The question that haunts many in Manipur today is undoubtedly: which way Manipur? For many the hunt for the answer verges on despair. The fact is there seems to be too many answers but not a single clear cut one. There are too many unsettled issues of awesome magnitude, their problem potential accentuated and amplified further by the fact that they seem to share no point of confluence. Our mainstream established politics is totally in a mess; our society has no clear focus on any particular goal; our civil society is so hopelessly divided that it is questionable if there is anything that can be termed as civil society at all; reciprocal to this division is also the underground politics, multiple-fractured and threatening to tear Manipur along the many fault-lines they have introduced on sectarian lines; law breaking has ceased to be the preserve of those who consider themselves out of the purview of the law of the land, but also the law enforcer as well. It is aptly a situation in which anarchy has spiralled out of control of any centralized command.
Nothing moves, and nothing can move in any positive direction in such a situation. Because the society is so badly divided, there will always be somebody or the other who will not be happy with any decision meant for everybody. Take the controversy that the recent downsizing of the oversized ministry has evoked. It is sad to know that it did not need to be so bitter had the chief minister been a little more sensitive about regional representation or else acted by a definite, neutral formula. He introduced an arbitrary element in his choices for reasons that are matters of speculation. Since the administrative division of the state into its nine districts has little to do with administrative convenience, but are more in the nature of drawing ethnic (communal) geography, the chief minister should have realized there is a certain inevitability about ensuring an even, district-wise representation in his ministry to the extent possible. Unless the criteria was picking legislators with proven integrity and merit alone, there could have been little other reason than personal for him to have thought of giving two to some and nil to others.
Take again the question of territorial integrity. There is no point in ignoring the fact that the term is being interpreted in diametrically opposite ways by the hill population, in particular the Nagas, and the valley, in particular the Meiteis. It is another matter what history and politics say, but the urgent point of concern is, there is a great divide in the present times with extremely grave implications for everybody, and all of us, in the hills as well as in the valley, should be worried about this. The same divide is there in almost every other issue in the state. We have seen the ugly sectarian controversy even on the selection process for MBBS studies. We have seen the binary division on the issue of the Timapmukh multipurpose dam; we have seen similar friction on the construction the Sana Keithel; we have even seen imminently avoidable controversies on the manner the Kangla was proposed to contest for inclusion as a world heritage site. On the last issue, it is of relevance to note that while Manipur debated on whether the British colonial legacy imprinted inside the Kangla should be preserved or destroyed, it missed being included in the UNESCO’s list of new sites this year, unlike two other sites in India including the Victoria Railway Terminus in Mumbai. Now that the Assam Rifles has vacated the fort, there should be more hope for it to enter the UNESCO’s list. The question is who is pushing the issue, or is it being pushed at all still after the initial flutters.
We need to disentangle all the entanglements first before we can hope to find an answer to the onerous question, which way Manipur? This disentanglement, we are convinced, can come about only across the negotiation table around which the different sections of our divided society sit and thrash out a common denominator on which to build all our future social arbitration mechanisms. Each section must realize that the only choice we have before is this common denominator or continued anarchy and mayhem. The choice, to borrow a catchy advertisement line for a soft drink, should be clear.