History tells us the story of downfall of many a great civilization and large empire and the most important wisdom in the story of such downfall lies in the fact that the greatest danger came from within. Manipur, today is at the cross road of many crises and problems which call for extraordinary leadership, courage, honest effort, political wit and vision. For the first time in its centuries old existence, the organic character, plural ethos and legitimacy and validity of the state have been put under intense internal challenge with certain veracity and coordinated effort that was unknown before. The internal political process in Manipur is certainly moving towards diverse trajectories particularly since the NSCN (I-M) entered into ceasefire agreement (later on political dialogue) with the Government of India in 1997. Since then the momentum of greater ‘lim’ project for Nagas has intensified and it subsequently assumed the dominant agenda of NSCN (I-M) for the resolution of decades old Naga problem. Simultaneously, greater ‘lim’ demand has become a thorn in the unity and harmonious relations not only among the ethnic communities of North East region but also in Manipur. Since the most intensive opposition to the greater ‘lim’ project comes from Manipur due to historical and geographical factors, Meiteis - major community of Manipur are perceived to be the main hurdle in the realization of a greater lim for the Nagas.
While communalism is alien to our culture and in the strict sense of the term communalism – political used of religion- is still at safe distance from us, what we witness in the state is politics of ethnic exclusivism based on the ‘hate’ and ‘anti’ feeling of other groups. In our case, object of hate and animosity is not the religion of the subject but his or her ethnic membership or affiliation. In Manipur, therefore, Naga consolidation and political process is to a large extent based on anti-majority/hate-majority campaign. Evidently, ever since the NSCN (I-M) entered into peace talk with GoI and pursued ‘lim’ agenda, it has systematically followed an anti-Meitei policy, along with the projection of Meitei as ‘main hurdle’, ‘dominant’, ‘communal’ and this was taken up by many Naga civil organizations such as UNC, ANSAM etc. The unfolding political dynamics arising out of fragmented political imagination have severely affected the social relations among the communities of Manipur making it characterised by ‘temporary aberrations’ in many instances. The recent Chandel incident of 18 December 2012, wherein an actress was beaten and molested; and the case of shooting at two actors in full public view by one Lt. Col. Livingstone Anal of NSCN (I-M), is yet another case showing deep ethnic divide. Unfortunately rather than condemning and fighting collectively for justice against the crime, the protest movement following the incident ultimately ended up with culprit emerging as victor and victim as vanquished.
Response of JAC
While it is anybody’s guess whether the Chandel incident was influenced by political motive or under the influence of alcohol, but the subsequent responses to the incident clearly revealed the extent of politicization of the incident as manifested in various forms of responses by different actors. In protest against the ‘crime’, a JAC was formed and quickly started protest movement demanding that Justice should be done. Government, as always, responded with a brutal crackdown against the protestors on 21st December leading to the sudden imposition of bandh by the JAC with the support of many CSOs (Civil Society Organizations). It is true that sudden imposition of indefinite bandh had brought many inconveniences to the general public and specially to those coming and heading for Christmas- the largest and the most important festival of Christian community. Unlike the UNC’s allegation of the bandh being ‘premeditated’, ‘preplanned’, ‘coordinated’, it was never so. Once the bandh was imposed the JAC failed to coordinate and control the situation as manifested in the fragmented chain of command and differences in the opinion in terms of relaxation of the indefinite general strike. It could have been better if the JAC announced before hand safe passage for those heading for Christmas and same appeal be made repeatedly. In a state whose foundational premise is basically pluralistic, peaceful and harmonious co-existence among multiple ethnic groups having different religious denominations demand mutual respect and sensitivity to festivals and culture of co-existing communities. However, it is no denying the fact that any case of humiliation, molestation, rape are not only crimes against women as a whole but also severe violation of civilised norms of human existence that deserve severe punishment and condemnation from all sections of the society. But while demanding justice and protesting against that crime and savage character of Livingstone Anal, we could have done it in politically more responsible ways by tracing out available options which can at the same time ensure justice to the victim as well as prevent damage to the plural character and ethos of our society. Fortunately, many Civil Society Organizations of Manipur successfully intervened and brought an end to the indefinite general strike, while pledging to continue the movement for justice in other forms.
Response of Naga CSOs
As expected, many important Naga civil organizations condemn the Chandel incident but with a message not to create huge issue out of the small incident of 18 December. Unfortunately, condemnation from the Naga CSOs lacked depth and seemed to be mere political ritual. This was again evident in the stand they took later on. The UNC’s stand that ‘law of the land’ should take its own course of action, without insisting to bring out the culprit – who is taking asylum in the safe haven of NSCN (I-M ) camp, is nothing but a sort of political gimmick. Later on ANSAM’s decision to ban Manipuri films, videos album etc. is indicative of turning the issue upside down. Ultimately UNC ended up by calling 72 hours bandh from the midnight of 26th December in the so called Naga areas in protest against mistreatment of individuals belonging to Naga community. This seems to be supporting the culprit indirectly and in the entire process victim became victimized.
It is true that during the course of the general strike there was reported incidents of mishandling and mistreatment of individuals heading for Christmas by certain hooligans supporting the bandh but it was not directed against a particular community as alleged by UNC, even the medical staffs, those going for religious rituals were not spared. Such uncivilised act is absolutely condemnable but turning a serious non-political issue into an occasion for advancing ethnic political agenda is also certainly wrong. We should not forget that there are issues and areas which certainly go beyond ethnic political agenda. It is wrong to look at everything through the prism of ethno-exclusivist and ethno-centric agenda, because such approach has its own limitations. For instance UNC alleged the state government communal, then equalised it with Meitei community, and charged the government of doing nothing to maintain rule of law, but it failed to understand that it is in the valley that the most brutal aspect of state is let loose time and again. Contrary to UNC allegation during the recent general strike state government used live ammunition to suppress the agitation, while doing nothing to book the culprit. It is because of using live ammunition that a journalist was killed while on duty on 23rd December. Besides, curfew-which has become more like article 356 of the Indian Constitution, the most abused and the most frequently used one, in this part of land- was imposed everyday in the valley districts during the course of three day agitation. In no part of India or the world live ammunitions are being used against the unarmed protestors but this is incredible India, anything can happen.
Reading the government response to the recent Chandel incident highlight lack of political acumen and tactfulness among those who took the rein of running the affairs of the state. It also revealed a case of two parallel authority existing in a single state, one running the hills and other in the valley. The language of the press statement of the government using the words such as ‘unfortunate incident’, ‘apology’ and ‘violation of ground rules’ not only lacked political correctness but also failed to catch the depth of stake involved in the issue. As usual government rushed at the door of New Delhi to submit memorandum, and as usual New Delhi only followed wait and watch policy.
Various responses following the Chandel incident spoke volumes about the nature of existing social relationship among the communities of Manipur and need for rethinking on the part of the majority community because the onus of maintaining peaceful co-existence and plural character of Manipur lies mainly with the majority community. So far our responses to the greater ‘lim’, now Alternative Arrangement demand seems to be reactive, without having any tangible thing to offer. There is need for planning and honest effort to remove ‘insecurity complexes’ of minority community whether perceived or real. In this regard, search for and laying the foundation for an alternative politics which goes beyond rhetoric and ethnic politics will surely prove fruitful in the future. It is time to decide the foundational values and normative character of our society based on the existing issues and realities of Manipur.
This article was published in The Sangai Express on Sunday, December 30, 2012