The intriguing picture which suddenly and mysteriously made an appearance on the social media networking site Facebook is creating quite a stir. We are withholding publishing anything on it pending a government confirmation on the picture’s veracity, considering its sensitivity, and also with the concern that if it is a fabrication, it can cause damages to reputations and careers. Very briefly, the picture shows the leader of the JCILPS movement, Khomdram Ratan alongside some known faces of the banned organisation, UNLF, holding a flag of the party together, and in a posture that suggests a fisted salute in unison. As expected, in the mad journalistic race to be one up, the picture has ostensibly been downloaded from Facebook and used in a national daily of repute already, without of course saying nothing of the origin or date or the occasion shown in the picture.
Why is this picture intriguing? We will explain. Among the four in the picture is the known face of the organisation secretary of the UNLF, Nongyai. The fact is, this man has been in the custody of the NIA since mid-2010 facing trial in the NIA court along with the former UNLF chief, R.K. Meghen, who was arrested one year later from Bangladesh. All these were widely reported in the Manipur media. In other words, the picture, even it is authentic, will have to be at least six years old, with the possibility that it dates back much earlier. The next question that follows may not be difficult to answer. Why has the picture been released by whoever has done it, at this juncture? The obvious answer that it was meant to discredit the leadership of those agitating for the implementation of a set of legislations which together are meant to do what the Inner Line Permit System, ILPS, does, is not without legitimacy. In a conflicting scenario, it is a perfectly legitimate strategy of any of the conflicting parties to put the opponent or opponents in bad light. Nobody needs to read Kautilya or Machiavelli or Sun Tzu to understand this, and even those at the receiving end should understand this.
But there is more to the matter than just this. It is not difficult to guess where the picture, if it is authentic, might have emanated from. In all probability it is from a captured laptop or pen drive from the UNLF men arrested in 2010 or 2011, for the picture does not suggest a media event, where photographers were allowed free entry and participation. If our guess is correct, the picture would have been in official custody for at least six years. There are a number of questions which would follow from this in any honest inquest. First, if the picture emanated from an official source, why was it released so shadily on the lawless jungle of the social media and not via an open press conference or press release? This would have eliminated all doubts about the veracity of the picture or the intent of its being made public. As expected, the picture is generating only unhealthy interpretations and unwarranted finger pointing, dividing further the already badly ethnically riven Manipur society. Even those many of us who have been disapproving of the manner the Inner Line agitations were unfolding, and also sceptical about some of the clauses in the three bills, in particular the cut off year of 1951, cannot help being outraged at this.
But there are more serious questions unanswered, although the latest news is that the Manipur government has declared the JCILPS leader Khomdram Ratan an outlaw with a prize on his head. Presuming the picture is authentic, and presuming it has been in the custody of the intelligence agencies for all of six years or more, why was the man not arrested earlier? For indeed the picture, if authentic, is a clinching proof of his close association with an unlawful organisation. Were the authorities who had the picture unsure of its authenticity? In fact, the original question, is it authentic at all, has still not been answered convincingly. It would also be interesting to know if the Manipur government’s decision to outlaw the man today is based on a Facebook picture of doubtful origin and authenticity, or else if it has the original picture in its custody as its proof of the man’s guilt. If the Manipur government is outlawing somebody on the basis of a picture mysteriously appearing on Facebook, all we can say is that it is inviting the law to laugh at it yet again. As for us, until the source of the picture as well as the authenticity of the picture is clear, we will refrain all temptations to join the mad journalistic race or be judgmental on the matter, even if a section of the national media has chosen to echo a post on Facebook to do such a sensitive story. Can somebody also please confirm if the WWW in web URLs does not stand for Wild Wide Web?