Just as the campaign for and against the ST demand by the Scheduled Tribe Demand Committee Manipur (STDCM) is heating up with both sides building up massive political pressure, a minor controversy erupted in Imphal.
The Directorate of Economics & Statistics, a little known unit in the government, went for an opinion poll on the hotly contested issue of Scheduled Tribe status for the Meitei community and found itself in a soup.
The director and deputy director had since been suspended. However, it remains to be seen whether it was their idea to bring up the controversial issue or someone had put a seed of the idea in their minds, or for that matter they are totally oblivious of the political ramifications of the issue.
Although it is a minor department and little known, it is responsible for collecting data and conducting economic and statistical surveys which forms the basis for development planning and budget proposals every year and of course opinion polls.
One notable publication of the directorate is the yearly economic survey report laid before the state assembly just before the presentation of the state budget. Most of the officials are statisticians and they are unlike the usual bureaucrat variety haunting the corridors of power and politics.
As the department is not allocated to any other minister in the government, it is under the charge of the chief minister himself.
Chief Minister N Biren Singh himself is someone who is still mum on whether he is in favour of the demand for ST status for the majority community Meiteis or against it. He is yet to speak out in public or react in the social media as to his views. Maybe it is because he understands that it is a sensitive issue in which he needs to tread carefully.
STDCM was the first to react to the proposed opinion poll. They say, as the poll does not specify the target community whose opinion is being sought, it could generate a result which is disputable, fallacious, deceptive, indecisive and misleading.
It seems STDCM is not adverse to an opinion poll on the controversial issue as they are confident that they have actually drummed up a lot of support with their campaign.
Their objection is rather on the unspecified target population of the proposed opinion poll meaning they might not oppose such an opinion poll if the target population is specified. It is rather interesting.
On the other hand, the World Meetei Council (WMC) is of the view that whether a community should be included in ST list or not is to be decided by the merits of the demand as prescribed by the Lokur Committee and not by any opinion poll.
So true. Talking about merits of the demand, the first question which comes to mind is does the Meitei community fit the bill of being called a Scheduled Tribe.
The criterion followed for specification of a community as scheduled tribes are indications of primitive traits, distinctive culture, geographical isolation, shyness of contact with the community at large, and backwardness. This criterion is not spelt out in the Constitution but has become well established. As a matter of fact, the Meitei community does fulfil any of the criteria.
As we said before, if at all Meitei community is recognised as a Scheduled Tribe it will be by sheer political reason. Every election season, the ST issue is brought to the fore but it seems to have few takers among the important political players.
In recent times, political dispensations have been dabbling quite often with reservation and quota to garner votes. So we would rather say, get your priorities right.