Delimitation and the limitation of the valley minorities of Manipur

SM Jalal *

After a presidential order, citing security reasons, was issued in February, 2008, the delimitation exercise in accordance with the provisions of the Delimitation Act, 2002 was deferred in respect of four northeast Indian states namely Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. In case of Manipur there was included the condition of abnormality of population.

In Manipur, politicians and pressure groups charged up the atmosphere to the effect that unless there was a fresh census in three hill districts, the exercise would be an “unholy haste” which may bring upon the state “dire consequences”. It led to a public hullabaloo in different areas of the state by pro and anti-camps.

In Nagaland, although a few under-represented tribes saw a ray of hope in the delimitation exercise, NSCN (IM) was opposed to it as the exercise would demean their political demands as part of the Naga peace process which was in its advanced stage.

Moreover, the Nagas frowned upon the 64.41% decadal population growth as per the Census of 2001. In Assam, the jury was still out on the population of the state as the NRC updating exercise was in limbo even after 22 years of signing the Assam Accord which mandated the exercise.

Unaddressed concerns

In the case of both Manipur and Nagaland, the 2001 census data might have swelled because of increased coverage of hinterlands which were hitherto left out. In the twelve years since the deferment of delimitation exercise, none of the concerns for the deferment was addressed by the govt.

So, in February, 2020, when the President rescinded the order and subsequently in March a Delimitation Commission was reconstituted, old unaddressed concerns and political fault lines in Manipur and Nagaland got a new venting space where a staunch opposition to the exercise based on Census, 2001 is a gathering storm. However, amidst the clutter and cacophony of petitions, PIL, memorandums, and counter memorandums, Manipuris and Nagas seem to prefer the exercise to be done based on the Census 2011 data.

In Nagaland, there is a mixed response to the Delimitation order of March 6, with some still upbeat while others see a conflict of interest with the Naga peace talk. The talks reached its penultimate moment (at least the hype hinted so) last year which generated a sense of insecurity and indignation among the adjoining stakeholder states, but a deafening silence has prevailed since then except for occasional attempts to break the Naga spirit ‘orchestrated’ by the Centre.

For example, according to media reports, Naga self-administered zone in the Sagaing region of Myanmar has been under crackdown since this February by Indian army and Myanmar military causing artificial food crisis. On July 11, six NSCN (IM) cadres were killed in Longding, Arunachal Pradesh in an operation by Indian Army, Assam Rifles and state police, which was termed “state-sponsored terrorism” by the outfit.

In yet another attempt, peace talk interlocutor and Governor of Nagaland R. N. Ravi alleged last month that armed gangs were running Nagaland by extorting money from the public and businesses. Being the interlocutor, Mr Ravi must be already knowing what the insurgents have been doing to sustain their struggle for a political solution.

The parallel govt that the NSCN (IM) runs may not be music to one’s ears, but it is a reality. The common concern of the Assamese in 2008 about the state’s population has just got murkier now with the ruling party, the BJP, and its organsdesirous of repeating the NRC updating exercise even after the final list was published leaving room for 19 lakh persons to appeal to the court.

Meanwhile, the opposition and rights groups contest the “flawed” process itself as it was skewed ostensibly against the minorities, poor and document-less citizens. It is sad that after spending around Rs. 1220 crore, engaging 52,000 officials and putting in 5-6 years of effort, the jury on the population of the state of Assam is still out.

Disproportionate representation

Take Manipur in focus. The hills are inhabited mostly by Scheduled Tribes (~ 35.1%), whereas the valley is inhabited by Meiteis[~52.3%, including SC (3.8%)], Pangals (Muslims) (8.4%), and others as per Census of India, 2011. A comparative picture of representation of the population in the Legislative Assembly of Manipur [SC-1, ST-19, General-40 (of which Muslims have won an average of two or three seats in every election since 1972, the year in which Manipur became a state)] will reveal a lot about the disproportionate representation.

General seats have been ascribed to Meiteis and Pangals (Muslims) in the data presented here as ‘others’ have not won any General seat since 1990. Based on the population of Muslims in Census 1991, 2001 and 2011, there were close to 44512, 63646 and 79945 persons per Assembly seat, respectively, considering that they sent three MLAs during the period in each election.

This translated into 25127, 41744 and 45256 voters per seat in the election years 1990, 2002 and 2012. The number of Muslim voters was obtained by multiplying the population of Muslims with the percentage of General voters with respect to the population of Manipur (minus SC and ST) as per the closest census figure. With 61.6% increase in SC population from 2001 to 2011 (Muslims posted 25.6% increase), SC became the most under-represented in 2011.

From 1991 through 2001 to 2011, Meiteis (excluding SC, Muslims, and others) had just 61.7%, 49.2% and 53.9% persons with respect to Pangalsper Assembly seat (considering 37 or 38 seats were available to them), respectively. Further analysis of the data would reveal that Meiteishad the lowest number of voters in those years, even fewer than the State’s average.

Of the twelve Rajya Sabha MPs from Manipur since 1972, only two from the hills (three terms) and one Muslim (one term) have interspersed the exclusive reign of the Meiteis. In addition, the twelve Lok Sabha elections during the period chose only Meitei MPs. No doubt a section of the valley is over-represented at the cost of the minority communities co-inhabiting the same political space.

Ventriloquist’s dummy

The Pangals (Muslims) had a fair representation (5.7%) in the State Assembly under the Manipur State Constitution Act, 1947 promulgated by the then monarch. After gaining statehood in 1972, the period before 1990 saw 4.5% representation in the Assembly. Post 1990, the figure slid down to 2.3%.This under-representation trend coincided with the rise in ‘othering’ and ‘marginalisation’ of the Pangals through various propaganda, stereotyping, criminal intimidation and ghettoisation spearheaded by some of the then disillusioned insurgents who re-purposed themselves to find an easy target or villain within the state.

Unsubstantiated data of increase in the population of Pangals was used to concoct a ‘fake’ threat to the existence of the majority community by, among others. The Pangals in Manipur have a centuries-old history of being a hybrid community,but even then, there is an attemptto hyphenate them with the majority community.

The lack of representation and the parallel marginalisation projects might have had a big blow on the Pangal community in Manipur. This could be said from the extreme deplorable conditions in terms of economy, education and health infrastructure highlighted by the Socio-Economic Survey on Meitei-Pangals, 2004 conducted under the aegis of the Directorate of Economics and Statistics, Govt of Manipur.

As per the Survey, only 28.83% were in the labour force. Of these, only 24.14% were employed. The reason for this dismal representation in the economy may be found in the All India Survey on Higher Education 2017-18 (AISHE) that pointed out that the share of Muslims in total enrolment was higher than other minorities in 2012-13. As per the above-mentioned Socio-Economic Survey of Meitei-Pangals, around 62% of the house holds possessed cultivated land without irrigation facilities, around 62% stayed in kutcha houses, and only 5.49% of households had access to tape water.

If the upcoming delimitation exercise is to be done by convention based on 2001 census, then it is too late, hence it may not achieve its objective of proportionate representation (and political empowerment) as we are about to enter the second round of census during which the population has increased beyond the representational capacity of the then existing number of Assembly/Parliamentary seats.

On the light of above facts, All Manipur Muslims Organisations’ Co-ordinating Committee raised the concern by submitting the memorandum to the Sr. Principal Delimitation 2020. AMMOCOC has also sent the similar copies to PMO office, Home Minister, Chairman National Commission for Minorities (NCM), PS to Chief Minister, PS to Governor Manipur and Speaker of Manipur Legislative Assembly. The Committee cited the proportionate representation of Minority Pangal Community in particular and the Delimitation to be conducted as per the update Census report.

Accordingly the Committee pleaded to be include a Pangal representative to the associate members of determination Commission which was nominated by the Speaker of Manipur. In accordance to the letter, addressed to the Chairman National Commission for Minorities, appropriate action has been taken by forwarding a letter to the Delimitation Commission for favourable and necessary action as requested by AMMOCOC. National Commission for Minorities has also intimated, president AMMOCOC for the action taken by National Commission for Minorities via letter No. M/MN/801/1/2020 dated 07/07/2020.

Subsequently, listening to out plea, Honarable Speaker of Manipur Legislative Assembly nominated a Pangal representative (Md Abdul Nasir, MLA-Lilong Assembly Constituency) as an associated member of the Delimitation commission 2020.

It is an ultimate hope from the Committee (AMMUCOC) that there will be a justifiable result on the above improportionate facts and the circumstances.

*SM Jalal wrote this article for Imphal Times
The writer is the President of the All Manipur Muslim Organisations’ Co-ordinating Committee (AMMOCOC)
This article was webcasted on September 10 , 2020

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