By Deben Bachaspatimayum
The decision on the part of MPP’s leadership team to support BJP candidate for inner Manipur Parliamentary constituency may be inked as a historical landmark in the annals of the oldest regional political party in the state. There could not have been any other better options for the two parties but to join hands in mutual interests as against their arch rival – the Indian National Congress in the contemporary political scenario. The agreement between the two parties is not only historic but also politically correct step in the future of regional politics. What may be of some interests to political analyst, in this agreement, is the nature of the two parties compared to others operating in the state and at national level, the time of their coming together leaving behind the mutual hate history and also opens up a new framework for analysis of the present and future political dynamics in the state. The growing political alliance between NPF and BJP in our immediate neighbourhoods also seems to hint at changing time – Armed insurgency/resistance movements giving ways to active regional politics and political process to address many of vexed political issues in India’s North-eastern region. This is a scenario which any regional political party worth its name can afford to ignore but to take active roles in shaping the future of India’s North East Region.
BJP in India, by virtue of its reliance on Hindutva cultural nationalism, is no lesser regional than MPP or for that matter any other regional political parties in India including AGP, TDP, AIDMK, NPF, Shiv Sena, etc. The only difference being BJP with its wider cultural geography and influence operate at inter-state level thereby becoming one of the most influential and dominant Nationalized Regional Political Parties (NRPP) in India compared to the other regional parties in India. MPP, by virtue of being another Regional Political Party (RPP), operates only in a limited intra-state geographical space while being rooted into its own political and cultural history and foundation. The best that any powerful and influential nationalized regional political party or truly National Political Party (NPP) based on value foundations of the Constitution do, in the given diversity of India, is to truly promote RPPs in each of the states in India for stronger liberal and substantial democracy. The present coming together of BJP and MPP, following its successful alliance with NPF in the run up to the parliamentary election, must also move towards finding a level field or a common ground for mutually respecting long term partnership relation beyond the poll alliance. In that relation, MPP alone, in future, must be fielding candidates for both assembly and parliamentary elections with active supports from, and alliance with BJP. With that as the long term goal for MPP in partnership relation / political alliance with BJP the former has to set a mission clear of becoming the only key player/leading political party in state politics and one of the leading regional political parties at regional and national politics in the next 5-10 years. And to do this no other political party is better positioned at the right time than MPP as it is positioned at ground zero level after the 10th Manipur Assembly Election historic debacle. Facing a total defeat is also getting a total opportunity to refresh, reflect, renew, rejuvenate and restart with new vision and mission into the changing time and such was much needed for MPP. MPP only has to do more of its worth to rise up again in strengths and with vision for BJP to worry less for national security and integrity. The relationship between MPP and BJP therefore has to be base on strong principles which ensure strong political alliance without compromising mutual respects, integrities and interests.
Having said that projecting MPP as the only truly regional political party of the state would be incomplete without considering incorporation of the political legacy of Hijam Irabot in its political thoughts and imagination. MPP can longer be allowed to be used as stop gate or a spring board for political opportunists to launch a career in INC or any other party in power at the Centre. This history must be put to an end here for MPP if it wants to face the future challenges in regional politics. Bringing Irabot’s legacy to MPP is to bring CPI across the table at MPP and initiate a political dialogue at organizational and ideological levels to develop a shared long term perspective. This is difficult proposition and so may require hard thinking and head start. But at whatever cost the dialogue must be opened up to integrate regional politics into the thinking of MPP lest it should be left as an open container without the content. The content must go to the container’s longings. If MPP is the container or form of regional political party CPI is the local content or the political substance for MPP as a regional political party. In the same line of argument, a regional political party based in the valley of Manipur that has no connection with Irabot’s political legacy will be nothing more than empty vessel. It could also be diluting the value of a regional politics or at best putting out of context like the fish out of the water if Irabot’s political legacy is stressed too far beyond the region’s political boundary and history to another ideological plain of the CPI of different origins. It is also unfair should any external ideology be allowed to overshadow a regional political legacy or aspiration. A regional political party worth its name must also know who to partner and align with and who to engage with politically. Understanding the roles INC as the only national political party is critical to unlocking political imbroglios in Manipur.
Political discourse of Manipur will ever be incomplete without discussing the INC (Congress-I) which actually would form the main thesis of understanding the deep rooted political problem of the state or national security/insecurity situation in India’s north-eastern region. INC is known to the state politics right from day one when some Hinduized loyal elites of the then Kingdom in its sun-set days, based on cultural affinities with the Indo-Aryan civilization or the Hindutwa cultural traditions of the Gangetic plains, began to politically weave the future of the state under the Union of India. While the merger of 1949, which may be more of “Cultural” nature of merging, was celebrated, Irabot and the likes of political aware sections of society rejected setting off a serious political cleavage in Manipur – a clash between regional and mainstream political streams which remains irreconcilably transformed to an undeclared internal armed and protracted social conflicts till date. Ever since the controversial merger, generations of youth of Manipur have been, by written or unwritten policy, promoted as apolitical powerhouse of excellence in on stage art and culture and/or as players of international make up on the tracts and fields. Alternately, by a written doctrine, for any locally responsible and political aware youth, who dared to pick up the loose threads of regional political issues of the pre-existing state, has been outlawed and killed without mercy, on being mere suspects based on different skin colour and speaking non-Hindu language, and also for merging with and adopting the Red Star political ideology! In fact, the contemporary time must also review both the cultural and ideological mergers of the state to restore Manipur’s political issue under the ambit of its plural cultural and racial foundations and history.
At the background, the INC self-tasked upon itself, under the able leaderships of the Pandit, Patel and Pant, the national consolidation project of the newly built Indian nation, handed over to them by the father of the nation – Gandhi. Much against Gandhi’s desire to disband the INC for the advancement of grassroots level participatory liberal democracy in the independent India, Pandit and Patel over carried INC banner beyond the limits for the project of national consolidation and security, amidst the post partition scenario of secessionist tendencies. Such political stance of INC had far reaching implications to the weak and uncertain socio-political situation of the late 1940s in Manipur and Naga hills where it had already installed its branch offices with loyal pro-merger elites in Manipur and moderates among NNC in Naga hills/Tuensang region.
For Pandit and Patel national building project was incomplete in the east, north-west and middle of India and in order to accomplish the tasks they chose the power vested in the Colonial State and used violence to overrun all political resistance, in the process. While the use of state violence internally for national consolidation and security not only immediately closed the history of Gandhi’s national culture of nonviolence it took a tangentially different direction to also engender a culture of armed resistance against the state in post independent India. In doing so, none other than INC is the only mother of all armed insurgencies in India and militarization of the region to only create and recreate a vicious cycle of distrusts, insecurity and violence! This is true from what the father of the nation, Gandhi told A.Z. Phizo, the father of Naga nationalism, in a meeting at Bhangi colony, “If Nagas don’t want to live in India no one can/should force you…”
Nagas were convinced they also have the right to live independent of India. If Irabot had any occasion to meet Gandhi things would have also been different for Manipur, today. But the history had to unfold differently for Manipur as Irabot’s political encounters began with only communist ideologues of Bengal through 1930s-40s. While INC may be credited for forcibly integrating the Northeast and constructing successful Indian nationalism/security by using mainstream cultural traditions, money and military lavishly and unaccountably, it also challenged the very constitutional foundation and democratic norms it preaches. For this reason, INC may also be credited for causing to write alternative histories of de-construction of the pre-existing states and histories, inter-ethnic violence and identity /communal politics. If this is the nature of the only national political party of India then regional political parties have only to engage them with regional political and economic issues on principle grounds and never form any alliance before resolving regional socio-political and cultural issues. Or else, any alliance or alignment with INC premature may amount to sacrilegious relationship or political hara-kiri for regional political party in Manipur. The same may also feared of BJP as an NRPP rooted in the mainstream cultural foundation which is exterior to the local culture and political foundation, if it is allowed to expand to weaken the strengths and/or threaten the existence of regional political party in the state. Nevertheless, BJP’s sensibility to regional political issues makes it a better ally for any regional political party.
It might also be worthwhile, in this context, to reflect on and assess the pattern of relationship between MPP and INC in Manipur’s contemporary political history and also of the CPI with INC. A historical alliance of some of these relations between different political parties in the state could be helpful in re-rooting to the original political foundations for rebuilding political alliance and /or relation on certain non-negotiable principles for future peace and security in the region. The opportunities of re-looking into our regional politics and participations are in our own hands. Should we miss it we will miss the bus for another 100 years or more? But for now, for want of detail information about the terms and conditions of the MPP – BJP agreement it is difficult to comment whether the agreement is just a poll alliance of mutual convenience or serious rethinking for futuristic political realignment!
(Deben Bachaspatimayum is a peace and research consultant based in Imphal.)