The Future of Manipur: Moving on to the next chapter

Lanchenba Ningthoujam *

Manipur is in a pretty precarious situation right now, mostly due to the looming threat of bifurcation amidst the ongoing communal clashes between the Meitei and Kuki community. I am writing this article as someone who is genuinely concerned for the future of his homeland. This article isn’t meant to be political in any manner, rather a social one, focusing on the people.

During the last three months, riots and clashes have occurred throughout the land, and we have seen and heard many theories and stories come out from both sides of the conflict, each attempting to justify their actions by citing history and current events as to why their side is in the right. The growing disdain towards each other has now grown so much that there seems to be no future hope of peaceful habitation between the two communities.

While history may have had a part in causing the current conflict, I believe the geographical segregation of the two communities had the major role in driving the wedge further in. Living away from each other not only fails to help understand the other side’s problems, but also creates echo chambers that more often than not, push out rather extreme ideologues and opinions, which influences the opinions of everyone living there.

This results in a projection of a sense of mistrust, and even disdain, towards people other than their own, and often associate the wrongdoings of some with that entire community, brewing even more hate.

Currently, we can literally demarcate the map of Manipur into separate enclaves just on what type of communities live there; the North districts (Nagas), Imphal (Meitei), Mayang Imphal and Moirang (Pangal), the South districts (Kuki), etc. Communal pockets like these create barriers that often make it hard for people to move freely from one place to another without being judged or discriminated by people in that area.

While this situation may seem like a valid reason for some people to think that creating a separate State would solve the problem, one must think of the long-term implications that would have on the common people. People in the hills would have no access to proper infrastructure and facilities, and connectivity would become a nightmare for a land that’s surrounded by a hostile hill State.

There are only two classes of people that would definitely benefit from the ongoing conflict; the poppy cultivators and the militant groups of each community. While I am not blaming any particular ethnicity, it is hard to ignore the fact that most of the poppy fields are located in the Kuki-dominated hill districts.

Opium from these fields go straight into the Golden Triangle, and the income generated from them help directly fund the various militant groups of each community. With the formation of a separate administration, the drug lords would reign supreme, and would be able to cultivate poppy without any restriction or danger of ever getting their fields burnt down, thus maximising their profits.

As for the militant groups, their income would increase substantially, leading to a better supply of weapons for their extremist cause. The people of the new State would be gradually forced into participating in the drug cultivation, or else face the wrath of the militant groups protecting the poppy fields.

I am afraid the general people of the Kuki community are the ones unfortunately caught up in the midst of this whole situation. While I believe that most of them are innocent, a certain number of them that have settled in Manipur in the past recent years have had to turn to poppy cultivation as a means to an end, due to a simple lack of opportunities.

The recent ‘War on Drugs’ campaign launched by the Govt. of Manipur had struck the poppy business quite hard, so the drug lords and militant groups utilised the existing ‘communal echo-chambers’ to fuel the distrust among the communities, and started to paint everything as a campaign by the Govt to wipe out the Kukis from Manipur.

So naturally, when the HC put forth a recommendation to ‘give more power to the Meitei’ (granting ST category), they panicked and revolted, which has led to the current situation.

The State and Union Government have also failed miserably in handling the conflict in the right manner. Of course, I understand the political conundrum they face here; supporting either side would lead to huge political losses that they are just not simply ready for.

Today, they seem to have forgotten what their priorities are; protecting the State, its identity and integrity, and not pandering to any single community’s whims and fancies. The Government must continue, further intensify even, its efforts to bring down any remains of illegal poppy cultivation in the State, and implement the NRC to identify the illegal immigrants (we can decide what to do with them later on).

The Government must clearly state its intentions, and might even face a bit of a backlash initially, but would help a lot in clearing misunderstandings in the long-term. The Government must also ensure that there is no more formation of communal enclaves in order to stop any further conflicts, and enact measures to maintain a constant balance between the different communities.

Here, I would like to highlight the HDB Ethnic Integration Policy (1989) of Singapore, which ensures that a constant ratio of ethnicity be maintained in every housing development. The 1960s and 1970s witnessed massive communal clashes, and the Government was able to break them, until they decided that they could no longer afford to, which led to the EIP. Today, Singapore is one of the richest countries in Asia.

I realise that right now, people from either side aren’t exactly in the mood to ‘forgive and forget’. However, we need to realise that in the end, dragging this conflict any further is only going to help those who wish harm to our State i.e., the poppy drug lords and the militant groups. We need to realise that we, the common man, is only going to suffer more.

There is a substantial percent of people on both sides that are already suffering due to poverty and unemployment, and has just worsened during the past three months due to the various lockdowns and bandhs. The situation isn’t going to get any better, with various offices and companies being shut down or transferred someplace else due to loss of trust and economic instability.

In order to address the conflict, one must first understand and accept the validity of the concerns and demands of both communities. However, we must also try to think of the bigger picture here. Manipur was never just the Meitei, or the Kuki, or the Naga. To me, Manipur was, is, and will always comprise of the valley and its surrounding hills, and that includes the various people living in it.

The two regions fit and complement each other beautifully, like two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. The valley provides a stable and fertile base for agricultural and economic development, whereas the hills, with its terrain and forests, have access to various natural resources and much needed forest cover, along with untapped unlimited potential for tourism.

This ongoing conflict has pushed back development in Manipur for at least a decade, and there is a lot of work to be done to rebuild the trust and stability that we have lost, and much more if we want to progress any further as a society. The Government must ensure the establishment of ethnic co-dependence, like in the case of Surat, where the Hindus and Muslims never riot against each other because they are economically co-dependent on one another.

They must also create jobs and opportunities for the people to prevent them turning to illegal means to make ends meet. Cultural and ethnic integration of the communities might seem like an impossible task, but is a very necessary step to overcome this situation and help ourselves recover. This article might make me seem like I am a naïve child dreaming of an impossible utopian society, but perhaps I am. Not naïve, but hopeful.

Like I said, I am someone who genuinely wishes for peace and prosperity of his beloved motherland.

* Lanchenba Ningthoujam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is an Architect at Hyperspace Architecture
This article was webcasted on August 22 2023 .

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