An article by Garga Chatterjee carried in the IFP on Sunday, on the move from certain quarters to have auto drivers in Mumbai know Marathi mandatorily said this quite succinctly. In the politically correct stances of unconditionally denouncing xenophobia and racism, what is often ignored is the embedded notion of a certain hegemony of idea. Often these stances are pushed as ideological positions, be it from the right or left wings, or for that matter the centrists. But as Anthony Giddens pointed out, `ideology` may be more than simply a system of ideas and beliefs, and be actually and closely tied to the concept of power. Giddens defines ideology as a `shared idea or beliefs which serve to justify the interest of dominant groups`. The obvious implication is, ideas under the blanket guise of ideology often become instruments for pushing the status quo in which the dominant groups have an ensured position of dominance. It is for this reason that every now and then there arises the need to counter this idea hegemony. It is from this perspective that the xenophobic fears in the northeast today of indigenous populations losing their grip on the power levers must be viewed. To what extent is this fear superfluous and to what extent legitimate, must be the focus of these inquiries, for indeed there is a good measure of both. While racial hatred must be forbidden, the apprehensions of demographic marginalization of small communities is not trivial by any means especially in a democracy where a headcount decides who holds the rein of power. The fact is also that this is an open ended question. If there are fears in Manipur of unending immigration from outside, there is also a fear amongst hill communities of valley hegemony, and both must come under the same scanner and analysed impartially. Sauce for the gander must have to be sauce for the goose too.
We bring up this issue in the wake of the wave of demands for the introduction of an inner line permit system, ILP, or an equivalent law in Manipur, as in the states of Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh. One fact is clear, the states which do have this legislation in force are the ones either facing migration problems more intensely, as in the case of Nagaland where there has been large influx of Bangladeshi migrants, or else are much more paranoiac about outsiders, as in the case of Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh, where even the presence of tiny populations of Chakma and Bru refugees can create civil unrests. Surprisingly, even kindred Chins tribes are discriminated in Mizoram. The implication is, the ILP is not the panacea for this problem for there are so many other factors behind the fear of demography shifts, needing different treatments. Sometimes the fear of marginalisation by outsiders is real, as in the case of Nagaland and even Assam. In other cases it is plain paranoia. The racial venom more than apparent in the treatment of tiny populations of Chakma refugees in Arunachal and Mizoram would fall in this category.
Where then would Manipur`™s worry fit in this equation? We see no problem if the immigrant inflow is at a pace moderate enough for its impact to be absorbed by the host society organically, without any social dislocation. As for instance, in Manipur, many of the communities which have since become indigenised to varying degrees, are originally immigrant. Except amongst the fanatically purist, nobody believes these integrations have been the cause for any unique social disharmony. We can even say the same of many of the much newer immigrant populations too. It is only when there is an unregulated inflow that xenophobia becomes the overwhelming reaction. The cases of Tripura and Sikkim are too close in the memory of the region to not be alarmed.
The ILP issue in Manipur is today caught in an unexpected and unfortunate controversy, with the hills objecting to it. Hopefully the differences will be sorted out soon enough, for without doubt some sort of regulatory mechanism to check fresh influx of population from outside the state is necessary. This mechanism however must not be about shutting our doors altogether but of regulating. If the move does not go out of hand, and if it does not discriminate in unwarranted manners, it will have to be seen as a self-preservation instinct of small indigenous communities. The concern must however be put through a screen of truth so as to filter the real fears from the paranoiac. This screen of truth is also what is essential in reassessing and distinguishing the real from the unreal apprehensions in the hill-valley relationship too. In this regards, the meeting of intellectuals from both the geographical regions yesterday in Imphal to begin this important discourse is encouraging.