Demand for ATC Another setback to pluralistic Manipur

The storm has been brewing for quite sometime and the paradox of pluralism and exclusivity vis-a-vis the State of Manipur was made complete when a section of people belonging to the Kuki/Zo communities staged a rally at Churachandpur on November 3 under the banner of an exclusive Autonomous Territorial Council for them. Interestingly, it was on October 31, just two days earlier that a mammoth rally was staged at Imphal to protect and promote the integrity of Manipur at all costs and under all circumstances. Taking into account the demand for integration of Naga inhabited areas of Manipur with Nagaland to form a greater Nagaland or Nagalim, one cannot miss the fact that three divergent forces are operating within the geo-political entity called Manipur. There are certain stark similarities in the ways the proponents of exclusive autonomous councils for Nagas and Kukis have been articulating and pursuing their political aspirations. The Kukis too first raised the demand for a separate Kuki State, though not vocal enough like their Naga counterparts who were vociferously demanding a large portion of Manipur’s territory for integration with Nagaland. Now, the advocates of Naga integration seem to be content with New Delhi’s idea of implementing 6th Schedule of the Indian Constitution or extension of Article 371A to Naga inhabited areas as hinted by the report tabled in both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs on July 19 this year. If the rally staged yesterday at Churachandpur is any indication, the advocates of separate Kuki State too have scaled down their demand from separate State to autonomous council or Autonomous Territorial Council, to be more precise. Then what is wrong with these demands or political aspirations. If any group of people living within any political domain is not happy with the existing politico-administrative structure, it is obvious that they would demand alternatives which they think would better serve their interests.
To address these political demands for exclusive autonomous councils satisfactorily, we need to go deep to the roots and find out the factors which determined such political discourses. Outright rejection would not only tend to be hegemonic but will also invite discord in the society. The protagonists of pluralistic and united Manipur must study how these sub-nationalist discourses took birth and was given relevancy. Polarised politics and fragmented homeland imagination based on ethnicity; and failure or lack of political accommodation have come to define the State’s political process in recent decades. The politics of ethno-exclusivity was writ large on the demand for creation of Sadar Hills district as well in the vehement opposition raised by another section of people. After a new district for Sadar Hills was created in the name of Kangpokpi which is still contested by the United Naga Council, now the UPF and KNO have raised the demand for an Autonomous Territorial Council exclusively for Kuki and Zo people. The trajectory is similar to that of the Nagas which began with the creation of a Nagaland State and later demanded a greater Nagaland. Given this history, one cannot help ask whether the demand for Autonomous Territorial Council is fuelled by bloated political ambitions or genuine socio-economic and cultural grievances. This question must be answered first. At the same time, majority Manipuris can no longer be lost in the purple haze of history or the historical sanctity of its territorial integrity. Negotiations can unmake history and create new ones. The society must be accommodative enough to let even the smallest community preserve and promote their own cultures and identities. Majority communities should not wield any air of superiority and minority communities need not harbour any inferiority complex. If we must suggest, the best way to resolve the political aspirations for autonomy should be people to people dialogue.

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