By A. S. Shimreiwung
The current political imbroglio over Sadar Hills issue can be positively considered as an eye-opener for bringing a new paradigm in the modes of inter-ethnic relationships and governance in Manipur. Much has been lamented about the hardship being faced by common people due to prolong road blockades by ethnic-based civil societies in Manipur. The unending series of agitations which Manipur has come to experienced in recent times indicates that political issues have been dealt and mitigated on an ad hoc basis by the State government, rather than looking for long-term solutions and going deeper into the roots of the crisis. It is further unnerving to learn that the very policies being advocated by the ruling government in Manipur has not brought respite to the problems, but accentuated the paranoia that common people have already been overfed. Though Sadar Hills issue is an old problem, it has been given a new impetus by Manipur Chief Minister’s ambitious proclamation of creating new districts in the month of July, 2011. It is a clear indication that the so-called reformative policy being advocated by Manipur government has opened another Pandora’s Box for the people living in Manipur.
As a solution to the politics crisis that has came to perpetually besieged Manipur, specifically the hill-valley divide, the government of Manipur has declared to re-structure the administrations by creating new district for bringing developments. The reason being given for restructuring the existing districts is that large administrative set ups have hampered developmental works. On the hindsight the remedial measures being adopted by State government appear appropriate for troubled torn states like Manipur, which comprises of multi-ethnic communities residing side by side. However, can the blame for under-development of rural areas in Manipur be directed only towards the administrative set up? Are legislative members and Ministers not an integral part of administrative set-up, heading every state department and ministries? Perhaps, the problems in Manipur are becoming too insurmountable that politicians have decided to take a topsy-turvy ride for all the right thinking people in Manipur.
As analysis after analysis in various Manipur local dailies have highlighted, the problems in Manipur are political in nature and primarily concern with inter-ethnic relations. Even the state government and politicians are also well aware of the nature of problem in Manipur. However, the administrative reform being touted as ultimate solution is incongruous to the root of problems in Manipur, and it is definitely directed towards the goals other than development. The political problems in Manipur have nothing to do with administration, thought the state’s administrative systems are not devoid of inefficiency and problems. Further, the official declaration that major districts in Manipur inhabited by vocal ethnic groups like Ukhrul, Churachandpur, Senapati etc. is indicative of the design that the ruling government has in mind. It is a clear indication of ‘divide and rule policy’, which has strong colonial and monarchical legacy, dubious for creating communal disharmony where ever implemented. In modern political terms, such subversive policies that aims to put one section of the community against another and directed towards demographic changes has came to be known as ‘social engineering’. The administrative reform that Manipur government is advocating is in no way different from acts of social engineering that has been carried out in South Asian countries like Sri Lanka. The only saving grace is that the actual implementation has just been initiated, but not fully implemented. However, the consequences of such dubious policy have already been felt by the common people in Manipur. Experiences in other countries have shown that such policies are perilous path that will leave no community and individuals unscathed. The big question now is will the people in Manipur support the partisan politicians and their subversive policies that are directed towards dividing every tribe and ethnic groups from within?
For fragmented inter-ethnic relations, social engineering to change the demographic and administrative structure is not the ultimate solution. Can the much quoted Hill-Valley divide be transformed for the better through administrative reforms and by dividing the affinity of one community or tribe? The idea of linking Hill and Valley through administrative set-up as umbilical cord may prove to be too silly and dangerous in situation where ethnic temperaments are always on the boiling point. Further, the problems of one community cannot simply be construed as other’s problem, because different communities in Manipur happen to live as neighbors and within a state. As the cries and wailings of protestors on National Highways are indicating, people are demanding devolution of power and change in governance mechanism, although administrative reforms may bring temporal relief to certain sections, it can create another problems for other sections. However, in all its glory, administrative reforms are nothing more than cosmetic changes and if attached with subversive interest it is nothing less than a sinister design. If the state government is really concern about Hill people, they may start the genuine reformative process by implementing the Sixth Schedule in Manipur, instead of playing with emotions of the people by dividing their affinities through administrative demarcations. Why has it taken so many years for Manipur government even to seriously debate and discuss about the implementation of Sixth Schedule in Manipur, while states like Assam which has substantial tribal population has already implemented it in so many areas. It is a clear indication that most of the politicians and political parties in Manipur have paranoia over decentralization of power to minority communities, apparently due to the apprehension that it will disturb their own vested interest and powers that they hold. It is also quite illogical to presume that decentralization would further the communal divide in Manipur. Meanwhile, the excessive
centralization of power within certain political circles and community is only accentuating the fragmentation of inter-ethnic relations.
Administrative reform is different from decentralization, as it is merely a restructuring of administrative set-up and not delegation of power and governance through legislations or amendments of existing Laws and Acts. If one’s definition of development is restricted to the opening of DC, SDO, SP offices and having its own share of funds flowing from state government, perhaps administrative changes is good gamble. However, devolution of power through Sixth Schedule and Communitisation Acts are different level of governance policies that have proved successful in various other states in India for bringing positive changes in people’s livelihood. The devolution of power to the minorities and local level administration is something that Manipur government has never thought of or implemented seriously since its inception as a state under Union of India. Perhaps, it is high time for those who are helms of power in Manipur to take cue from current crisis and look for avenues where real decentralization of administrative power can be implemented, instead of making mere cosmetic changes in administrations and dividing the people on the basis of tribe and region.