By Dennis Misao
The most visible thing about the SHDDC sponsored blockade and its UNC counter has been the capacity for self-deception. Both are increasingly becoming less concerned with reality. Along with the rest of the state, their own supporters face abject hardship and uncertainty. Anyone else will have realized by now that there is a very thin line dividing public cooling and boiling points. Yet, they continue to echo the “administrative convenience” or the “not without our consent” recording, and await further reassurance from an already restless public that they are indeed on the right track. Publicly, they personify a picture of seriousness and countenance amidst suffering. Privately and collectively, both are the incredible sulks. Of course, we are told repeatedly that other grave considerations exist, when the bulk of the populace must bear the brunt of depreciative misery as the price for a district, but in all fairness, the focus has long since shifted from agitation to agony.
The basic problem about Sadar Hills is that it is an overused election manifesto that has been resurrected at a predictable rate over the course of countless election campaigns. The current form of highway rage is therefore, an inevitable by-product of this “district for votes” scam. If only politicians were trucks and political parties were commodities.
Another problem for Sadar Hills arises when it is demonized with the rigid language of Naga integration and Naga cost-effectiveness. This ambivalence makes it difficult for both agitating parties to address the ground realities. By definition, two extreme poles have no middle ground. They have only themselves.
An issue so dissentious must involve fundamental aspects of how the tribal world in Manipur views itself. It is a world in which the language of individualism allows its diverse tribes and sub-tribes to develop loyalties in a preferential and sequential order. That list consists of families, small communities, religious congregations, and lifestyle enclaves. However, even in these relatively common contexts, reciprocal loyalty and understanding within the tribes are precarious and hard to maintain. The larger geographical, occupational, and political interdependencies within the tribes are neither clearly understood, nor easily encompassed by an effective sympathy.
Coming back to the core issue of land. Land, unfortunately, does not exist in a vacuum. It exists to perform a collective function. Hence, that which cannot be quantified must be diminished. In this serious sense, the land is increasingly being transformed into factories of dissent. In the Naga aspiration, there is a clearly marked end point, and at any stage in the process leading up to this end point, all opposing views are negated. If the founding of a Naga Nation requires the disadvantage of its neighbors, it will be a nation founded on distrust, and little more than a product of myopic social engineering.
There is a difference between defining a reality that already exists, and analyzing concepts that are yet to be. If the object of the SHDDC includes the search for a peaceful settlement, then it is an honorable one; but if the object includes a vision document from the 1970’s, then we cannot offer simple definitions and then immediately move to quantify it in the present time and age. The concept of dividing land into comfort zones and enclaves is complex. It needs careful explication, and as we have seen, is essentially non-quantifiable.
How does one objectively measure the understanding of the whole Sadar Hills issue, when there is no single answer to the same question? Answering questions with preset answers is altogether too facile and shallow. Most of us find ourselves increasingly not asking the question: how can we best hope for an acceptable solution? But rather, how can we best survive all this?
With the focus shifting away from district creation and towards punitive action, the blockade and counter blockade comes to be seen as ends in itself, and more importantly, as an incomplete part of an unfinished product. The problem with both blockades is that it condones the dehumanization of other groups of people. As a result, someone with a warped sense of values and justice might precipitate a horror like the one that ethnically cleansed entire villages in the not too recent past.
Two opposites are at odds here – the affection that the Nagas of Manipur have for Nagaland, and the nostalgia that Sadar Hills has for itself. When both are unwilling to divert from their rigid standpoints, what is left is a growing unpleasantness. That unpleasantness is made more urgent by a realization that there may be no way to relate to those who choose to be both different and indifferent. The only winner in this standoff is the black market.