Art of the possible

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The state home minister Gaikhangam used an old Manipuri proverb to remind a congregation of senior pressmen yesterday to underscore what the ideal condition for resolving any vexing problem should be: `lin-su hatpa, cheishu-su tektaba`, or `to kill the snake without damaging the walking stick`. The remark sums up quite succinctly what the desired outcome of the push to have the Inner Line Permit System or an equivalent in Manipur should ideally look like. It also is not very far from what the IFP has through the thick and thin of this agitation been saying, even at the risk of facing censures of the blindly passionate. First, Manipur must not surrender its humanity regardless of whatever circumstance it is caught in. Second, more in line with what the home minister said, Manipur must take care that even at the peak of its outrage it does not end up burning bridges, for it is more than likely that sooner than later there will be needs to cross the same bridges again. As somebody not part of the negotiation process, but definitely among all who have a stake in the outcome, we do hope these two thoughts figure among the guidelines before the negotiators when they go about the job of drawing up another Bill to be introduced in the Assembly in the weeks ahead.

What also has to be kept in mind is that the field it not completely open and the Bill will have to fit in a definite and given framework. No marks for guessing this framework is the one provided by the Indian Constitution. If something outside the parameters of the Constitution has to be demanded, this is not the approach road. There are many who are doing just this, as we all know, and they are seeking other routes. The point is, it would be simply futile to put up something which cannot get past the law making process, and something which goes against the Indian Constitution`™s tenets can never become law in India. The Constitution can be amended, but again within very tight limits. Its basic features cannot be changed. But, as they say, politics and diplomacy is the art of the possible, and many things are possible within what seem impossible. This is the exploration that those tasked with coming up with the Bill must be prepared for, lest their efforts are wasted and the state is back in inferno. Considering they also have to do this within a month, the task is going to be Herculean.

In this regard, it would be to the purpose to remind ourselves of a few things. One is what we are witnessing before our very eyes right now. At its crux, the issue is land. Prevent land ownership transfers and half the problem would be resolved. That the hill districts where land is already protected did not see the urgency of the ILPS question as the valley does, is evidence enough. The other point is one the IFP has been making all along. There are some non-ST states, where land transfer to non domiciles is prohibited or else next to impossible. Kashmir is one and Himachal Pradesh another. The second case is interesting. Through perusals of land reform and revenue laws of HP available on the internet and through interviews of Himachali acquaintances on phone, it is certain that land purchase in the state is not easy, if not impossible, for non residents. A specified area of land can be bought by anybody for agricultural purposes, but then which migrant would ever think of going to another state to do agriculture. A non resident can buy a flat of a specified size but not land other than for agricultural purposes. But if no land can be bought, where can estate developers build apartment blocks to make flats available for non residents to purchase? In this way, although the HP government`™s land revenue laws have not in any way contravened the provisions of the Indian Constitution, effectively they still have managed to prevent land ownership transfers to non residents. These need to be studied more closely so that Manipur can also have its way without facing the obstructions from the limits set by the Indian Constitution.

From what has already appeared in the national media thus far on the issue, we also know the mood generally is one of sympathy. Most agree, small identities do face the danger of extinction in the face of radical demography changes. In this regard, HP`™s recent history is fascinating. Till 1966 the present state of Punjab, Haryana and HP formed the undivided Punjab. After the three were separated in 1966, most of the land in HP belonged to the royalties and other feudal of Punjab. It is reasonable to believe HP land revenue laws therefore were also fashioned among others, with ensuring the return of land to HP residents in mind. Those working on the Manipur Bill now would also have to exercise their imagination as HP did. And since there is the precedence of HP, the legal path before the Manipur Bill should not be impossible. Find the way then to kill the snake without damaging the walking stick.

Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam

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