Change the question

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The street agitation in Imphal and other valley districts in support of the demand for the introduction of the Inner Line Permit System in the state, has somewhat cooled, but it is certainly not over yet. There is still an unmistakable air of uncertainty in the relative quiet that has descended. Street corners are still populated with the haunting figures of women (mostly Meiteis) in the traditional formal white, staging wakat mipham or protest sit-in, silently watching the passing vehicles, and in this unique way registering their discontent. There is a sense of hurry everywhere and this is loudly visible in the manner people move about their routines, all seemingly keeping alert that the situation can turn for the worse anytime and they may be caught stranded. In the crowded market areas, despite the appearance of calm having returned, the tension in the atmosphere and on the faces of vendors is palpable. There is little to doubt that even an unusual noise or a little commotion in any corner of any one of these crowded places can cause deadly stampedes. Many vendors actually keep their wares half packed so they can on very short notice, gather their belongings and scoot. Those driving in Imphal today to study the situation have had to turn around and avoid certain stretches of roads because groups of people suddenly emerged and without any warning blocked the way. Schools and colleges still remain closed, and even the state`™s other hectic preoccupation `“ private tuitions centres for school and college students, remained sparsely attended, and many more still closed. The law may be limping back, but certainly not fast enough to instil confidence for people to go about their daily businesses as usual.

The government in the meantime is grappling with the onerous task in its hands of coming up with a bill that is either a replica of the Inner Line Permit System, in vogue in Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh, or else fashion another which can do what the ILPS does `“ check influx of migrants into the state so that the state`™s demographic balance is not upset, marginalising its original population as has happened in some other Northeast states, in particular Tripura. The government has been holding several rounds of discussions with the state`™s intelligentsia, legal experts and politicians belonging to other parties. While everybody hopes that something acceptable to all will emerge out of these meetings, doubts that this can be possible still hangs in the air. After all, just a few weeks ago, a softer bill on the same issue was neither accepted by those demanding the ILPS or the Governor whose assent is mandatory for a bill passed by the Assembly to become law.

Why exactly was the earlier bill reserved by the Governor for consultations with the President is still not known. Was it on legal grounds or was it on nationalistic considerations? If it is the latter, there is hope, for then what is needed is to explain convincingly there is nothing anti-national in the demand for the introduction of the ILPS in Manipur. Most reports in the national media are already doing this to a good extent, although there has been at least one damp squib, taking off at a tangent in a motivated manner to describe the ILPS demand as a strategy of one community to be listed in the Schedule Tribes list so as to garner the benefits. If it is the former, the remedial measures would be different. It is well known that in a country such as India which practices constitutional law, even cases with extremely good merit are lost because of procedural errors. The way out is for those framing the new bill to know the law and the Constitution of India minutely and thoroughly. The new bill must be phrased imaginatively so that its merit is not unnecessarily nullified because its phrasing makes it seem it goes against the tenets of the country`™s constitutional law.

This being what it is, maybe the task before the government is to first try and find out why the earlier bill was reserved by the state Governor. If it is able to do this, it will then know how the question should be approached in the next round, the deadline for which now just about three weeks from now. The government, and indeed the entire population must keep in mind the wisdom in the well known thought, that when the answer to a question remains consistently and impossibly elusive, the way forward may not be to continue attempting to change the answer, but instead to try changing the question.

Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam

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