There is undoubtedly beauty in the spontaneous energy of the masses that Manipur is so richly endowed with. Time and again, throughout history, this rich fund of energy inherent in the society had come to the place`™s rescue whenever it was in dire need. In historical times, this is evident among others from the mid-18th Century onwards, ever since the ascendance of the Konbaung Dynasty in Ava, and the death of King Pamheiba in Manipur. Authoritative historians of SE Asia, (including D.G.E. Hall, G.E. Harvey, Victor Lieberman, and we cite these Western scholars here for the sake of the dispassionate distance necessary) generally agree marauding horsemen of King Pamheiba contributed heftily to the fall of the Tongoo Dynasty, paving the way for the Konbaung Dynasty to assume power in Ava. The first mission of the founder of the Konbaung Dynasty, King Alaungpaya was to raid and subdue Manipur, and in this raid the King himself took part though he did not stay in Manipur for more than a few days as news of another uprising by the Mons reached him while he was still on the Manipur mission. This was the decade after Pamheiba had died, and there was a succession tussle between his sons. This would be undoubtedly one of those pivotal periods of Manipur history, and we have many terrifying as well as enchanting stories from the time. As for instance, during King Alaungpaya`™s raid, the ruler in Manipur was King Chingthungkhomba, or Bheigyachandra, King Pamheiba`™s grandson, whose father was an unworldly ascetic who did not remain on the throne for long as he one day simply walked away into the forest never to return, leaving his brother ascend the throne. Bheigyachandra ousts his uncle but in time had to flee to the Ahom Kingdom during King Alaungpaya`™s raid, but the resilience of the people was such that under his leadership, they returned to recapture their kingdom. The myth is, during exile, in what must have been one of his most traumatic and trying times after the Ahom King began to suspect he was an imposter and was asked to tame a wild elephant singlehandedly to prove he was indeed the king of Manipur, he had a vision of the Ras Lila. He choreographed this dream after regaining his kingdom, and this dance went on to be considered a Classical Indian Dance two centuries later. Bheigyachandra inherited one more crisis. His grandfather Pamheiba (said to be a Naga) had not only converted to Hinduism but also made it the state religion. Understandably, after Pamheiba`™s death a bitter friction between the followers of the original faith and those of Hinduism resurfaced. Bheigyachandra`™s challenge was also to stem this. In a play on the life of the king, M.C. Arun of the Manipur University, interestingly interpreted that Bheigyachandra`™s Ras Lila is not only the king`™s masterpiece in terms of art, but also a masterstroke of politics and diplomacy to bring together and marry the two faiths so peace may return to his kingdom.
To return to the original contention, Manipur`™s energy within is admirable, but if left unharnessed, it can also lead to chaos and mayhem. The current agitation for the implementation of the Inner Line Permit System or an equivalent Act too is beginning to show signs of this danger. For one thing, it does seem there is no longer any central command directing and regulating the tempo of the street protests. Reports of ambulances being attacked, doctors, pressmen and other essential services not being spared even when they have proofs they are out on duty, and most disturbingly, the tendency of some sections of the protestors resorting to communal sloganeering etc., are indeed disturbing. Let the leadership of the movement be wary that if left unchecked, this can overturn the applecart, delaying the fruits and in the worst case scenario, even nullifying all efforts so far. The spontaneous surge of energy on the streets is amazing, and indeed grand, but what is now called for is for this energy to be sublimated and channelized into productive directions by the movement`™s leadership, and even more importantly, by the Government of Manipur. In a not so dissimilar way, the challenge today is somewhat akin to what was before King Bheigyachandra. Whatever the faults and sins of the king, among which is allegedly the crime of incest, it must be said he was a statesman and visionary. He fashioned a sublime order out of destructive and chaotic energy which was also prevalent in his time. Let those at the helm have the statesmanship and vision to also bring justiciable order back to this beleaguered state, ensuring this new social harmony sought is in keeping with the universal understanding justice. Genuine grievances (of which ensuring survival of small indigenous populations is definitely one), must be addressed and remedied, but care must be taken that nobody is unjustly victimised. This new order must not be allowed to be defined by a zero sum game equation, and instead be one in which all can be in a gainful partnership.
Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam