Ever since the breakout of ethnic violence between the Meiteis and Kukis, one could perceive a noticeable change in the political behaviour of the Meiteis vis-à-vis the idea of Manipur. Keeping Manipur intact while taking along 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. Well, that has changed drastically as Meiteis and Kukis are aligned on opposite sides of the pole in view of their demand for a separate administration. 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. And we had highlighted the issues of frequent incursions of Myanmar forces on our borders and the border disputes with the state of Nagaland, the GOI negotiations with SoO groups, the Mount Koubru controversy and the unfinished district reorganisation which should essentially be included in the discourse of territorial 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.
The glory of a once powerful nation state which held sway at the crossroads of South and Southeast Asia was once again invoked and it successfully guided the resurgence. A collective Meitei consciousness is indeed vital not only for survival for the community and keeping the historical legacy inherited from the forefathers burning bright, but also for keeping the integrity of Manipur, territorial or otherwise. But one has to be careful not to overstep in the new-found energy and resilience.