Ethnic fraternity romance

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Maybe things have gone too far to turn back. Maybe what we are witnessing today was always destine to happen. The myth of ethnic brotherhood is being blown up right before our eyes in at least two ways. One is a lesson for the Meiteis who were all this while hanging on to this myth, presuming ethnic similarities predetermine fraternal bondages, and as a corollary, those outside this imagined fraternity are aliens not to be trusted. The Inner Line Permit System, ILPS, movement that they headed comes straight out of this presumed sacred equation, and they consciously alienated those they considered aliens from this standpoint. Now they are discovering those whom they, with such lack of unease, presumed shared fraternal ties, never appreciated or shared their worries. In short, they have ended up alienating everybody around them, both those they considered as aliens and those they thought shared fraternal bondages. This is also partly a price they are paying for leaving important matters of politics to the streets, to be executed by school children and vegetable vendors. This is also the price for ignoring the role of the intellectual elite. Democracy, it is often said is a system in which the people elect their enlightened elite to lead them, and not former government contractors to reduce politics to a bazaar.

The other way in which the myth is being exploded is by the new alliance seemingly struck between Nagas and Kukis under the claimed shared bondage of tribal brotherhood. This despite the fact that through history, if there have been any sworn enmity, it is between the two and not between either of them and the Meiteis. Nobody has recorded the progress of this relationship (and between other communities in the Northeast) better than British administrators. It must be said the British kept every trivial record, not just of the recce and punitive missions they undertook, but also of daily expenditure accounts to the last rupee. Accounts of Northeast affairs based solely on the British administration`™s records by Alexander Mackenzie and much later by Robert Reid confirm this for instance. And yet, Nagas and Kukis are now bonded. Our assessment is that this is a positive and forward looking bondage too, for it is based on shared interests, and therefore far from the kind of romance of ethnic brotherhood that the Metieis have made their staple.

Though there have been a quantum shift in the ethnic equations, it is not too late for the Meiteis to salvage some. They must remind themselves of the age old dictum that in politics there are no `friends` or `enemies`, and instead there are only `interests`, and from this vantage rework their relationships. Maybe it is a good thing to open a new page. The hills want more autonomy so let them demand it from those who can give it. But the valley must have a matching though not necessarily identical autonomy. This will be justice, and only justice can put conflicts to rest. The hills can then not worry about the valley standing in the way of their pursuits. The valley too must have the room to be itself. Right now, they cannot even think of sweeping their own courtyards without worrying about how the hills would respond. Geography of course will determine all remain bound to some extent. Attempting to severe this too would be asking for war. Take one example of how some geographies are integral and how any attempt to break these integrities can result in conflicts. Robert Kaplan`™s `Revenge of Geography` has this interesting illustration of the Nile River. The wind it seems blow against the direction of the current of the river, so a vessel wanting to go upstream can spread its sails and the wind would take it upstream. To return, it just has to pull down its sails and the current would bring it downstream. The river is extremely navigable and the archetypal memory of the Egyptian civilisation is so intricately woven around the Nile that today, even though the river is not as important as it was in ancient times, Egypt would still go to war with any upstream countries, be it Sudan or Ethiopia which dares tamper with the river. The hill-valley equation in Manipur is similar.

The Meiteis have one more to unwind. Let them realise there are many others who have a stake in the wellbeing of Manipur. Let them woo back these others they have alienated, the Nepalis, the Telis etc, who have made the state their only homes. This does not mean the fear of demographic overturn of small communities because of population influx is not real. Nobody anywhere in India or the world would fail to understand this. But there are more acceptable ways of ensuring a halt to this marginalisation of original populations. Let the three bills which have caused so much turmoil be reworked. The most essential of these is to take a more realistic, internationally acceptable and humanitarian base year to decide who is domicile. If it cannot be the current year, let the backdating be by about a decade or at the most two.

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