the states that constitute India, albeit some may accept or reject or challenge this status. It is a constitutionally recognized geo-political entity that constitutes the Republic of India. But this entity is a historically evolved entity that preceded the birth of Republic of India. Incidentally, the Constitution acknowledges this fact as its First Schedule defines Manipur as “[t]he territory which immediately before the commencement of this Constitution was being administered as it were a Chief Commissioner’s Province under the name Manipur”. This definition is replete with historical aspects that have critical bearings on the contemporary Manipur as well.

Take for instance, the two issues which have rocked the state for decades now: the decades-old armed insurgency that demands “sovereignty” for Manipur or the “territorial integrity” of the state. These two issues have to do with “Manipur”, a geo-political entity as defined by Constitution. Whether it is the issue of “secessionist” or “national liberation”, expressions that one might use depending on which side of the political spectrum or perspectives that one takes, or the “territorial integrity’ of the state, the both the issues are deeply connected to the historicity of this geo-political entity as hinted by this definition of the state in the Constitution.

This definition defines Manipur as a “territory”. But insofar it has been referred to as a “Chief Commissioner’s Province”, this “territory” has been defined specifically in terms of a juridico-political category rather than merely as a physical space. And the implicated juridico-political aspects points to the historical evolution of the state. For instance, the status of being a “Chief Commissioner’s Province” points to the order issued by the Dominion of India on 15th October, 1949 and its preceding status of being a “Princely State”, which in turn leads us to the trajectory of the evolution of the entity through the fusions and fissions of principalities and villages in the bygone eras.

Seeking solution to the vexed issue of armed insurgency, especially when one insists on a “political solution” to the same, is bound to bring in the issues implicated in the historical aspects of this geo-political entity called Manipur. In a similar sense, the question of “territorial integrity” will have something to do with the juridico-political character of the “territory” implicated in the definition of Manipur.

Seeking solutions to the above two issues that have haunted Manipur for decades without referring to these issues can be only achieved by denying or destroying the very idea of Manipur and its associated sentiments, emotions and thoughts, such as those mentioned at the beginning of this write-ups, which are palpable amongst large sections of the population in the state.

Manipur as an idea of a Polity

However, to say that Manipur is a geo-political entity is also to say that this entity is marked by a polity or ideas associated with some kind of a polity. An anachronistic reading of history or a historical consciousness which has become a prisoner of the pasts rather than being an awareness of one’s existence in time are bound to create havocs. Harping on a memory that smacks of an imperial ethos as the basis for Manipur is a reflection of an inability to read the transformative moments of the “individuals” from being “subjects” of a sovereign power to a right (civic, political and social) bearing individuals (such as envisaged and implemented in 1948 under the Manipur State Constitution) of the contemporary times. It must be noted that modern state has moved, as well-known French thinker Michel Foucault insists, from “territorial state” to “population state” as the ideas of “popular sovereignty” has become the presiding deity of modern polity. The ethos of democracy, the ideas of “citizens” and “group rights” etc—all are aspects of the said polity.

Such a move associated with such modern ideas had appeared in mid 1930s and culminated in the 1940s in Manipur. One classic moment is when the then “Nikhil Manipuri Hindu Mahasabha” dropped the word “Hindu” from its nomenclature, demand for responsible government and bringing an end the split in the administration of the state into Hills and Valley in 1938. The thrust had been, like most modern polity, to strive for the dignity of the citizens of the state irrespective of his or her habitat, gender, religions etc. and the Manipur Constitution Act 1949 was a culmination of the same as it sought to ensure the rights of not only individuals but also of communities.

Unfortunately, such indigenous churnings and moves of the people were subverted by a re-enactment of an ethos in 1949 that had introduced a rule by bureaucracy under direct control of New Delhi for more than two decades in the postcolonial. Despite the Constitution of the Republic of India which is based on similar principles, the subsequent political culture that was born out of that subversion has continued to plague the ethos of the polity in the state and its ills till date.

Thus, a modern polity that seeks to ensure the status of the rights and dignity of the individuals and communities that honestly acknowledges the historicity of the state must inform the search for a resurgent Manipur.

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