It is indeed interesting to read reports in certain national media circles raising questions of the December 24, 2023 Kangla meet and subsequent declaration. It was a gathering of Meitei legislators and concerned youth activists set upon taking a unified decision of the way forward for the Meiteis as a community.
While the Meiteis had been transfixed on a single agenda of territorial integrity and of taking along the other communities inhabiting the state, they had simply forgotten the question of their own survival and welfare. And look at what they have been reduced to in recent times. While the Nagas sulk at Meitei’s opposition to the political aspirations of a Greater Nagalim, Kukis have gained control of the national highways and a few districts giving them a leverage for making demands for separation or a future imagined under the Indian dispensation.
What was once a minority in the hills of Manipur have gained vantage positions around the valley on both the national and state highways, as a result of British colonialists aided by indifference from the Nagas. The policy of planting Kuki villages adjacent to many important Naga villages by the British was not resisted by the Nagas in those days. After the Naga-Kuki clashes in the 90s, Kukis had regrouped in Kangpokpi and Churachandpur besides Moreh. The Nagas have ignored these population shifts and also infiltrations from across the border.
Meanwhile, keeping Manipur intact and taking along in the arduous journey the various communities, big or small, was first and foremost in the minds of Meiteis. Notwithstanding the divide created by the colonial Britishers which had given birth to varied ethnic aspirations, the Meitei community as a whole had always been championing the cause of Manipur’s territorial integrity and the ethos of a collective people forged through a shared historical experience and interdependence.
For the Meiteis, it has always been Manipur first and Meitei second. And, it was indeed a formidable task for the mainstream civil society organisations in the valley in trying to bridge the artificial gap created by the colonialists. In terms of upkeep of the state’s territorial integrity, the political divide was mostly between the Meiteis and the Nagas while the Kukis more or less remained as observers. Smaller tribes like the Kom, Anal, Moyon, Monsang or Aimol etc who were classified as Old Kukis by the Britishers in view of their culture and traditions have chosen to project themselves of not belonging to any of the major groupings in the hills, but always shown loyalty to the territorial integrity of Manipur in view of their close association with the valley population since time immemorial.
For the Nagas, politics had long taken over the umbilical connections, age-old bond of brotherhood and shared historical experiences with the Meiteis. However, in spite of the political divide, the Meiteis and the Nagas had in recent times managed to find common ground in terms of incessant influx of Myanmar illegals from across the border and establishing roots in the political demography of the state. We did warn about the inner rumblings within the Kuki-Chin brotherhood and now it has come out in the open with the recent demand for a separate administration for Kuki areas. When one talks of territorial integrity, most of us are fixated on the possible outcome of NSCN (I-M) and Government of India only.
The concept of territorial integrity encompasses anything which dare threatens our borders and the issues of territorial disputes, homeland aspirations, ownership of state lands, and above all emotional integrity. What is interesting in the present imbroglio is the resurgence of Meitei identity which had upstaged all other considerations.
Never before, the community had felt so threatened by its existence and its historical imprint. Never had they considered the inroads, made by the unchecked influx of new Kukis and their systematic settlement pattern encircling the valley and the domination of Moreh after the Naga-Kuki clashes, would one day threaten to take over the whole state. This somehow ignited the resurgence among the Meitei community and gave rise to a Meitei-centric movement and form.