Unbinding Tourism

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The high expectations from the state’s supposedly rich tourism potential while welcome must also not result in the abandoning all defences against its adverse impacts. For one, this cultivated expectation may be beyond what the real prospects are. Just a few simple questions by nature of reality check should put things in perspective. The first and foremost of these is, what is it that is so attractive about Manipur which would draw tourists to visit it? Is there enough places and events to see in the state so as to hold the interest of general tourists for more than a day or two? What is the class of tourists that the state should expect? These questions are over and above the other more down to earth assessments such as that of availability adequate infrastructure etc, such as hotel rooms etc. This latter caveat, we are less worried, for once a market develops, private capital will ensure it grows sooner than expected. One is reminded of a remark by a senior South Korean visitor to the state  some years ago that Manipur reminded him of his country 30 years ago. The optimism he wished to leave for Manipur was that 30 years down the line, given the correct policy direction and a matching public attitude, Manipur can be there where his country is today. The important thing to note also is, South Korea’s progress chart in its initial days is heavily determined by the will of its government, considering the country was under a dictatorship then. Its strategic geography, as well as political positioning befriended the rich West too, thereby earning itself the liberal but interested benevolence of the West, especially the USA in their fight to contain the spread of communism in Asia.

While there is no doubt that Manipur and the Northeast is at this moment very well placed geopolitically in the wake of the rise of China, a booming South East Asia, the new political churnings in neighbouring Myanmar, and indeed, India’s own need to expand its influence in South East Asia, and can expect the State funds to booster its growth, the important question is, what it the strategy it must adopt to sustain the momentum given by this booster on its own. The new euphoria over the anticipated growth in the tourism industry must be assessed from this light. Currently it is the government which is the flag bearer of this new campaign but ultimately the banner must pass on to the people and the market. The other thing to be cautious about is that tourism is generally seasonal and also it is determined by an ever shifting zeitgeist. If today it is the temples of India, tomorrow it can be the war relics of Vietnam. A prospering tourist town resurrected from rubbles and ruins today can no sooner be reduced a ghost town. These are consequences any place that hopes to lean on tourism as a prop for its economy must be prepared for.

But the more fundamental question remains, what exactly are the features of Manipur which would bring in tourists. A dry state with its night life destroyed hopelessly not so much by bad law and order situation as officials are so eager to put forward as alibi, but more by the acute power shortage which plunges the state, in particular the capital Imphal into darkness at sunset, is hardly a place people on holidays with their families would be interested to spend time in. There could be adventure tourism of trekkers and back packers, but there are so many more established and tested trekkers’ paradises like Nepal to compete with. Cultural tourism if not moderated by a sense of dignity and identity amongst the general public can reduce the culture of the place to market commodities. One can expect cultural troupes spawning in the hundreds to perform for visitors, and in the process reduce the standard as well as outlook to some of the most beautiful performing arts that the state can boast of. It can even resu
lt in sacrileges like Lai Haraoba staged not as a sacred religious ritual but to appease dollar tourists. This is not a matter of being a wet blanket but of cautioning everyone to be aware of the pitfalls of the enterprise now being looked up to at this moment almost as the panacea of all ills of the state.

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