Analysis of the Week
Thounaojam Tarunkumar, a respected senior journalist from Manipur who once edited a radical publication which was deeply respected by the readers and feared by those in the establishment wrote,
‘We all know Manipur, and Manipuris have gone through historically tumultuous times during our own lives. Yet, individually as well as collectively, we have tended to absorb all the slings and arrows that these tumults have served on us. Very few of us have chosen to engage these tumults in terms of raising the whys, hows, and wherefores, let alone the rights and wrongs of it. The choices that have gone unexercised in the wake of these tumults point to the debates suppressed in each of us and in the public sphere.’
This was in 2006, and his observation still holds true to a great extent. There have been developments in our public life which seem to show indications of ‘the debates suppressed’ and/or lack of an engagement of ‘whys, hows and wherefores, let alone the rights and wrongs of it’. Take the case of the issues around the three controversial Bills passed by the State Assembly. It has left more questions unanswered.
It’s a truth of the present
It has been such a tremendous and sustained protest for laws to protect the interests of the ‘indigenous’ people. There was this sense of urgency to have the legislations so much so that the activists and politicians had to burn the mid-night oil. As a result, the three Bills were adopted by the Assembly. But we do not have the laws as yet. For, the process has not been completed; the assent hasn’t been given and hence those three Bills are not laws. And the demand was for some law(s). This being the case, why and how that sense of urgency that dictated months long protest, punctuated by unruly violence, has suddenly disappeared?
Did the Government of Manipur, and members of the State Assembly, know that getting the assent from the Governor or the President would not be easy, if not impossible, but somehow wanted to get over the sustained protests by passing the buck to the Union Government? More importantly, did the leaders of the protest, those who had spearheaded the protest demanding for such laws, know about this issue? If they were, why would they pursue a process which they already knew would land up in this limbo? If they were not, were they innocent or ignorant of the issues at hand?
Besides, incidentally, the controversial three Bills are NOT ‘Inner Line Permit’ (ILP). Did those who led the protest in demand for laws to protect the ‘indigenous’ people of the state, know about the fact that the expression ‘ILP’ would invite negative attention due to its ‘colonial’ lineage and issues related to ‘tribal’ people etc? Given this, were they aware that their demand could have been framed without invoking this expression ‘ILP’? And given the prevailing situation of a fractured polity, between the valley and Hills, did the leaders of the protest sense the possible response/reaction from segments from the Hills of Manipur?
On the other hand, those who are protesting against the Bills also need to ask as to why their own representatives have voted for the said Bills. More specifically, does that allude to a gap between the ‘people’ and their ‘representatives’? If yes, does it also speak of a shared life of all citizens of the state which is marked by a palpable disconnect between the institutions, representatives and the common people in the state which characterizes the politics and political culture in Manipur?
In all likelihood, these are serious issues that shall go as aspects in our historical trajectory in which we ‘absorb all the slings and arrows that these tumults have served on us’. Sadly, it might as well become a part of the ‘silence’ that we might find if and when we ask: If people talk of election results in Bihar as shaped by developmental or ideological issues, could we also talk of issues which had shaped the election results in Manipur? Therein lies the nature of our public and public opinions that have critical bearing on our political culture and politics in the state.
Last week, Irom Sharmila have completed 15th year of her fast demanding the removal of the notorious Armed Forces Special Powers Act (1958). And last week, lots of people have marked the anniversary. That way, it seems that there is no dearth of supporters for Sharmila. And yet, ironically, media reported that she felt that there’s a lack of support for her ‘movement’ while simultaneously affirming that she would fight it ‘alone’. However one may have different opinions on such issues, it nonetheless alludes us to certain issues that one doesn’t get to grapple with adequately all these years.
Indeed, Sharmila’s struggle raises issues on the nature of this legal fiction called AFSPA but also on the ‘movement’ against it. For instance, why is the AFSPA enforced to begin with? Is it to deal with ‘armed rebellion’ (khut-lai-paiba lanhouba’) and those rebellions that threatened the security and integrity of the nation?
If that is so, why is that Supreme Court in its 1997 Judgment upholding the constitutionality of AFSPA insisted that there’s no ‘material on record to show’ that the ‘disturbed condition’ where in the AFSPA has been invoked is due to ‘armed rebellion’? In short, why is that Supreme Court denies that there is ‘armed rebellion’ which threatens the security and integrity of the nation, and hence the AFSPA is required for the military to operate and conduct ‘counter-insurgency’ operation? Is it a part of the same strategy of the GOI to deny that there is ‘armed conflict’ in the region wherein the AFSPA has been deployed?
More pertinently, why is that those people who are in the limelight in the movement against AFSPA rarely, if at all ever, speak of such issues? Are they also part of the same effort to deny the issue at hand, namely ‘armed rebellion’ which has affected various walks of our life?
These are disturbing questions that we hardly get to hear. Just as the report of 15th anniversary of Sharmila’s fast has been marked, we are continued to be fed with the same silence all these years.
Another news that came last week was that many civil society groups in Manipur had reportedly told that Mr. RN Ravi, GOI interlocutor, to prepare for ‘war’ if Manipur’s territorial integrity was to be disturbed as a part of settlement of the decade old ‘Indo-Naga imbroglio’. It’s a threat that GOI is likely to be taken seriously. But beyond that, it also left issues that we must confront: How do we deal with the fractured nature of our polity? Does it address the perceptible divide between the people in the Hills and valley of Manipur? If yes, in what ways and sense, and with what prospects?
All these developments and issues of the last week allude us to a world of linkages amongst myriads of issues that confront the state during the last 50-60 years of its postcolonial period, and those issues are not unrelated to the radical rupture that the state had gone through as the dawn of decolonization struck during the mid 20th century. But a culture of debate and capacity to engage in an informed and purposeful manner will go a long way in grappling and shaping a new Manipur.