By Amar Yumnam
Recent months have been very hectic months personally engaging in policy articulations, debates and shared understanding about the issues of Manipur, India and the international context of South East and East Asia. I would like to start the record of this cycle with one recent personal experience which has been an absolutely rewarding one from multitudes of perspectives. Let me record how it came about. Two legislators, who were ministers in the previous council of ministers but are now honourable members in the present legislature, took upon themselves the responsibility of organising a close door but frank debate on the contemporary issues of Manipur among a limited group. We had quite a few rounds of discussions and the resultant shared outcomes in terms of understanding on the pressing issues of Manipur, the dynamics characterising them, and the possible policy responses are now inherent components in my own thinking on the problems of Manipur. This experience heralded the beginning of a change of attitude and perspective of the people in power at my personal level. First, I was very positively surprised by the deep concern and core commitment of the two legislators on the larger issues of Manipur, and the urgency and imperatives for political economic response to these they displayed. This immediately established that these two did possess a quality and a concern for the land and the people hardly felt by the people. I did indulge in making provocative comments on their persona to make sure for myself their concern and their commitment, but in the end their credibility and concern for the issues of the people and the land came out clean. This has been a very loving experience for me, and I have always been longing for this as a social analyst. Kudos to these two! Secondly, it is reassuring to find that, in contrast to the widespread feeling of non-concern for the people and the land among the powers that be, there are still people who are concerned with the peoples’ issues at the core though they do not have the opportunity to publicly display this at adequate levels. Third, the participants in the closed door debates felt for sure that there are representatives of people who emphasise the significance of wider consultations on policy evolution for sustainable social advancement. This itself is a significant development in Manipur.
But this was followed by a shocker at national level. There have been two important high level discussions at the national level on tribal development and the needed policy responses. I had the privilege of being in both. What really shocked me was the non-significant participation of the representative from the government of Manipur. While the first meeting was a very restrictive one, the second one was represented by only the Principal Secretary/Commissioner in charge of tribal affairs in every State of the country except Manipur. The directive from the Government of India was to ensure the attendance of Principal Secretary/Commissioner by every State as it was an important meeting to evolve the most important steps needed for evolving an effective tribal policy in the country with adequate reflections of contextual realties in each State, but the governmental participation from Manipur was very insignificant. Considering the active participation and involvement in particular of the Principal Secretaries from Oridsha, Madhya Pradesh, Maharshtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, I feel it absolutely unfortunate at the non-significant participation of Manipur. Coming as it does in the weeks immediately after witnessing the committed and active engagement of two legislators on dialogues on Manipur social issues, it was painful to see this disconnect between the decision makers on tribal issues in Manipur and the concerns of these two legislators. Further, since the land has been marked by political tensions relating to tribal development issues, I wonder why the Manipur government decided on a low level participation in this important meeting at the national policy making discussions. At a meaner level, I feel if it is a case that some interest groups are already present in Manipur who thrive on the tensions centring around tribal backwardness and a case of some elites capturing the articulation of tribal issues at the local and community levels.
These contrasting aspects are present at a historical moment when the whole world, and more importantly the developed world, is paying increasing attention on Manipur and Myanmar. In the unfolding and unavoidable rising integration between South-East, East and South Asia, these two now constitute the most significant places where every country should establish a base for longer term participation and reaping the benefits out of the integration. Manipur has witnessed the rising arrival of people and queries from Europe, North America, East Asia and South East Asia on the political economic issues, realities and the potentials in the years to come. This trend is now only getting intensified.
It is exactly here that the political involvement and policy evolution are found wanting in Manipur. The recent initiative of the Chief Minister during his tour in Myanmar is absolutely significant. But I would like to hasten here that we cannot afford to be satisfied only with this. His initiatives should be followed by other engagements and initiatives by officials and institutions in the land. Here I would like to see and the State as well needs something like the enthusiasm and initiatives as displayed by the two legislators mentioned in the beginning to take the interests of the land and the people forward. Timing is of the essence here. Commitment is mandatory. Enthusiasm is paramount. The decision makers need to realise that the imperatives for policy and interventions go much beyond the contract works. Well, I understand that the contract works are the only ones that deliver at the personal levels. But we must also emphasise that the community would disappear if we only continue to be led by the spirit of contract works in our pursuits. When we try to recover from this two decades down the line, the historical path would have followed a direction beyond our control and leaving us almost at the periphery. We must make our choices today, and there is no tomorrow otherwise.
(Amar Yumnam is the Director of Center for Manipur Studies and Prof. of Department of Economics, Manipur University)