A festival with a message. If Guru Rewben Mashangva touched the right chord in belting out a number, ‘China be strong, Wuhan be strong,’ underlining the need for humanity to stand as one against the novel coronavirus which has taken a heavy toll on human lives, this year’s Lui-Ngai-Ni festival also rang out a significant message in extending invites to civil society organisations such as AMUCO, UCM, DESAM, Kuki Inpi, Thadou Inpi and others. The invitation is a far departure from the earlier times such as when the Naga Students’ Federation decided to boycott all Meitei/Manipur registered vehicles in Naga inhabited areas after some policemen of Manipur verbally assaulted and physically threatened some office bearers of the student body while they were on their way to attend the Lui-Ngai-Ni festival at Ukhrul district headquarters in 2016. The boycott/ban on Meitei/Manipur registered vehicles was called off only after the State Government placed five policemen involved in the assault of the NSF office bearers under suspension. This was way back in 2016 and fast forward to 2020 and things certainly seem to have improved. One can also recall the verbal spat that the then Chief Minister O Ibobi had with the then Nagaland Chief Minister TR Zeliang during the said festival with a then MLA even filing a police complaint against what TR Zeliang had to say during his address at the festival venue. The bad blood was so bad that it threatened to become something like a confrontation between the Governments of Manipur and Nagaland !
Things however have improved positively, particularly after the BJP led Government came to power after the Assembly elections in Manipur in 2017. With the new found feeling of camaraderie between the BJP led Government and the hill based civil society organisations, it was bound to trickle down to the CSOs on either side and this was seen in the invite extended to the AMUCO, UCM and others and which was honoured with representatives of the said CSOs attending the Lui-Ngai-Ni festival at Ukhrul on February 15. Significant to note too that as in the past the host for this year’s edition of Lui-Ngai-Ni was the United Naga Council and to think that CSOs which did not see eye to eye on so many crucial issues of the State deemed it fit to sit down together and be a part of the said festival is significant. This is what Manipur desperately needs and this is where care should be taken to ensure that the feel good factor on either side is not allowed to go up in flames once the final deal between the NSCN (IM) and the Government of India is inked. The peace process and by extension the understanding of Manipur as a geo-political reality are central to the inter-community ties and care needs to be taken to ensure that all walk the extra mile to understand each others’ stand.