Thursday, October 13, 2005

Manipuri Meltdown

The Indian state of Manipur has an area of 8,620 square miles and a population of 2.2 million. It is a deeply fractured land with multiple insurgencies, a breakdown of governance, pervasive drug addiction and perhaps the highest per capita incidence of HIV/AIDS in India. New Delhi has mishandled the administration of parts of the remote North East and there can be no excuse for such ineptness.

Manipur adopted Hinduism and the Bengali script, calendar and literary traditions in the 17th century. The game of Polo and the classical Ras Lila dance, popularized by Tagore, originated there. Manipur and Burma took turns in raiding each other. The martial kingdom came under British tutelage in 1891, enacted its own constitution in 1947 and acceded to the Indian union in 1949. New Delhi recognized Manipur as a federal state only in 1972 and belatedly awarded the Meitei language constitutional status in 1992 due to continued agitation.

The traditionally Hindu Meitei once formed a 2/3rd majority of the ex-princely state. A complete census was not held in 2001 but the available numbers indicate a decline in the Hindu percentage to 46%. Christians are 34% while Muslims are 9%. The 30 tribes that constitute the Manipuri population present a bewildering political equation. While the Meitei account for 50% of the state's population, they occupy just 10% of the state's area. This is the Imphal valley. The Nagas who dominate the surrounding hills want their districts to be carved out of Manipur and merged with neighboring Nagaland. The Kuki tribals, who also live in the hills, oppose any such merger urging instead that a separate state be created within the Indian Union for the Kuki tribe. The Nagas and Kukis had traditionally fought over the lucrative trade in narcotics and contraband with neighboring Burma. The Meitei, who demand outright independence, fail to understand that their political future as a proud collective group is within the Indian Union. Any separation would lead to the loss of most of Manipur to a greater Nagaland.

The People's Liberation Army, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland, the Kuki National Front, the Hmar People's Convention and the Islamic National Front are five of the 40 odd rebel groups present in Manipur. China, Pakistan and Bangladesh nurtured these groups at different times. The state presents a picture of complete chaos. The writ of the central government did not run outside Imphal in the late 1990s. Manorama Devi, a member of the People's Liberation Army, died in police custody in July, 2004. Forensic evidence indicated that she had been raped and tortured by the Assam Rifles. The incident sparked state wide agitation and a serious deterioration in the security situation. For instance, 174 people were killed in Manipur between January 1 and October 9, 2005 alone. Deaths in police custody, staged encounter killings and acts of terrorism are not uncommon.

It is clear that the solution forward would be to defeat the multiple insurgencies, restore good governance and reinforce a multi-ethnic Manipur devoid of the senseless tribalism that has bedeviled it since independence. Once described as the Switzerland of India, Manipur has tremendous potential for tourism. When linked to the proposed ports of Burma, it would be at the cross roads of commerce. The scenic Manipur river in fact is a mere tributary of the Burmese Irrawaddy. New Delhi needs to seize the opportunity and correct the situation at the earliest.


doubtinggaurav said...


I partially agree with you.
New delhi has botched up bigway in North East with its Half way plans.
However it can't be blamed fully as Northeast has a bewildering number of tribal identities, which can confuse any one from outside.

Politician at state level are as venal as in other parts in India, but distance from center increases the alienation.
To make the matter worse north east suffers from sabotage by chinese and zealous evangelism by missionaries.


nukh said...

doubtingG - While the problems you alluded to are difficult, but by no means insumountable. And shoudn't be for the massive Govt of India machinery.
Hire a bunch of phds [none from JNU ] if you have to, to help decipher the tribal complexities.

Going ahead into the century, India can ill afford to let these insurgencies to fester.

nukh said...

btw, Many thanks to the keepers of this blog for bringing these developments to our attention.
I hope that the Indian foreign service mandarins are amongst your readers.

ManipuriSympathiser said...

"The Meitei, who demand outright independence, fail to understand that their political future as a proud collective group is within the Indian Union."

The is the most condescending drivel I have ever heard. Address the issue not the symptom guys.

doubtinggaurav said...

Dear Sympathiser,

Can you spell out the issue since the post, according to you is nothing but drivel.


ManipuriSympathiser said...

"The Meitei, who demand outright independence, fail to understand that their political future as a proud collective group is within the Indian Union."

I was that referring to that particular line - the belief that decisions being made in New Delhi are in the best interests of people who belong to a different culture - the implicit assumption being that Manipuris and Meitei in this case are simply too dumb too know what is the best thing for them.

This patronizing attitude is a big part of the problem afflicting the North East. I am not advocating an independent Manipur, No. What I am trying to point out the similarities between the attitude Soviet Moscow had towards different ethnic identities
within the country and proceeded to take actions ostensibly in the 'best interests' of the people. We know how that ended up.

Get off from your high seats in New Delhi, and instead of talking about taking ‘decisions’ in the best interests of the people, tackle the underlying issues.

doubtinggaurav said...

Dear Sympathiser,

I would have thought this post was about how New Delhi messed up big time, but I am little surprised with your interpretation.

First, you assume that Jaffna represent New Delhi, well he doesn't. He is from sri-lanka, having interest in Indian matters.

Second, when you talk of diffrent cultures, I think you are only talking about your tribe/community/religion or whatever group you feel adherence to, it will be worthwhile to think about other groups in all parts of India, including northeast. Thinking only of interests of the group you belong to, and ignoring the bigger picture undermines nation.

Third when you talk of New Delhi Vs. North East, you assume that Centre is a monolithic entity, it is not, it comprises of coalition of political and social groups from all across India including North East.
Soviet Russia was ruled by communists with no due process for discussions, India is not.

Forth I think Per capita North East and J&K get much more central assistance than other states.
How much of it reaches is a moot point, but blame for this has to be shared between bureaucracy and local politicians, to insinuate that India has colonised North East and is exploiting for it's natural resources is dishonest and perfidious.

Fifth do come out from this unwarranted feeling of victimhood.
All the states today suffer from centralized bureaucracy and as a result, higly impractical policy decision, difficult geography amd the distance of North East makes it's case all the more aggravating.
Solution for this is more federalism and not cribbing against "New Delhi".

Sixth stop presenting the case as "Us versus Them", India is not a monolithic culture based on narrow ethnic or religious identity.
Under Indian identity all the region have their place and identity including cultures from North East.

Last but not the least,
From what I understand North East is hardly a monolithic culture, even if in the case that Independence was to be granted to North East, it will result in proliferation of dysfunctional states based on tribal identities, which will have minimal chances of development because of difficult terrain and markets,absense of ports and inherent instability.

India is hardly a perfect country. People from all regions have issues , the solution for this is to discuss with fellow Indians and not appealing to narrow regional feelings.
You complain about patronizing attitude, so as someone who has lived in 4 states (different from my native state) in past 7 years, let me tell you everywhere in India people have feeling of contempt and condescension against outsiders. In my view it is less to do with any real grievance, than narrow regional or linguistic identity.
So instead of holding grudges for these imperfections let's work to make India what our fathers fought for and died for.


Jaffna said...

Manipuri Sympathizer

I could not resist the temptation of responding although my initial instinct was to ignore your comment. Each person is entitled to his view and so are you. But let us place on record that none of us live or work in New Delhi!

I in fact come from a secessionist community myself and know personally what it is to be in the throes of violent secession. I was not looking at the Meitei issue from the point of view of New Delhi alone. I was examining it from the perspective of their self-interest and in India's interest. I believe the two can be reconciled. And believe me, I have deep sympathy for their predicament as a fellow "endangered ethnic". New Delhi mishandled the Manipuri insurrection.

Should Manipur secede (which it will not), it would be splintered on tribal lines and be reduced to a rump state 1/10th of its size. This is not in the Meitei self-interest.

The Soviet experiment failed. It was based on a morbid and perverse abuse of human rights. Stalin killed more people than Hitler. He forcibly transferred the Chechen, Ingush and Tatars from the native lands to the Siberian wastelands. Russia is still paying for his misdeeds as yesterday's incidents in the Caucasus reveal.

This said, you have provoked a good exchange which is the objective, in part, of this blog. I repeat the famous Chinese adage "May a hundred flowers bloom; a hundred schools of thought content".

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you could explain the term "senseless tribalism" more fully. It is a rather condesceding approach to some people's identity and way of life. Moreover, "tribalism" means a state of beliefs/loyalty to one's group/ a way of life - something that is prevelant across India. Guajaratis, Bengalis, Tamilians...the list of peoples loyal to their identities is rather long. Hence, "Tribalism" doesnt necessarily imply violence or in any case "senselessness". The problems in the North east are varied and much too complexed to be blogged into two hundred words in the first place and is misrepresented rather than explained by using such inappropriate and senseless descriptions.

Jaffna said...


You have a point here. "Tribalism" is no different to "ethnicity" and need not necessarily be
"senseless" nor "violent".

I only meant that the "million mutinies" have not helped the people of the North Eastern states. Not that the center has had a coherent policy either.

And you are right - an issue of such complexity can not be reduced to 200 words. But the spot light and debate are needed. Hence the posting.

ManipuriSympathiser said...

Jaffna, thanks for taking the time to reply. Guess I wasn't clear - I am not for Manipur being a separate entity, I just wanted to emphasise that the Central Govt machinery is guided by a lot of factors which are not necessarily in the interests of Manipuri people. And as a state existing at the far periphery of the Indian heartland, being out-populated, and consequent lower representation at the national stage combined with a feeling of a different ethnic background, the north-eastern groups do have a very real fear of being sublimated - which should be addressed.

However the closed thinking stifles any real debate, which gets sacrificed under the fig leaf of national security. (e.g. being doubtinggourav’s reply which failed to address any real issues). I whole heartedly agree that the solution is better governance, and not independence (which I am in no position to advocate). However better governance sounds like one of those empty slogans the Indian polity comes up with frequently. To actually reach a state of better governance requires a real debate about the economic and cultural aspirations of the concerned people, which from my experience in my humble opinion is not happening.

Lastly, I do know that you do not represent New Delhi (have been a reader of this blog long enough to know that :), I was referring to a power centre for decision making.

Jaffna said...

Manipuri sympathizer

I think that we are in complete agreement. There needs to be a bottom up approach in development planning.



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