This is not meant as a pun. This is not about territorial ambitions either. Nor is it a hint or wish for the arrival of a cultural expansionist agenda. On the other hand, this is just a loud thinking on what it is that would make Manipur greater than what it is today – greater in the sense of quality, not quantity. Post-colonial Manipur is in its mid-60s and as a full-fledged state of India, only a few years younger. Although their numbers naturally would be on the decline as the years pass by, there are still many who saw what it was like before this period and therefore able to make a comparison between then and now, and we wish they would do this from the heart and make it known, so as to provide more accurate reference points in any assessment of the present. In the absence of these, perspectives are prone to become distorted, especially in times of jingoistic nationalism. A recollection of some of the wellknown human development indexes would be valuable. As for instance, what were the conditions of the roads, health facilities, public services, infant mortality, maternity health, basic education etc? What was the nature of the economy and therefore the living conditions of the people in the hills and the valley? What was the level of security the average individual enjoyed? The last question is interesting, and if Steven Pinker’s contention in “Better Angels of Our Nature” is to be believed, the modern times are the safest for the individual, for he or she is three to four times less likely to die at the hands of another human now than in days of yore. Pinker’s theory has been contested by many wellknown critics, saying while this may be true of the West, it is not so for those places the West wages war on. All the same, generally, there is much truth in what Pinker contends. Even a few decades ago, many localities even within Imphal were not safe for strangers. Today, this proposition sounds absurd. It is then time, not just for the older generation, but the current one too, to sit down and look back as well as ahead, weigh its past with its present and consider realistically what it wants the future to be, or more pertinently, what it wants the future to be for their children and grandchildren.
It is with these thoughts that we ruminated on what might constitute a “Greater Manipur” and we are convinced this has to begin first and foremost with a journey to the past, and confront the reality of the time. It is amazing that such journeys have been made in Manipur’s world of art. The most memorable is the metaphoric and almost Freudian journey Ratan Thiyam makes his characters take in his acclaimed lyrical allegory, “Nine Hills One Valley”. In this play, the director awakens the seven Maichou, the writers of the Puya of yore, and make them assess the present world. History must not be allowed to become a selfie of the nationalists, although this is a predominant trend. It would be worth recalling how in neighbouring Nagaland, former chief minister, S.C. Jamir’s attempt three decades ago to look beyond a selfie history of the Nagas, in a booklet called “Bedrock of Naga Society” was violently attacked by nationalists in the state. Manipur will be no better, as the extreme revivalist movements in the present days will bear testimony. There would have been many great things in the place’s past, but to believe everything about the past was glory, and that salvation lies in a return to this ‘glorious’ past, would be pushing the contours of this selfie towards the grotesque.
We must admit we did have the slogan of “Greater Nagaland” in mind in coming up with this thought, but definitely not as an adversarial foil. In fact, on this question we do feel, the two entities must soften towards each other, and in the process discover commonalities and the needs for, or the inevitability of, peaceful coexistence under whatever the political circumstance history lands the two, and others in the region, in. However, given the nature of the tides of the time, we do honestly believe there are certain, definite, predetermined lines beyond which no political dialogue by the two, individually or collectively, can yield meaningful goals. The question of sovereignty for instance, as the prolonged Naga peace dialogue is proving to be. The intriguing question is also, what exactly should constitute sovereignty in the present context? If freedom is desirable, what is it that we want to be free of or from? Oppressive politics, corruption, poverty…?