As most well-adjusted people will probably roll their eyes as a boring new take-on what is notoriously viewed as a post-War Tribal-Meitei phenomenon, it transpires that economic blockade is becoming an internal Manipuri language of protest.
You may be forgiven for writing me off as someone who is not a serious thinker. I am not, because I am not an intellectual. I am an analytical thinker. To me every issue has pros and cons – a glass of whisky may be half full or half empty. It is the way you look at it. I am also a scientific thinker. Scientific thinking is logical thinker.
Vive la Manipur, thanks to France, is charged with patriotic fervour. It should now be the catchphrase for all patriotic Manipuris both in the hills and the valley. It is more resounding like ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ in Urdu that replaced Hindi ‘Bande Matram’ by the revolutionaries of the Chittagong Armoury Raid in 1930.
For the benefit of students, Viva la France is a nationalistic exclamation used by the French, especially on Bastille’s Day (July 14 1789) – the storming of the Bastille in Paris in the beginning of the French revolution. Bastille was an old fortress used as prison by the French monarchy.
Though on that day Bastille contained just seven inmates, the revolutionaries symbolised the fortress as abuse of monarchy. Its fall was the flashpoint of the French Revolution that occurred because of an economic crisis during the reign of Louis XVI and his beautiful and adulterous Austrian wife Marie Antoinette. She helped provoke popular unrest that led to the French Revolution in 1792. By 1793 she and her husband lost their heads by the Guillotine.
Manipur that is re-emerging and experiencing something of a renaissance with simmering discontent for some ethnic tribals that want to split it, needs a patriotic chant. The landscape of the current imaginations of Manipuris is remarkably similar to that of pre- Anglo-Manipuri war of 1891.
Besides, Sanaleibak Manipur as the land of milk and honey, has become an increasingly coveted land for poor migrants from the visible western and eastern horizons.
Many in Manipur, including myself and some of those who critique the political and social climate of Manipur, when thinking deep down, can calculate what is a better choice between remaining safer, stronger and better-off in a timeless composite Manipur than taking a leap into the unknown where ideas of inequality, about privilege, about rights and about injustice will not change.
The hill people should not be in cloud cuckoo land with optimistic fantasy that the powerful migrant population will not leave them high and dry. It is not for unrealistic idealism that the Meitei community has risen to the challenge.
History of any nation may be false but the core element is true. The analytic history of the disappearance of Incas shows that apart from being weakened by new diseases brought by Spanish invaders they didn’t prepare themselves to fight with them. They thought they were the best and looked down on others. The Inca army had no powerful and wise leader. There are many similarities between Incas and Meiteis (cf. Author’s Why do people change religion).
As aide-memoire, Manipur is not Kangleipak (Dry land) of prehistory (cf. Author’s Raising of Kangleipak). Meeteis (proto-Meiteis) descended from the surrounding hills when the valley became dry (cf. Author’s The origin of the Meiteis).
Manipur is the geographical entity that was demarcated in December 1873 as in the present map, by Political Agent Dr R Browning, where the primordial Meeteis subdued the other six clans and formed the Meitei nation. It was King Loiyumba who established Meitei kingdom in 1110 by establishing paramountcy over several autonomous tribal communities in the surrounding hills.
Manipur is the land of Meiteis (that include all Meiteis – Lois, Yaithibis and so on) and Meitei- Pangals in the valley, and all the dwellers in the surrounding hills, including some Gorkhas (Gurkhas in English). Some like Niranjan Subedar fought to save Manipur and was hanged by the British during the 1891 Anglo-Manipuri War. They are Manipuri-Gorkhas. Meeteilon, that became Meiteilon is now Manipuri.
To be a Manipuri is a question of feeling. Hindu Dalits (167 million), who feel they are Indians, do not ask for a separate homeland. To be a Manipuri presupposes a level of emotional integration, especially for the young people, as a key part of active participation in living together in plural Manipur. In the privacy of their own minds there should be rapt feelings about sight, smell and touch of Manipur.
The breaking up of Manipur is among the voracious imaginations of a few tribal community leaders, attracted by grandiose ambitions in search of perceived harmony among kindred ethnic communities. It is not unlike the ISIL philosophy of ‘one religion one community’, and akin to the early Christian philosophy of ‘immortality and apocalypse’ – an inadequate philosophy in history.
Shrewd observation surprises that separatists’ time is fast running out. To succeed they need to top up with reservoirs of fresh raw materials. ‘Economic disparity and Meitei communalism’ – the traditional genre piece, is like a dog with a bone that needs to be stored away. They need a political magpie to catch things that are not in their political vocabulary.
Many visionaries know the good of the world begins with family values. We have a whole duty of care to our children by moving from cloudy historical paste to a clear panorama to avoid apocalypse.
Manipuris should ‘bend it like Beckham’ with a fusion of culture, emotions and warmth and reconciling our loyalty to our motherland with the conviction that as Manipuris we can prosper to heights we never thought possible.
In the book, Why Nations Fail, social scientists Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson define institutions as the rules of the game which dictate what can and cannot be done and articulate why political and economic institutions can explain why some countries prospered while others failed.
Taking prompt from their thesis, I believe economic institutions in Manipur are endogenous and reflect a continuous conflict of interests in the distribution of resources, whilst new political institutions fail to shift expectations of the people in the hills in a positive direction by enhancing accountability.
There is also another large factor – ‘Ecosystem & Poverty’ in Manipur. An ecosystem is an area where all the living and nonliving things interact with each other. Scientists say that an unhealthy ecosystem produces unsustainable economy ie poverty.
Jonathan Turner from the Global-Development-Professionals-network, wrap up (March 2014) that “Relative poverty is unpreventable. The global development community should focus its energies on reducing inequality. Ending world poverty is an unrealistic goal.
Poverty is worldwide. One billion people globally live on $1.26 a day. Three billion people live below Poverty Line (BPL). BPL is an economic line or threshold used by the Government of India to identify individuals and households in need of government assistance. This is expressed as an income of or below $1.25 (Rs 83).
For an economic turnaround in Manipur it will take more time than you and I can think of. With the coming of the railways and efforts of a few entrepreneurs, we hope to have more jobs in the foreseeable future. The best example is Dr Th Dhabali who brought state-of-the-art medical care with his Babina Diagnostics, and gave face make-over of Imphal city with his world-class Classic group of hotels.
I am president of a newly formed global Manipuri diaspora organisation – Known as KEN (Knowledge Exchange Network). We are trying to bring IT related and other innovative works to Manipur to create jobs for young people. Already, a KEN member – a Singapore-based entrepreneur RK Herojit – head of HASK Enterprises, has created a training centre for young people who left school before matriculation, in skill development at ITI, Lilong, which was inaugurated by CM Ibobi on October 12 2015.
Currently, the United Naga Council (UNC) that has long been in gestation, for fear of being forgotten as an orphan in Manipur’s history, called for Economic blockade for 10 days, starting from 2nd November ‘banning national and international projects including the Trans-Asian Railways’. This was organised to coincide with the coming of RN Ravi, the interlocutor, to demonstrate the deep hill and valley divide and to bring pressure on the Government of India. They have probably succeeded and lifted the blockade on November 5 on the advice of the interlocutor.
Withholding of food and other vital goods by blockades and siege ie starving the enemy as a way of winning a struggle or war is not a new phenomenon in history. Stalin starved Ukraine in 1932. Now Ukraine declares it genocide. But an economic blockade by a community against other fellow communities is unheard of.
Starving the valley people of Manipur by hill dwellers is not exactly a manual for intertribal relationships, but a compelling story of deeply troubled tribal people that has emerged from emotional wilderness.
Was it Isaiah 26:21 in the Bible? – For, behold, the LORD cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of Manipur valley for their iniquity and giveth cold-shoulder to the cries from the souls of the people of Sanaleibak Manipur.
The writer is based in the UK