Fracture Polity: Setting the Terms of the Issue


By A Bimol Akoijam
In a recent meeting, the Union Home Minister Shushil Kumar Shinde had reportedly asked the Chief Minister, ‘What is harm in giving Alternative Arrangement to the Nagas’. The move seems to have taken care of those voices which have consistently insisted that the ‘territorial integrity’ of Manipur must be protected and preserved. In that, the Home Minister has a point. After all, the move does not involve breaking the territorial boundary of the present state of Manipur or taking away some areas of the state to merge the same with Nagaland. In other words, the proposed ‘alternative arrangement’ is within the territorial boundary of the present state of Manipur. Incidentally, the move of the Centre to craft an ‘alternative arrangement’ points to the limit of those who have been arguing for the ‘territorial integrity’.

Indeed, insofar as the move doesn’t entail re-drawing of the state boundaries in India’s ‘Northeast’, what would be the response of the Government and other civil society groups in Manipur? Will they object to the move to grant ‘alternative arrangement’ by saying that such a move sets up a process (something that serves as a precursor) which will ultimately lead to break away of the territory Manipur later on? Supposing, and even granting, that such a fear is not without reason, it raises certain concomitant issues. First of all, such a position can be seen not only as a reflection of bad faith but also a sign of unwillingness on the part of Manipur to a negotiated settlement that involves a process of give and take. After all, the argument may run, ‘there is nothing sacrosanct about’ maps and boundaries as these aspects are human artifacts, and that the Nagas have even ready to drop their demand for the integration of Naga inhabited areas of Manipur with Nagaland. In short, such an objection to the ‘Alternative Arrangement’ may give credence to the argument that Manipur has been a thorn in the effort to find an ‘honorable solution’ to the decade old ‘Indo-Naga imbroglio’, which, by now, has effectively become an internal problem of the Indian State.

On the other hand, supposing, if the Government of India takes constitutional measure (e.g., amending the Article 3 of the Constitution) in order to protect and preserve the ‘territorial integrity’ of Manipur for all time to come, will the Government of Manipur and other civil society groups in the state agree to the ‘Alternative Arrangement’? Such an agreement may not be forthcoming as some might still raise the issue of the power delegation under a federal polity to object to the move of ‘Alternative Arrangement’?

In short, whichever way, the above issues and questions must force one to acknowledge that the issue at hand is not of ‘territory’ per se but that of polity or a fractured polity in Manipur to be precise.

‘Territorial State’ to ‘Population State’

It goes without saying that the consistent position on the ‘territorial integrity’ of Manipur has compelled the Government of India or any other parties not to take the people of the state for granted. However, the emphasis on the ‘territorial integrity’ of Manipur, often backed by historical claims that the ‘boundaries’ of the state was much more bigger than the present one etc, has been a perspective that has more or less failed to see the challenge as that of a polity rather than territory per se. It is this lacuna that has been brought out by the poser of the Home Minister and concomitant issues that I have raised in the preceding paragraphs.

The emphasis on the ‘territory’ and historical boundaries of Manipur has given, wittingly or unwittingly, an impression that the defense of the territorial integrity of the state is based on the interest of a specific community (here, those who come under the broad rubric of ‘Meitei’) rather than the ‘people of Manipur’ as it exists today. In fact, harping on the boundaries of ‘Manipur’ from the past, though important facts of the past that need to be acknowledged as a matter of history, has become politically not only a sign of imperial memory of a community but also its dominance over the other communities in the state, and worst, a sign of a desire to perpetuate the dominance in the contemporary. Such an approach seemed to have come handy to the political project that seeks to ‘ethnicize’ the population in order to divide the people and fracture the polity in Manipur. It must be noted that a particular brand of Naga nationalist articulation has been consistently use to Arunachalis while talking about Arunachal, Assames about Assam, Nagas about Nagaland or Mizos about Mizoram but when it comes to Manipur the reference has been the Nagas, the Kukis, the Meiteis etc. One suspects, it is this agenda that seeks to divide people and polity of Manipur, which has been handsomely complimented by an approach which reproduces terms of territory per se and that too, backed up reference from the past.

In that sense, there has been a critical failure to counter communal politics that smacks of Jinnah’s ‘two-nation theory’. And this failure has two critical aspects. First is a sectarian inflection in the articulation of the ‘idea of Manipur’. It has already been noted earlier here that the articulation has been dominated by a perspective of a specific community in the state. Celebrating achievement of Manipur such as when the state won the Santosh Trophy with ‘Seven Colour Flag’ which doesn’t even represent all those who come under the rubric of Meitei is an example of the sectarian inflection in the same sense as the articulation of the idea of India has ‘upper caste, Hindu’ inflections that have led to the emergence of ‘Muslim separatism’ in 19th and 20th centuries in South Asia. Second, there has been a critical failure to sense what Michel Foucault, the well known French thinker, has noted of a transition of modern state (by extension, polity) from ‘territorial state’ to ‘population state’. Indeed, it significantly misses out the fact that the basis of modern polity has been, following the idea of ‘popular sovereignty’, the notion of ‘we, the people’. As Foucault insisted, it is not that ‘territory’ is not important but that it has lost its saliency to ‘population’.

It must be noted that there has been some talks on ‘emotional integrity’. However, with the failure to recognize this shift, the terms of the issue has been primarily articulated in terms of old memories rather than those which are in line with the shifts of the modern polity. Consequently perhaps, the issues of social, civic and political rights and issues governance, of political economy and other structural issues to account for the grievances of different communities in the state and developmental disparities amongst communities and regions have also taken a back seat. It has been predominantly ‘territory’ all along. The end result is that the defence of Manipur against communal politics has failed to set the terms of reference of the debates and issues. It is this failure that shall haunt Manipur in the coming days.

Setting the terms of the Issues

Some years back, while introducing the First Arambam Somorendro memorial Lecture, a senior journalist from Manipur wrote, ‘We all know Manipur, and Manipuris have gone through historically tumultuous times during our own lives. Yet, individually as well as collectively, we have tended to absorb all the slings and arrows that these tumults have served on us. Very few of us have chosen to engage these tumults in terms of raising the whys, hows, and wherefores, let alone the rights and wrongs of it. The choices that have gone unexercised in the wake of these tumults point to the debates suppressed in each of us and in the public sphere.’ Perhaps, it is high time that we take corrective measure so that we generate informed debates to generate better understanding on our situation so that we make the right choices for a better Manipur.

For that we all must fight the ‘communal virus’, both within and without, consciously, and also confront the realities of the present to craft a new Manipur with an open mind and empathy for others without losing one’s own ground. Only then a life with dignity and well-being for people of the state and beyond can be assured.


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