TODAY -

Manipur's political impasse & the bottlenecks in reaching a solution

Yenning *

Army patrolling in Imphal city sometime in August 2011
Army patrolling in Imphal city sometime in August 2011



There is a political impasse in Manipur, though the Indian State prefers to use the expression, "law and order" to describe the never ending conflict situation. The tiny state, more than any other states of the Northeast India, has been experiencing one of the longest armed movements in South Asia. As a result, there has been a situation of political impasse between the armed opposition groups demanding independence from India and the Indian State. This has resulted to violation of human rights, loss of lives, property and destruction of human security itself. In order to come out of the impasse, the India State have been following two paths, first informed by militarism and secondly, a developmentalist or the modernist path. However, both the strategies have failed to yield any tangible result or success so far.

Origin of the political impasse can be traced to the forced merger of the erstwhile sovereign Manipur into the Union of India in 1949 and the simultaneous response of certain groups of the Manipuri people into an armed movement demanding restoration of its sovereignty. It is worthwhile to recall that British left Manipur in 1947 (defeated Manipur in the Anglo-Manipur War 1891, then made it a Protectorate State of the Crown, and thus was never a part of British India) as a sovereign Princely State. Manipur was tagged a "disturbed state" by India on account of eruption of armed movement.

The same was greeted with the imposition of the Armed Forces Special Power Act-1958 (hereafter AFSPA) in 1980 all over Manipur. The militaristic approach on the path of the Indian State has led to militarization and violation of human rights. At the same time, the imposition of the Act has also facilitated migration, created a sort of centralized politics, in which New Delhi takes decisions without taking into consideration the dynamics of ethnic structure of the region or other unique features - often bypassing the integrity of federal structure, etc.

Decades-long movement for repealing the draconian law has fallen into deaf ears. Take for instance, recently Rajnath, Home Minister of the Government of India has decided to continue imposition of the Act on "operational grounds". Sharmila's fast for liberation and repeal of the Act continue to go unheard!

So far, the Indian Government has been describing the situation of the Northeast or Manipur as an outcome of economic backwardness or a mere internal "law" and "order" problem that has been responding with some economic incentives. There has not been a concise definition of what the two terms mean. But at the operational level, it refers to a situation in which "some misguided youths" make trouble by challenging the might of the Indian State. But the question pertinent question is, does the mighty India need its army and para-military forces to deal with "some misguided youths"?

Whatever the rationale is, in addition to the militaristic approach, the Central Government has been employing various developmental projects, including construction of mega dams, transnational highways, petroleum exploration, etc. that result to influx of immigrants, ethnic conflict, public unrest, etc. Such developmentalist approach are looked upon as a sure-shot measure to end armed conflict in the region. By developmentalist approach, we refer to the militarily induced developmentalism that the Indian Government have been embarking on as the central legitimizing strategy implemented to justify and establish firmer control over these frontier areas such as the Northeast.

Accordingly, militaristic developmen-talism is taken as a concept of development that largely focuses on the state-building for the sake of national security, i.e. for the easy movement of the state's (Indian) armed forces at the huge socio-political and environmental cost of its own people. It must be remembered that in order to facilitate such an approach, the Government at New Delhi, in the name of welfare and development of this very region deputed a ministry called the Department of Northeast Region (DONER in 2000). In 1984, the North East Council was created to undertake similar mission.

These projects, particularly under the initiation of DONER Ministry and the launching of Look East Policy (LEP, now Act East Policy) were embarked on with the undertaking that the entire Northeastern states will be benefited in the field of border trade, tourism, infrastructural sector. And eventually such projects would provide jobs to the unemployed educated youths of this region and would discourage the young people from taking up arms.

In fact, most of the political leaders, if not all, think that economic incentives is the perfect means/manna to end the Northeastern region's age-old armed conflict. Perhaps, the national leaders of India are trying to follow the Karl W. Deutsch's philosophy that 'modernization, increases in urbanization, industrialization, schooling, communication and transportation facilities, and so on, would lead to assimilation'; and thus end the problem. It should be noted that the durable problem of the Northeast or Manipur is not the sole outcome of backwardness or underdevelopment as the government of India perceives, but it is by and large, an offshoot of the coercive nature of state and nation building processes of India.

According to Subhir Bhaumik, "In spite of all the zealous efforts made by the Indian Government, the said projects have not provided the desired result so far". As a matter of fact, the Annual Report 2007-08 of the Employment Exchange, Government of Manipur, reveals that there are as many as 598,117 unemployed educated youths in Manipur itself, i.e. approximately about 26 percent are unemployed people out of the total 2.3 million population.

No doubt, the developmentalist projects of India have brought about certain infrastructural changes and may be a few people of this region are benefited by default, but these apparently fail to win the heart of the people or offer benefits to the wider group of this region so far. Law of iron oligarchy prevails in Manipur and such development project have only produced new social classes such as a new breed of contractors, new forms of labour (cheap) migrants and a new class of consultants. These are the classes who in addition to the political class have really reaped the benefits. The resultant situation is encountered with a host of agitations. Perhaps, the Government has either failed to understand the core issue or never crossed their minds to ponder upon.

Thus, it can be concluded up that, the developmentalist or the modernist path that the Indian Government embarked was neither implemented from the result of a selection set by the policy makers at the center (New Delhi) about what would be the best for the well being of the people of this region, nor was it the inevitable mission for all round development of this region.

Rather, as Sanjib Baruah remarks, "It is an intended effort to exert control over this frontier region to make it a 'normal' part of India's national space". This path will ultimately lead to a disastrous outcome, i.e. to rely on the strategy of filling up (nationalizing) this fringe region with the nation bearing migrants will exacerbate the socio-political problem of this region. These issues are hardly documented so far and there is dearth of study conducted particularly in Manipur. It is not only because of the lack of literature but also because of the complicated nature of armed conflict situation.

More than anything else, even in the height of the demand for the implementation of the Inner Line Permit, the Ibobi-led Government refuses to acknowledge how a tiny state like Manipur would be devastated by the illegal migrants. His Government refuses to call them migrants but visitors and does not think beyond the setting up of kiosks for registration of the "visitors".

Perhaps, his Government fears that New Delhi will refuse to sanction money for development funds, once Manipur takes a nationalistic stand on inflow of migrants. Or perhaps, allowing migrants to settle down in Manipur is a conscious strategy calculated in tandem with the Central Government to counter armed-opposition movement, or in Baruah's words, a part of the nationalizing mission to create a new breed of Aryan race and Manipuri race, just like how "Semiya" (breed between Sema Naga tribe and Mias from Bangladesh), in Manipur.

(Guest writer of the week: Oja Rameshchandra Ningthoujam)


* Yenning wrote this article for The Sangai Express as part of 'Hoi Polloi And Mundanity'
The writer can be reached at yenning05(at)rocketmail(dot)com or visit hoipolloiandmundanity.blogspot.com
This article was posted on April 02, 2015.


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