A Tale of Two Districts

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This is getting uncouth. Manipur is under a siege yet again because its lifelines have been blocked off first by agitators demanding the Sadar Hills sub-division of the Senapati district be upgraded to a full-fledged district, and now by United Naga Council, UNC, and its supporters amongst the Naga population in the state to oppose the demand. Quite unfortunately, the UNC is even insinuating that the demand for Sadar Hills district is part of a sinister divide and rule policy by the Government of Manipur. Although this was unsaid in so many words, the implication was also that all this is a result of machination by the dominant community and dwellers of the valley districts, the Meitei community. This is above of all, truly ridiculous. At this rate, it will not be long before the valley is blamed for poor monsoon or bad harvest as well. Rhetoric aside, let the government take this development seriously and come out with a comprehensive white paper on investment and government employment patterns in the state to see the nature of discrepancies and then to fix responsibilities as to who contributed or were the agents in bringing about this mess. As for activists and others keen to see dark and sinister motives in everything that happens in Manipur, it is advised they also sometime make use of the provisions of the RTI to get hold of actual government documents to see what kind of developmental funds have been earmarked for the different regions of the state and who were given the responsibility for their use before jumping the gun and pointing fingers.

The legacy introduced by the colonial administration of the British vintage still lives on. In particular the practice of administrative and political demarcation of the hills of the Northeast into “excluded” and “partially excluded” territories may have had their use in a colonial set up and perhaps even now, but they are also creating problems. Under this system, the plains generally were administered by general colonial laws but the other two types of territories were placed under special law that for one made these territories reserved for the tribals living in them and visits by outsiders to these area allowed under special permits alone. This system also excluded tribal areas partially or totally from the political and administrative processes under the broad policy philosophy of leaving them alone as long as they do not harangue British subjects or British administered areas. While laws of varying strength reserving tribal territories may be still desirable in order to protect the interest of the tribals, what cannot be forgotten is this would also have negative implications. While tribals coming under generally administrative region would not cause any constitutional problems, non-tribals coming under special administrative regions for tribal can cause serious ones. The case of Jiribam has been raised by so many, saying this small patch of plain area inhabited dominantly by non tribals should be merged to either Tamenglong or Churachandpur which are adjacent to it, just as Moreh is a part of the Chandel district. Moreh so far is not a problem because its population are by and large traders with little or no interest in politics, but the moment any non-tribal resident here begins to nurture political ambition and starts asking for the right to contest in elections from the Tengnoupal Assembly constituency or the Outer Manipur Parliamentary constituency, serious problems would arise, social as well as constitutional. If denied, it would amount to a breach of what arguably is the most major democratic right guaranteed by India’s republican constitution or for that matter any republican constitution – the right to franchise. Jiribam under either of the two tribal districts would pose the same problem.

Sadar Hills, under the circumstance should not have had any problem, at least constitutionally and administratively. It would have been two reserved districts made out of one reserved district. The problem here therefore is more ethnic as everybody is witness now, and little or nothing to do with any consideration of administration. The diagnosis being such, perhaps it would do well for the government to address it as such too. But as of now, the government seems to be, as has become its wont, simply waiting and watching for the storm to pass without thinking of lifting a finger to face the developing crisis. If things continue the way they are, and prices of essential commodities continue to climb towards the sky, the situation could get volatile and tempers of those at the receiving end may reach a flashpoint. Presuming nothing improves, who knows, the closing act of the Okram Ibobi government may be a transition to the emergency constitutional provision of President’s Rule to avoid a humanitarian crisis.

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