The Manipur crisis ~ nay, the Manipur tragedy ~ continues and normalization is yet out of sight. It is too early to talk of peace in that beleaguered State, not just because the blame game is at its height, historical rights and wrongs recalled and reiterated and political agenda prioritized, but because of an expensive silence that is shattering hopes of its citizens ~ including those who are taking shelter in neighbouring States of Assam, Mizoram and Nagaland, possibly other Northeastern States too. Baffling, the Prime Minister’s silence. Yoga certainly seems to be more important than human lives and peace in an Indian State, however far it is from the mainland. Over 50 days of the “situation” in Manipur and the Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy, the world’s most populated country not only remains silent but also embarks on foreign jaunts. What hope for the people of faraway Northeastern States with semblance of peace but simmers under perceived calm waters? What hope for Northeaster States, home to numerous communities, cultures, histories, real and imagined hurts and agonies of a not-too-distant past, as also present, of insurgencies and military might?
The BJP-led Government at the Centre loves to drum-beat that it has brought down insurgency and brought about “peace” in the Northeast ~ perhaps based on statistics provided by intelligence and law enforcing agencies. Although insurgency has made a larger-than-life impact on the Northeast, it is not the only factor that keeps this region simmering. In a paper I had presented in 2012 at the Seminar on Consequences of Longterm Conflicts In Northeast India, on October 26, 2012, at Kolkata, conducted by the Research Centre for Eastern and North Eastern Regional Studies-Kolkata (CENERS-K) and the Centre for Security Analysis-Chennai, I wrote:
“…Northeastern societies were in existence centuries before the rise of some conflicts such as insurgency and militancy. In fact, these are recent developments, not even a century old. Older conflicts relating to histories, ideologies, politics, cultures, traditions, religions, beliefs, superstitions, lore and legends of primarily tribal societies are harder to deal with, especially through and with modern concepts such as democracy and institutions thereof, which are of the alien variety, unmindfully imposed post-Independence, on ancient societies with developed semblances of democratic concepts and practices. So when we talk about conflict in the Northeast and the concomitant challenges, threats and risks, we have to understand, appreciate and discern the kinds of conflicts that confront the region.
“Besides the usual conflicts that insurgency and militancy pose to any society in any part of the globe, perhaps what is often forgotten, ignored and demeaned are the conflicts entrenched in tribalism, conflicting aspirations and interests, cultural diversities and dreams and schemes of tribal hegemony, as also power struggles at varied and various levels of society, perhaps due to multiplicity of value-systems we subscribe to in our society, especially keeping in mind that these are the very same factors that also spawn insurgency and militancy. This, of course, we would be able to understand and appreciate better if we keep in mind the historical fact that not only have tribal societies in the Northeast … been rudely tossed from our subsistence economies into modern forms of economies but also the fact that our histories and cultures were unceremoniously hijacked at a certain point of time by alien forces and factors. This has disoriented us and this disorientation has spawned conflicts that have hitherto been ignored, neglected or simply brushed off as extraneous to the larger scheme of matters Northeast. What needs to be underscored here is that standing at the crossroads of the traditional and modernity, Northeastern societies are not very sure as to how to view, and what to make out of, the rapidly-changing equations we see all around us, locally, regionally, nationally and globally. And when one is not sure of things, one tends to look at them with suspicion, with fear and retreat into a kind of passivity.
“The entrenched impact of such a situation is not easy to discern so what is needed is an in-depth study of the psychological profiles of our peoples, which have shaped our histories, economies, politics, cultures, traditions, laws, lore and legends, keeping in mind that over the centuries, these very same factors have also shaped our psychological profiles. The interesting aspect of it all is that the present Northeastern societies may be a result of western or modern orientation by way of education and the technological revolution increasingly reaching our remotest areas but our people are also products of deep-seated traditional cultures and concepts. We also need to deal with our inability and/or unwillingness to shed our biases and prejudices and our traditional and cultural viewpoints of the world in general. Consequently, we have sidelined and unwittingly imprisoned ourselves to the ‘dominant’ politics, economics, cultures, ideologies, and what is made out to be the ‘dominant aspirations’ of our peoples. This perhaps ranks as one of the greatest ‘conflicts’ that rage in Northeastern societies. The worst fallout of this is the violation of all human democratic rights and freedoms. The fallout incidentally is in harmony with the tribal principle that the collective is greater than the individual ~ a principle that had helped overground political classes and underground factions to silence the people.”
While Manipur’s conflicting communities at the moment point fingers at each other and the media perceive things from a skewed lens ~ especially with the mainland media hardly being a repository of Northeast’s historical knowledge ~ perhaps we need to remind ourselves that conflict between and among communities here are ancient hence we shouldn’t get drowned in the swamp of immediate “causes”. All Northeastern communities have rights and wrongs ~ unless we own that, we cannot live peacefully with our neighbours. Now the issue is where does the BJP-led Central Government, on which so much hope was reposed to effect peace in Manipur, stand juxtaposed with its political agenda, calculations and consideration? Is winning Manipur’s parliamentary seats in 2004 more important than dousing the fire that engulfs the State now? On a scale of 1 to 10, how does the Central Government rate the lives of the besieged people of Manipur? Does the Central Government hope that the fires in Manipur will dies down by themselves?
Because the Northeast is a cauldron of numerous communities, cultures, histories, politics and perceptions, this region is also a kind of a tinder box ~ we never know what will happen where next. But all Northeastern eyes are on the BJP-led Government at the Centre on the developments in Manipur and what to expect should fires start in other parts of the region. Manipur today indicates that pinning hope on the Centre is futile. The Prime Minister, the Home Minister and other Central Ministers, even Assam’s CM ~ can hold forth on the development of the Northeast ad nauseam but their silence on the lives of the people is telling. Winning elections is easy but governance that centre-stages the lives and limbs of the people is a totally different ball game. But are Northeasterners opening our eyes?
(The Columnist, a journalist and poet, is Founding Editor, Nagaland Page. Published in the June 23, 2023 issue of Assam Tribune)