By Lt.Col. Laishram Lokendra Singh (Retd.)
A team of Ambassadors/High Commissioners of ASEAN countries visiting Manipur on 19th and 20th of this month (September) as a part of the initiative of India’s Look East Policy is indicative of the fact that the Look East Policy is definitely taking shape. As yet there is no concrete policy framework available of what the Look East Policy comprises of but what is envisaged is that India is going to open up the North East corridor through Manipur, into Myanmar and on to the ASEAN countries to bring about greater economic ties with these nations. In the next decade or so a positive development of how things would shape up in pursuance of this policy would be more clear.
Having said this let us endeavour to open up our proverbial third eye and carry out a thought experiment of how the Look East Policy would have concretized in the next couple of decades, what effect it would have had on Manipur and how it would have facilitated the economic growth of the State. Will it actually be a boon or bane for the people of Manipur?
Trans-Asian Highway passing through Silchar-Jiribam-Imphal-Moreh and on to Myanmar would be fully functional and trucking service would be in full swing. Likewise Trans-Asian Railway again passing through this route and extending up to the ASEAN countries would be in place and wholly functional. There would be at least two major rail heads – one on the outskirts of Imphal to cater to the needs of Imphal City and the other at Moreh. This town would no more be a trade center as it exists today, instead it would have graduated to an import and export economic zone, it would be the hub center for all economic activities passing through this corridor to and from the ASEAN countries. The present list of 40 trade items would have been redundant and hopefully there would be no restriction on any item of trade but for the internationally banned/restricted items such as psychotropic drugs, weapons and munitions of war etc.
Businessmen and traders along with their staff and employees from all over India would have flooded Manipur. A number of ware houses would have come up along with business establishments mostly in Imphal and of course at Moreh. The place would be teeming with non-Manipuris of all hues and colour.
There are no industrialists in Manipur and of course no industries whatsoever. There are a few small time traders and a few dilapidated workshops which people wrongly name as industries. The only way of making money known to one and all in Manipur is either through siphoning off of the government coffers or through the Money Minting Industry at Gun Point. But they cannot be termed as industry in the real sense of the word. Obviously therefore it would be the big business houses of the likes of Tatas and Birlas from mainland India who would have zoomed down and occupied and controlled all the economic activities of the State. Manipur would in effect become only a transit State for these big business houses from mainland India.
The cascading effect this development will have to the people of Manipur would be limited to opening up of a few tea stalls along the Trans-Asian highway to cater to the needs of the truckers and a few more tea stalls in the railway stations. Some road side eateries locally called ‘Rice Hotels’ would also come up. And of course a few ‘Moreh Dukans’ will definitely come up in the lanes and by-lanes of the State. Economic growth of the State will still be zero as it is today and it will continue to survive on the periodical doles that the Center provides from time to time unless the State Government takes up the issue of opening up of economic avenues in the State in terms of creating “Special Economic Zones” and allied facilities to ensure that Imphal becomes the overall economic hub center of the entire economic activity of the region. But it would be ludicrous to expect anything futuristic from the present SPF Government who cannot think or see beyond the issuance of next contract work or holding of the next recruitment DPC since as far as this SPF Government is concerned, governance begins and ends with these two very, very important functions and all others are sundry commitments.
Now what is more horrifying is not this dilemma of a futuristic situation of economic damnation but a more sinister development in the offing. With the massive influx of business people from mainland India who are bound to establish large business estates in Manipur, it is a foregone conclusion that they would be acquiring large tracts of land to establish their economic empires in the State. Only those land which come under the purview of State’s MLR and R Act will be sold since that is the only saleable land available. Translated into elementary English it means Meiteis by and large will be compelled by circumstances to sell off their land and find new dwelling areas outside of Manipur in Assam or wherever their destiny takes them.
The population of 16 odd lakh Meiteis is a very small minority when seen against the backdrop of the national population ratio. Infact it is much less than the voter list of Shri Ram Vilas Paswan, MP. This small group of indigenous people will slowly but surely become a minority in their own land. Further, given the logic of survival of the (economically) fittest the Meiteis will become extinct in Manipur in a not so distant a future. This metamorphosis may not be evident today or tomorrow. But once the cycle of extinction is allowed to be initiated, then there is no stopping this juggernaut. Meiteis will definitely be trapped on the conveyer belt of this extinction cycle and propelled helplessly till they are totally extinct from the face of Manipur. It may take ages or even decades, time is no consideration but the fact of extinction is certain – the writing on the wall is very clear. That perhaps is the consequence of the riddle behind the proverbial Nongpok Thong Haangba (opening of the Eastern Gate) as given in the old Meitei Scriptures.
In Manipur everyone today is so terribly tied up and concerned with their present that they neither have the sensibility nor the courage to look at the future. Therefore the million dollar question is, “Are the Meiteis destined to be doomed with India’s Look East Policy? And are they to accept this fact of extinction from the face of Manipur as fait accompli?” No, certainly not! And by the way no where in this world economic migrants have been stopped through the barrel of the gun.
The solution lies with the so called 60 representatives of the people of this State. Without manifesting any animosity towards the non-Manipuris the instinct of self preservation must be awakened. If only these 60 representatives could put their heads together, legislate and pass an act within the framework of the Indian Constitution to protect the endangered specie called Meiteis from extinction from their natural habitat of Manipur, by illegalizing (making it unlawful) sale of any part of this natural habitat to any non-indigenous person from outside of Manipur (the language of the Act is a matter of detail, the crux of the issue being to prevent the sale of land to non-Manipuris), then and only then will this “Nongpok Thong Haangba” have its true and positive meaning as envisioned by the ancient Meiteis. But who is going to bell this inert cat?