By Amar Yumnam
There is a saying and a lovely one at that which goes as: “If you love a bird, set it free. If it does not come back it was never yours.” I now see a strong relevance of this sane advice the more we examine the policies and
approaches of the government of India to matters relating to Manipur. Here I am not asking for freeing the bird definitely not in the sense of allowing Manipur to secede from India, but in the definitive sense of trusting one’s partner. If one cannot trust a partner, and always treats with a suspicious eye and a controlling attitude, well there is no meaning for the union to continue.
No More Paternalism: We are aware of the arguments which prevailed in the corridors of the Planning Commission and the Delhi babudom during the 1950s emphasizing the necessity for restricting the exposure of the people of the North-East and ipso facto Manipur to the outside world. The rationale was one of fear that the undeveloped people might be exploited by the outsiders. This absolutely paternalistic approach served two purposes at least. First, the growth of competitive capability of the people of the North East could be stunted. This further served the other important purpose of permanently establishing the superiority of the Delhiwallahs and thus purposive role of dictating every possible rules of engagement for the people of the region, particularly Manipur.
This approach has prevented the emergence of convergence of preferences of the common people of Manipur and the Babus in Delhi. Of course this definitely has not served the purpose of nation-building founded on macro-wide commitment to common causes on equal footing.
Exceptionalism: I have a brother in the topmost national university of India, Jawaharlal Nehru University; A. Bimol Akoijam is his name. He reiterates the doctrine of exceptions being adopted by the Government of India on critical issues relating to Manipur. I am not very conversant with the theoretical frame of his approach. But I must say that exceptions amounting to the paternalism I have mentioned above are just irritating to say the least. Manipur today is not the same as it was forty or fifty years ago. Today we have got people who can read and write – who can read and understand every policy statement and design of the Government of India.
Irritants Galore: To begin with there is this irritant empowering the armed forces with such “rules of engagement” as to pull trigger without accountability. This has been such a long irritant causing much anger and havoc to the hearts of the people of Manipur. The pleasure creating power of this irritant is that the armed forces have now emerged as a vested interest group in so far as this legislation is concerned.
Another equally paternalistic and colonial irritant has been the restrictions imposed on the entry of foreigners to Manipur. I do not find as funny a legislation as this one anywhere else under the sun. We cannot be sure of other solar systems for we do not yet have sufficient information, but we are cock-sure of this solar system at least.
Is not it funny and absolutely irritating that the same foreigner whom I meet I Delhi or anyone in Delhi meets cannot be allowed to enter Manipur. Semi-fortunately, it has now been announced that this restriction would now be relaxed. Here I am reminded of the doctrine of exceptions Bimol uses so often while discussing Manipur; mind you, we discuss Manipur and Indian policy a lot as these do not require permission from our ‘paternalists’ in Delhi and also there is no Delhi legislation banning personal discussions on serious matters among Manipuris.
In this relaxation of restrictions on entry by the foreigners, as said there are exceptions incorporated. First, the relaxation is for one year only. Manipur is a laboratory and Manipuris are guinea-pigs. Secondly, there are countries which still require restrictions, the most prominent of which is China.
Chinese Exception: The exception of the Chinese from the relaxation is another latest irritant to the Manipuris emanating from the policy-makers in Delhi. This establishes the absurdity, paradox and lack of perspective in India’s China policy.
Before anything else, I must emphasise that, despite the differences in language and country, Manipuris do not find it difficult to establish rapport with the Chinese without losing time. In fact, the difference in language, in spite of the demographic and cultural affinity, rather arouses very friendly curiosity. Now the government of India should rather be applying her mind on how to capitalize on this mutual closeness of the Manipuris and the Chinese. Remember, when they meet, they definitely do not talk about separation from India and making pieces of the Indian territoriality. They do of course talk about culture, affinity and possible ways for greater interactions.
Now, if the Government of India sincerely wishes to improve her ties and take advantage of the rising China, the best way to achieve this is by banking on the capability of the Manipuris. Of course this calls for a massive change of attitude among the Indian policy makers.
When it comes to Chinese exception, another interesting fact comes out. Let me give a real example. The Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences, the Yunnan University and Sichuan University have strong and continuous academic relationships with the Calcutta University, Jadavpur University and the Vishwa Bharati University. Now under the exception of the Chinese, the government of India is going to exclude Manipur University from any of such relationships. The paradox of this exclusion is that social inclusion is the agenda of both the present Prime Minister of India and the Eleventh Five Year Plan. Are we going to say that there are exceptions to social inclusion/exclusion again when it comes to Manipur?
Well for me, as I implied in the beginning, it would be in the interest of India to make the Manipur policies more matured based on trust rather than adopting a colonial approach.
Camp: Tsinghua University, Beijing.