My father, the politician


By Shachi Gurumayum

“Give *us* the future, we’ve had enough of your past. Give us back our country, to live in, to grow in, to love.” – Michael Collins

It started with an article I chanced upon en route from Beirut to Dubai. Hoping to keep busy on the plane, I picked up an early edition of Gulf News, dated Saturday August 20th 2011, and flicking through the pages, I was surprised to find an article entitled, “Manipur activist has been on fast for 10 years” written by Thingnam Anjulika Samom. Manipuris around the world will immediately know on whom the article was based but, for those new to this subject, the “activist” is Irom Sharmila Chanu who has been fasting, and is being force-fed by the authorities, for 10 years campaigning for the removal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958 “which gives India’s armed forces the power to arrest, search, and destroy property without warrant as well as shoot, and even kill, on mere suspicion”. To see an article as such to be so prominently presented, perhaps catalysed by the well-covered hunger strike of Gandhian Anna Hazare, in a Dubai based newspaper surprised me but it raised a few questions; why is the Act still in place, why is it so difficult for our state government to repeal an Act that is obviously condemned en masse in Manipur, and why is Sharmila so unimportant compared to Anna? Is it because Manipuris are insignificant at only 0.2% of the Indian population, or because we are so meek and unable to raise our voice against the majority, or because our MPs do not present enough strength in the Indian parliament, or because our elected leaders are so weak and fragmented that they cannot fight for what is good for Manipur?

I do not have the answers to any of the questions above however I do have a few stories to tell of my own, stories that highlight the mindset of our fellow citizens. I had only arrived at one of India’s top colleges when one of the teachers told me in the face that “you northeast students do not work hard” – only to later find quite a few NE students in the top five to 10 of their respective classes – and over a decade later, in London, introducing myself to a key Indian manager of a UK organization, I was asked “if you guys are still creating trouble and fighting for independence” – I was dumbfounded and did not want to risk the business relationship we were establishing to answer back tersely to such a comment. The third story is around getting married to a non-Indian in Manipur. Knowing that my fiancée would need a Restricted Area Permit, we applied for the permit in July for a wedding scheduled on Christmas day, a day we considered auspicious. Rather unsurprisingly, the permit was only issued a few days before the wedding after my father and I had literally camped in the corridors of the Manipur Secretariat building for a full week. And, after I had personally complained to the Chief Secretary, and sent a fax to the Home Secretary in Delhi that I was treated with more respect in a foreign country than my own country and asked them how they expected Manipuris to feel Indian when we were being treated as step-children. The treatment and support meted out by my own fellow Manipuri bureaucrats were no example setters either.

The above stories appear to only blame others however I believe we also ought to ask ourselves what we are doing wrong that is sending such messages. Why are we perceived as less hard working, as less culturally advanced, as politically weak and so forth? I saw Manipuri students in Delhi and elsewhere who were only too happy to waste their parents’ hard-earned money but a majority of my friends and contemporaries were diligent students who wanted to achieve success, peace and stability in life. A culture that developed its own language and script can by no means be any less advanced than the others in India. A state with tens of ethnic groups and dialects should, if anything, be a global anthropologist’s dream. Yet, why do we come across as weak and insecure? My feeling is that this is because we are a divided lot; we are too busy defending our individual identities that we have forgotten the higher goal of defending our state. There will always be those who question and fight for the loss of sovereignty of a kingdom that had never been dominated until the British empire came along, the creation of states in a union that divided ethnic groups into separate states and districts, and the subjugation of minorities within each of the states. But, in the context of today’s India, why could we not take a pragmatic approach and find a social and political solution that would strengthen us? Are we so weak that we cannot find strength in whatever little number we have?

As a student growing up in a Manipur ravaged by bandhs, strikes and violence, I wondered why our people could not sit down together and peacefully work out solutions to our problems. I would hear my father talk about the need for change and I would often retort back by asking him, then a fast rising engineer within the Public Works Department, what he was doing to do this. His answer was that he was changing the system from the inside in whatever way he could but that it was only limited to his sphere of influence, which I must say was rather limited. So, it came as no surprise to me that, a year or so ago, he declared that he and a few like-minded Manipuris were creating a party for the people of Manipur and for Manipur, above everything else. Until then, I had only known him as the Roorkee (IIT Roorkee now) educated, state-selection-exam topping, tough but fair, driven and ambitious engineer who wanted to make things happen, and happen quickly. Until then, I had known him as the ever eager engineer who collapsed of malaria purposefully touring the deep interiors of Tipaimukh and Jiribam, the father who competed with me to be the first one to get a doctorate by writing his thesis in his mid-fifties, and the husband who sacrificed a lot of family time by visiting every remotely located project as often as possible to ensure progress and delivery. And, the one who retired at the pinnacle of his career as the PWD Chief Engineer without the black spots of corruption normally associated with his line of work. To start a political party has been an inspirational move from my father and he truly is my hero! You may consider this article as promotional but I genuinely believe that Manipur needs change and that Manipur desperately needs good people at her service.

Having heard a lot of stories about how politicians in Manipur get elected, from spending crores of rupees to adopting every means possible to get elected, I was not sure if my father had the financial strength and popularity to win in such a ‘competitive’ landscape. Now, having had the luxury of time to ponder and consider the impact, I believe the time is right for Manipur to see a leader who is willing to take the risk of challenging the status quo, and one who is willing to shake, even if not entirely uproot, the tree so that the rotten fruits drop off. For how long can we Manipuris continue to live in such abject ignorance of the things that are happening around us? For how long can we bear the destruction of our motherland by a select few selfish power-hungry individuals? And, for how long can we tolerate the fact that, despite 60 plus years of being India, we seem to be so far behind the rest of the country? Why is it that no state-minded political party has had much success in the state? Why is it that we allow ourselves to be fooled with a few short-term sugar-coated development initiatives and charities whilst losing our long-term right to peace, success, employment for ourselves and our children, and continued prosperity of our state which God has blessed in so many ways? Why can we not elect a government that will govern rightly keeping the people of Manipur top of everything else?

Why can we not develop an outsourcing village with uninterrupted power and good infrastructure where large multinationals could set up bases thus creating jobs for our people? Why can we not set up a sustainable and highly productive agricultural system that will not only provide our basic staple crops but also surplus fruits and vegetables that could be exported? Why can we not securely maintain the two National Highways we have so that we cannot be made to dance at the whim of any self-obsessed organization that decides to blockade either one of the two? Why can we not have integration where Biharis, Kukis, Marwaris, Meiteis, Nagas, Nepalis, Pangals, and all the other ethnic groups think of Manipur at the same time they think of themselves? Why can we not establish a successful textile industry like Kashmiri carpets and shawls through our renowned muga weaving skills? Why, when we have the only floating national park in the world, can we not turn ourselves into a tourist and relaxation paradise for all those hard-working, exhausted, citizens in the big metropolitan cities of India? Being at the epicenter of a trade route between the fast rising eastern countries such as China and the rest of India, why can we not provide good infrastructure to act as a trading hub in the region? Why can we not achieve the same level of success as Singapore and why can’t we learn from them? Are we really so incapable? Why are our roads always full of potholes? Why are we so focused on banning Hindi movies instead of channeling our energy and resources on making Manipuri films, videos, songs, literature, and art better resourced and more present? Have we been so dumbed down through years of corruption and politicking? Why can’t all our elected members stand up in parliament and demand what is rightfully ours and what is good for us? Have we lost the entrepreneurial spirit that makes every Manipuri a fast learner and adapter wherever he or she goes? Have we lost the fighting spirit that produced such elegant martial art forms as Thang-Ta and Sarik-Sarak? What happened to the artistic and creative instincts that led to such beautiful and colourful art forms as the Meitei jagoi, Kabui and Naga dances, and so on? Are we Manipuris ready for change? Perhaps, I am asking the wrong questions, and I know he does not have all the answers but I surely will be continuing to ask these questions to my father, the engineer turned politician.

Shachi Gurumayum is the son of Dr. G. Tonsana Sharma,  President of Manipur Democratic People’s Front that will make a political attempt to bring good governance to Manipur in the upcoming elections.

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  1. Its time we all do our bit before we are lost in the oblivion of our petty politics. You have simply put the thoughts of many of us who feel that way but are unable to articulate nor have the courage to put that foward. As for the party – at the end of the day, the people will decide and if the intent is good and with the right degree of execution, am sure we will rise to the occasion. All the best.

  2. I hope I have satisfied Bid’s right to know and demonstrated how to answer simple questions. I’ll give you the reasoning for my questions. Anna-ji may fulfill his promise and come to Imphal to campaign for AF(SP)A repeal and Sharmila’s freedom. This is a perfect opportunity for a pincer movement. The nagas have now given their support to Sharmila the meitei. If they can overcome communalism and religious bigotry to begin path of recovery for Manipur then perhaps others can. The Janata Dal have come out against AF(SP)A. What is the position of your father and his new party? As for what to do with liabilities. Every military historian knows the answer to that one. Stick them in the centre to draw the enemies attack. So long as the pincer remains resolute ignore the centre let it collapse. 

    Sometimes I appear to obtuse. In simple language you may not approve of Sharmila’s choice in life partner but that is hardly any of your business. Let the mischief makers continue to attack me if they must but by ignoring me eventually the British will be drawn into this satyagraha. It seems to me if I have called your SIB officers snub nosed uglies, if I have accused the local powers who refuse to end AF(SP)A hollow facades well that just shows what a rude person I am. Am I really so important to you Manipuris. More important than Sharmila’s freedom, more important than repeal of AF(SP)A. And if not then stop fretting about what my personal feelings about you are and concentrate on the moment at hand.

    Tony Blair was a great statesman because he could feel the public pulse and he could read the signs of the times barring some fatal errors towards the end of his reign. If your father can sense that now is the time to strike. He has the support of the Nagas, minority parties, and the democratic cycle of change is behind him now. He has Anna-ji visiting, he has bollywood stars about to rip their T shirts off and demand AF(SP)A repeal. And in my own small way he has a very rude foreigner who has taken up a place in the centre and all I ask is that those who are serious about change ignore me and that you give the rest some room to throw whatever they want to throw at me. Do nothing and the British and the Europeans will be drawn in inspite of themselves. But not even the Gods will help those who miss opportunities. AF(SP)A is a single issue that will determine the future of Manipur. Manipuris maybe 0.2% of the Indian Population but they are 100% of the electorate for MLAs in Manipur.

    Why I am still talking. Because my vipassana retreat was postponed to Tuesday. Thais and their love of rituals and suitable times, they are worse than Quakers with their right gospel ordering. And if you clever reasonable tolerant anti-racist superjust manipuris mess up this opportunity, then I’ll cut loose again in the New Year. When the eyes of the world have left perhaps you’ll need this rude foreign racist to bring their attention back here.  I have sought only one thing Sharmila’s freedom and the repeal of AF(SP)A. A pity more Manipuris don’t demand their right to know from the political parties seeking to represent them. But then few manipuris who post here actually live in Manipur.

    So just in case you have forgotten the questions. What is the position of the Manipur Democratic People’s Front on the AF(SP)A? Will they be seeking the lifting of the disturbed areas status from all of Manipur as far as the electorate gives them the ability to do so?

  3. One question and if you are politicians you won’t answer it. What is your father’s and the Manipur Democratic People’s Front’s position on the AF(SP)A. Please don’t say it’s obvious from the long article above one simple question seeking one simple answer in less than ten words. And a follow-up if they are opposed to that Law but haven’t the authority to repeal it: Will they seek to stop the renewal of disturbed area status for the whole of Manipur which has the effect of removing the AF(SP)A also because it applies only to areas of India that regional states declare as disturbed areas. And one final follow-up it would be so reassuring if anyone elected after being elected stuck to their campaign promises instead of saying once elected now I have all the facts at my disposal the matter is more complicated than I thought I will however institute another commission of inquiry to report within two years. That would bring about a new breed of politician whom people could trust. Well?

    • aren’t u that racist( Desmond Coutinho) who called manipuris “snub-nosed- uglies”, hollow facade, jokers, gangsters,etc, etc, etc…? one more question, you never fail to mention in almost all your comments in a lot of discussion sites that Babloo Loitongbam and Irom Sharmila’s brother Singhajit are trying to do an “honour killing”( whats that?!) on Sharmila, if theres  even a truth in it, show us the proofs….we manipuris have the  right to know!!!!!

      • To answer the first question Yes with some reservations. On the second I have agreed to full assent of intellect and will to the following statement prepared for me by Irom Sharmila and which I received last week. I had thought I had published quite extensively but as you have not read it I repeat it here without hesitation or mental reservation. “I’m
        confirmed of my soul mate’s (me) present condition on receiving a
        letter from her. So, now, I’m calm and reflected. I rescind from my
        rants. She does not encourage rebellious & revengeful mentality.
        Because of the humiliation I had encountered when I was staying in
        Imphal to meet her, my angry have been smouldering all these 5 long
        months. They were all colluded to object our meeting & any
        publications of our voice. If I were not provided any security by the
        Judge, whom we met at the Court on the then yesterday of her release. I
        would have been beaten to death by our opponents.”I had added a codicil vipassana prayer. May
        all sentient beings be happy. If any sentient being harbours thoughts
        of revenge against me I forgive them. If I harbour any thoughts of
        revenge upon any sentient beings I beg their forgiveness. Sabbe satta
        sukhita hontu. I have nothing to add nothing to take away from this last.


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