The critical shift from being ruled by regimes that were not accountable to the people to a rule by an administration constituted through the will of the people became a reality on 18th October, 1948 as the said Assembly was inaugurated by the then Maharajah who became a constitutional monarch.
By: Bimol Akoijam
For centuries, most parts of the world were reeling under the colonial rule of the imperial powers, often in cahoots with the local feudal and autocratic/aristocratic regimes, which were not accountable to the colonized people. Then, towards the later part of 19th century and early part of 20th century came the epoch making socio-political churnings that set up the process of “de-colonization”. By late 1940s, things began to show results as the colonized people started setting up their own regimes by themselves to run their collective life.
It was in the context of that epoch-making changes that the people of Manipur took the lead by making Manipur the first State to have a Legislative Assembly constituted through an election based on universal adult franchise in South Asia. The critical shift from being ruled by regimes that were not accountable to the people to a rule by an administration constituted through the will of the people became a reality on 18th October, 1948 as the said Assembly was inaugurated by the then Maharajah who became a constitutional monarch with that epoch making moment.
Of course, that moment did not last long, hardly 11 months as that Assembly was unceremoniously dissolved by an order of the Government of India as it took over the administration of the state on 15th October, 1949. Thus, the critical beginning of a postcolonial life, a shift from the notion of being a people based their status as “subjects” of a monarch to a notion of people-hood based on a political mass of individuals who were regarded as equal in principle as right bearing citizens (irrespective of gender, education, religious persuasions, or place of birth or habitat etc) was abruptly put to an end as Manipur came to be ruled by an official appointed by New Delhi and who was not accountable to the people he ruled over.
This ironical beginning of a postcolonial life was something that the people of Manipur did not experienced even after Manipur was defeated by the Colonial British power in 1891 as the victorious British not only decided not to annex Manipur into British India but also decided to reinstall a regime led by a local king. This peculiar “postcolonial” experience almost lasted a quarter of a century (23 years). Only after Manipur was granted “statehood”, could it have an Assembly of its own constituted through election based on universal adult franchise again.
But with this paradoxical beginning of Manipur’s postcolonial life, the die has already been cast for the life of the people in the state. Words of Mono Monsang, a member of that short-lived Assembly, “Shak-mai munna khangnadri-ngeida Assembly-du kaikhrabaniney, tha taramathoi khak chelam-laga!” (Even before we get to know each other, the Assembly was dissolved only after 11 months!), poignantly captured the contemporary fragmentation of the idea of “the people of Manipur” and a common polity and society in Manipur today. And having been shaped and nurtured by decades of direct rule by New Delhi through its nominee which was not accountable to the (will) of the people of Manipur whom he governed, Manipur continues to suffer from an inability to have a government which is accountable to its people (their will, needs and concerns) besides the disconnect between the governed (the people of Manipur) and those who govern the state that marks the state today.
In that, with the oath-taking ceremony by a motley crowd of students, professionals and concerns citizens in Imphal, Delhi, Chandigarh, Jalandhar, Chennai etc which marked the formal beginning of the “People’s Campaign for Assembly Election 2012: Deciding Our Destiny” today, 18th of October, 2011, shall remain a date to remember. However, insignificant this beginning might be in the eyes of the cynics and slavish/small-minds of those who have been groomed under the “patron-client” political culture of an ironical postcolonial life, for those of us in the campaign, I am sure, cannot help but sense the historical moment and responsibility that we have as we took the oath this 18th October. And we shall carry out, in fact we are already carrying out, to the best of what we can do in ways and means, as sincerely and seriously with dedication in the next few days to make this forthcoming Assembly Election in Manipur an issue-based election!