Another Crossroads

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The time has again come for Manipur to do some serious introspection. If the different communities must remain together within a single map, it must have to be as willing partners. At this moment, it is not sure if this is the case at all. Manipur is so terribly and depressingly divided on multiple fronts. The much talked about hill-valley divide may be the most visible, but the division within goes much deeper, as anybody in the state and serious observers from anywhere would be aware of. The issue of the Sadar Hills and indeed similar demands for the formation of new districts have demonstrated this beyond any doubt. Sometimes, the centrifugal forces pulling away from Manipur are so brazen that it is difficult to imagine how many communities living within the boundaries of the state actually share an interest in the territorial and emotional integrity of their home state. Indeed, it is even difficult to claim with any certainty how many who live in Manipur would actually with comfort like to call Manipur their home, that is besides the majority community, the Meiteis, who for various reasons, many of which beyond easy control of anybody, have also come to be referred to by many as Manipuri, as if the term Manipuri denotes an ethnic identity and not a citizenship status. This is unfortunate, for in an ideal situation, every citizen of Manipur should be a Manipuri. It would also be in the interest of the state to undo the reverse trend.

But at this moment, a way must be found to determine how many would like to remain emotionally affiliated to Manipur. This is particularly relevant in the face of reports that an agreement on a supra state arrangement between the NSCN(IM) and the Government of India is imminent. Although from preliminary reports, the proposed agreement does seem to be another way of sugar-coating the status quo, the fact remains that there would be a shadow of a Greater Nagaland in the agreement. Posters in Naga dominated districts that greet any visiting Central government official and journalist from outside the state also pronounce it quite clear that Nagas, or at least many Nagas, do not want to be associated with Manipur anymore and are drunk on the idea of an integrated Greater Nagaland. There would be Nagas who think otherwise, but as in all cases of hawks and doves made to articulate their aspirations from a single platform, only the hawks normally are heard. This would is especially so when dissent is extremely liable to be met with extreme violence. We all know this is also very much the reality. The ambush on the late MLA Wungnaoshang Keishing from the Phungyar Assembly Constituency, and sport minister, D.D. Thaisii, are evidence enough. All the same, we are of the opinion that forced unions are meaningless, only a willing partnership can be fruitful.

Again, even if the supra state arrangement comes to be adopted, we are at a loss as to what territory would be considered as belonging to not just the Nagas, but any single community as such. We are witnessing the tussle over Sadar Hills currently indicating the trouble potential there is in any effort to demarcate territory on ethnic lines anymore. It should also be evident to one and all that all claims to territory overlap considerably between various ethnic groups. Under the circumstance, it would be expectedly difficult to arbitrate on whose claim should be given more weight. Vast tracks of long uninhabited and uncultivated lands that the Nagas claim as their ancestral land could also now be the current homes of the Kukis and Nepalis. They could also be the ancient trade routes that linked the erstwhile kingdom of Manipur to South East Asia to the east and the plains of Assam and Bengal to the west. This difficulty in reconciling notions of overlapping ethnic homelands and living spaces has been the cause of many dangerous passions and conflicts in the past. However, if an amicable demarcation is possible, perhaps a friendly parting of ways is the best way forward. Let each ethnic community be allowed to be true to their instincts and aspirations, and this include the majority community. If a partnership is not possible, let each be left alone to be themselves freely and with no burdens of trying to live up to another’s expectation.

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