Is PR the Way Out

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That Manipur is in a mess today is more or less a truism. Consequently the tearing dilemma the chief minister, Okram Ibobi would be in is also unenviable. Even as the demand for a separate SADAR hills district intensified, with the agitators resorting to blocking off the main lifeline of the state, the Imphal-Dimapur road at Kangpokpi, in anticipation that the agitators may have their way, the United Naga Council, UNC, has imposed its own blockade along all the other highways that lead out of the state, thus effectively cutting off the state from the rest of the country. Thankfully though, Imphal is now very well connected to the rest of the country by air, thus offering some consolation at least for passengers. The widely held anti-valley, anti-Meitei attitudes of hill communities is also making the situation worse, as is evident from some of the press releases by the latter which try to portray the tussle between the SADAR hills district demand and those opposed to it (or more bluntly, between the demand for the creation of a new Kuki dominated district and Nagas’ opposition to it), as machination of the valley people or Meiteis. The most bewildered by this development obviously are the latter.
Under the circumstance, whichever way the chief minster inclines his decision, it is going to be seen as biased, thereby held as a legitimate reason to impose the only thing agitators in Manipur have come to know doing well, impose a blockade, bandh or boycott, all of which essentially mean the same atrocious act of disrupting life of the general public in the hope that this would coerce the government to do the agitators’ biddings. It is not entirely impossible those at the receiving end of this tussle, the valley to be precise, may also begin to lose their patience, and that will be when Manipur returns to the dark ages.

The government at this moment seems clueless as to how to tackle the problem and understandably so too. But this notwithstanding, the situation cannot be allowed to slip any further. If at all the government cannot find a way out quickly, as was suggested by a former president of the ruling Congress party, the emergency constitutional provision under Article 356 must be invoked and President’s Rule imposed in the state. This is not so much about punishing the government for allowing the situation to go out of hand leaving the state with the distinct possibility of completely descending into total chaos, but instead of finding a way out of the present dangerous problem.

It will be recalled there have been examples of what a PR dispensation can do which elected government simply cannot. This is especially so when it comes to matters of mediating or else of taking the state administration into areas that are in opposition of either ethnic or vote bank interests. Central rule being deemed to be neutral to these considerations, it can push sensitive issues much harder. Furthermore its tough gesture would be free from allegations of any valley or hill biases, imaginary or otherwise. The most prominent of these examples is the manner in which the PR government under former Governor, Gen. (retd.) V.K. Nayar, when he undertook the decision to clear the Palace Compound of encroachers from some hill districts who had actually converted the Hapta Polo-ground into a shanty town. No popular government had dared to do this or would have dared it either, because of the ethnic and political implications the action would have carried. There would also have been pulls and pushes from within the government with concerned MLAs opposing the move. The present situation is evolving to be of the nature. Since amidst the bitter ethnic distrusts displayed so far, it would be difficult if not impossible for the present popular government to resolve the crisis, let a PR administration do it. Even if the district creation issue is deferred, the PR administration would be in a much better position to forcefully open up the highways so that life returns to normalcy in the state, and any danger of ethnic tensions escalating is kept under control. The 11th session of the 9th Manipur Legislative Assembly is beginning shortly. If a comprehensive plan to resolve this crisis is not thrashed out during this session, we for one would like to see a resort to the only trump left in hand – Presidents Rule, to tackle the issue. The important point is, a humanitarian crisis resulting out of all these blockades must be avoided at all cost, for the price to be paid if the situation reaches a critical point and tempers explode on the streets everywhere in the state, would be too heavy for everybody.

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