MANIPUR ON A SWISS MODEL
Political legitimacy is indeed central to the sustenance of Manipuri identity. The existence of secessionist movements reflects a lack of legitimacy. The lack of state legitimacy relates to the rise of ethnic conflict and competing ethnonationalism. Repressive policies to deal with ethnic dissent are counterproductive. In the absence of other feasible solutions, all of us in Manipur need to find a solution. I have a solution aimed at challenging the existing political disorder in Manipur.
As s few Meiteis are now vocalising for a plebiscite the Kukis are renewing their demand for independence, while the Nagas are sticking to their gun.
Anyone who has studied ethnic conflicts in the world especially after the Cold War will understand how the ethnic Nagas feel about their “ethnicity” rather than economic disparity. I have full sympathy with them. However, to quote Aristotle: “if things do not turn out as we wish, we should wish for them as they turn out.”
It’s time to manage ethnic conflicts and resolve to live together in relative harmony while maximising equality in the distribution of political and economic resources.
At the risk of highfalutin, a strong sense of belonging to Manipur should be founded on a common language of Manipuri, a common historical background, shared values and Manipuri symbolism of “Chingna koina pan saba…”
As examples, during our student days in Darjeeling, Shibo Mao, Shonkhhao Kipgen, Waikhom Damodor and I conversed in Manipuri and we felt Manipuris separate from the Nagas, who we regarded as some other people.
I grew up with Kabuis in the Imphal town and my father had a Kabui Chakprasi called Yaima whom we treated as if he was a Meitei, calling him Tayaima. I had many Tangkhul friends, both male and female. We got on very well until the politicians came.
So I have a proposition for all those like-minded people of Manipur that it would far better for all of us to create a distinct Manipuri civic identity among the population and to differentiate it from neighbouring states, often akin in tribalism, language and/or religion, following the example of the Swiss nation, which took 50 years on the road towards a more united Swiss State with the formation of a Federal Constitution in 1948.
Switzerland was built mainly because of political reasons by different ethnic communities. It is not a homogenous nation. It has been allowing ethnic groups to retain their cultural identities and institutions. It was exclusively German in the beginning. The confederation was formed by the alliance of valleys and cities.
Switzerland is an example of a successful ‘multinational’ and ‘multicultural’ state. The Swiss ‘nation’ worked for a “national spirit” and the “conscience of working for a nation” that fostered the nation building process, without transforming into linguistic or cultural homogenisation.
The Swiss confederation is rightly seen as an outstanding example of the successful political integration of differing ethnic affinities. Switzerland is ‘a nation by the consent’ of its differing parts. It is described as a multilingual “nation by will” or multicultural polity. It entered an age of political upheavals as in Manipur, which was to last for fifty years.
The Swiss “model” to settle violent nationality-conflicts has been a recurrent phenomenon since 1948 – most recently, for example, in the proposals of bringing peace to Cyprus and
Bosnia. There are specific conditions out of which Switzerland developed along with complex institutional apparatus and political culture of the modern federal state.
Switzerland is a landlocked country like Manipur (- definitely not Switzerland of the East), geographically divided between the Alps, the Central Plateau and the Jura, spanning an area
of 41,285 km². The Alps occupy the greater part of the country. The Swiss population is approximately 7.9 million people mostly on the Plateau with the largest and global cities and economic centres of Zurich and Geneva.
The Swiss nation consists of four ethnically different people: German (bordering Germany, French (bordering France), Italian (bordering Italy) and a minority – Rumantsch in Southeastern Switzerland.
In Switzerland there are four official languages, but in everyday public life, only one or two of the official languages will be spoken depending on the region.
The solution to a ‘Swiss nation building’ consisted in a form of ‘personal’ and not ‘territorial’
federalism that would make each citizen of the Empire ‘at home’ in any part of the country. In such a political system all the four nations take part equally in the common polity.
The personal (non-territorial) federalism consists in giving to individuals a statute allowing them to depend on the rules edited by a federal entity. Federalism protects personal liberty of any individual of any community.
Like Switzerland, Manipur needs to transform itself into a multi-ethnic state of Manipur with a sense of a collective national identity, each community taking part in common institutions and practices, separated from a ‘culturalist’ and ethnic perspective. The question is undoubtedly, how to formulate?
We need an intellectual circle representing all the communities to participate in a nation-building process. We need people with confidence that there are sufficient common grounds for the union to succeed with underlying ideologies of a free and progressive liberalisation, and there is nothing to worry about than the ethnic diversities of its members.
We need a few like-minded people from each ethnic group to begin with, and form a leveraging nucleus with tentacles. Once agreed and formed, such a circle should devise how to build a composite Manipuri identity based on equality or autonomy within the framework
of the existing state of Manipur
Politicians with such broader aims in their manifestoes should be chosen to form a ‘unitary’ democratic government in Imphal that can handle issues of ethnicity and inequality. This will then be a ‘federal government’. The term “federacy” is loosely used here in the context of participation of all communities in Manipur for the purpose of solving mutual problems.
The Federation of Switzerland consists of sovereign states, each capable of functioning as an independent state. Manipur is a mini ‘unitary state’ in which administrative district units exercise only those powers granted to them from the state government in Imphal, as in the UK before devolution.
To allow room for local democracy and accountability, a miniature of political system at the
district level could be established for spending the funds financed by the Central government.
through the State Government. A political strength has a substantial impact on budget responsibility at the local level. The trouble is the districts with a weak political leadership will tend to have large budget deficits. But this is not insurmountable.
The big hurdle will come from demands from the Meiteis to stop application of Schedule V to hill areas, allowing them to purchase land in the hill ranges, which consists of 90% of total area of Manipur, keeping particular safeguards. They claim that the purported advantages of the Meitei majority is now getting neutralised by the advantageous rights of the minority tribal people.
Agreeably, the abolition of the above safeguards for the time being will be inappropriate as the tribal people need special protection due to disadvantageous conditions. But the question of how long will depend on the amendment of the Indian Constitution.
In the eyes of the law, everybody is equal in Manipur as well as in India. Disparity in social status, economy and education exists everywhere in India. There is nothing like a perfect system of government. But there must be a fair attempt to narrow down the disparity.
Manipur is a state in democratic India. There will be disparity in some form or the other. That is why we have a representative democratic government in Imphal. Any grievance should be aired through the medium of elected members of the Manipur Legislative Assembly.
Manipuris need a think tank or a policy institute ie a non-profit organisation that conducts research and engage in advocacy in areas such as economy, social policy or political strategy
that will be fair to all ethnic groups, big or small. There must be ‘give and take’ approach, better than ‘take and give’ policy.
The growing civilisation in Manipur as against the savage needs forethought ie the willingness to endure present pains for the sake of the future pleasures, even though the future pleasures are very distant as was the case in Switzerland. We should check our impulses through law, custom and religion. We should be less instinctive as among the savage and more systematic as among the civilised.
As the purposes of the community are enforced upon the individual, the purposes of such a ‘federalised’ state should be enforced on the communities.
As a counter to the power of ethno-nationalism, which has been mushrooming in Manipur, attempts should be made to portray the political “Manipur by will”, transcending language
culture and ethnicity, as an antithesis, or even to recast the lack of “objective Manipur” as a virtue, as a specifically civilisatory mission entrusted to Manipur.
What has always been the most problematic of Manipur’s linguistic-cum-ethnic differences is the contrast between the Majority Meitei and the minority Nagas. This can be solved by attempts made to portray the political “nation by will” by pressure groups in each community on the motto that what you expect from others shall be performed to others.
Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself had said,
This is my own, my native land.
Sir Walter Scott (Scottish poet)
PS. I have tried to portray unbiased views of Meiteis and Nagas. Any suggestion would be welcome.
The writer is based in the UK