Deconstructing a paranoia

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The second election to the Autonomous District Councils, ADCs, in the hill districts, after their revival five years ago following a long hibernation, were held today. Fortunately, despite apprehensions, the polling concluded well by and large though marred at some places by sporadic violence. Surprisingly and encouragingly, the elections were marked by active participation of the electorate both during the campaign period as well as polling. It is a surprise, because going by the sceptics, these councils are damp squibs and at best placebos for ADCs under the 6th Schedule. It is at the same time encouraging because the enthusiasm shows that positive grassroots politics is alive and kicking in the hill districts. Maybe these ADCs do not have the degree of autonomy of the 6th Schedule ADCs, but their power structure is very close to those guaranteed by the Panchayati Raj which has been adopted in much of the rest of the country, and in the valley districts of Manipur as well. Understandably it has its strengths and its pitfalls. Very broadly, while the 6th Schedule ADCs have a measure of financial autonomy, the ADCs in Manipur are like implementing partners of developmental works of the state government, and certain departments have to have their programmes executed through these grassroots institutions. There have been plenty of hiccups in this relationship, but much of these also have had to do with local politics. One of these is, Panchayat and ADC leaders who work at the grassroots and are in constant touch with the people, at another level become threats to the positions of local MLAs, for the former can, and have more often than not aspired to the higher political platform of the State Legislative Assembly.

But leave the debate on the structures of these grassroots bodies for the time being, and instead go to the more immediate concerns expressed from different quarters over the manner the just concluded ADC elections were conducted. As expected, one of these relates to the paranoia that these elections too is likely to be hijacked by the campaign to have the state dismembered, in particular by those pushing for an alternative administrative arrangement pending a larger resolution of the Naga political movement for which leaders of the NSCN(IM) have been holding talks with the Government of India for the last 17 years and more. Obviously this interpretation is influenced by the attempts of the Nagaland People`™s Front, NPF, to make inroads into Manipur politics, both at the Assembly level as well as the grassroots, and the vociferous statements, often provocative, by their supporters in the state. Quite by coincidence, there is also the sensitive issue of the Dzuko Valley ownership which has come to the fore recently in the wake of alleged encroachment into this beautiful valley from the Nagaland side, although the valley belongs to both Manipur and Nagaland in parts, and traditionally to the Mao and Southern Angami communities. This issue too has added to the current milieu.

None of these issues are unimportant. Manipur must tackle them all, but to club them as part of a larger campaign to dismember Manipur would amount to mistaking the wood for the forest. Though important, and though they related to land in their own ways, all of them are not the same, therefore cannot be to anybody`™s benefit, seen as parts of any single grand design. The Dzuko Valley issue for instance has nothing to do with the Greater Nagaland issue. As we have written before, the valley is best left alone for all nature lovers to admire, and for the local communities of Mao and Southern Angami to benefit from this universal admiration. Nagaland and Manipur government should put their heads together to have the valley declared as a UNESCO world heritage site instead. On the NPF entry into the ADC elections, what changes can this bring about? There are NFP legislators in the Manipur Assembly, what difference that has made to the Greater Nagaland campaign? Nothing, except some silly debating brownie points with which supporters of the campaign think they can convince everyone that there is widespread disenchantment of these areas with the Manipur administration. Let it however be known, the people who are to be convinced of such a swing of emotion are not passive listeners ready to swallow anything they are fed with. They know how and why things happen to great extents. The moment this is realised, even the stalemate over the Naga peace talks should begin showing results.

Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam

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