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Of Bills And Politics

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

/ Published by VIRTHLI
~   Zawlthanglien Khawzawl

Manipur is on the boil yet again. However, this time it is the hills that has erupted in unison like never seen before in history. The spontaneous manner in which the anger and frustration flows out so real and powerfully seems to match the very politics which has caused it to happen. Manipur is a mini-India wherein diverse ethnic groups thrives together. There are close to 30 different ethnic tribes excluding the Meiteis having their own language, customs and traditions and who have settled in Manipur since as far back to the time one could go down the realm of history. Philosophically, the existence of diverse groups of people inhabiting a common territory is an ideal thing in the sense that heterogeneity is beauty and the preferred form of existence in nature. Sadly enough, and in as much as we want it to, politics sometimes stubbornly refuse to coincide with philosophy. This is a rub of reality facing the inhabitants of Manipur.

The Root Cause 

A brief look into the history of Manipur shows that it is replete with violence linked to insurgency particularly after the formation of the (United National Liberation Front) UNLF in 1964 and the subsequent mushrooming of armed militant groups later on. Evidently, this insurgency seems to be the root cause of all the troubles and problems being faced by the state. The story behind as to how Manipur has come to such a state of affairs is long and complex. However, the one thing which is clear about the politics of insurgency in Manipur is that it is inextricably linked with the political movement of the Nagas. The journey of Manipur from an independent princely state during the British rule (when blended with the idea of a rich and deep rooted history dating back to 1st century AD) to a Constitutional Monarchy in 1947, and further reduced to being a mere Union Territory in 1956 devoid of any real power, was a total disgrace and an insult to the Meiteis of the Manipur valley. When the Nagas, who were considered no more than just a mere ‘village republic’ were granted statehood in 1963, it greatly hurt the already wounded honour of the valley inhabitants that insurgency took over in Manipur ever since, and the rest is history.

Call it a unique historical pride or superior racial ego but as one go down the realm of history, one could see that the conception of shared memories and historical imagination as conceived by the Meiteis is not shared with and subscribed to by those inhabiting the hills of Manipur particularly the Nagas and Kukis. This plurality of historical imagination is the root cause of insurgency, desperation and panic that has gripped Manipur till date. And it is against the backdrop of this parallel and competing political aspirations based on separate historical imagination of the hills of Manipur especially the Nagas and Kukis that have tested the sanity and leadership of the Meiteis. However, time and again they have failed the people (as a whole) of the state they professedly seeks to protect. This is quite evident and conspicuous if one give a mild scratch to the the historical top soil of Manipur during the last one or two decades.

The obsession of the Meiteis with the political movement of the Nagas and the subsequent siege mentality that slowly gripped their thinking has made them blind to the needs and aspirations, not necessarily political, of the other tribes of the Hills like Hmar, Paite, Zo etc. These groups really didn’t care about the Nagas and their problems except the Thadous as they felt threaten by the Naga politics. Being the dominant inhabitants, a helping hand in need that listen and care; and good measure of focus on governance could have done the trick to the other hill tribes. However, in their enthusiasm to compete and blunt, if possible, the Naga Movement they chose to encourage insurgency. They ended up frustrating and hurting every tribe of the hill districts.

Nobody really care about the Nagas and their movement at the emotional level, at least, those inhabiting the district of Churachandpur, the second largest district of Manipur. However, the subtle form of systematic manipulations, social and political intrigues employed and done or harboured against the Tribals as a whole did slowly tip the balance against them. The occupation of Tipaimukh sub-division by the valley based insurgents from November 2005 to February 2006 and the subsequent mass rape of 25 Hmar girls at Lungthulien and Parbung Village by the militants of United National Liberation Front (UNLF) and Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP) in January, 2006 downright betrayed the ties of being a Manipuris (i.e. we are all the children of Manipur).

However, it did speaks volumes of the hatred, an empty racial superiority complex, a selfish and exclusive political ideology, approach and vision the Meiteis had of and for Manipur. This undeniable truth continue to show itself conspicuously or inconspicuously in one form or the other like in the demand for Hill State, ST status and ILP system. The justification that the action of militants does not always reflect the attitude and the philosophy that underlie the idea of Manipur as held by the public of the valley is simply misleading at best. There is nothing worth the trust of the Tribals in such assertion has been the popular perception and general attitude of the Hills ever since the incident. Even those tribes who identified themselves as Nagas in Senapati and other districts of Manipur were not vocal in their support for the Naga movement, at least, in broad general terms until recently. The demand of the All Naga Students’ Association Manipur (ANSAM) to have all the Schools in the four hill districts affiliated to Nagaland Board of Secondary Education (NBSE) way back in 2006 in protest against the efforts to impose Meiteilon (Manipuri language) in the tribal areas is a case in point.

The tacit encouragement of insurgency in the valley by the government and general public of the Meiteis in an attempt to balance and offset the power play animated by the Naga movement has gone far for too long. Of course, almost all the ethnic groups have their own insurgents but the lion’s share of the blame for the sorry state of affairs we are in should lie with the Meiteis. Insurgency has weaken the government by draining its finance and polluting its morale directly or indirectly spawning corruption, extortion, kidnapping and killing of people within and outside of one’s community out of hatred or for reasons best left unsaid. It is hard to imagine a healthy socio-politico-cultural life in an environment where those who are supposed to be looked upon as an example failed to behave by acting irresponsibly and yet demands loyalty and order from others. This is a sign of incompetency, weakness and vulnerability. The Meiteis should stop this covert or overt show of siege mentality and deal with the myriad problems facing Manipur with calm, openness and with maturity of the mind and heart that is expected of them.

The Immediate Cause 

The recently concluded peace talk between the Nagas and GoI on August 3, 2015 and the apparent headway and progress perceived to have been made has caused the minds of the valley to stir and jitters. The secrecy surrounding the peace accord has added fuel to the fire of suspicion and insecurity in Manipur particularly amongst the valley inhabitants. This feelings coupled with the realization of the demographic limitations of their existence is more than enough a fertile ground for crops of treachery and chicanery to start growing, and a well thought out politics of self-interests promotion shorn of any feelings for the other Manipuris.

The Protection of Manipur People Act, 2015, The Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (Seventh Amendment) Bill, 2015 and The Manipur Shops and Establishment (Second Amendment) Bill, 2015 are the child of such thoughts. This politics of self-interests promotion is the common thread that runs through in the demand for ST status, Hill state and ILP system. Therefore, the allegations that the Tribals are unnecessarily being hysterical over the issues of these bills is an uncharitable remarks of a hypocritical thoughts.

The Bill 

Three bills namely The Protection of Manipur People Bill, 2015, The Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (Seventh Amendment) Bill, 2015 and the Manipur Shops and Establishments (Second Amendment) Bill, 2015 were passed by the Manipur Legislative Assembly on 31st August, 2015. The so called intelligentsia and the press and media dominated by the Meiteis were quick to defend the bills. They have been consistent in reminding the public at the state and national level that the controversial three bills will have no effects of any measures in the hill districts inhabited by the Tribals. Oddly enough, there is not one who is critical enough of the three Bills and have it publish in the media so as to allay the apprehensions of the hilly areas. However, a close scrutiny of the bills especially the Protection of Manipur People’s Bill, 2015 seems to contain something more than admitted by its proponents and the intelligentsia.

Firstly, clause (2) of Section 1 of the Protection of Manipur People Bill, 2015 categorically stated that the Protection of Manipur People Act, 2015 shall extend to the whole of Manipur. This is absolute in the sense that there is no limitation clause to it. Nowhere in the Bill does it mention explicitly that it will not be applicable to the hill districts of the State. However, clause (a) of Section 8 of the Bill states that it shall not apply to the ‘native people of the State of Manipur’ without defining who the ‘native people’ are! And suddenly, the word ‘native people’ came out of nowhere. No definition, no section or clause to relate to for one to understand it. The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill too contained no reference of the term ‘native people’. It seems this ‘native people’ clause was inserted as a smokescreen to argue the Tribals into believing that the hill districts will not be touched by the Bill. The insertion of this ‘native people’ clause is at best misleading, and at worst a sinister political ploy of the worst kind. A separate Section or clause categorically stating that the hill districts of Manipur shall not be covered by the Act would have suffice had the real intention was not to touch upon the interest of the Tribals.

Secondly, clause (b) of Section 2 of the Bill defined the term ‘Manipur People’. It says that Manipur People means Persons of Manipur whose names are in the National Register of Citizens, 1951, Census Report, 1951 and Village Directory of 1951 and their descendants who have contributed collective social, cultural and economic life of Manipur. Even a brief look at the surface of it begets more questions than the Bill seeks to answer, ironically. What is really disturbing about this clause is that the definition it gives of as to who a ‘Manipur People’ is inextricably linked to the other two Bills namely The Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (Seventh Amendment) Bill, 2015 and The Manipur Shops and Establishments (Second Amendment) Bill, 2015 which will regulate the sale and purchase of lands to Non Manipur Persons and regulations of employments of Non Manipur Persons.

In the event a bonafide settler has been identified as ‘outsider’ for failing to prove himself as a Manipur Person as defined by the Bill it becomes a life and death situation for the simple reason that he stands to lose everything that he possesses i.e. land, house etc and his identity. This is the reason why the idea behind the used of 1951 as base year for defining ‘Manipur People’ is so sensitive. By the looks of the Bill, however, the rationale behind it lacks clarity of thoughts, articulations and is problematic logically.

Further, the major difficulty in the said definition is the insertion of the word ‘and’ as a criteria for one to be eligible as Manipur People. Thus, one whose name figured in the National Register of Citizens, 1951 could easily be identified as ‘outsider’ if his name did not figured in the corresponding two other records namely, the Census Report, 1951 and Village Directory of 1951. For all the Tribals of the hilly areas living in 1951, the probability of one’s name being recorded in all the three is so highly unlikely that it is akin to randomly throwing stones in all directions and expecting one of it will hit a bird when there is not one bird in sight! The implication of this is that if my grandfather’s name or father’s name is missing in all the three, one literally become an ‘outsider’ with no recourse to seek justice simply because the Bill does not provide it as we shall see later on. There is no other way to interpret such a crafty definition as being harmless other than to give it as a political ploy to subsume slowly and encroach upon the interests of the Tribals. Leaving out the word ‘native people’ undefined and free to interpretations as mentioned in clause (a) of Section 8 in the Bill greatly strengthens this idea. The justification that even the valley people are also subjected to the same Act falls flat in the face when one takes into account the fact that political powers and the media are completely in the hands of the Meiteis.

Thirdly, Section 3 of the Bill sought to establish a Directorate of Registration for the purpose of registration of Non-Manipur persons and tenants, and establishment of registration centres. The Bill does not provide any recourse of action once registration is denied by the Director who heads the Directorate. This is made possible by Section 9 of the Bill which states that no suit, prosecution or other legal proceedings shall lie against any officer of the State Government for anything which is in good faith done or intended to be done under the Act. It appears that this has been inserted in anticipation of any problems, legal or otherwise the implementation of the Act will faces, and to insulate and protect the officials by enabling them to justify their action as being ‘done or intended to be done in good faith’.

This is blunt and undemocratic. Besides, once an individual failed the three tests as required by the Bill he faces the fate of being an ‘outsider’. And with luck one may be provided a temporary ‘Pass’ issued by the Directorate of Registration to be renewed at the pleasure of the Director from time to time! Once identified as ‘outsider’ making a living in Manipur will be really hard and difficult. Life will be constantly monitored by the government through the Registering Officer as required under the Manipur Shops and Establishments (Second Amendment) Bill, 2015. And finding employment and employers who is willing to employ outsiders will be hard to find, at least for the reason that private employers is duty bound to report their employee to the government from time to time under clause (2) of Section 3 of the MSE (2nd Amendment) Act, 2015. Besides, there will always be enough Manipur People to be employed. Government jobs will be out of reach, if not impossible. After all, the Bill has been sought to be enacted to throw out the Non Manipur People in the first place!

Fourthly, clause (1) of Section 10 of the PMP Act, 2015 gives to the State Government the power to ‘make rules to carry out the purpose’ of the Act by way of Notification. This would mean that once the Bill becomes an Act the State Government has the absolute authority to make ‘rules’ accordingly to its wishes which can further harm the interests of the Tribals by simply issuing a notification in the official gazette. If the Bill per se is considered harmful and looked upon as encroaching upon the rights of the Tribals there is not an iota of doubt that further harm will be done against their interests.

Finally, Section 11 of the PMP Act, 2015, states that “if any difficulty arises in giving effect to the provisions of the Act, the State Government ‘may, by order make such provisions or give such directions not inconsistent with the provisions of this Act as may appear to it to be necessary or expedient for the removal of the difficulty; Provided that no such power shall be exercised after the expiry of a period of two years from the commencement of this Act.”

The positive thing about the Bill once it becomes an Act is that modification aimed at removing difficulties is possible, but only on the condition that the ‘removal’ must not be inconsistent with any of the provisions of this Act which in reality means that there is no way of securing the interests of the Tribals within this Act. What the Bill really says is a circular arguments which has no exit for a possible solutions. So, the positive thing about the Bill is also not really positive in the final analysis.

Negatively, the power of amendment to remove ‘difficulty’ will no longer be available even to the government after the expiry of two years from the commencement of the PMP Act, 2015. Evidently, it seems this particular PMP Act, 2015 and the rules that flows from it will be kept insulated from the power of amendments available to the Legislature and also from judicial review much like those laws kept under the Nine Schedule of the Constitution of India. Now, that is a really depressing scenario. This is the reason why the Bill should not be allowed to become an Act.

When one considered the whole import of the Bill especially from the perspective of the hilly areas, the consequences of it are huge having the potential to break up the fabrics that tie together the hills and the valley. The Churachandpur incidents and the various agitations, dharnas and condemnations that have come up in the aftermath of the passage of the Bill from different parts of the state and outside of it should serve as a stern warning that the Bill needs re-working in the interests of the people of Manipur.

The solution 

The Meiteis have been crying hoarse over the issue of land pressure currently experienced in the valley. The new found realization of this demographic pressure is the main reason behind the introduction of the three bills and to a more subtle and lesser extent in the demand for Hill State, ST status and ILP. The hills too did not miss to catch the basic issues involved, hence their disinterest in the politics of the valley! So, after all is said and done all the hues and cries over these myriad issues at present is nothing but a fight for resources. The plight of the valley is understandable at the humanitarian level but, unfortunately, that is all there is.

Whether they admit it or not the valley is playing this humanitarian card to push through their agenda. They are under the impression that the current state of affairs is unfair which could be rectified through the use of government muscles and power mixed with political chicanery. However, they seem to forget that even though they sit on only 10% of the total land they are enjoying all the attention of whomever mattered, monopolized political powers and finance, control and dominated the media and the press since the birth of the state.

The valley never really cared whether or not the hills made progress in health, educations or whether or not villages are connected by metallic roads given the difficult terrain and conditions of living. MLAs are there but no one seems to bother that these MLAs are under their control! This condition of imbalances of political power needs a course correction. After all, Manipur does not exist just to satisfy the needs and aspirations of the valley Meiteis.

The needs and aspirations of the Tribals of the hilly areas grounded in the conception of their shared memories and historical imagination should be respected and given space. New political arrangements that accommodate their needs and aspirations based on equal share of political power is the need of the hour. Until and unless steps are taken in this direction, a healthy and fruitful socio-cultural life based on the shared community life between the valley and hills will always elude reality throwing the state into a vicious circle of political intrigues with no exit in sight.
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