Preserving Territorial Integrity Of Manipur – Part I
By: Farooque Ahmed
Manipur is one of the oldest civilizations in Southeast Asia and has a long history of monarchy before coming under British imperialism in 1891 and merger into India 1947. Traditional Puya attributes this land with the first anointment of a king in 33 AD. His successors started the process of nation building by conquering all the clan territories in the valley that was completed in the 15th Century. Her territory saw its greatest expansion in 1475 with the annexation of Kabow valley by Garibniwaz Pamheiba and lost that territory in 1834 permanently before which Kabow valley changed hands many times.
R. B. Pemberton observed that Manipur territory fluctuated at various times with the fortunes of their princes, frequently extending for three or four
days? journey east beyond the Ningthee or Khyendwen river, and west to the plains of Cachar. W. McCulloch said that the major tribes and clans of the
Meiteis appeared to have been the descendants of the surrounding hill tribes.
Prof. Gangmumei Kabui observes that in Manipur, the people were known by their tribes name throughout the 19th and early 20th Centuries; the British for their administrative convenience applied a word as ?Naga? to mean a group of tribes as according to their anthropological classification as well and the rest of the tribes were named as ?Kukis?. The Muslims settled in Manipur since the 17th Century, adopted Meitei language as their mother tongue and now form an integral part of the Manipuri society. Thus, Manipur became a mosaic of cultures meaning it is a multicultural and multi religious societal set up. The history of Manipur is a continuous evolution of such a culture and society.Manipur is historically a united entity from time
immemorial and the physical feature of Manipur is such that it appears very much logical as it is. Disturbing the territory or Balkanization of this ancient land is to say the least an injustice to the Nature and an injustice to all the hopes and dreams of men like Muhammad Alimuddin,Yangmaso Shaiza and Rishang Keishing besides the Meitei leaders. It is also appropriate to acknowledge that there is a danger and a threat to the very basis of Manipur that is the territory. By virtue of the sheer numerical strength of the Meitei and their historic responsibility, Manipur has been identified with Meitei. But Meitei responsibility does not end there. Meiteis seem to be merely contented with the thing as it is betraying a sense of dominance and this short-sightedness is the direct result of this threat to the territory of Manipur. As the bigger community, Meitei have the responsibility to take
into account the ?I) interests II) rights III) opportunities and IV dignity of other communities because by all accounts Manipur is under their helm.
Meiteis need to remind themselves that Manipur is multicultural and the
only way to preserve Manipur to keep multicultural as it is in letter and
spirit. From (i) historical backdrop and (ii) prevalent political and geo-political developments, it is identifiable that (I) the territorial question, (II) the ethnic question of Manipuri communities, (III) the projected nationality question of some ethnic groups mainly Meiteis and Nagas (IV) question of minor ethnic groups in the culturally composite structure of Manipur and their role and place, and (IV) the overall regional question meaning, the question of Manipur vis-୶is Indian Union come around as the main agendas for discussion to sort out the problems. Communities like Muslims want to have and see Manipur as it is united in territory and in polity within India, because they read any other move will be catastrophic, and because no single ethnic group or community controls or possesses Manipur as a whole practically and in history that is still the case today. The fate and destiny of Manipur has to be decided by its constituent communities which Meiteis have to admit and they have to shed their streak of majoritarian dominating stance.The
threat to the existence of Manipur as an united territory has been effectuated by the ethnic assertion and nationality projection of the two major communities-the Meiteis in the valleys and the Nagas in the hills that ultimately sees the clash of interest and clash over the very territorial entity of Manipur.
The destiny of Manipur hinges around four important factors- (I) the political outlook of the Meiteis, (II) their dealing with other communities, (III) perception of other ethnic communities towards the Meiteis, and (IV) how the outside world perceive of them. If the Meiteis are involved in petty localized politics like ethnic conflict or float around as one community competing with others for a place in political decision or for a dominant political status, instead of unifying other ethnic groups under their lead they are merely an ethnic group having no locus standi in meaningful solution.
It will only aggravate the situation. Because ethnic or nationhood question
is a relative term, going beyond self proclamation; so to be a nation, it
has to win (I) the confidence of minority communities, (II) ensure the minority groups that to be a Meitei nation does not necessarily mean subsuming other groups within its fold under the semantic ?Meitei? or ?Manipuri? beyond their willingness, (III) ensure the rights and liberties of other minority groups and IV) promote equitable prosperity for all communities. Meiteis need to explain what a Meitei nation or a Manipuri nation means for other communities. Because in the heat of the debate as how to save the territorial integrity of Manipur, there are Meitei revivalist movements who want to assert Meitei supremacy- in walks of like as Meitei script, Meitei culture and Meitei cultural symbols with so much zeal. If Manipur is a multicultural society, is there a bit of concern among the Meiteis to identify or preserve other cultural matters of other communities, let alone economic program?
On the face there is nothing wrong in promoting Meitei culture and Meitei
nationhood. Meiteis need to show that Meitei culture and nationhood is universal and accommodative of other cultures and ethnic identities in a composite multicultural model as far as Manipur is concerned to all the communities.Theoretically and practically Manipuris as led by the Meiteis in a federal and multicultural
sense can be a nation within India, again in the sense that India is federal country where many nations as Manipuri nation, Bengali nation or Tamil nation make up a composite multicultural and federal set-up called the Republic of India that must ensure the prosperity of all regions and of all communities.
In other words India is a country of many nations. So it now boils down to the issue: (I) Meiteis are a nation when other ethnic communities as the Muslims and the Tribes as Nagas and Kukis in Manipur willingly accept that they accept the semantic ?Meitei?nation in an associate sense meaning that other communities or ethnic groups are and will be as they are, i.e., they are separate and independent ethnic communities who join up for the sake of united Manipur without giving up their rights and identities, simply because they are inhabitants of Manipur too historically.To be a nation does no mean destroying other identity groups; (II) conversely Meiteis have to accept that ?Meitei? means the generic term ?Manipuri? as the minority
ethnic communities know and define as such. After all Manipuri language is a Meitei language called Meiteilon- a mother tongue of the Muslims and lingua franca for the rest of the communities as the tribes and others, the instances as such apply to many other fields too. Meitei nation does not mean imposing their culture, religion, language and other Meitei attributes to other communities. If other communities don?t accept the notion or semantic as ?Meitei nation?; Meiteis need to drop that insistence on such prosaic matter as semantic for the sake of preserving the territorial integrity of Manipur. Here the nature of political outlook of the Meiteis is crucial because their outlook must convince other communities that the latter have no apprehension or doubt in coming up for a Manipuri nation or Meitei nation that is essentially and practically multicultural and multi religious.
Their inability to articulate such an outlook and practice such a vision will deter other ethnic communities like the Nagas or Kukis inducing them to claim and demand their own homelands and nationhood like the Meiteis do.
Already the Nagas have forcefully demanded a Greater Nagaland or Nagalim
that includes the hill regions of Manipur inhabited by the Naga tribes.
At the international level, the Naga movement is apparently more advanced
than the Meitei movement already probably with the fact that they have forced the Indian Government to open a dialogue as Indo-Naga peace talk, Indo-Naga ceasefire etc. On the ground it may mean little, but their success to use the semantic as ?Indo-Naga? is a big leap for themselves as it implies that the Indian Government accept the ?Nagas? as a separate entity that is dealing with another entity India.
Already there had been Indo-Naga peace talks outside India and the NSCN (IM) leader is being invited in New Delhi for further talks with Indian officials.
Ultimately what differentiates a national group from an ethnic group is the political outlook, their ability to carry along other fellow communities with them and turn around outside perception and reception. Meiteis need to take along other Manipuri communities within their fold to be a nation, or they may be forced to compromise with the fact that Nagas inhabit in many hill territories of Manipur who too have historical rights over their inhabitations walking away with a chunk of Manipur territory.
Ultimately for Manipur to be united, the Manipuris themselves have to bring along all the Manipuri ethnic communities including Nagas within its fold. If the Meiteis want to represent united Manipur and want to be a nation, they have to show their Manipuriness as a whole to be a nation including the Nagas. It is here where the Meitei political outlook is essential because, as the current scenario also unfolds, the Naga aspiration parallel to the Meitei aspiration has become a historic reality creating a deadlock. The Nagas are by and large emotionally and politically alienated from Manipur for a variety of reasons.
We need to find reasons why and convince them that Nagas too have an honored place, a role and prosperity in the destiny of Manipur, a united Manipur rather than an uncertain Greater Nagaland in a history that is often calamitous.
To be continued…
Date: 26 August, 2002
Place: New Delhi
(The author is a former Senior Researcher in the Center for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and hails from the state of Manipur, India.)