Ching-Tam Amatani and delimitation of Parliamentary and Assembly constituencies

Dr Somingam Mawon, Dimapur
“Ching-tam amatani” can be loosely translated as “oneness of hill and valley”; a slogan largely in use to protect Manipur territory and perhaps a constructed notion to link with some contested hill-valley folk narratives and oral tradition. CM Biren Singh and his government with their inclusive approach and accommodative catchwords such as “go to hills”, “go to village” and “hill-valley unity” seem to be mending the broken system and bolstering hill-valley relationship. At this time of COVID-19 pandemic, the delimitation process is signaling to create a climate of fear that may result to another possible colossal collapse of a fragilely built “social relation” of hill and valley people; lest the state government comes to the rescue through upholding constitutional and democratic rights of all citizens. Will the incumbent BJP led government repose its faith in the rule of law when vexed issues coated with ethnic colors arise? If no, then, there is absolutely no justifiable reason in echoing “territorial integrity” by political and social leaders. If yes, then, the present delimitation process is one favorable opportunity to right the unequal representation in both the parliamentary and assembly constituencies. This in a way would be one remarkable initiative of adding valid meaning to the slogan “Ching-tam amatani”.                                                                                       
Unequal representation of hill and valley people in Manipur democratic institutions is a reality and an undisputable fact. A “structural change” in the two institutions proportionate to their populations and size of all districts is a solution to such injustice. And yes, some parties and organisations want to “defer” the process of delimitation; asserting that there may be some anomalies and “faulty census” in some areas in 2001 Census. In recent year, Manipur Legislative Assembly responded to the recommendation of the Delimitation Commission of India by passing a resolution on August 1 2007; mentioning that the Union Government should order a “fresh Census for the whole of Manipur cancelling Census 2001.” Living memory serves us right that the President of India’s deferment order to the fourth delimitation commission exercise in Manipur was established on both real and assumptive socio-political issues of that time, but not on statistics and figures of population. Allegation of “abnormal population growth in hill areas” particularly in Senapati district by Manipur Government and some valley based organisations was later settled by the Registrar General & Census Commissioner (MHA), Government of India.                                                                 
An order was issued by the same office that the Census 2011 results of Mao-Maram, Paomata and Purul Sub-divisions of Senapati district were withheld due to “administrative reasons”. On 7 January 2014, C. Chandramouli (Registrar General & Census Commissioner) issued an order that “issue” related to populations of the said three sub-divisions has been resolved and their figures were “finalized”. Although issues related to statistics of the population were resolved and figures were finalized, one question remains unanswered at least for now, i.e., will those groups who are in opposition to the delimitation process based on Census 2001 accept if the delimitation of constituencies is to be exercised based on 2011 Census? One view commonly held among the tribals of Manipur is that voices of opposition to delimitation of parliamentary and assembly constituencies seem nothing to do with official figures and government data.                         
According to Census of India 2011 (Manipur), the state has a total population of 2855814, out of which 1633692 (57.20%) are in the valley districts and 1222122 (42.79%) are in the hill districts. Going by the provision of Article 332 of the Indian Constitution, 2011 Census would give constituency allotment of 35 and 25 for the valley and hill areas respectively. Comparatively, 2001 Census would give a slight different ratio of valley-hill assembly constituencies. It however is quite obvious that allegation–as it was in the earlier 2002 deferred delimitation commission exercise–is not founded on official figures of the state population. If Manipur Government genuinely is a government for both the hill and valley areas, then, their usual convenient advocacy for the “maintenance of status quo” in the interest of valley people will hold no water in their pursuit for justice. Apparently, they are expected to rise above any form of communal politics and govern the state constitutionally and democratically.                                           
Simply put, injustice against the hill people in the name of “status quo” should end if the state government intends to (re)build the broken system which they inherit from their preceding governments. More importantly, the present generations, unlike the tribals in the 1970s and 1980s, are now more aware of their constitutional and democratic rights. Any rational individual would know that there is an unequal representation of hill and valley people in their parliamentary and assembly constituencies. Let us take one instance: Senapati district (prior to the controversial and infamous bifurcation of districts and creation of seven new districts by Ibobi led Congress Government on 30 November 2016) has a population of 479148 with 6 assembly constituencies; whereas, Imphal East has a population of 456133 with 11 assembly constituencies. Well, the figures and number of constituencies speak for themselves. Besides the unequal representation in the legislative assembly, the inclusion of eight valley assembly constituencies in the Outer parliamentary constituency is another example of injustice against the tribals. This time, it will be too expensive for the state government to play communal politics in the name of “law and order” and “public sentiment”. In Manipur context, statements like “people of Manipur”, “interest of the people” and “public sentiment of the state” are among the most misrepresented opinions especially when it comes to ethnic related political issues.                                
Seemingly, all the previously mentioned government figures, constitutional provision, and injustice against the tribals and blatant violations of democratic rights mean nothing to those political parties and groups who oppose the delimitation to parliamentary and assembly constituencies. In principle, “Ching-tam amatani” in the absence of redressal of injustices and protection of tribals’ rights is nothing but empty, cheap and selfish slogan. Catchwords of the present government (“go to hills”; “hill-valley unity”), narratives of “brotherhood”, and notion of “Ching-tam amatani” may find its meaning when all ethnic groups are justly represented and equally benefitted.                      
A couple of weeks back, when many people in Imphal were facing shortage of food supply because of the COVID-19 related lockdown, a good number of hill people reached out to some valley localities by giving cultivated and wild green vegetables. Those were the days when Namaste, greetings and smiles were flooded in both conventional and social media; not forgetting the special mentions of “Ching-tam amatani” and “brotherhood” by some leaders. But those smiles and greetings began to fade away as soon as the signal to initiate delimitation process in some Indian states was directed by New Delhi. Allow me to ask this: is it wrong to bring in democratic principles such as justice and equality in the slogan “Ching-tam amatani”? Or, such catchword is found irrelevant when an independent commission set up by the Government of India that sets the size and boundary of constituencies in India recommends an increase of hill districts assembly constituencies? In essence, this delimitation of parliamentary and assembly constituencies will be a litmus test for Manipur Government to either choose “CHING-TAM AMATANI” or “CHING-TAM AMA NATTE”. In both the cases, one can suppose that protests and blockades may come in on the horizon. But what is more important is to settle such conundrum in line with constitutional provisions and official figures, and not on sectional emotions and sentiments.