By Amar Yumnam
In a recent tribute to one of the best souls in contemporary India, Khuswant Singh, Vikram Seth has written: “At 7 o’clock this evening, though thinking of Khushwant’s death, feeling sad, and sitting in a library writing this, what came to my face was a smile — and I almost reached out for a scotch and soda. This was the hour when one rang his doorbell and was welcomed in — for an hour precisely — before being ‘welcomed out’ again.” I read this piece of Seth while I was pondering on a recent lost of contact with a best friend of mine. The best friend may be in contact or out of contact with us, but he/she would never be and can never be out of our mind.
Policy making in a big and highly heterogeneous, both in demography and geography, country like India should also be characterised by this kind of continuous feeling for the others like us. This should be more so a character for the larger and dominant groups, and for the federal government while generating policies and programmes for the units in the federation. This is paramount in a country where the state formation is still incomplete after seven decades of freedom from the colonial rule. The recent evanescent approach to opening of a Passport Office in Imphal made me more painfully ponder on this issue.
In Imphal we recently had a Passport Mela instead of a Passport Office. A few months back there was a piece in the New York Times, which I read everyday, about a fair in Chicago 183 years ago. It reads; “Museums are monumental; fairs are evanescent. Museums are substantial; fairs are amusements.” Thanks Goodness, Manipuris have not been made items in museums but only attractions in fairs in Passport Mela. But the fact is that the Chicago fair of 183 years ago is now a permanent museum. Hope there is no plan for such. Having nearly exhausted all the pages in my own Passport, I need to approach the Passport Office for additional pages, but I did not visit the recent Passport Mela in Imphal for I consider myself not to be an amusement item.
It is at such a moment of questioning and introspection induced by what happens around the country and within the province that the forthcoming elections to the Indian Parliament have arrived. Except in two instances, I have never had the opportunity to fully participate in the electioneering process in India as they manifest on the soil of Manipur. In most instances, I was always far away from the home soil. In fact, the forthcoming elections for the Indian parliament happens to be the one I am present continuously for the longest period on the eve of it. So I take it as an opportunity to meticulously observe the Indian attitude to Manipur and her people. The recent approach to treating the Manipuris as an amusement item, as exemplified by the two days Passport Mela in the campus of the oldest paramilitary force with historical roots to the reign of the Britishers, is a latest testimony of the Indian government’s approach to the land and people of the region. The forthcoming elections to the Indian Parliament are an opportunity to record the disapproval to such an outlook of the Indian government towards the people and land of Manipur. For Manipur, the earlier elections had been more like a case of having no alternatives but fundamentally toe the traditional line of just follow what the power that be at the provincial level at that point of tie happens to be. But this time the consciousness of the people is definitely more robust than ever, and the widespread awareness of the regional issues and the recognition of the overriding significance of the country-level legislature are higher.
The treatment of the people and land of Manipur as amusement items has been a path dependent phenomenon of the governance of the country. As we all know, one political party has been in power both in the centre and the province except very short interruptions. It has been the ingrained attitude of this political party that the land and people of Manipur are nothing more than amusement items. We need to teach a lesson to this party for various reasons. First, if we allow this principle and the accompanying outlook to continue for long, the continuance of the country as a unified one would not be for long. Second, India needs to nurture the nation-building process sooner than later. Third, there is the compulsion to foster the unique strengths of the country. Manipuris should now exercise the power of democracy to tell the world that the prevailing approach to dealing with the land and people is just not acceptable; the people are looking for an alternative approach to trust building has to be made known. This would be good for both the province and the country.
Happy Cheiraoba to all. Let us start our New Year with a new music and new tone. We have both the rare opportunity and the instrument to be used. Rare things should not be wasted.