The visit by Union home minister, P Chidambaram, was long overdue. For reasons he did not explain, he did not seem too concerned about the coverage of his visit by the media. He was not exactly friendly with the state media, nor did he bother to bring along journalists from Delhi. Perhaps this was his way of saying he means business and not publicity. He travelled to several outlying districts to interact with the people on the ground, and it was heartening to see the chief minister Okram Ibobi was travelling with him to many of these destinations. This is important for not only has this given the public impression that the two important public figures have a warm personal rapport but also was a reassurance that the Central government has no intent of bypassing the state in anything concerning the state’s affairs. This is significant particularly because of the peace talks various militant organisations in the state are holding either directly with the Central government or else with the Central and state governments together. To further buttress this message, Chidambaram also in no uncertain terms announced publicly yet again that the state’s territory will remain sacrosanct and unaltered in any formula for a solution to any of the insurgencies. This assurance should go miles in instilling confidence in the state by and large. It is also a caution to all to desist from making demands that cannot be conceded.
There are however much more to be overcome before a sense of mutual confidence and trust is established between the Centre and the state, not necessarily at the governmental level alone but definitely between the Central government and those at the state’s grassroots. Some of the vexed outstanding issues have contributed to perpetuating if not widening the chasm of trust deficit between the Centre and state. This is regardless of all the funds that flow from the Centre to the state by way of numerous Centrally-funded developmental projects, many of which are doing a great service towards the uplift of underprivileged sections of the population. This perhaps is a demonstration that a perceived sense of deprivation cannot always be compensated materially. This may be so because the causes of these are much more psychological thereby lacking physical tangibility. They have hence to be tackled much more sensitively and approached in nuanced manners.
Most prominently, symptomatic of this trust deficit are two legislations applicable in Manipur and other north eastern states. One is the contested Armed Forces Special Powers Act, AFSPA. The clear divide on the official stand on the matter and the wishes of the people by and large are quite easily visible. The Central government did indeed seem to have seriously considered repealing the Act, and on several occasions, none other than the Union home minister himself had been quoted as announcing the Act would go, but no sooner he has had to change his mind in all of these occasions. Obviously, as an article by Dr. Bibhu Routary Prasad in the IFP had pointed out, the accommodative structure of the Indian political establishment did seem willing to listen to the demands of the people and act accordingly, but the military avatar of the same establishment was adamant on the continuance of the same. But even if the AFSPA has too many interests working behind it to ensure its status quo, there is another regulation in practise in the state which has again been a sore point. This comes in the shape of the Protected Area Permit, PAP which requires foreigners to acquire virtually a second visa to enter Manipur and certain other north eastern states. And this second visa is not easy to get either. Many expats from the state often end up furious that their hard earned holidays to visit their ancestral homes go waste running after the PAP to enter the state. We are at a complete loss as to why this archaic and paranoiac restrictive measure is still necessary. Is there any need to fear foreign visitors in this age? Our suggestion is, the Centre should in a unilateral act of trust extended to the people of the state, simply lift this regulation. We are certain this gesture would be reciprocated in equal measure by the people of the state. Once this trust bridge is re-established, so many things can and would follow towards promotion of peace and harmony in the state.