Let all stakeholders agree to have the trouble in the state end. Let those who agitated for the introduction of the ILPS, for which they got the three contested bills, and those objecting to the three bills, agree to sit down to come to a consensus on necessary rectifications, so that the contentious issue can be once and for all put to rest. Although the amendment sought to the existing MLR&LR Act has been cited as the most objectionable by those opposed to the three bills, we see the bigger problem actually stems from the definition of “Manipur People” in the first and the only original of the three bills, which takes 1951 as the base year for deciding domicile. As had been explained by many, the 1951 census could not have had the reach and spread to cover all sections of the population, especially those living in remote tribal pockets. To this we may add, there would have been people moving gradually into the state after the date, both non-sedentary tribes on the eastern borders as well as economic migrants from the western border. This nature of migration has been happening through human history, and all must be ready to take cognizance and absorb this, for it harms no one. It is only the sudden bursts of population movements, caused by wars, natural disasters, economic collapses which are causes for alarm. As a thumb rule, population movements which are gradual, and which tend to integrate with the local milieus and become part of it, enriches the cultures of the places, while those who come with the intent of colonising are the ones who can pose a threat to the local populations. It is important to distinguish between the two.
Manipur’s culture has been enriched and nurtured through the centuries by the earlier kind of cultural cross-pollination. Look at our cuisines, both non-vegetarian and vegetarians. Of the non-vegetarian dishes, there is a rich array, perhaps as many as there are different ethnicities in the state, as most communities here are meat eaters. The richness of meat being such, it does not need too much embellishment to become an attractive meals. However, it is vegetable dishes which need this extra treatment to delight the palate. The Meiteis especially have evolved their vegetarian meals into fine art, and it is not too infrequently that one encounters people, especially from vegetarian India who have visited Manipur, vouching from the heart that Manipur’s vegetarian meals served at its temples, are the tastiest anywhere in India. This tribute comes from a nation which has more vegetarians than all vegetarians from the rest of the world put together. Obviously, in this case the cross-pollination has been from the west. Take a look at the fruits and flowers whose names suggest they were originally not indigenous, but later came to be indigenised. Awa-thabi from Burma, pung-ton from Shan, khaki- leihou from China, awa-phadigom, mayang-ton, etc., and the list is long. All these also suggest the cultural influences which came from the east brought in by migrants, travellers or else brought back by travellers and traders from here. This is why, all over the world, open cultures rather than closed, xenophobic ones are the richest. Surely we do not want to trickle off this glorious tradition of openness, and the rich dividends this has paid throughout history.
Manipur’s demographic situation is nowhere near critical yet, unlike many other Northeast states, Assam included. But it will become so if further influx is not checked. The moot point is, let the objective be to check further influx and not worry too much about what has already happened. Either take the current date as the cut-off, or else back date by about a decade or so, just the time internationally accepted as the period for naturalisation of citizenship. This will be fair and humane, therefore also acceptable before international law. The MLR&LR Act is another thing altogether, and let it be where is has been all this while, until the hill districts feel ready to be integrated into the march of modern economy. Assure this too, to those opposed to the three bills. In the meantime, we are convinced that some degree of autonomy of the two regions from each other is essential so that each can be their own selves without the other coming in the way.