Conflict situation and hostile investment atmosphere : A challenge of Manipur

Mohendro Nandeibam *

We live to-day for to-morrow with yesterday's ideas which may prove irrelevant to the fast changing socio-economic conditions. People particularly political pandits, make different interpretations of the historical happenings giving rise to two contradictory schools of thought with different stands.

When they have taken their respective positions, it becomes a vexed contention for the Government to prescribe an amicable settlement. Such contradictory standpoints, in due course sow the seeds of conflict situation with deep incompatibility.

Too much emphasis on the past weakens the ability to look at the present challenges is the right perspective. In more backward and highly unorganised States like Manipur people tend to live too long in the past unmindful of pressing challenges.

Such obsession threatens to vitiate the entire socio-economic atmosphere. The phenomenon of "stable anarchy and durable disorder" experienced in backward States like Manipur, owes its origin in the "fractured pluralism" and short-sighted governance.

Ultimately the real problem is economic. Abject poverty is, perhaps, the greatest problem of more than 40% of population living in rural and hill areas who cannot spend Rs 32 per head a day. Scramble over available resources is their life and death battle. But this hard reality is camouflaged in various forms of identity politics.

The conflicts range from insurgency for succession to insurgency for greater autonomy. One finds three kinds of conflict such as 'National' conflict for distinct homeland as separate Nation, ethnic conflict involving assertion of smaller groups and less dominant tribes and sub-regional conflict for recognition of aspirations.

Besides, there is "criminal enterprise" aimed at expanding and consolidating the entire economic resource. The lingering issue of final settlement including demand for greater Nagaland or Nagalim is causing disquiet in neighbouring States.

During 2001-2006 in 7911 conflict related incidents in the NE region 2724 civilians, 668 security personnel and 2870 extremists were killed (MHA).

The pre-industrial economy of Manipur gets increasingly troubled by the burden of history and petty politics marked by ethnic conflicts and militant conservation. We have been paying heavy price for long spell of instability. The year from 2004-05 to 2010-11 may be said to be the worst with two longest economic blockades of 60 days in 2004-5 and 69 days in 2010. It was dark days of STAGFLATION.

The total loss suffered by Manipur economy on account of economic blockades and bandhs was Rs. 246 crore in 2004-05 and Rs. 520.73 crore in 2006-07. The longest single economic blockade of 69 days in 2010 (April 12 to June 19) on National Highway (Imphal-Dimapur-Guwahati) was most demoralising with complete failure of movement. The loss amounted to Rs. 276 crore.

Black marketing, adulteration and price-hike unleashed added setbacks. Much more alarming setback is the creation of hostile investment atmosphere. The economy suffers two losses of long-term nature namely (a) Brain Drain and (b) Discouragement to entrepreneurship, which should act as kingpin of development.

The hostile investment atmosphere is marked by Insecurity of Life, Insecurity of Investment, Insecurity of Business and Insecurity of Employment. The fear of failure remains unabated. Both domestic and foreign direct investments are terribly discouraged while the State has been suffering from the acute issue of under investment.

The sad development was followed by heavy social cost. The educational institutions could not run; because buses cannot ply without petrol. For 5 litres of petrol one has to be in the queue of about 1 km; that too once for every 7 days. The State had to experience 'Schooling without Learning'.

Look at Assam. With massive improvement in militancy and infrastructures, Assam could enter into 176 Memoranda of Understanding worth Rs. 65,186 crore for various projects in 2018. Mukesh Ambani announced to invest Rs. 2,500 crore in Assam to cover 50% of population with Jio-Mobile Service.

Aditya Khaitan promised to invest Rs. 700 crore in Assam. Sajan Bhajanka MD, Centinary Plyboard and Star Cement who started his business in Tinsukia proposed new investment of Rs. 6,000 crore in cement, bamboo technology and paper.

The Tata Trusts agreed to invest Rs. 2,000 crore. The Patanjali which has invested Rs. 1,200 crore promised to increase farmer's income 10 times. Besides, the Government of Assam lined up more than 230 projects in 14 sectors such as organic cultivation, agro-processing, bamboo industry, tourism, etc.

Major pacts signed included Oil India (Rs. 1,000 crore), Indo-UK Institute (Rs. 2,700 crore), Century Ply (Rs. 2,100 crore) and Dalmia Bharat Cement (Rs. 1,100 crore). Representatives of 17 countries agreed to explore the prospective areas of investment during Advantage Assam; Global Investors Summit in Guwahati on 3rd February 2018. To-day militancy and weak infrastructure are no longer a problem. Mature Assamese society and Government know that "peace" is a dividend. What about Manipur ?

One fact is increasingly clear that we cannot expect any State, any country with complete absence of conflict-situation. Conflict is an unavoidable facet of human life the potential of conflict exists in a society with members having different mores, interests and socio-economic conditions and needs. Thus in any society, for variety of reasons, perceptions may be conceived about groups or communal interests being harmed or relatively deprived.

We have to live with conflicts. It is a question of redressal of tensions that may develop from time to time at different stages. At the same time we cannot sacrifice Growth. Possibly the best way could be a CLEAR KNOWLEDGE of the stages of conflict, the great destroyer.

The first stage is marked by individual and societal tensions which are created when they start having the feeling of being wronged, deprived and discriminated against. Injustice is the root cause. This feeling of injustice becomes the talk of the town and public places.

The second stage begins with the expression of their grievances in the form of request to the authorities. Organisations are formed for the cause: This is more opportune time for managing conflicts,-rather preventing a conflict. This stage is referred to as Latent Conflict.

The third stage becomes more serious and formalised. Unattended grievances, overlooked concerns and neglected tensions lead to further aggravation of the discontent. The stand taken by the opposing groups gets hardened. These groups express their injured feelings through more aggressive methods such as Demonstration, Processions, Strikes, Bandhs and Blockades, etc. This is stage of Escalation of Tensions.

Eruption marks the fourth stage. Tensions, if not properly attended to, lead to a situation where a small "SPARK" leads to eruption of violence. The spark leads to further polarisation of people involved.

Normally the Administration swings into action to control the violence. But adequate efforts are not made to address the root cause. Fire fighting is not enough. Uneasy peace is not peace in the real sense. As such administration should take note of Early Warnings, 'conduct Timely Analysis' and recommend Appropriate Measures. This is the issue of Good Governance.

Conclusion: Manipur is a classic example of active area of multiplicity of violent conflicts entailing loss of huge resources including human resources. What we should keep in mind is that Manipur has been fighting with very limited resources. Prevention of violent conflicts means saving scarce resources and also creation of better investment climate for long term domestic and foreign direct investment.

Our first task is "confidence building" on all fronts. NDA-Government in Manipur is all set to break the iceberg of underdevelopment beginning with "GO-TO-VILLAGE-MISSION".

Manipur, a highly sensitive land locked State surrounded by equally backward States and country (Myanmar), now needs a Long Term State Policy to deal with the fluctuating violence, tension and instability born out of multiplying conflict situations:

(A) As every conflict-formation has its own history, there is a need for conflict-mapping in its totality with regard to all parties, all goals, all issues and forgotten parties, etc. Regular dialogue with all parties on a common platform may be of crucial importance in getting to the heart of the complex issues.

(B) Peace Committees and State Oversight Committee may be constituted with dedicated responsibilities.

(C) Joint meeting of District Peace Committee, District Planning Committee and Oversight Committee may prove highly effective. Peace is not a mere absence of conflicts, but presence of justice on all fronts. (D) Government should encourage Social Entrepreneurship to sensitize and enrich collective conscience.

A time has, perhaps, come for Manipur to prepare a sound Neighbourhood Policy as part of State Long Term Policy.

* Mohendro Nandeibam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer was Professor of Economics, Manipur University
This article was webcasted on November 11 2020.

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