Towards a Resurgent Manipur

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Coming to terms with the historicity of a geo-political entity

By Angomcha Bimol Akoijam

The news of ‘Magnificent’ Mary making it to the London Olympics brings cheers and a sense of pride to the people of Manipur. And come July-August 2012, as the images of this demeanor daughter of Manipur, sweating it out in the boxing ring of the global sports extravaganza, hit the television screens, millions of sport lovers in this country will be on their feet while many in Manipur will feel her heart beats as well. And whatever may be the outcome of the competition, these Olympics moments are bound to generate visibility for the state as it shall emerge once again from its relative anonymity through the daring acts of her denizens like Mary Kom.

And, as the visibility brings a sense of being recognized, the London Olympics shall become another occasion for the people of the state to take pride in something called “Manipur”.

“It was drawn to express my happiness on Mary’s grand/ record breaking success!! ” By Manas Maisnam

Indeed, some kind of patriotic sentiments, emotions and thoughts shall fill in the air. For some, it might even rekindle nostalgia: the excitement, the expectation and the sense of participation that they had gone through as they stayed up late in the night or got up in the wee hours of morning to catch a glimpse of Nilkamal, the first Olympian from Manipur, on the fields during the 1984 Los Angeles Games. In fact, the sense of visibility that some may experience during this coming London Olympics will not be very different from the one that came along as the flickering images of this gutsy goalkeeper of Indian hockey team appeared on the tiny television screens that dotted a few houses then in the state.

But what is this “Manipur” that we often talk of with such feelings and thoughts? What is this Manipur that we talk of with such pride as we refer to the rich culture (dance, theatre, cinema etc), sports or whenever some people from the state achieve something in their life or professions?

I suspect that solution to  many of our contemporary problems will entail some answer to this question.

Manipur as a historically Evolved Geo-political Entity

As it stands today, Manipur is one of the states that constitute India, albeit some may accept or reject or challenge this status. It is a constitutionally recognized geo-political entity of the Republic of India. But this entity is a historically evolved state that preceded the birth of the Republic. Incidentally, the Constitution acknowledges this fact as its First Schedule defines Manipur as “[t]he territory which immediately before the commencement of this Constitution was being administered as it were a Chief Commissioner’s Province under the name Manipur”. This definition is replete with historical character that has critical bearing on the contemporary Manipur as well.

Take for instance, the two issues which have rocked the state for decades now: the decades-old armed insurgency that demands “sovereignty” for Manipur or the issue of “territorial integrity” of the state. These two issues have to do with “Manipur”, a geo-political entity as defined by the Constitution. Whether it is the issue of “secessionist” or “national liberation”, expressions that one might use depending on which side of the political spectrum or perspectives that one takes, or the “territorial integrity’ of the state, both the issues are deeply connected to the historicity of this geo-political entity as hinted by this definition of the state in the Constitution.

This Constitution defines Manipur as a “territory”. But insofar it has been referred to as a “Chief Commissioner’s Province”, this “territory” has been specifically defined in terms of a juridico-political category rather than merely as a physical space. And the implicated juridico-political character points to the historical evolution of the state. For instance, the status of being a “Chief Commissioner’s Province” immediately brings in the order issued by the Dominion of India on 15th October, 1949 and subsequently it takes us to its preceding status of being a “Princely State”, which, in turn, ultimately leads us to the trajectory of the evolution of the entity through the fusions and fissions of principalities and villages in the bygone eras.

Seeking solution to the vexed issue of armed insurgency, especially when one insists on a “political solution” to the same, is bound to bring in the issues implicated in the historical aspects of this geo-political entity called Manipur. In a similar sense, the question of “territorial integrity” will have something to do with the juridico-political character of the “territory” implicated in the definition of Manipur rather than merely as a physical space.
Seeking solutions to the above two issues that have haunted Manipur for decades without referring to these issues can be only achieved by denying or destroying the very idea of Manipur and its associated sentiments, emotions and thoughts, such as those mentioned at the beginning of this write-ups, which are palpable amongst the large sections of the population in the state.

Manipur as an idea of a Polity

However, to say that Manipur is a geo-political entity is also to say that this entity is marked by a polity. An anachronistic reading of history or a historical consciousness which has become a prisoner of the pasts rather than being an awareness of one’s existence in time are bound to create havocs. Harping on a memory that smacks of an imperial ethos as the basis for Manipur is a reflection of an inability to read the transformative moments of the “individuals” from being “subjects” of a sovereign power to a (civic, political and social) right bearing individuals such as envisaged and implemented in 1948 under the Manipur State Constitution. It must be noted that modern state has moved, as well-known French thinker Michel Foucault insists, from “territorial state” to “population state” as the idea of “popular sovereignty” has become the presiding deity of modern polity. The ethos of democracy, the ideas of “citizens” and “group rights” etc—all are aspects of the said polity.

Such a move associated with the modern ideas had appeared in mid 1930s and culminated in the 1940s in Manipur. One classic moment was when the then “Nikhil Manipuri Hindu Mahasabha” dropped the word “Hindu” from its nomenclature and demanded responsible government as well as an end to the split in the administration of the state into Hills and Valley in 1938. The thrust had been, like most modern political ethos, to strive for the dignity of the citizens of the state irrespective of his or her habitat, gender, religions etc. And the Manipur Constitution Act 1947 was a culmination of the same as it sought to ensure the rights of not only the individuals as citizens but also of communities.

Unfortunately, such indigenous churnings and moves of the people were subverted by a re-enactment of an imperial ethos in 1949 that had introduced a rule by bureaucracy under direct control of New Delhi for more than two decades in the postcolonial era. Thus, despite the Constitution of the Republic of India which is based on liberal ethos, the subsequent subservient and divisive political culture that was born out of that subversion has continued to plague the ethos of the polity in the state and its ills till date.

Thus, a modern polity that seeks to ensure the status of the rights and dignity of the individuals and communities that honestly acknowledges the historicity of the state must inform the search for a resurgent Manipur.

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