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Regional politics dying

In a state which is marked by a strong resistance to mainstreaming, manifested in aggressive assertions of identities perceived as distinct from what is projected as mainstream, Manipur today is remarkable by a near total lack of a strong regional party. The politics in Manipur’s three immediate neighbours, namely, Nagaland, Mizoram and Assam, which all share this same sense of distinctness of identity, the situation is not much better. Like Manipur, they all once had strong regional parties, but slowly but surely, all of them atrophied and shrunk to be left as caricature of their former selves. In their places have come up national parties, for long the Congress, but of late the BJP. Nagaland may have been the only state still holding out against this usurpation by a national party. The Nagaland People’s Council, NPC, which has now become the Naga People’s Front, NPF have always been a force to reckon with even when the Congress was in power, but looking at the way it is heading, this may not be so for too long. In Assam it was the Asom Gana Parishad, AGP, and in Mizoram, the Mizo National Front, MNF, once an underground organisation, and today a political party recognized by the Election Commission of India, which held up the region banner high, but today they have been marginalised beyond recognition.

Manipur too has the Manipur People’s Party, MPP, once a powerful force, able to represent the aspiration of all communities as amply demonstrated by the fact that it threw up chief ministers from many different communities, including Md. Alimuddin, of the Meitei Pangal community, and Yangmasho Shaiza of the Tangkhul community, besides a plethora of Meitei leaders. Today, the party is a pitiable dwarf, living off the income it earns from commercially renting out in part, spaces in its office complex located on prime commercial land on BT Road, west of the Mapal Kangjeibung. Manipur also saw other regional parties in flashes, but all lacked the energy or cohesion to hold together for long. Thus the Manipur State Congress Party, MSCP, which did manage to ascend to power for two terms under chief minister, Wahengbam Nipamacha happened, but this party was more a carbon copy of the Congress it splintered from. Its only tangible achievement is the forcible occupation of a prime office space at Keishampat, adjacent to the State Archives Building. But with the party’s demise, this encroached and grabbed space has been inherited by the State BJP, essentially as dowry brought along by MSCP leaders who decided to abandon their original party to die of starvation, and marry the BJP. Other standard bearers of the party who chose not to join the BJP have been absorbed back into the Congress. The state has also seen the Federal Party of Manipur, FPM, brilliantly conceived academically, but lacking the inner strength to sustain.

The reason we bring up the topic is from a fascination with what has happened in much of south India, where strong regional Dravidian “nationalisms” have effectively been sublimated and appropriated into a brand of politics that opposes mainstreaming but all the same ultimately came to be a part of a reconstituted mainstream. The Telegu Desam, the Dravida Munnreta Kazakam, DMK, and the AIDMK, all would belong to this phenomenon. Although distinctly regional in character, they are also very important and powerful partners in the national government and opposition formations. Maybe what much of the Northeast need at this moment are such phenomena of their own to resolve their own anxieties and inner turmoils. A measure of success in this regard was once seen in Assam in the manner the AGP ascended to power marking an end to a tumultuous period in the state’s history. A measure of success was also witnessed in Mizoram with MNF at the helm. In Nagaland, regional sentiments are still very strong, and reciprocally its regional face in politics as represented by the NPF, but it remains to be seen if the NPF can survive its current churning within.

By contrast, Manipur’s politics is marked by a remarkable inability to harness this force. In political terms, this is seen in the failure of a counter pole emerging to be an effective foil to the Congress once, but now the BJP. From the point of view of the regional movement, the two parties represent the same counter pull. In social terms, the chaos and mayhem everywhere tells of this same failure. But can a national party be accommodative of regional outlooks, even extreme ones? In contemplating this scenario, we cannot help recall a tete-a-tete with D.L. Sheth, a well-known Indian intellectual and former chairman of the prestigious, Centre for Study of Developing Societies, CSDS, in New Delhi about a decade ago. He had explained that among the many reasons for Gujarat’s rejection of Congress and preference of BJP was the fact that Congress rule had come to seen as Delhi rule, while BJP gave all indication that Narendra Modi’s regional interpretation of the BJP philosophy would be accommodated. Maybe there is a lesson for the Congress, and for that matter all other parties, in this statement.

Source: Imphal Free Press



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