Manipur Sangai Festival as a way to ‘Look East Policy’

Rikee Thangjam
Contd from previous issue
The Manipur Sangai Festival is a setting where social relationships could prosper. The policy implemented by the Government of India as well as the State level policy by using tourism is showing their position of possible alliance with Southeast Asian Nations. The latter is also indicating their stance on an attainable alliance with India through their participation in the Manipur Sangai Festival.
Throughout the Sangai Festival, there were scheduled cultural programmes. The uniqueness of the communities living in the State, Meitei, Naga, Kuki and so on, is exhibited via numerous traditional dances, folk dance, tribal dance, and music performances from various social groups residing in Manipur. It also included participation from States such as Delhi, Punjab, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh. Other countries like Sri Lanka, Japan and Southeast Asian countries like Thailand and Myanmar participated in cultural events and displayed their traditional dance and music-Serng Krappo (coconut dance) is a regional folk dance of Thailand, Fawn Ngiew (scarf dance) is a classical Thai dance, dance troupes performed Monohra dance which is a southern style and one of the oldest Thai dance dramas. Traditional Burmese oil lamp dance and musical instrument performances like Saung Gauk were performed by dancing groups from Myanmar. The festival featured exhibitions of art and traditional clothes. This connotes that it is not only about displaying art and culture of the State to the outside world, there is a course of action to maintain relationships with other Nations by utilizing cultural tourism in Manipur. In Manipur society, cultural exhibitions may create a basis to show the value of their tradition. People are not just presenting their culture, but they are also learning foreign traditions during the festival. There is a continuous exchange of knowledge between different States and between different countries through art and culture. What appears to be clear is that there is an interaction between India, through Manipur art and culture, and between other countries especially Thailand and Myanmar. This interaction somehow does not point to cultural fusion.
Work environment
Manipur Sangai Festival is said to give employment. The department, before the festival begins, usually issues an invitation to tender. They release RFT (Request for Tender) related to goods and services for the Sangai Festival which mentions the type of the work and budget available. The type of work includes installation of CCTV cameras and Public Address (PA) system, outdoor publicity for the festival, photo and video coverage, LED screen, printed material, pre-festival campaign, public relations, social media, publication, designing and brand manual, designing and construction of Manipur Tourism Pavilion, hiring and installation of furniture and laying of carpets, refurbishing of heritage park, and production, marketing and management of tickets for entry of visitors for the Sangai festival. Individuals, corporations, companies, or non-profit organiza- tions may bid. Those who got successful in bidding will sign a Contract Agreement with the Directorate of Tourism and the final award of work shall be given only after successfully signing of the Contract Agreement. This points to the fact that any NGO, individual, corporation, or business in Manipur are able to engage in work during the Manipur Sangai Festival.
The handloom industry is the State’s largest cottage industry. This industry has been there since earlier time. One of the industry’s unique characteristics is that women are the only weavers. Weavers from Manipur participate in the Sangai festival. Weaving is an essential source for women in both rural and urban areas. It has persisted and is a source of income for many individuals. It was possible to see self-sufficiency. Products made of cane and bamboo are produced for household and ceremonial use because they are widely available. There is also pottery culture in Manipur where majority of the pots are handcrafted and come in a variety of colours. The participation of those who work in the handloom and handicraft industry in the festival makes it visible that traditional occupations can be actively employed even today. Traditional occupations are still practiced as a source of income. Through this festival, traditional occupations can be made aware of it to those who are unfamiliar, especially tourists from both other States of the countries and from other countries. Also, popularizing of the products made from traditional occupation will help in the economy.
A focus on areas of improvement
Leveraging tourism, the North Eastern region’s development might be enhanced. How can Sangai Festival thrive to connect India and Southeast Asia ? It would commence via connectivity. India and Southeast Asian Nations want accessibility by road, rail, and air to flourish. The improvement in road and air connectivity is an essential condition for the success of any place to become a tourist destination. The air connectivity in Manipur is the Bir Tikendrajit International Airport. However, for international connectivity, only few chartered flights from Mandalay landed in this airport in 2014, 2015 and 2019 during the Manipur Sangai Festival. So, attention should be given to add international flights and for the improvement of air connectivity between Manipur and Southeast Asian countries. Recently, Chief Minister of Manipur, N Biren Singh, said that the State Government is trying to introduce Imphal to Bangkok flight connectivity as part of the Act East Policy. This is a wise move though its actual fulfillment is yet to be known.
Further, Manipur’s unfavourable reputation and safety concern can prevent the State from becoming a popular tourism destination. The existence of militant groups in the North Eastern region is known. Numerous organizations, associations, and militant groups in Manipur enforce bandhs and blockades. The State administration either neglects or takes necessary action to negotiate with the groups or organizations for any demand to calm the situation. Any bandh or blockage may be called for a variety of reasons and the festival may get affected. Manipur Sangai festival celebrations had impediments in the past years.
(To be contd)