The trouble that exploded in the wake of the demand for the Inner Line Permit Sytem, ILPS, first and then in the aftermath of the passing of three bills which together were meant to do what the ILPS does, is far from over, but the two and a half months that have gone by have left the state exhausted physically and drained spiritually. But, it must also be added, there is much to reflect and learn from the turmoil. There is no gainsaying now that things have gone too far, and even if normalcy is restored, the bitter aftertaste in the mouth from the raw display of hostilities, will not melt away. It will be of no use to try and cover them up again either, for this will only amount to delaying another explosion. The best recourse then would be to take the bull by the horns and tame it. The debate must now be to decide whether an administrative separation of the hills and the valley is the best option. De facto, this separation is very much a reality. The two regions cannot even see eye to eye on basic existential issues such as the threat posed by unending influx of migrants.
Manipur`™s hills-valley relationship is defined by a peculiar equation. The valley has been the one hanging on to the idea of emotional integration and pathetically trying to have the hills agree to this vision of unity. The hills on the other hand have been spurning the proposal with disdain, claiming the valley has always been their exploiters. While the valley`™s plea is often embarrassingly melodramatic, with tiresome chants of peaceful co-existence since `time immemorial`, never bothering to even look up historical records to see if this claim is a fact, the hills grouse of exploitation by the valley can also border on the ridiculous. This is so because the charge is packaged with another contention that the hills and valley never had any contact through history, and that the hills did not even now that the valley existed. How can the valley, which the hills said had no contact with ever, exploit the hills. There has to be something very false about these statements when taken together, for one or the other of the two arguments has to be false for the other to be true. Simple rules of logic will also establish that while both the arguments cannot be true at the same time, both can be false without any contradiction.
Proponents of the idea of Manipur as an irretrievably divided house also have been relentlessly pushing the idea that in modern times developmental funds meant for the hills have been consistently diverted to the valley. If true, this is unfortunate and the government must come out with a white paper on the matter. The Comptroller and Auditor General, GAC, has been indeed coming out with annual reports on the state government`™s misappropriation of public funds, but none of these reports so far has suggested this alleged fund diversion. On the other hand, it is also equally unfortunate that no tangible and actionable evidence are ever cited by those making these allegations. Many journalists have tried to probe the government on this, but there have been little to penetrate the government`™s defence that the onus of providing proofs must be with those who make allegations. Moreover, there is also the Hill Area Committee, HAC, which is mandated to block all such attempts. As we have seen in the current controversy, the HAC members can be in big trouble for allegedly neglecting the interest of the hills even on issues that the members themselves claim to clearly see no hill involvement.
There is then the other valley guilt of most government institutions concentrating in the Imphal districts. On this, it may put things in perspective to look at other states and see how they fare on this matter. The answer those who have tried to find out would be probably pretty uniform. Manipur is not an exception. This is a problem of all other states, not just Northeast states. Flatlands always have developmental advantages for topographical reasons, and government institutions tend to cluster in the capital areas. There ought to have been extra effort on the part of the government to reverse these universal trends, but alas this has not happened.
It is time nonetheless to reassess relations, and indeed this has begun to happen at least in the hills. The valley too must reconsider its traditionally held positions. It too must begin identifying its `interests` and look to secure these. In doing this, let them be reminded again of the poignant image of tragedy Orhan Pamuk sketched of a man longingly looking to the east, from the deck of a ship headed west. If the west is where the future is headed, they ought to abandon the east nostalgia. A complete severance will not be feasible given the geography of the place, but perhaps a comprehensive autonomy model can be thought of. It will be good for both the hills and the valley to be true to their own geniuses for once, without stepping on each other`™s feet or patience.
Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam