What an astonishing irony ? New Delhi did not mind deploying a whole brigade of its armed forces to hunt down a couple of ill-equipped and ill-trained pro-independence armed rebels throughout the length and breadth of Loktak lake but New Delhi has neither means nor wits to end the blockade before the unarmed student bodies lifted the blockade after 66 days. May be, New Delhi exerted pressure on NSF and ANSAM to lift the blockade but that cannot be any excuse or atonement for remaining a mute spectator to the humanitarian crisis for more than two months. The hypocrisy of New Delhi was exposed to the core when New Delhi took upon itself the responsibility of hiring lawyers at its own expense for Ajmal Amir Kasab, the lone terrorist nabbed alive during the Mumbai terror attack of November 2008. What a great show New Delhi put up before the world just to make an impression that Indian democracy is ‘perfect’. To complete the show, the confirmed terrorist was given a fair trial and deservedly sentenced to capital punishment ultimately. The inconsistency in the so called perfect Indian democracy was revealed most glaringly when one made a comparative study of the exploits of States forces in North East India, particularly Manipur. The great show of the trial of Ajmal Kasab was staged at a time when many of the so called Indian citizens were gunned down with full impunity, only because the victims were suspects in the eyes of Indian armed forces in this buffer state called Manipur. The truth is New Delhi can go to any length to conduct trial for a confirmed terrorist if it is in mainland India but there is no scope for any trial in Manipur. The general reading is, if the North Eastern people constitute second class citizens of India, Manipuris definitely belong to a third category, if New Delhi’s deafening silence to the just lifted blockade was any indication.
From sovereignty to servitude
Perhaps, the Government of India may be willing to protect the boundary of Manipur because it is an international boundary of India. New Delhi’s willingness to safeguard Manipur’s boundary (international) is not without doubt given the strategy of New Delhi of pulling back all its troops from their forward positions in the North East region leaving the people at the mercy of Chinese soldiers during the Indo-China War of 1962. This episode clearly exposed the second class status of the Northeastern people. In another word, it was a clear indication that the entire North East constitutes a buffer zone in the concept of Indian nationhood, and not the Indian nation proper.
The tricky part is, even if the Government of India is willing to protect the boundary of Manipur from external aggression, it had no objection and was even enthusiastic to re-draw boundary of Manipur within India if such an arrangement could satisfy and silence any rebel group (read NSCN-IM) waging war against New Delhi. The boundary of Manipur would have been re-drawn many years back had the people of Manipur not rose up as one against such design and intention of New Delhi and NSCN-IM. Yes, the constitution of India permits re-arrangement of inter-State boundaries but New Delhi should not overlook the fact that Manipur was merged, or annexed as some historians says, in its entirety. New Delhi should understand that what is an internal matter of India is not always so for Manipur.
Juxtaposing the strategy of blockade, the search of Naga lebensraum and New Delhi’s appeasement policy, it is crucial to make a comprehensive study by drawing a line of reference to the controversial Merger Agreement of 1949. The relationship between the two political entities of India and Manipur forged by the Merger Agreement needs a re-visit in the backdrop of New Delhi’s failure to respond to the prolonged blockade for a long time. We feel really sorry that the post-Merger history of Manipur is largely a narrative of political subjugation and economic deprivation. Manipur was a proud, sovereign nation when it was merged with the Indian Union but 60 years after the controversial merger, Manipur has been turned into a sort of captive market. In terms of geopolitics, Manipur has been rendered a buffer state against the not so friendly eastern neighbours of India. Economically, Manipur has been reduced to some sort of a parasite, unable to live without the mercy of host India. With all its indigenous economic institutions uprooted and destroyed systematically over the last 60 years, Manipur is now compelled to beg for funds, aids and grants from New Delhi to operate some semblance of economy. By and by, a concept of dependency (on India) was ingrained in the minds of Manipuri people, and India attained overlordship over Manipur.
This economic dependency further reduced the political status of Manipur vis-a-vis India. Right from the day of Merger Agreement, starting from Part C State to full fledged statehood, Manipur was kept subservient to New Delhi. The Indo-Manipur relation as it exists today can best be described within the concept of neo-colonialism. The Indo-Manipur relation operates on the line of an ‘imperial power-colony’ matrix. In the so called democratic political set up of India, Manipur finds no place except as a buffer zone or a neo-colony. New Delhi never acknowledges the distinctive historiography of Manipur nor does it respect the sentiments of the indigenous people. Not long after the Merger Agreement, New Delhi exposed its treachery when its first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru gifted away Manipur’s vast and resourceful Kabow Valley to Myanmar (then Burma). It was a defining moment in the Indo-Manipur relationship. Whatever faith shared between the people of Manipur and New Delhi was lost then and there. Then the prolonged humiliation of the Manipuri nation by keeping the former sovereign nation as a Part C State, like a fiefdom of a petty chief commissioner all culminated together to define the future Indo-Manipur relation. It proved that the relationship between New Delhi and Manipur was nothing better than assertion by an imperial power upon a colony. Neo-colonialism as witnessed in Manipur has certain peculiarities for many of the classic attributes of pure colonialism are still evident today together with all the characteristics of neo-colonialism. While economic dependency is nurtured and sustained to fit into a case of neo-colonialism, there is heavy military presence, operating beyond the control of civil administration, more akin to occupational forces, acting as constant reminder of the days of colonialism.
Bitter but valuable lessons
Despite the untold misery and hardships caused by the offensive strategy of prolonged highway blockade, the blockaders have done a very commendable job by teaching some bitter but valuable lessons to the Manipuri people in the form of exposure of the real position of Manipur in the political set-up of India. It did re-define the vulnerability of Manipur as a politically isolated entity and the unreliability of New Delhi in times of crisis. At the same time, the blockade re-affirmed the resilience of the Manipuri people. Here, it is crucial to look back to history and study how economic dependency and vulnerability which are basic characteristics of neo-colonialism became a reality to the existence of the Manipuri nation.
As a sovereign nation, Manipur operated its trade and commerce through Old Cachar Road, Imphal-Dimapur Road and Imphal-Tamu Road. This was continued during the British colonial rule too. With its economy more or less self-reliant, the question of vulnerability to highway blockade never arose. But after the merger, Manipur became vulnerable to highway blockades as all its indigenous economic institutions were destroyed and rendered dependent on goods imported from outside. The tragedy Manipur has been suffering in the post Merger era is that the Imphal-Dimapur road was made the only reliable link between Manipur and the rest of India even as the same road is most prone to blockades and other obstructions round the year. The Imphal-Tamu road has been virtually sealed off barring some inefficient trade agreements which are limited to a very few items. When the vulnerability of Manipur to blockade is a gift of the controversial Merger Agreement, the political isolation of Manipur is a direct result of New Delhi’s insidious policies towards the people of Manipur. Going by the way, New Delhi woke up to the blockade after it was already two months old, people have learnt some very valuable lessons, that is; when Manipur suffers, no Indian citizen suffer; the political boundary and destiny of Manipur is never safe in the hands of New Delhi; and Manipuris should stop looking upto New Delhi but struggle for themselves.
This article was posted on The Sangai Express on Sunday, June 20, 2010