Only shared interests bind

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In diplomacy and politics there are only interests and no friends or enemies they day. This time worn dictum of statecraft is what deserves a closer look in the present day Manipur. This is particularly so because the place continues pathetically unable to get itself out of the time warp of seeing only in terms of primeval allies and adversaries. Catch phrases like `indigenous peoples` and `outsiders`, and the presumptions all indigenous peoples are natural allies and that all outsiders are not to be trusted, today dominate discussions and concerns at every level. First in the elite circles then these vocabularies and jargons percolate and come to be flaunted with a sense of mission in Manipur`™s familiar brand of street politics. Every now and then jolts come to shake up these presumptions. The `indigenous peoples` often discover they have no goodwill at all for each other, and sometimes even nurture mutual ill will, yet the illusion persists. The same drama plays out in the reverse when it is discovered that the so called outsiders can be good friends and allies. One is reminded of Albert Camus`™ `The Guest`, where the divide between the `outsider` and the `insider` in the ultimate analysis is never bridged, even when every condition and quality needed to cement human bondages are present. The guest remains a guest till the end, never to be part of the host community. Wonder if it is the English translation from French which preferred the word `guest`, and if the original French did not mean what we in the Northeast, and in particular Manipur, understand by the term `outsider`, for the story fits our situation perfectly.

It is time to leave this bubble behind before there are more disappointments and souring of relations. The way to go is to identify these `interests` realpolitik prescribes and then from a close consideration of them, renew and rebuild the avenues for friendships. But as a believer that a zero sum game is imminently avoidable, and to differ from the old dictum quoted about, this friendship building exercise does not have to necessarily create enemies. What should have come across long ago is the realisation that the primacy in politics is on `interests` and not imagined traditional friendships or enmities. Indeed, with the inevitable process of the shifts of `interests` in keeping with the ebbs and flows of the tides of time, the latter will change too. Fostering and preserving communal harmony then should be about ensuring these `interests` remain real and shared. This can only be done by building institutional structures of power sharing through consensus. This project unfortunately has never been taken up in earnest or else remained mired in platitudes and homilies.

As we have often argued in these columns, there are certain externalities beyond anybody`™s volition to change making it necessary for everybody to think in terms of peaceful co-existence, for there is no other way. This will be the most fundamental and given `interest` spanning everybody in the state. Even at the height of spiting each other, people in the same boat cannot wish the boat to sink. Manipur`™s geography is this way. If the Inner Line Permit System, if it does become law in the state, is to be seen as a good fence designed to make good neighbours, within the state too similar goodwill fences, some of which already exist, must be thought, lest the communities continue to step on each other`™s toes. This inner fence exists to some extent already, and the hills enjoy some measure of land protection. Now with a Naga Accord in the horizon, what is certain is, part of the bargain in the final Naga settlement will be more autonomy for the Naga dominated districts. Probably this would mean similar autonomy for the remaining hill district of Churachandpur as well. For obvious reasons, this will not be taken well by the valley districts, unless there is something for these districts too, to give justice parity. There obviously have been many ways the valley by its arrogance and insensitivities hurt the hills, and amends must be made for this, but cornering and pushing the valley against the wall relentlessly cannot be in the interest of peace either. The ILP discussion must also be brought within this equation. It must not lead to more Moreh like situations, as it does seem it will, particularly if the clock is sought to be turned back six decades to define domicile. In any case, even if such a bill is introduced in the Assembly, there is no guarantee it will not be shot down on the way by the Union or else the courts. The Assam experience is there to recall. If in the 1980s the demand for a cut off year of 1951 to define domicile was not acceptable, and finally the agreed year was 1971, just about a decade backdated, and even then it remained impossible to execute, to ask for backdating to 1951 in 2015, may amount to predicating the doom of the initiative at the very start. There is no doubt that huge influx of immigrants from numerically far larger cultures can be a danger to the identities of small ethnic communities, but measures to check this must not amount to asking for the impossible, or causing undue hurts and injustices to others. It will do everybody, including the initiative itself good, to think of a more realistic and liberal date, if it cannot be just about freezing further influx from the current date.

Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam

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