Deepen Federalism

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The United Naga Council’s, UNC, talks with representatives of the Central and State governments seem to be heading nowhere. In all probability it is doomed to end in a hopeless deadlock for it is unlikely the Manipur government would ever agree to surrender any part of its administrative domain to any interest group. It is also unlikely that the UNC was not aware of this when it decided to make this demand, and in this sense, the demand could be a matter political posturing only, in the hope that the stir it creates becomes a publicity handle for the demand for a Naga integration from a good section of the Naga population in Manipur, and most strongly pushed by the NSCN(IM). In any case, the Manipur government would be powerless to go ahead to meet this demand even in a hypothetical situation it is willing to do so, for there is also a powerful Manipur integrity lobby which can be equally adamant and aggressive in holding on to its stand of not allowing any concession on the issue of Manipur’s territorial integrity.

However, even if the current nature of the UNC’s demand seems beyond easy fulfilment, the fact that the demand has come about should not be taken lightly. Maybe, it is a radical restructuring of the administrative system of the Manipur government which is called for to accommodate a sublimated essence of this demand. What could be thought of is a stronger and newer federal relation between the various districts and not necessarily one designed for any particular community. In other words, the same facilities and powers, and also a greater autonomy in the exercise of these powers, should be accorded to all districts. In the case of Imphal, maybe it would be good to refer to some working models, such as Delhi. Delhi is a full-fledged state and also the national capital, and therefore has two separate but overlapping administrations. In the same manner, the two Imphal districts could also given the newly envisaged and empowered autonomous districts status but also at the same time be the state capital. This is essential, for the state administration as a whole has to have a gravitating point at a capital. Or alternatively, the Imphal municipal area could be marked out as the cosmopolitan capital area where a more universal set of administrative norms could be practised so as to be able to live up to the expectation of its wide mix of occupations and peoples. The rest of the two districts could be part of the new federal structure, with variations in administrative mechanisms and land revenue laws etc, as per their needs. The moot point is, such autonomy should not be reserved for just one set of interest group or ethnic group alone, but for all the different groups in the state. Equally importantly, there should be some degree of uniformity of laws and norms amongst each of these federating units so as not to create any sense of preferential treatment or injustice to any other units.

These are just some rough ideas how the present problem could be resolved, but it is more than likely they would not be acceptable to either side of the fence. On the government’s side the reason would most likely be because it would not like to risk upsetting the applecart. It surely would hold out the dictum, why fix something if it is not broken as alibi. We tend to agree somewhat. For the state administrative mechanism may be creaking, but it is not fundamentally broken yet. Given the will, it can be repaired, and indeed there can be nothing better if this was to be done, effectively and to the satisfaction of all parties. On the side of those demanding separation, the objections to the new federal arrangement would probably be on account of what has become obvious to everyone. This demand is not solely about improving administration, but one informed and tinged by the politics of separation and segregation which Manipur and indeed the entire troubled region of Northeast India has become so familiar with. This political nature of the demand for separation was also evident in the fact that another smaller demand for separation, with ostensibly an eye on administrative convenience: that of bifurcating Ukhrul into two different districts just as Imphal was bifurcated into Imphal West and East, was frowned upon and indeed opposed vehemently from certain quarters. But it is time for all to stop thinking of confrontation and instead begin applying their minds on how best solutions which promise a win-win situation can be worked out. Could it be a question of further deepening federalism as we have suggested, and indeed an academic turn politician had with the same ideal once launched a state political party which unfortunately was to be swallowed by the predatory political culture of the state and ultimately destroyed?

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