Editorial – Number Matters

451

Original Source: The Imphal Free Press

Tussles over the census exercises have become customary in Manipur since particularly the last census, the result of which were disputed on account of what seemed abnormal rises in populations in certain pockets of the state that defied logic. Ten years later there are still protests against the current enumeration process, especially in the hill districts. It is obvious that the mistrust sown 10 years ago has not yet been allayed adequately. There are however other factors accentuating the “census contest”, if it can be referred as such. The power equation of democracy hinges on numbers and it is understandable that different communities, especially those who feel marginalised because of demographic disadvantages, would see the census exercise as a means to augment the situation. There would also thereby be mutual suspicions that every other community is resorting to these means, thus not joining the game would be about conceding defeat before the match has even begun. Nothing can be more fortunate than this development, and a lot of the blame must be borne by the government officials in previous censuses who were given charge to do house to house surveys to determined not just the population fluxes but also the way citizens of the country live. In these cases, for far too often, they have been known to fill up the census forms from hearsay only without even bothering to visit the sites of surveys. The government must make such neglect of duty sternly punishable so that such criminal laxity on matters of profound implications on the health of the society, are done away with once and for all. This round of census exercise must hence be conducted strictly and by the rule book alone.

While the census exercises are being conducted, the government must however consider addressing some of the grievances raised especially by the hill communities on constituency delimitation. The claim that many hill constituencies are far too big compared to average valley constituencies is an issue to be looked into. Redrawing constituency in the Manipur situation would create a lot of technical problems which would cause injustices to many. This is so because the hill constituencies are reserved constituencies. If for instance some valley segments were to be incorporated into the hill sectors, it would mean these constituencies would also become reserved, thereby disenfranchising electorates in the non-reserved categories. Time and again we keep hearing about the seven Assembly segments in the Thoubal district which are clubbed with the Outer Manipur Parliamentary Constituency and how this has meant the deprivation of certain constitutional electoral rights to the non-tribal residents. We cannot allow more such unconstitutional situations knowingly. What can however be done is to identify the oversized hill Assembly constituencies and look for ways to split them thereby have more reserved constituencies within the reserved districts only. The aim must be to rationalise and have all constituencies in the state be of approximately one size. This way the charges of disproportionate representation in the power corridors would be dispelled. Once upon a time, Manipur’s liberal credentials in its democratic practices was admirable. Leaders were leaders of the state first and champions of their individual communities next. Which is why a Muslim (Meitei Pangal), a community accounting for only 7 percent of the state population, could be accepted as the chief minister by the people, just as two Nagas were in subsequent years. Now the ethnic polarisation has reached such a height that the epitaph of such a liberal political atmosphere may perhaps have been already written in indelible ink.

Other than numbers, another issue is vital in the power equation – language. On this front at least, Manipur has been doing better than most other Northeast states. While a lingua franca is essential, all other languages must be given a place and encouragement to develop. Although not without hiccups, the state has been doing precisely this. By contrast, in neighbouring Mizoram for instance, this is not the case at all. The different Kuki-Zomi groups, each of which are able to assert their individual identities and languages in Manipur, have all ended up being flattened into the generic Mizo identity in Mizoram, speaking only the Lushai language which is now known as Mizo. Manipur needs to build on these liberal traits. Introduce it where it is non-existent and polish up where traces of it are already in place.

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