Bill victories and woes

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Three Bills, one original and two amendments of existing laws, were passed by the Manipur State Legislative Assembly today. All three await the Governor`™s assent, therefore are still not law. In all likelihood, the latter two should not face much hurdles in their passage for they are existing laws: the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (Seventh Amendment) Bill 2015; and the Manipur Shops and Establishment (Second Amendment) Bill 2015. It is the original Bill, namely the Protection of Manipur People Bill 2015, which ordinarily should have been the one fated to run into a wall, particularly in view of the cut-off year it seeks to define non-domiciles by. But it now seems there is more to it than just the Governor`™s assent. The hills are not happy, and Churachandpur this evening went up in flames, with irate public burning down homes of their representatives in the Assembly, including senior cabinet minister and veteran politician, Phungzathang Tonsing.

The question is, what is it that the hills are not happy about the three Bills? This has to be thrashed out and resolved. This discourse should have been there much earlier, but it was never to be. Neither the valley nor the hills reached out to each other and tried to understand each other on the matter. Other than the stern opposition that came in Moreh during a rally by Meitei residents, and the prohibition of a similar rally planned in Churachandpur earlier, there were never any other meaningful communications. The other districts, it had seemed were cool to the issue and were simply watching the developments from a distance, until the final moment after the Bills had been tabled. One is reminded of the rather cynical dig that Literature Nobel Laureate, V.S. Naipaul once took at another famous writer of Indian origin, Salman Rushdie, when the latter was in hiding following a `fatwa` to assassinate him issued by then supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, describing Rushdie`™s book `Satanic Verses` as blasphemy against Islam. Naipaul in an interview joked with visible glee, describing the `fatwa` as a severe form of literary criticism. Manipur too, it seems speaks only the language of `fatwa` and has lost its faith in the power of dialogues to resolve issues, even the most problematic.

We have been consistent in reminding that the valley must stop presuming foreknowledge of what other fraternal communities want or aspire for. They must also stop presuming proprietorship of what is deemed as the state`™s interest. These can only come about through democratic consensus. The flames of anger in Churachandpur this evening are proofs of how wrong they were in these presumptions. But it must equally be said, the hills must understand that the valley now more than ever needs room to be itself `“ the space which has been denied it for far too long. At this moment it feels besieged and pushed against the wall. Of the three Bills passed today by the Assembly, the two which sought amendments to existing laws, were very valley specific, so it ought not to have been any cause for worry for the hills. In the Bill on amending the MLR&LR Act, there is a clause which says more areas still not under the law can be brought under it, but for all one knows, this could be a reflection of the wishes of a growing section of the hill population who want to integrate with the modern monetary economy. In many private tete-a-tetes, many will vouch this wish has been quite transparent. Extending this law to pockets of the hills would not and cannot be described as encroachment by the valley. MLR&LR Act 1960, although is applicable in the valley only now, has nothing to do with the valley`™s wishes or aspirations. It is just a modern, civic, land tenure system, incidentally introduced in the state by the Union government by an Act of the Parliament, for in 1960 Manipur was a Union Territory, governed by a chief commissioner appointed by the Centre. It has worked well for the valley except that in its current state, it has allowed for their own land alienation, and this is what is sought to be corrected in the current amendment Bill.

However, it is never too late. The Manipur government must initiate the process to find out what exactly are the objections of the hills to the three Bills and prepare for further amendments. If it is about the Protection of Manipur People Bill 2015, then maybe this too can be made valley specific, for as it is, the hills are already covered by other protections. If it is about the clause we mentioned in the MLR&LR Act, that clause too can be deleted. But if the objection is against the valley`™s effort to tighten its own hold on their home grounds, then this is being ridiculously unreasonable, and the valley will never agree.

Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam

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