What is it that would affect the hill districts if the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms Act, MLR&LR Act 1960 were to be toughened? It is very much a valley exclusive law as of now. Has there been any effort to change this? We also know that at any point if this law is sought to be extended into the hill districts, it cannot be without the consent of the Hill Area Committee, a hill MLAs exclusive body within the Assembly. But again, in a hypothetical situation where this law does come to be extended to the hills, it cannot mean the hills have become valley. We bring up the MLR&LR Act yet again for from the picture that is emerging, especially in Churachandpur, it does seem the resentment is mostly on the amendment to be introduced to the Act more than the other two bills passed along with it during the special session of the Assembly on Monday. It does also seem the government did not broaden the consultative base to also seek the HAC`™s prior opinion on this bill, although it has seemingly done so now after the trouble in Churachandpur. This is unfortunate, but probably the government, under pressure as it was from street protests in the valley, took it for granted that since this bill would not apply to the hill districts, consulting the HAC was not necessary. It shouldn`™t have done this. It should have at least in good faith and out of courtesy, asked the HAC to see if there was anything they saw in it that infringes directly into hill affairs. In all likelihood they would have not seen any, for if there were such infringements, this would have been noticed, for there are HAC members in the cabinet, and the cabinet was privy to the documents. In any case, the gesture would have meant tremendous goodwill everywhere, and probably the trouble we are witnessing now would not have been there at all. It would have also left little room for those always too eager to read between the lines to spy hidden motives and foment discontent.
The thing to do now for the government is to think of damage control. The chief minister, Okram Ibobi, yesterday made an earnest plea to those who feel they have been wronged to come to the negotiating table and make their objections known so remedial measures can be thought of. In the interest of peace, we hope this plea is taken seriously by all concerned. If there are clauses in these bills which does step outside the purview of the law prescribed by Article 371-C of the Constitution in particular, these clauses would have to go. But on the other hand, if there are no such infringements found, they should be allowed to complete their journey. Our guess is, three bills were introduced to cumulatively serve the purpose of the ILP, precisely because the government was unsure, or should we say sure, that the one that defines domicile from the base year of 1951 would not go all the way. If everything had been packed into one bill, the entire project may not have had a chance to make it to the finish line, therefore the idea was to have the legally complicated and controversial clauses separately bundled in one pack, so that not everything is held up in case this one fails the test.
The deep fissures between the different communities in the state and also between the hills and valley is once again showing up rather nastily. Maybe this fissure is beyond bridging. Maybe it is time to think in terms of an alternative arrangement for all the different regions, where each region is autonomous of each other and bound only by an innovative federal relationship. Geography predetermines the last of the clauses, and there is little each of the region can do about it, for nobody can change geography. This pretention of natural ethnic fraternity, and equally, natural antagonism with all outside this imagined fraternity, is oppressive. Let each of the regions have the room they need to be themselves. If the hills want the 6th Schedule and live by their customary laws, let them demand it without having to worry about what the valley would say. Similarly if the valley wants to be clubbed as scheduled tribe or as Brahmins, let it be their lookout and not the worry of the hills. There is also the question of where the people must place themselves on larger canvas of the Union of India. In considering this thought, here is a paraphrase of an image which evokes a very poignant picture of tragedy Orhan Pamuk sketches in his `The Black Book`. For him, this is like a man, longingly and nostalgically looking to the west from a ship headed east. In our situation maybe the direction is in the reverse. Manipur, be it the hills or the valley, must not land itself in such a situation. This message especially should be for the Meiteis. They must leave their nostalgia about their past and come to terms with the present and from here look to building a future.
Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam