By Amar Yumnam
Three recent events are of significance for the political economy of Manipur. All these three have happened more or less simultaneously, and impacted harshly and positively on the psyche of the people of the land. First is the Commission of the Supreme Court looking into the cases of extra-judicial killings in Manipur. Second is the arrest of a colonel of the Indian army in connection with trading in drugs. Third is the inauguration of a separate High Court for the province. All three have connected implications and positive ones at that.
Under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act Manipur has literally been like under the dictatorial regimes of the banana republics. The immunity provided to the army by the act and imposition of it for years has got into the psyche of the armed forces so much so that they had started imagining themselves as immune to everything. This has so much adversely affected their mental frame that a colonel behaved himself to be absolutely immune to the law of the land to indulge in huge trafficking of drugs. This was to happen and must have happened umpteen numbers of times. Over the years, it has been like almost army rule as against the rule of law. This was the worst one could expect in a democracy despite the contestations to the prevailing state. While democracy and more democratic responses would have served the cause of nation and deepened the roots of participatory development, the purely militaristic interventions with sharp features of immunity for any excesses committed have only widened the gap between the forces of the state and the population supposed to be served by them. The biggest casualty has been the evolution of an atmosphere for a rule of law for longer term social transformation. The frequent mob delivery of justice, and the rise in group crimes are to be traced to this long prevalence of an atmosphere of disconnect between the actions of the agents of the state and the rule of law. The Supreme Court has done a yeoman’s service by appointing a Commission to look into the excesses committed in this atmosphere of disconnect between the armed forces and the rule of law. While doing so it has revived and re-instilled a spirit of trust on the rule of law among the general population. This is significant for both democracy and participatory resolution of social issues for longer term dynamics of development.
This positive atmosphere has been reinforced by the inauguration of a separate High Court for the province. The presence of the High Court in the province itself would now be a clear message to all that the rule of law would henceforth be the foundation of all disputes and deliberations. Manipur has now been ushered into a phase of transition towards a stronger democratic atmosphere.
In this period of transition, all should – the governance authorities and the general public – apply their mind to the development designs alive to the realities of Manipur. The province’s development can only be considered in a trans-border context. The very demographic, cultural, geographic and political economic realities are such that the interventions are to be contextualised in a trans-border world. While thinking along this line, interventions like the fencing of borders would be the farthest from the sustainable and democratic framework needed in the context. While an immediate opening of a Passport Office for the convenience of the people of the province and a less restrictive visa regime would serve the people and ipso facto the interest of the country better, steps like fencing the boundaries would only jeopardise the age-old social capital and hinder development. The very fact that the international boundaries are long and have ethnic, cultural and demographic relationships extend across the borders necessarily mandate thinking along these realities. Curbing the realities would never be rewarding socially, politically and economically.
While thinking in a trans-border context, we must inevitably extend the frame to all the countries in the South East and East Asia. We have a robust group of countries looking for opportunities for investment in Manipur. All these countries are positively exposed to the interests of Manipur and the people of Manipur have a reciprocal feeling. The oft repeated question about the production base of the province to take advantage of a stronger relationship with the countries in the South East and East Asia is off the mark. The fast emerging production networks in these countries are a testimony to the possible social and economic benefits we can derive from the relationships. Further, India is a country with very weak tourism competitiveness, but a commitment to this in this part of the world would certainly pay-off. This would also have the needed development implications the region has needed all these years. The Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2013 of the World Economic Forum and the Human Development Report 2013 of the UNDP have many areas where we can interpret the global lessons for the benefit of our region. The fourteen areas identified as critical for tourism competitiveness – Policy rules and regulations, Environmental sustainability, Safety and security, Health and hygiene, Prioritization of Travel and Tourism, Air transport infrastructure, Ground transport infrastructure, Tourism infrastructure, ICT infrastructure, Price competitiveness in the T andT industry, Human resources, Affinity for Travel and Tourism, Natural resources and Cultural resources – are relevant while thinking about a development strategy here. The latest Human Development Report emphasises the imperative for listening to new voices and hitherto un-listened voices while strategizing for development. It is exactly at this point that designing a trans-border development model is imperative for the region.