It is unfortunate that the matter of a legislation to check population influx into Manipur and also the danger of demographic overturn in the state, remains unresolved. It is even more unfortunate that the matter has been interpreted so radically different by different sections of the populations. The dissenting voice has come primarily from the Churachandpur district, where the bodies of nine protestors killed in firing by security forces as well as in the inferno of burning bungalows, on the night of explosive rage following the passing of three bills which together were meant to do what the Inner Line Permit System does, still remain unburied. Six houses of political leaders from the district were also razed to the grounds in arson attacks by the enraged mob on the night. The time is long overdue for all to sit down and find out what exactly are wrong with the three bills. Of the three, only one, namely “The Protection of Manipur People Bill 2015” is brand new, and the other two, namely “The Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (Seventh Amendment) Bill 2015” and “The Manipur Shops and Establishment (Second Amendment) Bill 2015”, are existing laws sought to be toughened a little to suit the needs of the changing time. In this dissection, what needs to be done is to involve the service of known neutral legal luminaries and constitutional experts from outside the state to eliminate all doubts they represent vested interests. This is important, for without the service of such experts, in Manipur’s brand of street-fighting politics, there are many who by the force of their crowd swaying rhetoric, are wont to proclaim there are no greater experts on any matter under the sun, than themselves. The law is a civilised way of resolving conflict, it is therefore essential that good and just laws are made to address new problems that invariably emerge with the passage of time. Status quo is seldom helpful, for without respite ‘the times they are a changin’, as Bob Dylan sang in the turbulent 1960s.
Let there be no doubt that the apprehension of demographic upset is not unique to Manipur. In fact more deep rooted conflicts are currently being witnessed in Nepal and Myanmar, to name just two relatively new democracies. Closer home, the recent Assembly election in Assam, the result of which will be known soon, was literally fought primarily on this issue. Come to think of it, this problem is too closely and frequently juxtaposed with democracy, for this association to be seen as mere coincidence. After all, democracy is also a number game, and in a society which has still not imbibed the idea of liberalism, this has proven dangerous, for in illiberal societies, as scholars have repeatedly pointed out, democracy divides and antagonises populations. The examples are too many. It was the switch to democracy which resulted in the bloody ethnic cleansing in the former Yogoslavia ultimately sounding the country’s death knell. Look also at what the ill-conceived forceful export of democracy by the United States to Iraq and now Syria has done to these countries. In Nepal, the new constitution’s controversial effort is to ensure the Madhesis in the plains of Terai, close ethnic cousins of people in Bihar and UP, do not usurp democratic Nepal’s state power, for indeed, united the Madhesis would form the majority. In Myanmar, the Rohingyas may not be in majority, but neighbouring Bangladesh, the people of whom are the Rohingyas’ ethnic cousins, number more than two and half times the population of Myanmar. Tragic as the case may be, Myanmar’s demographic fear should be given a perspective and not interpreted as merely a haughty show of intolerance and xenophobia.
Returning to the three ILPS bills, it is not as if the bills have not undergone scrutiny before they were introduced and finally passed by the Manipur State Assembly, although the contention now is that this scrutiny has not been adequate, as it was rushed and pressured by the street violence in the valley districts while they were in the making. Tribal MLAs, including the six from Churachandpur district whose homes went up in flames, did not object to the bills, probably seeing no dangers in them for the hills. From the streets they are being accused of selling out tribal interests, presuming in the process, a superiority of vision as seen from the streets over what the elected representatives see from their vantage of power. But without going into a witch-hunt, or nit-picking on whose vantage is more tenable, let a resolution be sought by another examination of the bills. For the time being, let them also be applicable only to the valley districts, just at the MLR&LR Act is meant only for the valley.