A little over three years after the alleged move of the government to lease off the 4.25 acres of prime institutional land belonging to Manipur in Gurgaon to a private commercial undertaking, nothing much has been heard of what became of the land. The chief minister, Okram Ibobi had after the controversy subsided on the government’s assurance that the lease contract would be cancelled, said his government was thinking of using the place in an “appropriate way”. We had presume at the time that “appropriate way” meant using the land precisely for the purpose that it was allotted – to develop it into a centre for the state’s performing arts. Perhaps significant was the fact that the promise was made on the eve of the 9th Manipur Legislative Assembly elecions, for election promises notoriously have the habit of disappearing into thin air once the elections are over. It does seem now the urgency ended as there is no longer any danger of the ruling Congress being thrown out of power, as was the widely speculated scenario during the run-up to the last election. But then hark again. The next Assembly election is not too far off now. How politicians must hate democracy and its obligation of electoral mandates having to be renewed periodically. The electorate on the other hand should rejoice, for what lever to power they can have than the one with which they can punish their leaders betrayed promises periodically. Under normal circumstances we would have expected the Opposition to be the foil to ensure that the government does not renege on its public pledges, but sadly for Manipur the Opposition too is as amnesiac of public interest as those in power. Under the circumstance, we are of the belief that the enlightened sections of the society, the media included, must step forward to shoulder the responsibility of being the watch dogs of society.
But let us give the devil its dues and presume that the government was only amnesiac and not intentional in shelving the Gurgaon land case and thus serve another reminder of how the land in question can be developed by the Manipur government therefore this ruminating once again on how best this precious acres of institutional land could be used. It was meant for a centre for performing arts of Manipur, but it does not necessarily have to be a conventional stage or auditorium. We have in mind such a concept as what architect Nalini Thakur suggested the Kangla should be done up to become – a heritage park that would showcase Manipur, in all its resplendent diversity, and history. It could be a miniaturised replica of the Kangla, but incorporating in a specifically earmarked section of the 4.25 acre plot, a village constituting all the traditional houses representing each of the community of the state. The Kangla’s durbar hall, flanked by the two mythical Kangla Sha, (which incidentally is the state symbol) could occupy the central space, overlooking a polo-ground lined by indigenous trees. As in the Kangla, in a corner of the complex, a bit of the colonial history of Manipur, culminating in the place’s nightmarish experience of the World War-II could be represented – a simple museum perhaps where Allied and Japanese war relics can be displayed. Funds for such a project perhaps would be available with the Japanese embassy or the Commonwealth War Graves Fund etc. A replica of the magnificent Kangla Gate could also adorn the main entrance to the complex. Inside, at various nooks and corners, replicas of the ornate traditional village gates of the Nagas and Kukis can surprise and delight visitors. Such an ambience would provide the perfect backdrop for the numerous performing arts of not just Manipur, but the entire northeast region. Indeed, once such a complex comes up, the Manipur government, in collaboration with institutions such as the Sangeet Natak Akademi, should be able to host periodic Northeast, or even national and international cultural festivals there. At such times, the traditional houses within the complex would become perfect settings for stalls for show-casing and selling traditional wares.
But then this may amount to expecting too much of the government. It cannot even give a Manipur taste to the Manipur Emporium at the Baba Kharak Singh Marg in New Delhi. Walk into any other emporium, say Nagaland or Assam, and you would feel the ambience of Nagaland or Assam. But walk into the Manipur Emporium and you would think you had mistakenly walked into a Haryana kitsch shop, and may be prompted to walk out again and read the overhead sign post only to end up shaking your head in disbelief.