By Amar Yumnam
One unmistakable characteristic of governance in India is the perennial practice of bluffing the people. It is as if the people have been fed continually with pre-election like bluffs all these years right from the very first election in this country in the 1950s. This bluffism is particularly salient when it comes to the North East and Manipur in particular. We expected that this unenviable culture of Indian governance towards the people of Manipur would come to an end in the aftermath of the brutal rape and murder of Manorama by the security forces, and the promises Dr. Manmohan Singh had made as the Prime Minister of India. Now on hindsight, it all turns out that the shifting of the Assam Rifles from the Kangla was only a means to cool the public mind consequent upon the brutal rape and murder of the Manipuri girl. Kangla is an utmost sacred pace for the people of Manipur and very close to their heart in all prayers. It is one place where none should be making promises not to be kept and indulge in bluff.
It was exactly at this venue that Dr Manmohan Singh promised to replace the Armed Forces Special Powers Act by a more humane legislation. This promise was repeated by him in the Convocation of Manipur University – the place where the only competition should be in knowledge creation and never in making false promises. The current Indian Prime Minister had indulged in the ignominy of making political gimmicks in both the sacred places. I still remember afresh my comments when interviewed by the NDTV on what my reaction was to the promises made by him. We had used those promises as an argument against the youths going for arms for use against the Indian state. Now ten years down the line, we are left with little defence for ourselves for our commitment to the incomplete Indian nation for it is as if we have also committed the complicity in telling lies to the people. One may say that pubic memory dies fast, but it is never so in the process of nation-building in a context of an absolutely diverse community of people.
It must be recalled that the onset of this millennium has been marked by some very painful and unwarranted but highly socially impactful events of the negative kind in so far as Manipur is concerned. First we had the Malom Massacre of killing ten innocent persons by herding them together in a bus-stand and shooting at point-blank range. This was followed soon after by the massive rape and inhuman killing inflicted on Manorama. Here comes the biggest and still unresolved challenge of the parents who had children attending school and colleges from about grade IV onwards during these events. The Malom Butchery did cause a deep and suppressed anger and alienation against the security forces and, ipso facto, Indian state among the children of this generation. It was with great difficulty that the parents were trying their level best so that their children’s attention was still focused on studies despite the Malom Slaughter. But it was soon followed by the terrible violation of Manorama’s human dignity and ultimate claim on her life inflicted by the forces supposed to be protecting the interests of the country. The divergence of the Indian approach from the issues of the land and people of Manipur was now complete. It was at this moment that the promises of the Prime Minister on AFSPA became a useful tool in trying to control and direct the anger of the children of this period; the youngest group has just started attending colleges. But this which has now turned another policy bluff has again reinvigorated the youthful anger with very little argument left in the hands of the parents for this bluff happens in a situation where there is little socio-economic positivity if any. In fact, I am afraid if the majority of the parents have also joined the anger of their children.
This culture of perennial bluff in policy design and announcements has been in force right from the birth of Indian democracy in so far as the North East is concerned. The only difference today is that the people of the region are now more educated, vocal and aggressive than they were three or four decades back. The general feeling consequent upon the Malom and the Manorama misadventures is a testimony to this.
While this policy tragedy has been acute and chronic in itself, now comes the problem of the “ugly Indian” complicating it even further. Here I would like to let Karan Thapar speak as he does so well in his latest input in the Hindustan Times: “The sad but inescapable truth is we are guilty of racism: not always but distressingly often, not all of us but, unfortunately, far too many. If this is to change we must begin by first and unreservedly accepting this fact. ……..All of this is not just embarrassing, it’s shameful. Yet, we are blissfully unaware or, at least, unconcerned …….Our attitude to our own citizens from the Northeast is no less racist. Here, more than colour, it’s their different features that attract our obloquy. Once again, that extends to cover their language, culture, food, clothes and behaviour…Not only do we call them ‘chinkies’ but often do our best not to mix with them. We prefer them to live apart, keeping their own company almost living their own lives, separate and away from us. For most of us, the Northeast is another country only accidentally and peripherally Indian. It may be geographically at an arm’s length from the mainland; in terms of acceptance and integration it might as well be another continent…The worst part is that many of us are unaware of this hateful prejudice, several unconcerned, quite a few unwilling to change and most — yes most — unashamed when made aware of this horrible truth.”
This is the moment of truth and moment of biggest challenge India faces her North East if she happens to care at all for the region. The primary need today is to shed the habit of Indian policy bluffism while approaching the problems of the region. Even though he was returned to the Indian parliament by a bluff of being an Assamese resident, Manmohan Singh cared a hoot for the region during the last ten years. But when his own term and the term of the Planning Commission itself are coming to an end, he has instructed the latter to constitute a committee on the infrastructure of the North East. No, the time for such bluffs is gone for good. Time is now for facing the truth face on and evolving policies truthful to those truths. This is where the forthcoming parliamentary elections are significant.