Of the three Bills passed by the Assembly last year, till recently awaiting the President of India’s assent, the original one, “The Manipur People Protection Bill 2015” was rejected, as was revealed by a local daily today. Without hastily attributing any ulterior motives for this to the President, let all campaigning for a law to restrict migration, and more importantly, the transfer of landed properties to migrants, take a deep breath and reflect on what might have gone wrong. For all one knows, the rejection could have all to do with certain legally unacceptable clauses in it, and we are here talking not just of national law but of international law as well. In particular, this would be the 1951 cut off year for deciding who is “Manipur People” that this Bill seeks. No law will allow the disenfranchisement of somebody who has stayed in a place for so long. Let us be advised to continue to belong with the international community and civilisation. Let the obdurate amongst us not say to hell with national or international law. Remember even a powerful organisation that the LTTE once was, got undone precisely because of such arrogance, and the international community declared them rogues, stifling them to their ultimate death. Next door in Myanmar, we see this mistake being repeated in the way the country is treating the Rohingyas, and there are even prominent democratic voices asking for the revocation of the Nobel Peace Prize that Aung San Suu Kyi won, as she too is maintaining an approving silence on the manner the Rohingya’s are being treated by the government she is a key mentor of. What Myanmar has gained so far in terms of international support can tragically get undone on the Rohingya issue too. Let us not choose to be in this boat. It is pertinent to note that the other two bills, the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (Seventh Amendment) Bill, 2015, and the Manipur Shops and Establishments (Second Amendment) Bill, 2015, have not been rejected but returned for further discussions and rectifications. In all probability, what will be necessary for these two Bills, will be to remove the references to the first Bill defining “Manipur People”. This done, there should be no room legally for the President to reject them, for they both only seek amendments to existing Acts, and the hills need not fear them for they are both valley specific Acts.
However, since these two amendment Bills seek to prevent transfers of landed properties to non-domiciles, there will have to be another Bill to decide who is a domicile. There are a few ways we can think of to skirt this problem. There must be other ways too and it would be the duty of our intelligentsia to share them if anybody among them can think of one or more. One way we can think of is to focus on prevention of land transfers to non-domiciles alone, and not their disenfranchisement. This way, migrants can come but not settle permanently, and as IFP has been consistent in pointing out, this is how it is in states like Himachal Pradesh. To such a Bill, there is unlikely to be any legal hurdle, and if such a Bill is still blocked by the President of India, then it would no longer be unreasonable to attribute the familiar charges of discrimination. The other way of getting about the problem would be to water down the grandiose definition of “Manipur People” and simply define “Valley People” with a reasonable base year of settlement. The valley is where the problem is, and we are seeing this even in the sharp divide in the current agitation between the valley and the hills. The lands in the hill are already protected, it is the valley which is vulnerable, and so if the valley land is also sought to be protected, the purpose will be well served. You don’t need a Rs. 5,000 carbon steel, razor sharp, hunting knife to sharpen pencils. A simple, Rs. 5 pencil sharpener will do as good a job.
As for the hill-valley divide in Manipur, there is no point in even pretending there isn’t one. Citing folklores and mythologies will not do much patching up either. If reconciliation is needed or possible at all, it has to be through a more imaginative approach. A resort to democratic values is perhaps the way, where each side is willing to reach a give and take settlement, where decisions are consensual, and values are uniform and shared. This is not a resignation though. Strictly from the Freudian outlook, we still see embers of hope even in the darkness we are in today. As the cliché goes, love and hate are the two sides of the same coin. From this vantage, indifference is what is truly cynical, and this we are not. You cannot love or hate a stranger. Again, equally tellingly, you cannot hate somebody you do not want to be, or care to be. Hate is a dangerous sentiment and can destroy self and others, but it is not completely untrue that you can only hate somebody you love.