As the deadly flames in the hills of Manipur refuse to die down, Manipur this time is surely confronting a decisive battle of political metamorphosis. Manipur never before has witnessed such enormity of tribal awakening since the history of its accession into the Indian Union. While the consciousness of the hill tribals is rapidly shaping into an ominous narrative of concrete ethnic political assertion, Imphal valley is still patching up its bits of imagination as to where it must redirect its idea of Manipur. For better or for worst, the overall political content of the simmering agitation is likely to recast the idea of Manipur forever.
The eruption was inevitable. The hills have long been simmering with deep sense of historical injustice against institutional bias and oppressive majoritarian politics at the whims of the valley. The hurried passing of the three controversial ILP Bills bypassing the mandate of the Manipur Legislative Assembly (Hill Areas Committee) Order, 1972 ignited the spark. Thereafter, the shocking use of live bullets in the hills and rubber bullets in the valley leading to the outrageous killing of 9 tribal civilians at CCPur enraged the hill tribals to the point of no return. It has already attracted national as well as international attention and the intensity of the agitation has turned even more dramatic with the Young Paite Association public boycotting and banishing its tribal MLAs.
While the State Government is still reluctant to come up with any groundbreaking concession to resolve the issue, the assertion of the hills is no longer so much about the amendment of the three controversial ILP Bills now and no degree of amendment whatsoever is likely to quell the unleashing strive. Total separation from the valley has become the rallying cry of the hills with the renewed assertion of ethnic Northeast “will” for distinct identity as the ideological subtext, i.e. Northeast may be in India but only without actually being Indian. The driving perception is that Imphal valley will someday come up again with its demands for Hill State and ST status and thus the possibility for co-existence has altogether disappeared.
Amidst this political turmoil, as Imphal valley grapples with its lack of regional imagination and continues to articulate its ethnic interest in a hyperbole adversarial to other ethnic communities, Manipur is fast isolating itself from the rest of Northeast ethnic communities. Mizoram Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla, Former Lok Shaba Speaker PA Sangma and Nagaland Chief Minister T. R. Zeliang joining the chorus against the Government of Manipur is critical. In the backdrop of this emerging regional implication, the need of the hour is drastic policy rethink rather than indulging in a petty political spat. However, like Assam, Manipur seemed to have already sold its pulse of Northeast sense to political puppetry.
What is problematic is not in what the valley asserts in reclaiming its indigenous identity, but in the banality of defining the idea of Manipur on the basis of territory rather than from its historical memories and ethnic imageries. In other words, Manipur’s pathological inability to define its interest without upsetting and appropriating the rights of other communities is construed as anti-Northeast in the context of the larger Northeast-common-interest narrative. Be that as it may, Imphal valley’s obsession with the physical “post-accession Manipur” remains a challenge to common Northeast quest for re-righting the past historical injustices.
Manipur needs to be reminded that the widening ethnic rift between the hills and the valley is particularly a post-Indian-accession experience. Ethnic conflict characteristically for that matter is not Northeast but a post-independent Indian construct. At the root of this festering problem is the arbitrary appropriation and misappropriation of ethnic communities in the carving of the Northeastern States. It is nobody’s question that Northeast was forcibly annexed. The Sixth Schedule and autonomy provisions in the Constitution have proved insufficient to quench this feeling of subjugation as the existing boundaries essentially attempt to supplant the historical identities of the subjects therein with an artificial territorial being devoid of sociological meaning and reality.
Nagas consequently have been staunchly resisting this existing political map and to them, integration of Naga ancestral territory is a non-negotiable right. Kuki-Zomi communities likewise have been demanding their own autonomous district/state and the claim gets even louder. Manipur, thus, cannot actually exist but by suppressing the rights of the Naga-Kuki-Zomi communities. However, this much is clear that ethnic harmony in the troubled Manipur would remain an elusive dream until the Nagas are freely allowed to be integrated and the demands of the Kuki-Zomi communities are fully accommodated.
It is against this backdrop that the ILP Bills per se are not the actual concerns of the hills. The Bills are merely seen as a spark – as another testimony that the hills and the valley cannot co-exist. It is about time Manipur admits its unavoidable fate for its own existential interest and more so because Manipur may risk losing Manipur itself in the long run by further clinging to the delusive idea of perpetuating the status quo. The moot question is will the existing ethno-demographic and power structure of Manipur remain the same forever? Given the sheer size of the hills and the nature of demographic unpredictability, it is more likely that the hills would sooner than later reduce Imphal valley to a mere minority.
Manipur surely must be able to comprehend this foreseeable eventuality. Resurgence of Manipur then lies not in Manipur but in Kangleipak. Manipur’s imagination must thus go back to the midnight of 28th August, 1947 when the Dragon God Pakhangba Flag of Manipur was hoisted at Kangla and reclaim its historical identity as in consonance with the cognate narratives of its other Northeast kinsfolk.