October 18 is a significant date in the life of the people of the state. For the living generation, it is a once in a lifetime moment. This is the 75th year, Diamond Jubilee moment of the inauguration of the first ever legislative assembly in South Asia (even perhaps South East Asia) constituted through election based on universal adult franchise on October 18, 1948. It was not merely a question of the establishment of a legislature. It was the dawn of the modern idea of ‘we, the people’, a collectivity constituted by an act of ‘coming together’ of right-bearing individuals irrespective of their gender, caste class, creed, race, culture and linguistic communities. It’s worth reminding that the present chaotic carnage marked by unprecedented violence is a direct manifestation of an assault on that idea of peoplehood.
However, that subversion has an old history: the ‘Merger’ of 1949. As Late Mono Monsang, a member of the Assembly of 1948, puts it, in an interview with the present author at the turn of the present century, ‘that assembly was destroyed after running for 11 months only’! We, the present living generation, need to have a proper understanding of the significance of that epochal moment represented by 18th October in the life of the people in the state, more so as we struggle to defend against those who seek to destroy Manipur.
Peoplehood of Citizens
It was the day when the representatives of the people of Manipur, irrespective of communities, language, religion, sex or place of residence etc, came together to mark their transformation from being mere subjects of a sovereign to that of becoming democratic citizens who shared the sovereign power with the king. In other words, that day marked a moment wherein from being a subject without civil and political rights, the individual members that came under the expression, 'the people of Manipur' became right-bearing citizens who as 'individuals' are equal in the eyes of the law of the land.
To think of it, it is not only the transformation of the individuals but the collective as well as it was also the beginning and recognition of the assertion of 'popular sovereignty' in Manipur. Truly, it was a moment for Manipur as a state to consolidate the transition from being, to borrow from the French thinker Michel Foucault, a 'territorial state' to being a 'population state'. Indeed, in this sense, it was truly an epoch-making historical moment of imagining a new collectivity in modern-terms.
It is day that captures the trajectory of the different forms of consciousness of collectivises and relationships that have presumably accompanied the transformation of a space dotted by small human settlements, villages and principalities to a kingdom, and then to a monarchic state to becoming a modern state which gets its legitimacy from the idea of "we, the people of Manipur'.
In other words, The consciousness and cosmologies of the people under the social order of kinship groups, insulated (and often fortified) villages under the chiefs, and the suzerainty of a sovereign monarch are bound to be different from that of the social order and secularized political space inhabited by enfranchised people in a modern state. Manipur as an integrated whole marked by a hierarchy of loyalty with the King at the top with his officials, the village chiefs and sageiaahals (family patriarchs) below cannot be the same under a democratic and republican order inhabited by equal, at least in principle, individual citizens.
Significance of Commemorating October 18
Given the transforming nature of 'individuals' as well as the 'people' as a collective which was marked by the day when the State Assembly was inaugurated in 1948, commemorating the day has significance for the fractured nature of our society and polity. It can be a moment to reaffirm the effort to weave together the fragments of our divided polity and society in terms of equality and modern ethos. Besides, it shall also serve as a way to restore our beyond the sense of the up-rootedness born out of the denials of selfhood.
Indeed, there is value in the pride with which the Maharajah of Manipur declared on this day in 1948 that just as the Sun rises in the east, Manipur had taken the initiative in India in inaugurating a life that did not discriminate people on the basis of religion, race, sex, language or place. Besides, it is also a day that can reminds us of the struggle for statehood in the 1960s and 1970s as those movements were informed by an awareness of the existence of that Assembly of 1948 (during the struggle, it was often expressed in terms of the 'restoration' of the democratic and responsible government in Manipur).
In fact, the movement for 'statehood' had also brought the people and their leaders from both the valley and hills together in Manipur. In that, 18th October is the day of coming together of people, of hope and aspiration, and beyond the cocoon of myopic visions, it is a historically significant day that secures Manipur a place of pride in the entire South Asia.
An official declaration of October 18 as a day to be remembered could even mean, perhaps, a re-assertion of the supremacy of the Assembly. After all, the present Assembly takes pride in tracing its historical lineage to that epoch making development in 1948 (as so succinctly reminded by the official website of Manipur Legislative Assembly). It has the potential to bring back the legacies of stalwarts like Md. Allimudin who later became the first Chief Minister of Manipur as a full-fledged state under the Indian Constitution or R Suisa (who became MP from Manipur in 1957) who were members of the 1948 Assembly. For the fractured polity, such a move would remind us of a different story to tell.
In short, commemorating such a day would serve as a significant premise to change the terms the debates that pertain to the very existence of Manipur as a geo-political entity today as well as crafting a new Manipur. This being the case, should not we officially commemorate October 18 as Manipur People's Solidarity Day' in the state to consolidate civic sense of peoplehood and pursue common good?
(The views expressed are personal)