It is heartening that the chief minister Okram Ibobi has taken cognizance of the daily VVIP trespassers inside the Kangla complex. It is equally heartening that he probably took notice of this ugly miscarriage of official power after the matter was commented upon in the local newspapers, including the IFP several times. It is a surprise that so many of these VVIP’s did not realise or were brutishly ignoring the fact that they were violating a sacrosanct space all the while before being told by none other than the head of the government himself to know their limits. As per the chief minister’s public statement, the no other than the Governor of Manipur would be allowed to drive through the Kangla, using this patch of green with immense historical significance as a short cut to avoid busy traffic. This was being done even when these VVIP’s were not on duty or in a hurry. It had become a matter of flaunting their power and official status. Indeed, many of these VVIP trespassers had proven themselves to be eyesores, zipping at breakneck speed with sirens blaring across the Kangla, usually from its south to north gates and vice versa, but sometimes also the western gate.
What the chief minister has done is commendable. Not the least for deflating the disproportionately blown up VVIP egos. He has gone strictly by protocol to make the single exception of allowing only the Governor’s vehicle to pass through the Kangla if the need so arises. Apparently he has chosen not to even make the privilege available to himself. Practising what one preaches is definitely enchanting and the chief minister this time has done just this. The Governor is the constitutional head and as per official protocol is at the apex of the hierarchy of the state’s officialdom. We hope his statement gets transferred into official policy sooner than later and that prohibition of vehicles within the Kangla becomes as much an unwritten tradition as it is an official policy and nobody, absolutely nobody ever thinks of seeking exception other than for important public purposes. This is relevant because the Kangla obviously would be a tourist attraction as and when the tourist traffic increases, and now that the restrictions under the Protected Area Permit, PAP, has been relaxed, this is likely to be the reality in the coming years, or months as the case may quite possibly turn out to be.
We are at a loss why enlightened citizens as our VVIPs presumably are could not understand the value of heritage without being told. If they did, they would have treated the Kangla with more respect than they have shown. They probably also see the Kangla’s worth as much as its value as real estate. Indeed, many will remember there was once a move to divide up the Kangla into shop plots and at another time to build the state’s capitol here, and the Kangla moat outside the complex had begun to be filled. If that official plan had not been resisted by the more conscientious amongst the officialdom and by the general public, Manipur may have lost for good one of its most important, if not the most important historical heritage.
The mid 20th Century when the Second World War reached the soil of Manipur exposing the erstwhile kingdom to a scale of violence it had never seen before can be said to be the time Manipur was first introduced to the modern world in a real way. It was a traumatic start and it was sudden too. This being the case the disorientation that resulted is understandable. Even if many of the misinterpretations and misconceptions of modernity can be to a good extent attributed to this suddenness of epochal transition, it has been more than half a century since, and lessons ought to have been learnt by now. One of the biggest of these lessons is that beyond the material world which can be calibrated in material worth, there are also intangible heritages which are priceless. Once upon a time, unwritten rules, norms, taboos and even “motivated” and deliberately “cultivated” superstitions spelled out respect for these intangible gifts from the past eras. Today while these unwritten rules have lost their value, acquired modern laws and rationality have not been able to rewrite the need for protecting these heritages. The sooner the place comes to terms with this new challenge, the less irreversible harms would be done to our priceless heritages.