There is something admirable about the Constitution of India as a living document. Take for example, the honesty with which it records the historicity of the emergence of this country, something that one can see in its definition of Manipur, which goes as follow:
Manipur: The territory which immediately before the commencement of this Constitution was being administered as if it were a Chief Commissioner’s Province under the name of Manipur.’ — First Schedule of the Constitution of India
While recognizing Manipur as one of the constituent states of the Indian Union, it did acknowledge that it is a geo-political entity that existed before the Constitution itself. And more importantly, it also genuinely and fearlessly admits that it existed as a ‘Chief Commissioner’s Province’.
The makers of the Constitution showed the courage and honesty not to shy away from admitting the historicity of this geo-political entity. By recognizing this entity as a ‘Chief Commissioner’s Province’ that preceded the Constitution itself, the makers of the Constitution did not foreclose or deny the history of when, how and why this entity came to be a ‘Chief Commissioner’s Province’, and what was it before it became that ‘Province’ as well.
It is with that sincerity, it also conveys, insofar as this definition is a part of the First Schedule of the Constitution, that this geo-political entity called ‘Manipur’ can exist as long as the Parliament of the largest democracy in the world wants it to be. For, like all other constituent ‘states’ of the Union, with a simple majority of the Parliament can change the name of the state or its boundary or merge the territory with any other state.
In this sense, the makers of the Indian Constitution are far more honest than many people who speak about and for Manipur, especially in that state, insofar it is atleast honest in recognizing Manipur as what it was and what it is.
Towards Decadence: Dishonesty and its consequence
Historically speaking, armed insurgency in Manipur is related to that transforming moment in 1949 when Manipur came to be a ‘Chief Commissioner’s Province’. It was sparked off by an awareness that ‘Manipur’ does not have the self-agency and the power to remain as an entity, leave alone to determine its own life.
However, the phenomenon has never been acknowledged as such by the Government of India, and to a great extent by the political leaders as well as the middle class in Manipur. It has been seen as a ‘law and order’ issue at best and a criminal phenomenon at worst. Thus, unlike the political initiative in other places like Kashmir, for that matter, to some extent, in Nagaland, there has been hardly any move to treat the issue at a political level so far.
Reducing the issue to ‘underdevelopment’, ‘unemployment’ etc, money have been pumped in wInstead, reducing the issue to ‘underdevelopment’, ‘unemployment’ etc, money have been pumped in without establishing a system of accountability. On the other hand, the rule of law and the civilian authority have been systematically subverted over the years through the imposition of AFSPA. This latter phenomenon has not only complimented the culture of lack of accountability in other domains of public life but also help in militarizing the civilian administration, particularly the police, which subsequently has affected the nature of criminal justice system in the state. ithout establishing a system of accountability. On the other hand, rule of law and civilian authority have been systematically subverted over the years through the imposition of AFSPA. This latter phenomenon has not only complimented the culture of lack of accountability in other domains of public life but also help in militarizing the civilian administration, particularly police which subsequently affected the nature of criminal justice system in the state.
Such ethos of violence, intimidation, and lack of accountability that emanate from the state have percolated to the domain of society (civil society as well). Subsequently, a culture violence and intimidation, of diktats and dictates and (recently) mob mentality, all with no accountability have come to rule the roosts in non-state domain as well. In short, it marks the decadence that Manipur has become today, something that many have expressed in newspaper editorials and social net-work sites.
What has made such a spectre of decadence possible is also the effect of the larger context of ‘Patron-Client’ structure that marks the relationship between New Delhi and Imphal. It is worth reminding that Manipur, state with a history of popular democratic assertion against the feudal system of monarchy that had subsequently led to the establishment of representative government and popular Assembly in the state, was put under the direct bureaucratic rule by New Delhi for about a quarter of a century, beginning with the ‘take over’ of the state by New Delhi on 15th October, 1949 following the the controversial ‘Merger Agreement’. That subversion of democracy by the newly constituted democratic republic in South Asia was undoubtedly an act that re-invented and reinforced the colonial ‘Paramount Power’ which had earlier lapsed on the midnight of 14th August, 1947 as per the Indian Independence Act. Groomed under that system, and backed up a political economy that ties the state to a dependence syndrome, subversion was more or less complete by the turn of 21st century.
Indeed, years of denial and distortions of the issues that are associated with the decade old armed insurgency have led to confusions, chaos and criminalization of the phenomenon and public life as well. Incidentally, counter-insurgency has also come to play a crucial role in fragmenting an already weaken polity of this geo-political entity called Manipur. Consequence is the mess that Manipur has become what it is today.
Fiction and Nostalgia: Beyond beating around the Bush
However, this is not to deny the agency of the people. Their responses play a major role in the making of the state of affairs in Manipur. In fact, they must bear the major responsibility for the mess. However, it is also equally important to recognize the overriding political economy, backed up by the agencies and institutions of the post-colonial state, within which the agency of the people is located.
For instance, the culture of contract and easy/fast money do not affect only the politicians, who rule the state with a sense of ‘what will Delhi say’; it affects people outside the politician-bureaucrat matrix in the state. Indeed, to sense the extent of its impact, one only has to look around to feel and see the signs of what that ‘easy money’ does, from elections and people involved in it to the cases of violence and intimidation, from the unabashed display of wealth by those who have access to the wealth of the state to those people who seek their shares of the spoil in a state and donor driven economy. That’s the ‘ground reality’ which points to the power of that larger context of political economy.
But the most critical effects of that context is the loss of selfhood of the people of the state. It is so poignantly conveyed by the fact for most people in that state do not realize that Manipur is a nostalgia that is sustained by a constitutional fiction or inversely, that it is a constitutional fiction which allows some memory to forget that their Manipur is in reality a nostalgia. Barely conscious of that loss, they continue to beat around the bush by asking for this or that demand (e.g., ST status or ILP), sporadically submitting memorandum to New Delhi, one after another.
Tellingly, people tend to forget that ‘armed insurgency’ or events of June 2001 and July 2004 or demand for ILP or ST, all points to the challenges that pertain to the question of survival of a geo-political entity called ‘Manipur’ and its people, and their right to a life with dignity. And simultaneously they are also oblivious of this fact that such issues of survival cannot be reduced to a piece-meal approach or demands, that too, without confronting the question of what is Manipur, what it ought to be and can be, and what it should/would have to sustain and justify its existence.
Hence, far from beating around the bush and by engaging in piece-meal demands (and draining energy through the ensuing squabbling), all those who are divided by organizations with their corresponding ‘demands’, it is time to come together and start deliberating and mobilizing people around the question of what is Manipur, what it ought to be and what concretely such a Manipur must have in the light of the contemporary and emerging regional and global processes and forces. Incidentally, each organization seems to justify its unique’ existence through the demand(s) it puts forward, and each seems to be fighting for its own legitimacy rather than the state. Had it not been the case, one suspects, coming together would not have been a difficult task for these organizations which seem to be pursuing disparate agendas.
It must be reiterated that it is already late for them to realize that one cannot exists as a fiction with a nostalgia. They must begin to search for tangible ground for their self-existence as a people. Mobilizing people around what Manipur is and what it ought to be in the light of its own weakness and strengths within the emerging global and regional contexts will go a long way in achieving that reality. Atleast, that will create the basic political consciousness and people’s power to sustain their existence in real terms rather than creating bubbles by flirting with the nostalgia that hides underneath a constitutional fiction called Manipur. As such, until people are able to do that, all the ‘demands’ shall remain anyway as echos rather than the people whose voice produces it in the first place.
** The article was first published as a note on author’s Facebook page. **