It needed someone like Rajdeep Sardesai to say it. Manipur`™s reaction to the slow displacement of its indigenous population, not just in terms of numbers, but more importantly in terms of economic and political power, is not without legitimacy. Like it or not, the trouble that Manipur witnessed, following the tragic death of schoolboy Sapam Robinhood, 16, was brewing for a long time. If the tragic death had not happened, maybe the explosion of public sentiment would have been delayed, but not forever. Someday or the other, what the state is witnessing today, was destined to happen in any case. There were apparently some intelligence reports that the entire trouble was at the instigation of an underground group, but this is at best only a small part of the story. In fact any militant group would be happy at the allegation, and probably would hope that it was true, for they would quite understandably be craving to be actually at the command of such a tidal wave of emotions. No it could not have been the case. No single organisation could have and still would not be able to either inspire or keep such a spontaneous overflow of public energy under their control.
As also was witnessed during the peak of the agitations, things did seem to spin out of control. Doctors on emergency service, journalists on duty, patients rushing to the hospitals were being stopped and harangued. There were even reports that wedding car cavalcades were stopped and occupants made to climb out of vehicles and walk across barricades. It will also be recalled how the media in Imphal, as per a joint decision of the Editors`™ Forum Manipur, EFM, and the All Manipur Working Journalists Union, AMWJU, stopped publication for one day, though after making it absolutely sure that no wrong message was sent out, and that the symbolic closure was prompted by desperation, and not by any means a protest against the movement. This notwithstanding, there have been a lot of aspersions cast on the integrity of the media from many quarters who absolutely have no knowledge what it means to be on the fields on duty, especially at night during those days. If reporters had some means and excuses to get past the many barricades, the machine and computer staff who are equally indispensable in the newspaper production process, found it impossible to come to or return from their offices. The passions behind the agitation were tremendous, but the manner in which it tended to go out of control should disturb everybody.
We say it is needed for a credible voice from what is considered mainstream India to articulate all these for one reason. On matters of nationally sensitive issues like immigration policy, voices emanating from regions considered peripheral to the mainstream are always viewed with a measure of distrust and suspicion. For example, to write of the accumulated resentments of locals at their being slowly but surely pushed to the margins of the economy of their own land because the handles of business and commerce have been very visibly shifting out of their hands to those of successive generations of settlers, would have been seen as biased and parochial. The writers themselves, from an understanding and anticipation of this judgment would have self-censored and sanitised their own viewpoints to make them not offensive to what they see to be mainstream sense of propriety. This is however a problem not just of journalists, it is very much true of politics too in much of the Northeast states. Politicians here know and indeed have been made to feel how much they are dependent on the charity of the Centre for their survival and how insignificant they are when they are pitted against the Centre, so much so that the policies they frame have come to be largely determined by what they believe would please the Centre. If not this than at least they would by intuition, refrain from doing what they believe would go against what they believe is mainstream. Killed in the process are political imagination, inventiveness and initiative that only autonomy of vision can give. Indeed, as many would vouch, one of the biggest inhibitors before local academics and journalists of the Northeast in articulating the problems of the region has been about how to empathetically understand and represent popular movements in their region. For the `subject analyst`, to honestly do so would be to risk being seen as parochial, and in extreme cases, anti-national. But doing so is also essential in sizing up these problems and paving the way for honest remedies. It is a peculiar situation in which honest opinions are doomed to remain silent and unclaimed, therefore perpetuating dishonest portrayal of the situation on the ground. This is why, forthright opinions of credible dispassionate outsider voices, such as those of Sardesai recently, are often a breath of fresh air to break this oppressive but unseen cloak that keep the raw truth from coming to the fore.
Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam