Cancelling invite to tribal leaders Call for ST categorisation

The invitation letter stands ‘cancelled and withdrawn’. That is the invite sent to all tribal leaders of Manipur to come and meet the 7 member team from the National Commission for Scheduled Tribe (NCST) on December 20 at Classic Grande. On the face nothing wrong should be read into this for after all it should be par for the course to expect tribal leaders of the State to meet members of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribe and it is not very often that such a strong team of 7 members of the Commission would visit the State together. What however stood out like a sore thumb was the line, ‘In view of the ST demand by the dominant tribe gaining momentum in the State,’ mentioned in the open invite sent to the tribal leaders of the State. As the withdrawal letter has so succinctly put, it will definitely not be in line for the Commission to take a position on the matter, that is the ST categorisation demand for the Meiteis put up by the Scheduled Tribe Demand Committee and backed by other organisations notably the World Meetei Council. More than clear that it is not the job of the NCST to take a position on the matter and this is a point which should not blow over the heads of anyone and it is significant to note that the Manipur State Commission for the Scheduled Tribes has also taken note of this and stuck by it. Maybe it is wisdom working in hindsight but the letter sent out to the tribal leaders of the State has been withdrawn and this is one prominent point which may be read into the reason for rolling back the letter of invite. The regret expressed by the Member (Admin) of the Manipur State Commission for the Scheduled Tribes is taken note of and one hopes that the regret expressed is taken with the merit it deserves and the said matter is given its due burial. Let bygones be bygones, but yet at the same time this should be a reminder to all that there are rules and regulations and it is best to stick to them and not let one’s prejudice or viewpoint cloud one’s duty at hand. On the other hand it is significant that the Scheduled Tribe Demand Committee, Manipur is on its toes and is not ready to pass anything under its nose without first studying the matter minutely. More than clear that there will be tough opposition to the ST demand for the Meiteis and there is a battle to be waged in the long run. Battle not as understood in the context of muscle flexing exercise but in preparedness and in being ready to take everything face on with the right information and the correct socio-economic conditions of the Meitei as well as the wrongs of history.
It should also be more than clear that it is the voice of opposition from the ‘current tribal’ community and some from amongst the Meitei community that may just be hindering the State Government from sending the needed recommendations to the Centre. How to go about dealing with this reality is the next big challenge before the STDCM, WMC and others who back the ST call for the Meiteis. It will be a long drawn out struggle, there is no doubt about it, but this should not weaken the resolve of the STDCM nor any of the ST proponents. As noted many times in this column earlier, all efforts must be put in to make the ST call a major issue when Manipur goes for Assembly elections in 2027. Unfortunate it is that this issue did not reverberate in the just concluded 2022 Assembly elections, but this should not mean why Manipur has to keep on voting without this key issue figuring in the Assembly election. Mobilise public opinion. Let the ST demand become a topic for debate from the school to the University level. Let there be a State level open debate competition, with speakers speaking for and against the ST motion. Let it figure in some way in the extra-curricular activities of the young students. This is one way of taking the movement or issue to the grassroot level. Let the call for ST categorisation reverberate through.