If diplomacy, as they say, is the art of the possible, then statesmanship should be defined as the commitment to make these possibilities ethical and acceptable. To this quality of statesmanship, we would also add that it is also about ensuring a solution reached on paper is practical and implementable. If the last is not so, all will prove futile, just as we have been told since nursery days, that ultimately the task is to bell the cat. These qualities of the diplomat and statesman are what we expect combined in our political leadership, in Manipur’s context today, the elected leadership of the Assembly variety and the self-anointed ones on the streets. No point arguing or lamenting this, for the fact is, what either does, have a direct bearing on everybody’s lives, and more often than not their decrees are enforced with violence if necessary. It has to be admitted these are days of sheer anarchy, when the Weberian idea of the State as the wielder of monopoly over “legitimate violence” has degenerated, and in the vacuum thus created, there are many who have come forward to claim their share of the handle to this “legitimate violence”. It does not matter for the moment if this is a result of the surrender of moral legitimacy to rule by those who are given the rein to rule by democratic mandates. Since correcting this moral corrosion cannot happen overnight, and that the problems we have in hand are immediate and cannot wait for the dawn of remorse on them, we have to move on to look for a way out, despite these handicaps.
To extend this prelude a little further, we are trying to play the role journalist playwright Arthur Miller once remarked famously that a good newspaper is a society talking to itself. With this in mind, we wish to reopen some of the issues setting aflame our society. The most urgent of these is the current agitation on the matter of the passage of the three bills which together are meant to do what the British era Inner Line Permit System does – halt unregulated migration and the threat of upsetting demographic profile of the state radically and irreversibly. This is not an unimportant issue or unreasonable concern, for democracy after all is a number game. Come to think of it, even the ongoing US election campaign has also been revolving quite strongly on their own version of the “ILPS” with the Republicans pushing it hard and the Democrats seeking moderation. In our situation we also know people in the hill districts, especially Churachandpur district, are unhappy with the bills, and have been opposing them and with tragic consequence as we have seen. Under the circumstance, whatever each side thinks or presumes the motives of either is, the need is for resolving this friction first. In doing so, our suggestion is for the agitation leaders of both the hills and valley to reflect on the idea of diplomacy and statesmanship as the art of the ethically possible and doable. It must address the need of the hour, but also allay all apprehensions of adverse fallouts on any party.
Our own assessment is, the three bills do not prohibit migrants, it only regulates, which is good. The only clause which may be too harsh and is expected to face legal hurdles, both of national and international laws, is the cut-off date of 1951 in defining “Manipur People”. Assam too once demanded 1951 cut-off year but even the compromise of 1971 was not implementable as we have seen. Migrant situation can become bad, but Manipur can hardly be said to be a lost case in the regard at this moment, as many other societies in the Northeast. All, even the smallest communities have still not lost their own mother tongues, cultures and ethnicities. State power is still in the hands of the locals therefore a measure of self-determination is guaranteed. Many still produce their own poetry, literature, theater, cinema, and with them, their inner beings still continue to grow in health and strength. There will be changes with time, as change is a given just as time is, but if these changes are within the capacity of the society to absorb and internalise without upsetting its own inherent organism, these changes are actually good. The same can be said of immigration. If the inflow of migrants is within the capacity of the host community to accommodate and absorb without detriment to itself, it can actually be beneficial for the society. They bring in fresh ideas, skills, outlooks and genes too. Manipur has been such a melting pot for ages, which explains its strength today. It is an anthropological truism that few or no society rigidly mono-cultural and mono-ethnic have survived the ravages of time. The resilient ones have. The danger is when migrants begin to outnumber the host communities, and this is why regulation is recommended, especially in view of Manipur’s imminent position as the crossroads to South Asia, East Asia and South East Asia, with the coming of India’s Act East Policy.