Condemned as a cry in the Wilderness!
Manipur’s new political dispensation ushered in almost a year and half ago is proving itself the same old wine in a new bottle. No doubt, the new regime is making all the right noises, encaptioned “ching tam amattani, go to the hills, go to the village, chingmi ki numit” etc etc absolutely soothing and alluring sound bites. I for one, gave myself into believing that the core political agenda of the hon’ble P.M. Shri. N. Modi “sabka sath, sabka vikas” which is all about “all inclusiveness” is taking deep roots in Manipur soil. Yes, initially thought of and deemed as serious attempt at communal bonding on the strength of mutual trust and respect. Alas! Given the façade with all frills and trappings/symbolism, the agenda at its core however, is perpetuating valley domination over the hills. Given geo-political reality of Manipur, the agenda being pursued relentlessly by our beloved valley leaders would be tantamount to self-destruction of ‘what you want built and secured for the upcoming generations-a harmonious and vibrant state.
Manipur, though small, is home to numerous ethnic tribes/communities defined broadly in generic terms as plain people (Meeteis) and tribals (Chin-Kukis, Zomis, Nagas, etc). Demographically, tribals account for more than 40% and geographically they command 90% of the land. In the backdrop of these facts, viability of Manipur and her future clearly hinges on peaceful and honourable co-existence. “Honourable co-existence” leaves no room whatsoever, for exploitation and marginalisation of the weak/poor/backward by the more advanced, richer and stronger. Bitter question! Are the tribals being taken on board as equal partners in our common journey towards a shared destiny or else being left off the board to survive on the peripheral or survive on the strength of the valley’s patronage? Are we tribals into another spell of colonial regime all in the name of “Freedom and democracy”? These are litmus test for any people seeking a place of ‘legitimate honour and dignity’ under the sun, seeking to secure a ‘future of honour and dignity’ for the upcoming generations. No amount of white washing can wash away inherent fragility of the sandy structure.
Be that as it may, what is happening on our side of the isle? Do we tribals being stake holders No.1 even care to pause for a minute and reflect on why and how we have reduced ourselves to just surviving (not living) on the edge? Mind you? This is 21st Century-a civilisation powered and driven by the spirit of equity, fairness and dignity-a realm far far removed from where we are; who is to blame? 70 years gone since independence, 45 years gone since Manipur statehood, and yet we tribals remain bogged down in the quagmire of colonial regime-far more painful because it comes fully spruced up in the garbs of “freedom and democracy”. Ask! What would take to shock and shake the conscience of our tribal leaders into transforming themselves into all-out people-centric leaders? It only takes to strain our necks to look back and see for ourselves what a huge disconnect between the leaders and the people-best described as “leaders absolutely unto themselves, for themselves” and “people left to themselves, to fend for themselves”. 21st Century encapsulated as “for the best of the best” should shock us into asking what do we elders/leaders leave behind as legacy for our children/grand children to inherit? Gloom and doom! Any doubt? I am ready for debate.
For the start, the following deserve top priority attention/action. Constitutional rights and safeguards as envisaged under Art.371(C) of the constitution for the uplift of the tribals be acted upon in right earnest both in letter and in spirit. For example:
1. Hill Areas Committee (HAC) comprising of all 19 tribal MsLA, a constitutionally empowered entity and which is central to securing safeguards/protections as envisaged under the Act has been rendered completely impotent. To utter dismay of all concerned HAC is being treated all along as a mere creation of the state govt. political will and intent of Art.371 (C) are clearly spelled out in the presidential order vide GOI Gazette notification dt.20.06.1972 providing thereunder (out of many) that any matter/issue (be it legislative action or executive action) that has bearing on tribal areas must be referred to HAC for due consideration and submission thereof. Mind you, this is not what we want done; it is simply a constitutional mandate to be honoured and adhered to by all concerned most particularly by people’s representatives who were sworn into their respective positions of authority as the custodians and protectors of the constitutions.
Unimaginable and yet so true, is the fact that the HAC all the while have had their constitutional political platform used up towards facilitating downright abuse and desecration of constitutional mandate to protect the rights and interests of the tribals in Manipur. Be sure, with the shield of solemn oath taken in the name of the constitution strung around the chests and yet in the same breath, going straight against the very essence of the oath taken, would be tantamount to stealing people’s mandate and of course, betraying the mandate. So what? The inevitable fate that awaits the younger generations is the future of ‘doom and gloom’.
2. Bifurcation of Budget and Annual plan into two viz. one for the valley and the other for the hills as provided for in the Act is for securing fair and equitable socio-economic development and thereby ensuring meaningful and harmonious co-existence between the two. In your wisdom you have arbitrarily opted (where no option is open) for centralised budget and centralised plan and sure enough adverse fallout arising therefrom is the huge disparity on all counts between the valley and the hills. Unless course correction is taken, uncertainty of future would be the only certainty for Manipur.
3. 33% reservation accepted and operational since Manipur statehood has been so abused and mutilated that tribals hardly account for 20000 as against tribal share of minimum 30000 (total strength of govt. and quasi-govt. employees of 90000/95000). What has made the scenario even more distressful is the persistent determined effort to employ all kinds of subterfuge to justify taking away more of tribal share. We can bet on anything but not on people’s right.
4. Institutions/departments (Central and state) dedicated solely to tribal interests/development are all located/concentrated in the valley. Besides with utter disregard for reality of varied ethnic composition and demographic changes in favour of tribals, colonial mindset of valley-based leaders clearly shows up in the form of unrelenting monopolisation of state-run organizational/institutional positions at the top by people of the valley. Anything that smacks of grabbing doesn’t jell with co-existence.
5. The already huge socio-politico-economic disparities between the valley and the hills get accentuated due to blatantly undemocratic /unconstitutional under-representation of tribals in the legislative assembly. Assembly constituencies (40 A.Cs) in the valley, on average commands 55 sq.km. with electorate of 28000/29000. The remaining 19 A.Cs. for ST and 1 A.C for SC- command on average physical size of 1100sq.km. of exceedingly difficult hilly and rocky terrains with electorate of 39000/40000. It only nudges simple common sense to understand how glaringly flawed has the entire democratic edifice become. The younger generations would simply not accept tenability of outdated doctrine of “what we don’t want done to us by others is exactly what we do to others”.
The issue (out of many) as briefly discussed above unambiguously point to unmistakable fact that the entire democratic structure is so heavily skewed in favour of the valley leaving absolutely no space for the tribals to enjoy the fruits of democracy and freedom. Therefore, in the face of the above mentioned facts falling strictly within bounds of the constitution, what should the govt.’s response be like, would eventually determine the fate of our future. Be sure we tribals are not asking for anything extra except that which legitimately and constitutionally belong to us.
(Sword Vashum, IAAS (Retd) Ex-Addl. Dy. CAG, Govt. of India.)
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