Idea of Manipur and elusive consensus

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Finally, the all-party delegation met Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh amidst strong protests in front of Manipur Bhavan, Delhi by both proponents and antagonists of the three Bills passed by the Manipur Legislative Assembly on August 31 last year. The Home Minister made it clear that there is no harm in enacting legislation for protection of the indigenous people of Manipur provided there is a consensus among all the communities. We think the trickiest part lies on bringing a consensus as far as the three Bills or any legislation for protection of the indigenous people is concerned. Any attempt to bring a consensus on any political issue always evokes a question on the idea of Manipur and its indigenous people. Introspecting into the very idea of Manipur would demand critical analysis of the Kuki worldview, Naga worldview and the Meitei worldview. Primarily the three Bills are meant to provide a constitutional safeguard to all the indigenous people of the land but the Bills are being opposed by two major indigenous communities of the land. When any individual or group of people could not identify themselves as the indigenous people of Manipur, the very idea of protection of indigenous people becomes an anathema to the particular group. Of all the factors fuelling inter-community rivalry and distrust, the absence of a comprehensive Manipuri identity is the biggest challenge. When one cannot identify himself or herself as a Manipuri, anything that is beneficial to Manipur can be seen as a disadvantage. After one group of people struggled for months to enact legislation for protection of indigenous people, other groups have been demanding withdrawal or rejection of the same Bills. This is the paradox embedded within the varied concepts and understandings of Manipur and anything that is indigenous to the land.
Whereas Manipur was/is a plural society where different communities have been living together since ages, ethnic nationalism which is of very recent origin, more precisely after the merger of Manipur into the Indian Union, has already taken a heavy toll on the pluralistic character of the society. Any political agenda put up or pursued by one group is always suspected and often opposed by the other groups and vice-versa. We are afraid, if this is exactly the case with the three Bills which have now become a bone of contention. This is no longer a secret that all these groups have territorial aspirations and all of them want to have the lion’s share of the pie called Manipur. This is the larger picture and the root cause of the internal political conflicts which have been challenging the very idea of a pluralistic Manipur. Until and unless, these conflicts are resolved to the satisfaction of all parties, consensus, we fear, will always elude any political agenda raised by any group. Now the most important Bill namely the Protection of Manipur People Bill 2015 has been literally rejected by the Government of India. Still New Delhi is open to the idea of enacting a new legislation provided there is consensus. The champions and antagonists of the three Bills must talk directly, thrash out their differences if possible and if not, they should at least come to a negotiated settlement. The pluralistic character of Manipuri society should be taken into account while working out any solution and for any solution to be durable, it must be comprehensive enough.

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