The old saying “the mountain did not come to Mahomet so Mahomet went to the mountain” comes to mind in any consideration of the gulf between aspiration and reality in Manipur today. The thought is important and relevant precisely because the prevailing attitude by and large is just the opposite in both the policy making circle as well as amongst radical dissenters to the establishment. Manipur must learn to adjust to the reality of the times, rather than wait for reality to change to suit the place’s aspirations. For this to happen, it must first and foremost make an assessment of what the current realities are as accurately as possible and in an informed manner. For far too often, analysts who have no knowledge of even the existence of updated data on the ground situation, much less made any serious studies of these data, and in fact do not even follow daily reportage of current events in newspapers or assessments of these issues in books written by others in positions that give them access to information, have been without scruples going about divining doom or salvation as if their words are revealed and irrefutable truths. This intellectual quackery must end if Manipur must find its moorings again and be prepared to meet the challenges of the future.
Issues in Manipur are complex and complicated in ways that can only be described as unique. The most profound of these is the nationality question. India’s quest for a unified sense of collective history, belonging and most importantly destiny, is still incomplete to say the least. In fact it is facing strong challenges in Kashmir and in the Northeast, including in Manipur. Issues in Kashmir are better known, thanks to the state’s proximity to Pakistan and the latter’s keen interest in it, making practically every move and every claim made in Kashmir material for screaming headlines in Indian newspapers and news channels. By comparison, the Northeast is virtually forgotten territory. Let issues of Kashmir be then, for there are no dearth of Kashmir experts in the media, academia, and indeed in the political circuits in New Delhi. It is therefore the Northeast question which is pertinent here. This geographical region, it is there for everybody to see, is the meeting point of South East Asia and South Asia. Politically, it is part of the South Asian subcontinent, but geographically and indeed culturally, it is closer to South East Asia. Because of Hinduism’s influence in Assam and in Manipur, for about the last 300 years in the case of Manipur, this hue has obviously changed considerably. In some cases, this has been even to the extent of historical memory coming be, in psychoanalytic terms, not just “replaced” but “displaced”. The misplaced myth of Manipur as the Manipur of the Hindu epic of Mahabharata may just be the strongest evidence of this bizarre psychological phenomenon. However, even if this were to be acknowledged, there can still be no dispute, that Hinduism’s influence in Manipur is strong, just as also in the claim that the ethos of Indian national spirit has taken roots.
The point is, trying to hide any of these truisms and more, even if they are uncomfortable ones, will not be in the end of historical or cultural justice. And it also goes without saying that without these senses of justice guaranteed, a final resolution to the problems at hand will remain elusive. In any analysis of the problems of the Northeast, let the attempt be to draw up a new landscape on a blank slate. Let it not be presumed that established traditions and national histories are irrefutable and absolute scale against which all the problems at hand would have to be sized up. Half a century of nagging conflict has proven this is not the way of going about this onerous mission. So on a blank slate, let policy makers draw up an assessment chart of what are reasonable and what are not in the reasons behind the problems of the Northeast and Manipur. On a blank slate, those dissenting against the Indian establishment also draw up another assessment chart on what are reasonable, achievable and in the best interest of everybody in the state. If honestly done, such a parallel exercise should be able to throw up new lights in the quest for an honourable resolution to the problem of Manipur. Let all the dreams of reviving supposed past glory end as also all the belittling of the place’s history from the modernist perspective. The important thing in this is for all to go to the mountain and not wait for the mountain to come to them.