Development of the Mountains: Ultimately a debate now

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By Amar Yumnam

I recently had the privilege of meeting the Prime Minister of the country in a relaxed atmosphere with foods served. Since we fortunately share the common language of Economics, communication was not a problem at all. Naturally we did talk about the development state and development process of Manipur. During the discussion, he did emphasise the necessity of the head of the people of Manipur to be a leader of not only the Meeteis but of the mountain population as well. Now a minister in the Ibobi cabinet and spokesman of the ruling coalition has come out that the leaders of the mountains themselves are to be blamed for the lack of development there. Whatever view one may subscribe to, what I feel good, as someone who has been consistently articulating on the development of the mountains and also as a development specialist, is that the issue has come to the debating table though late; anyway better late than never.

Debate Within: Anyway whatever transpired between the Prime Minister and myself is a private matter, but whatever the minister in Ibobi’s cabinet has uttered is in the public domain. The main thesis of this political leader is that the leaders of the mountains are indulging in double-talks and having the best of both the worlds. Further, they are responsible for the lack of development in the mountains of Manipur. We need to take his statements as the opportunity to launch a full-scale debate on the lack of development in the interior areas of Manipur, for we have never had an open statement by a responsible government functionary like this any time before and on this issue.

My Take: In this intervention, I would like to express my take on the debate. I would agree with the statement of the minister that the leaders of the mountains are building up their assets in the valley and blaming the valley dwellers for the lack of development back home. There is an element of truth in this, but it is not the whole truth. If I am to speak of it from the angle of Economics, there is nothing wrong in this for it just reflects the emergence and working of rational behaviour among the mountain population as elsewhere among any civilised group of population.

But I would certainly join issues with the minister as regards other components of his thesis. Blaming the mountain leaders alone for the lack of development of the mountains can be true only under certain circumstances. First, if all the portfolios of ministers and departments for the development of the mountains were held only by the mountain people, and the departments were exclusively for the mountains. Secondly, there have been all along consistent, focussed and mandated strategies for development of the mountains. While there could be other necessary conditions as well, at least these two conditions should be there for the charges to prevail.

But as a close observer of the development trajectory of Manipur of the last more than half a century, I am afraid these necessary conditions are not fulfilled. Despite the strong presence no doubt of the mountain population in the political decision making process, we must be aware that they have not been as articulate and powerful as the valley dwellers while strategising for development. In such circumstances, it is invariably the responsibility of the more advanced group to endeavour to take care of the less fortunate groups. I do not think this has happened in the development experience of Manipur.

Further while examining the development interventions and implementations of Manipur as reflected in the detailed budgetary expenses, particularly after the attainment of Statehood, there emerges no evidence of the mountains having been the focus of development administration. At this point, one may ask as to why there should be special focus. My reply would be that there has to be necessarily. The mountains of Manipur are behind the valley in every indicator of development, and as such the focus necessarily has to be on the development of the mountains for a sustainable future.

Still further, if the leaders of the mountains are to be blamed for the lack of development there, the relevance of a common government of Manipur hits a big zero. Any minister and any department have to be able to address the collective developmental requirements of the State rather than only of the convenient valley. In other words, such theses would enable the ministers and the bureaucrats to shirk their holistic social responsibilities in a very convenient way. In still other words, this amounts to creating a scope for embezzling and diverting public funds for the development of the mountains towards development of the valley and valley people with a very shrewd rationalisation. Well in most historical instances of development rationalisations, the less developed people have always been at the receiving end. I do not want this to happen in the case of Manipur where the different groups have been so historically close-knitted with one another.

In the end, if the mountain people are to be blamed for instilling notions for disintegrating Manipur, the roots of this are to be traced to the valley. If Manipur is to be a developed State, give attention to the mountains.

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