MY piece in this column last week had ruffled many feathers and I am reportedly trolled in the social media, which does not affect me as I don’t do social media but was informed from time to time by friends and well wishers. In the said article, I had used the term ‘kabak’ which was in the two kanglashas but an elder informed that it is not kabak per se but ‘cheingak’ or prop. It was informed that kabak is a single both end pointed rod inserted in the middle of the mouth with one end on the palate and the other on the inner lower jaw. Even now some communities are still using this on animals for rituals and after confirmation, and as the two rods were on the side of the mouth of the statues, I stand corrected.
The article raised a few points, such as that the process of decision making is incorrect as Kangla Board had not decided on the matter, ill conceived advice based on incorrect assumptions have been rendered, treating one of our primary gods Nongshaba as gatekeepers is wrong, etc. However, many of the reactions which came in the social media seem not to have understood the rational and many perhaps had not even read the article.
Under the Kangla Act, 2004, the decision relating to the development and maintenance of Kangla rest with the Kangla Board and no other agency have the authority to dictate terms to the Kangla Board on this matter. The Board had not given permission on the removal of the two props of each statue is confirmed by the fact that within 48 hours of the article, the Board met.
However, representatives from the MHA and ASI must be absent due to the extreme short notice and ASI provides the technical guidance to the Board. What decision were taken in the meeting was not known but it can be surmised that post facto approval may have been accorded to the removal of the props. Rather than focussing too much on the props on the Kanglashas, it would have been better if proper maintenance work on the existing monuments is carried out especially during the pandemic as many monuments have been overrun with algae and weeds.
The most unfortunate part is that rather than the Kangla Board simply clarifying on the matter, various groups and individuals started trolling based on heresy and misrepresenting facts. There was claim that the writer was against Sanamahi religion which is malacious and that can be confirmed from even a cursory reading of the article. There are even threats of social boycott as if it matters as our paths hardly cross. This is nothing but mobocracy and mob violence. Every religion has its right to be practiced freely as enshrined in Article 25 of the Indian Constitution and every religion has contributed to the overall human heritage and no religion is superior or inferior to the others, and it has its own unique position.
One gentleman representing an organisation in an interview made a series of innuendoes and allegations without knowing the facts. The organisation he represents because of high handedness led to quite a handful of the founding members distancing themselves. He claimed that the writer when he was Commissioner of Arts & Culture was instrumental in constructing Uttra and its gate and others in violation of the principles for reconstruction for the purpose of awarding contract. Let him or anybody go to the office of the Kangla Board or the Archaeology Unit of Arts & Culture and check the records.
Hardly any work was taken up during his tenure and all major works like Pakhangba Temple, reconstruction of Uttra, etc were taken up much earlier and was already completed when he took over. To be fair to his predecessors, after Kangla was handed over to the people of Manipur in 2004 there was a sense of euphoria and quite a few works were started even before the submission of the Concept Note by Prof Nalini Thakur. The principle of restoration and reconstruction came only when ICOMOS and later Indian Archaeological Society was brought in to the picture.
The restoration by them of Govindajee temple, Brindavanchandra Temple, and citadel wall were taken up following the international norms. In fact the idea that Kangla can be moved for the Tangible heritage of humanity came much later taking into consideration the importance of this complex and after Sankirtana was designated as an intangible heritage of humanity in 2013. His insinuations are to say the least nothing but loose talk without substance to be the best cheer leader! In fact, a resolution was adopted by the Kangla Board to redo the Uttra and its gate as per the original design, which still could not be implemented.
A representative of a very important institution even claimed that there was a controversy on Lai Haraoba without naming who it was. The worst is when attempts were made to show that the act was carried out based on a photograph which Pradip Phanjoubam had in his article demolished with logic that it is nothing but a fake one. Besides the arguments of Pradip, Johnstone came to the Naga Hills only in 1872 and hence anything ascribed to him relating to the North east before 1872 can nothing be, but concocted.
The tragedy is the utter lack of scientific temper while basing the act of removing the prop without verifying the source of the photo. However, this incident had laid bare the scholarship of the person who published the morphed photo. Another one was that I am associated with a political party which is laughable. Even during the time of the present Government, I had helped in quite a few matters which were felt for the larger benefit of the state and its people.
The nodal agency in India for tangible heritage for submission of candidate to UNESCO is the ASI while for the intangible is the Sangeet Natak Akademi. For Monuments and Sites, 8 criteria need to be fulfilled. If Manipur wants Kangla to be proposed for inclusion in the list of Tangible Heritage, all works should be in line with the principles of restoration of monuments and sites. If it wants it to be a park or a worship site of a particular group, then it is altogether another matter.
Kanglasha should not be a property of a particular community, where rituals are performed. It should be given the importance it is due where an international event took place even leading to the polarisation of the world and was widely reported then in the world press and should be projected as a heritage for all humanity. This requires proper planning and strategic execution. It must be remembered that Kangla was handed over to the people of Manipur and not to a section and all activities must be in the interest of the whole. There seems that there is an effort by certain vested groups to make it into a sectarian place.
Prof Nayef R. F. Al-Rodhan, well known Saudi born neuroscientist, philosopher and geo-strategist in his book “Sustainable History and the Dignity of Man: A philosophy of History and Civilisational Triumph” argues that for good governance there need to have at least 8 minimum criteria in which Free, independent and responsible media; Accountability; and Transparency are included. Rather, there seems to be more inclined towards muzzling the press, shirking responsibility by blaming others and toward opacity. In a liberal democratic institution, debate is the bedrock and is the fundamental part of the freedom of speech where ideas are exchanged based on facts, logic, interpretations and arguments. Snubbing debate through nefarious means by trolling those who criticise the establishment in the social media with half baked ideas and arguments does not bode well for the future. It is well worth to remember Sonnenberg’s quote “You don’t win a debate by suppressing discussions; you win it with a better argument”.
When it was pondered why such reaction in the social media for any perceived criticism of the establishment, including the recent heaping of blame on the press for publishing a news agency feed, which should simply have been clarified by the authority concerned, it dawned that whenever certain inconvenient issues or questions were raised for which the establishment has no answer or not convenient to answer, what better way than for the cheering brigade to troll with insinuations and innuendoes to side track it and obfuscate the issue and burying it! There seems a method in the madness.