Issues likely to dog Manipur for some more time Liquor; ST demand
Demand to categorise the Meeteis/Meiteis as Scheduled Tribe in the Constitution of India. Ongoing protest against the decision of the State Government to lift prohibition after more than 30 years. Illegal immigrants sneaking into the territory of Manipur and merging with the local population and to be sure these are three prominent issues which may dog Manipur for some time to come. Even as Chief Minister N Biren issued a call to ‘identify and root out all illegal immigrants’ came the report that a Bangladeshi man was found living here for thirty years ! Even as sit-in protests against the decision of the State Government to lift prohibition and allow free sale of liquor continue, six Ambassadors serving in Missions across different countries put in their bit with the suggestion that the Government streamline the production of Sekmai liquor or Yu with better packaging and go in for brand building. Amid these two contentious points is the ongoing movement spearheaded by the Scheduled Tribe Demand Committee and the World Meetei Council to include the Meeteis/Meiteis in the ST list of the Constitution of India and ensure some Constitutional protection for the indigenous Meetei/Meitei population. The link between the incursion of illegal immigrants and the need to grant Constitutional protection to the Meeteis/Meiteis has already been touched upon in this very column a day earlier, and the point still stands. One wonders what would move the State Government to send the needed recommendations to the Centre. Internationalise the Sekmai Yu, much in line with what Goa has done with Feni, Japan with Sake, Mexico with Tequila, Scotch with Scotland is the suggestion or rather call from the diplomats. Revenue for the State is one factor that has been spelt out behind the decision to lift prohibition and while the Government may insists that this is not the sole reason, it is only logical that efforts be made to earn as much revenue from the more reputable Yu brand, not only from Sekmai, but also from Andro, Phayeng etc. How the Government goes about it remains to be seen, but surely Manipur must have moved on from 1991, the year prohibition was imposed and what was needed 30 years back may not necessarily be so today. There will obviously be contrasting opinion to this, especially from the anti-liquor lobby but the fact is, prohibition did not stop people from drinking and its continuation will also not stop people from downing a peg or two or three. This is the reality.
While prohibition and the question of alcohol consumption may be seen as a domestic matter, the other two points, that is illegal influx of outsiders or foreigners and the ST demand for the Meeteis/Meiteis may be seen beyond the boundary of Manipur. The ST question for the Meeteis/Meiteis will obviously need a nod from the Centre, particularly the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs while the entry of illegal immigrants is about the push factor in the neighbouring countries of Myanmar and Bangladesh. Apart from the Government tightening its vigil at the border areas and coming down heavily on the illegal immigrants as well as the local people who ‘open’ the door to facilitate the entry, the public too need to extend their hand of co-operation to the move of the Government. It was with a reason why the State Government has already made it clear that it would not give recognition to any village inhabited by less than 50 households. This is pregnant with the ‘admission’ that such sprouting of the villages/settlements has come about due to the large scale entry of illegal immigrants, who first sneak into Manipur, merge with the local population and then after some time go and establish their own settlements. Manipur surely have such villages a dime a dozen. Trek to any part of the hinterlands of the State and one is sure to come across such habitations. Today it is about one Md Anwar Hussain but tomorrow it could be anyone. This is the grim possibility which can be a distinct reality.