High profile visits have a funny effect on Manipur. The State Government puts up extra shows, often pompous, so that beggings have a desired effect. And when high commands do visit, they remain silent on issues that are affecting the tiny state. For example, the issue of armed conflict and imposition of martial law such as AFSPA, is something which the central leaders try to undermine and or skip. Similarly the State Government tries its best to show its loyalty to the visiting dignitaries by not highlighting these issues. The State Government does not bother to think twice what the people of Manipur and outside Manipur interprets their acts of omission and overt obsession with the dignataries. For them, only the visiting dignitaries are the priority. The recent visit of India’s President Pranab Mukherjee to Manipur on 15 April shows similar pattern but being a rubber stamp, the show shone less compared to the visit of Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, and National Advisory Board, Chairperson Sonia Gandhi who inaugurated numerous incomplete mega projects in Manipur in December 2011.
The Official & Unofficial Versions of Boycott
We witnessed two versions of boycott to the visit of the President of India. As usual, the armed opposition groups were in the forefront. The Coordinating Committee (CoreCom) consisting of six armed opposition groups formed in July 2011, which according to Veronica Khangchian is an ever-present danger in South Asia, formed to carry forward the national liberation movement in Manipur, and intended to establish a United Front to bring unity among revolutionary groups to free Manipur from India’s “colonial regime”, justified the boycott stating that the visit is yet another ploy by the Government of India to continue its domination of the erstwhile independent Manipur. Further, they contended that the visit is “merely an eyewash under the pretext of development projects while the real objective is to prolong India’s grip on Manipur.”
But there was also an “official” clamp-down. State security forces prohibited the commoners from venturing out. While the armed opposition groups made the boycott public, the state actors created a boycott-like situation where the general public did not want to take the risk of being harassed or mishandled or being detained in the name of security. For instance, as reported in the newspapers, whoever went out for any purpose were frisked and some were detained and beaten up. The actions of the combined forces made the boycott a complete success. The general strike affected the educational institutions; government offices, commercial areas including the Khwairamband Keithel, entertainment centres, oil pumps, and movement of vehicles, etc. Most roads wore deserted looks and at least Imphal was in a complete shutdown mode. Only visible movements were those of the security forces.
Earlier experiences from visits by dignitaries have taught us that the issues of Manipur were always sidelined by them. Dr Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi in their visits in year 2011 never mentioned about the prevailing armed conflict, AFSPA, or militarization. Similar was the case of former President Pratibha Patil. Deliberate is the word that can sum up their indifferences. Another way of putting their indifferences into perspectives can perhaps be that the State Government has acted only with the blessings of the central leaders. Perhaps it explains why none of those involved in scams in Manipur were investigated or punished despite exposures by the media and others. Thus, the boycott call given by the armed opposition groups received institutional support of the State Government, so that civil society organizations could not venture out and air their grievances or demand a fair government. Perhaps, that is the reason why the State Government took every precaution to silence the voice of the civil society organizations, and their attempts to expose the misdeeds of the Government.
United NGOs Mission Manipur (UNM-M) was the only exception and dared to raise certain issues with the visiting dignitary. In its press release, UNM-M put forth a 15-charter of demands to the Government of India that included repeal of AFSPA, to establish 20 (twenty) Special Investigation Teams to investigate all the 1528 cases of extra judicial killings (PIL before the Supreme Court) and cases of rape under AFSPA/counter insurgency, to take legal measures to ensure justice to the families of those affected by awarding appropriate punishment to the perpetrators within a period of one year constituting Independent Commissions for Conflict Resolution in the state and also to develop a framework on pre-negotiation, negotiation and post negotiation with special monitoring mechanisms with due representation of civil society and NGOs and also by engaging International Community as a Third Party to the negotiation process to settle the long standing political conflict in the state, revival of the Manipur Human Rights Commission, discussions and debates on the proposed India-European Union Free Trade Agreement in the Parliament and State Assemblies, etc.
Generally visits by dignitaries present the threats of exposing wrong doings of the State governments, the scenario is different in the case of Manipur. Such visits are taken to be opportunities for getting ‘immediate cash’ ensuing from contract and construction works, renovation of roads and construction of wooden barricade along the stretch of Imphal Airport to the sites of visits, etc. as a part of the make-shift arrangements for the visits. In the recent case, the preparation inside the Adimjati Complex was a sight to behold. Literally, state officials and politicians made a beeline to the hitherto forgotten and dead campus. The missing equipment procured during the visits of Dr Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi with an estimated cost of rupees thirty lakhs, which has to be bought all over again, is a grim reminder of how much quick money is made by the Government officials during high profile visits by politicians and heads of state.
Immediate cash factor also pertains to road fencing in the name of preparation of VVIP visits. This preparation is done in-spite of the boycott call given by the AOG. Although the State Government is aware that not a living soul is likely to venture out as a result of the boycott call given by the armed opposition groups, nevertheless, in the name of security, they go full throttle to barricade roads. Perhaps, rituals pay and the state government as security ritual constructed fences at the cost of public money.
Culture of Fooling VVIP Dignitaries
A new culture has developed by the state official particularly the ruling government of fooling the visiting VVIP dignitaries in the last few years and they are successful in fooling the visiting dignitaries including the President, PM and Sonia Gandhi. Or it could be that the visiting dignitaries are aware of the situation but they are happy receiving a royal treatment rather than looking around for reality as they are part of the problem. For instance, Adim Jati Complex which has been a dead campus for ages came alive only after receiving news that the President of India would be visiting the Complex. To be on time of the visit, a memorial stone was erected on a temporary park. The President was requested to inaugurate a Girls Hostel which was already in existence and occupied by inmates for the last many years. In a similar manner, PM and Sonia Gandhi inaugurated the incomplete buildings such as the City Convention Centre, Inter-State Bus Terminus and Assembly Building during their visits in 2011.
Adimjati & Tribal Development
When the news of the President’s visit to the dead campus of Adimjati was confirmed, it was crowded by politicians, particularly tribal politicians who have not visited the campus for ages. There were also the self appointed tribal activists crowding the campus, who all of a sudden started talking about tribal rights without understanding that Adimjati also comprises of not onlt the Scheduled Tribes but also the Scheduled Castes. At the same time, state officials of the Adimjati complained that the government is not giving fund for the ashram without bothering to investigate why the funds were not sanctioned. The overall atmosphere reeked with blame against an anti-tribal Government.
One must realise that Adimjatis across India is facing a natural death given that responsibilities Adimjati once shouldered have been replaced by other institutions and departments, such as Directorate of Education School and Higher Education as well as education system under the Autonomous District Council (ADC). So it is surprising when the President observed that he is not happy with the condition of Adimjati, perhaps, it was a passing comment targeted to make the tribal brethrens happy. If he was genuinely concerned about tribal development, then he could have extended a visit to the adjacent Indira Gandhi National Tribal University (IGNTU), Regional Campus, Manipur which is within the Adim Jati campus. It is worthwhile to recall that IGNTU was conceived for providing higher education to the tribal population (not employment which many tribal activists claim). But neither the President nor the tribal activists floated the idea of paying a visit to the University.
Various stakeholders involved in the visit of the President are basking in the false glory that each one of them emerged as the winners in executing their plans. It could be true or otherwise it could be all wrong if we see from perspective of the stakeholders in totality. In fact, the real winner is the Government of India who touches all section of society by various means but executed their plan in a hidden way. Say for example, the Government of India was successful in politically managing to advertise that Government is very much concerned about Manipur. Each visit by the heads of the State and top rung leaders assured development of the state. In the most overt manner, each visit has continued to undermine the core issues affecting Manipur. This can be interpreted as a message that the Government of India does not give a damn about the issue of self-determination and human rights violations occurring in the state.
This article was published in The Sangai Express on Sunday, April 21, 2013