Excerpts from the interviews with Prof. Naorem Sanajaoba (taken in 2000)
(ex-Dean Faculty of Law, Gauhati University)

By: Witoubou *

Witoubou, Editor of Newmai News Network (NNN) took this interview some nine years ago which were published in The Sangai Express daily on July 25, 2000 and October 12, 2000. (Sanajaoba passed away on December 13, 2009 in Imphal)

Witoubou: After the Jammu and Kashmir Government had passed a resolution on autonomy, there are noises everywhere in India now but only few people seem to understand what autonomy exactly is. Could you elaborate on the issue?
Prof Sanajaoba: Autonomy is such a concept which could be interpreted in more than one ways. In a plural society, federal, multi-racial and multi-linguistics societies it is more so. We can interpret in as many ways as we can.

Witoubou: In the Indian context?
Prof: As far as we understand it in the Indian context—it is a semi-federal country and some of the states like Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Assam, Manipur Nagaland, Tripura etc. have been demanding re-federalization and restructuring of the Centre's relationship with them.

Witoubou: What exactly these States want?
Prof: These states want more power.

Witoubou: What type of power, could you specify?
Prof: These powers include legislative, financial and the executive. But in the context of Jammu and Kashmir, its Assembly had recently passed a resolution on 26th June, 2000 about restoration of the autonomous political status as existed before 1953. Regarding Punjab, in 1977 there was Anandapur Sahib resolution which is more or less similar to the demand of the Kashmiri people. The West Bengal demands the same thing again. The West Bengal document of 1977 under the leadership of the CPM Government demanded that more powers should be given to the State.

Witoubou: And Manipur?
Prof: Manipur Assembly has been demanding autonomy but the Assembly did not clearly define autonomy as much as the Jammu and Kashmir resolution of the 26th June 2000 had done.

Witoubou: If maximum autonomy is granted what are the things likely to be controlled by the Centre?
Prof: The situation of Manipur is similar to that of Jammu and Kashmir. Both the States had been princely States. After 26th of October 1947 India had taken three things from the then King of Jammu and Kashmir - they are defence, external affairs and communication. Similarly when the Maharaj of Manipur had signed the treaty on 11th August 1947, the King of Manipur had transferred three powers like that of Jammu and Kashmir. As per the provision of the treaty rest of the powers should be retained by the State of Manipur.

Witoubou: Except Assam, other States in the North-east India are demanding autonomy from the Centre. Will autonomy suit us?
Prof: May I add one point? Assam is facing acute financial and fiscal crisis.

Witoubou: But still they have tea-gardens, oil etc.
Prof: You see, States like Manipur and Assam are 90% grant States. This status was given by a former Prime Minister. Even this status cannot rectify the fiscal and financial imbalances. This is structurally inbuilt into the consideration of India and has to be rectified. Regarding the fiscal autonomy, it is true that some people harbour fear and uncertainty.

This is because unless more money flows in from the Centre to manage a State like Manipur, how can employees be paid apart from other developmental issues. These are headache to successive Governments of Manipur. But one thing I feel is that the fiscal and financial relationship between the Centre and the State has to be revolutionized, it should be overhauled; otherwise the State will be at the receiving end. So unless these major things are changed the State will always beg from the Centre.

Witoubou: What are the right initiatives in mobilizing for the demand of autonomy?
Prof: Now, we should be very clear about public opinion in Manipur which, to be frank, is very unclear and mixed. We have now three major categories of public opinion in Manipur. One is the Unitarians. This group of people wants the Centre to be very strong and grow stronger and stronger. But they are the smallest group. The second one is that of the silent majority who are sitting on the fence without asserting anything for autonomy.

Thirdly, we have a strong undercurrent or the movement since 1949 of the people of Manipur to exercise their rights of self-determination. There is a strong liberation movement not only in Manipur but in other parts of the North East India. Everyone knows this fact and we cannot deny it. Considering this situation what could be the shape of things to come, nobody can predict that precisely. I can only guess that these are the three main streams of thinking which are found among the politicians, scholars and think-tanks.

Witoubou: If autonomy is granted to any State, say Jammu and Kashmir other States may follow suit. Will it not endanger the integrity of India?
Prof: We have to be objective about our analysis of social movements and legal structures and other similar things. Firstly, the fear is unfounded. The Union Government has spoken of their mind saying that if the Jammu and Kashmir resolution of the 26th June 2000 is implemented then Punjab, Tripura, Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and to some extent, as you have said, the Southern States may follow suit and there may be national disintegration but this is very much untrue. And due to this misconception successive Union Governments have always mistaken the autonomy issue as secessionist movement which is wrong. Nothing is more mistaken than perception of autonomy as secessionism. Autonomy does not in any way mean disintegration of the nation.

Witoubou: What do you foresee if Manipur is given the autonomy status?
Prof: Indian Civil Services may not be applicable any more. Fundamental Rights of the Constitution of India will be scrapped and the Manipur Constitution will adopt its own set of Fundamental Rights.

Witoubou: Election Commission will have no say either.
Prof: Yes, the function of the Election Commission will be totally scrapped.

Witoubou: What about the Judiciary?
Prof: Regarding the judiciary Manipur will have a court, an apex court comparable to the Supreme Court.

Witoubou: So the State will be cut-off from the Supreme Court also?
Prof: Yes, but in order to maintain a constructive relation between a quasi-state and the Government of India in that model, there could be a new mechanism so that Manipur Government and Government of India may resolve their conflicts judicially either through arbitration or through a judicial structure but not in a Supreme Court as we have today.

Witoubou: What authority then the Union Government will have?
Prof: The Union Government will maintain only the Legislative authority on defence, communication, external affairs and almost the currency for financial transaction between the State and Centre.

Witoubou: When 90% of our expenditure are from the Centre, how are we going to generate it if not provided by the Centre?
Prof: Manipur can generate its own economy. In a quasi-State or in a full-fledged State of Manipur if the Union Government does not interfere, Manipur can maintain international economic relation with other countries. Then we can open some industrial sectors like the silicon Valley, watch factories where the infrastructure and the transportation cost can be minimum. We can open tourist centres, you see Fiji's main economy is the tourism industry.

Witoubou: So we have enough potential and ways to exploit our resources in order to be economically independent?
Prof: Yes, we have lots of potential.

Witoubou: But that potential and resources are not the main factors, a good work culture is very much necessary.
Prof: But this work culture is not something which we can write on the paper. The type we need for the common people is like this—we have to stand on our own feet. If I don't earn my bread today I have no alternative but to beg or die. Motivation is necessary. If we do not compete in the international market we will not flourish like the Punjabis do. Once we have the aim, we should try to exploit the potential to achieve that goal. If we can utilize 10% of our potential then we will not be inferior to the economy of Punjab or Tamil Nadu.

Witoubou: Are you suggesting that the people of Manipur are not enterprising and we also have some sort of inferiority complex?
Prof: Yes, this is due to the failure of the leadership politically, academically and socially. Instead of making tall claims we should learn from the Chinese, Japanese and the South Koreans on how they have become a nuclear power inspite of their countries being barren lands. It will be much better and motivate our mind.

Witoubou: So you are blaming the social environment that we have?
Prof: Yeah, but environment is something you can beat with your stick. We have to re-energize and recreate new environment to usher in progress and development. We blame everybody, we blame God except ourselves. The moment we discard this type of culture then situation will be very much conducive to development. Most importantly we should not underrate ourselves.

October 12—2000:-

Witoubou: Precisely speaking, since India is comprised of many kingdoms merged into a nation by many Merger Agreements and Instruments so once Manipur's Agreements of merger are revoked others may follow suit. Well, if this happens in case what will the picture be like?
Prof: West Bengal may join Bangladesh, Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh may join with China because China does not recognize these two states as India's territories, Kashmir may join Tajikistan and Punjab may join Pakistan. Tamil Nadu and the southern Dravidian belt may join the Tamil Eelam. Then at that juncture South Asia will be facing a nuclear flash-point. I don't think that the Govt. of India is that foolish to invite a nuclear flash-point and a permanent state of war in South Asia. So given this account I don't think the Govt. of India will revoke the Merger Agreement of 1949 and the Instrument of 1947. I don't believe that the Govt. of India will make such a mad adventure.

Witoubou: As a noted scholar of the North East region, what do you foresee in the insurgency movements in the region. I think the movements have reached its volatile point?
Prof: The Govt. of India had started some initial form of political dialogue with an outfit from Nagaland which demands total sovereignty and complete independence from the Indian rule and if the Govt. concedes this sovereignty of Nagaland State then the sovereignty of Manipur, Assam, Tripura, will follow automatically. Yes, your question of insurgency, the region has been restive for half a century now and if the Govt. of India feels that it wants to create some sort of associate Statehood- a kind of conceding total sovereignty - in that case the Govt. of India has to take control of three or four powers from the states especially defence, currency, commu-nication and external affairs. Whether total sovereignty or semi-independence is to be given the matter has to come to the Parliament and two thirds of the members of the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha have to enact a law. This is a political process.

Witoubou: Talking of sovereignty demands, all over the world things have become restive and no part of the globe has no respite now. Taking the cites, Rigoberta's indigenous movement in Guatemala, White Supremacist Ku Klux Klan of USA in the Balkans, Middle East, and the recent Fiji pandemonium. So you know, a kind of liberationism is going on in the world. What.....
Prof: If we want to transform every ethnic groups of the world a sovereign political status there will be two thousand more independent countries. It is impossible and unworkable. But talking of the UNPO, the Unrepresented People's Organization - they are forty in number. They are asking for sovereignty. Besides this, there are another twenty to thirty groups who are demanding sovereignty. So all together there are about seventy groups who are demanding sovereignty. Right now we have 190 UN members and add this 70 then we will have 260 members. So it will not be possible to add more than this and I think my strategy will not be much wrong. This is a workable world order. If every tribe or caste is given sovereignty then the world will be unworkable one.

Witoubou: And racism.....?
Prof: Coming to racism, we all belong to a single race and that is human being and it also true anthropologically and biologically that there are four or five major races. But a racial state is an impossible task. Adolf Hitler wanted to have a purely racial state but it failed. Racial state cannot exist. Only multi ethnic state can exist provided they share the power. But once a major group thinks that they are the permanent rulers of the state over smaller ethnic groups then it is the beginning of the end of the multi ethnic State.

* Witoubou, Editor of Newmai News Network (NNN) took this interview some nine years ago which were published in The Sangai Express daily on July 25, 2000 and October 12, 2000. This article was webcasted on December 19th, 2009.

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