Sunday, July 18, 2010

Distress Call: Fight Dependency

For 60 long years, Manipur has been living a life of parasite, uprooted from its indigenous economic base and totally dependent on India. Slowly and steadily, Manipuri people were drugged into a semi-conscious state with the Indian opium called ‘rupees’, pulling them away from their roots, history and nationality, only to be planted in the foreign environment of Indian nationhood. Political subservience of Manipur to India was followed by economic dependency in quick succession. Whether one calls it annexation or merger, one undeniable offshoot of bringing Manipur within the Indian Union is political imprisonment of the former sovereign kingdom. As expected, destruction of all indigenous economic institutions quickly ensued political subjugation. By and by, Manipur becomes wholly dependent on India. The irony is, Manipur was a sovereign kingdom much before the arrival of British imperialists when the so called Indian Union was non-existent. By the time, Manipuris realised about the fait accompli of the Merger Agreement, the notion that Manipur cannot do away with India was already conditioned as a bitter truth. Surrounded on all sides by Indian states, albeit newly founded unlike Manipur and Assam, except the East which is also tightly sealed beyond Tamu, Manipur is virtually under a state of siege. The hard fact is, no Manipuri can go to foreign countries without New Delhi’s permission and no foreign national can enter Manipur without New Delhi’s approval. Even if a foreigner is allowed to visit Manipur, it is strictly restricted to ten days. This is the extent of Manipur’s political isolation, thanks to the controversial Merger Agreement.
Politically confined and economically deprived, Manipur is compelled to survive on aids, grants and loans provided by New Delhi. After systematically robbing off the political and economic freedom of Manipur completely, New Delhi has been feeding Manipur like a benevolent surrogate mother through NH 39, the only door opened to the outside world. Unfortunately, this umbilical cord connecting Manipur to India is at the mercy of transit state, Nagaland, another adopted child of New Delhi but much younger. Just as much as the Manipuris hate being not independent, ANSAM and NSF have reminded us all how dependent we have become on others. It is a tragedy that we cannot wish away this dependence because it was systematically planned and meticulously executed by New Delhi over the years. We are trapped by the Merger Agreement whose legality and authenticity is still a matter of intense debates. We are not allowed to have any relations with foreign countries but we can breathe for life only through NH 39 which is often choked by regular blockades. In another sense, Manipur has been rendered a political pariah in the post Merger era.
Dependence & Vulnerability
Let’s imagine the issue of highway blockades in the absence of the Merger Agreement. What could be the response of the independent State of Manipur to highway blockades ? We are not sure about the answer to this question. But one thing is clear. Manipur would have never relied on a single highway. Certainly, Manipur would be importing goods from India, Myanmar, Assam and perhaps Nagaland, assuming that Manipur is not a subordinate state of India. While acknowledging that economies of nation states thrive on import-export trade, Manipur cannot do away with import-export trade even when it is presumed that Manipur is self-reliant in staple food which was the case in the pre-Merger era. Generally, economists across the planet have accepted that import-export trade is the economic backbone of all modern nation states. With or without India, Manipur cannot afford being isolated either politically or economically. When import-export trade is the backbone of a nation’s economy, highways are in the indispensable arteries, particularly for landlocked states. But under the Indian suzerainty, Imphal-Dimapur road is the only serviceable route connecting Manipur to the outside world. One peculiar feature of the commerce of Manipur is that imports constitute almost 99.99 per cent. In another word, Manipur survives on imported goods. This is the degree of Manipur’s dependency.
When Manipur has been rendered wholly dependent on imported goods, it is only NH 39 through which all the imports are carried out and it is rightly named life-line of Manipur. Here, arises the vulnerability of Manipur to highway blockades. In fact, the Manipuri people are being bedevilled by the twin problems of dependency and vulnerability to blockades which are intrinsically inter-related. These twin problems often act as multiplicative factors, breeding, at times, serious humanitarian crisis as is being witnessed today. To ward off such crises in future, both the problems of dependency and vulnerability to blockades need to be addressed in a wholesome manner. The immediate crises can be overcome by neutralising blockades but lasting solution to the problem of blockades and its effects lies in doing with total dependency on imported goods or uni-directional trade pattern. As we have said, Manipur’s dependency has reached its limits. There is no easy way out or a ready-made solution. It demands a sustained struggle guided by an appropriate political will to reverse the advanced stage of dependency.
Dependent or independent, highways are indispensable to Manipur. Today, highways are road to survival. In future, they can be roads to prosperity. This is all the more undeniable in the absence of access to sea routes or maritime trade. Vulnerability to highway blockades can be reduced significantly by opening as many routes as possible instead of depending entirely on a single route. No landlocked state can afford to rely on a single transit state. This is a universally accepted understanding and one need not be a rocket scientist to grasp its implications. Even a High School student can understand it but how our successive political leaders perceive this decades old problem is anybody’s guess.
Lingering crisis & Distress Call
Now it is more than one month since NSF and ANSAM lifted their blockades but the humanitarian crisis triggered by the blockades is far from over. There is no sign of any relief in near future. We fear, it would take a couple of years, if not longer, before NH 53 can replace NH 39 as the umbilical cord between Manipur and India. But the people are suffering the worst ever non-military crisis in the entire history of this ancient kingdom, with cost of living suddenly leapfrogging beyond the reach of tens of thousands of families. Yes, the people of Manipur are drowning in a deep sea of distress. Here, we cannot help asking if NH 53 can come to our rescue. Will NH 53 be blockade free ? Can Manipur prosper without blockades ? We are afraid, neither NH 53 will be blockade free nor Manipur can ever prosper even if there is no blockade.
At the moment, opening highways is paramount but for posterity, we need to think beyond highways and blockades. We need to pool together our political wits and mental strength to free ourselves from the quagmire of dependency. Just as long as this dependency persists, the very soul of the distinctive Manipuri nation will fade into oblivion, and ultimately Manipur will go down the history as one of the lost civilizations. We do agree that no nation can be fully self-reliant in the modern world. Inter-dependence is an indispensable phenomenon of the modern economic dynamics. At the same time, no nation can survive and prosper without some productive bases of their own. Sadly, this is exactly what is missing in present day Manipur. Without a productive base of its own, one can hardly expect Manipur to make any progressive stride. We are of the firm opinion that Manipur can be self-reliant at least in agriculture sector, and this can serve as a launching pad for other economic sectors of which Manipur has enough potential. An intensive green revolution and socio-political awakening is long overdue in the backdrop of the decaying politico-economic landscape of Manipur. Fight Dependency is the implicit distress call of the present humanitarian crisis.

This article was posted on The Sangai Express on Sunday, July 18, 2010

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