Smart city is exciting everyone and all when it is being seen as an opportunity for many aspiring stakeholders from gullible common people on the streets to the loyal citizens to elite class of contractor-turned-politicians, bureaucrats, technocrats and contractors. Everyone seems to be already falling in line with the recently redefined north eastern region as “land of opportunities” by the rightist nationalist government in Delhi from being stigmatized as land of insurgencies over the last six decades. There is no surprise in Manipur’s political class shifting goal post to reap their bests to the directions that come down from New Delhi as it has been their hallmark characteristics of Manipur’s political class since the independent pre-existing state was made to merge to the wills of New Delhi through subversions of people’s own regional political aspirations.
The idea of Smart city has got everyone into Imphal-centric thinking once again keeping the political concerns of the entire state: months long ILPS stir that occupied the all streets of Imphal just 3 months ago, out of sight and out of mind. Smart city seems to be the greatest concerns for the civil society groups than the deeply hurt emotions of hill people who still weep over the nine dead bodies lying without last rituals done. Indeed, public memory is short-lived. The ‘mandatory’ consultations with civil society members, being intensively pursued by the administration and over-excited technocrats, on the possible shape, size and money of the proposed ‘Smart city’ is already disengaging the valley people from their contesting positions with the political aspirations of the hill people. One may wonder if the 3 bills stir has already resulted into getting Smart city for the valley Imphalites and Framework Agreement for the agitating hill peoples! While Imphal is busy talking about smart city hill people are staging 9-coffin rallies in New Delhi and others are busy evolving implementation strategies of the Framework Agreement in the hills of Manipur. RN Ravi is giving renewed hopes that Nagas will be done at the opening of Hornbill festival in Nagaland and Kiran Rijiju is studying the 3 Bills carefully under pressures from Chief Ministers and MPs from Nagaland and Mizoram. A cursory look back into sequence of events and historical processes seem to reveal that the people of Manipur, particularly the valley people, have become a mass of apolitical and captive consumers’ society in the contemporary context. All are thinking independently; valley people for Imphal; hill people for the hills, Political class for new contract works for winning the next election, and New Delhi for the national security and development. No one has anything to do with the other.
Smart city for Imphal, extension of the ‘Disturbed Area Act’, ‘extra-judicial killings as sovereign duty of the state’ and ‘alternative arrangement’ for the hills have never been listed in any election manifestoes of any political parties in the state and yet these are becoming the realities, today for the people. This shows that people’s issues like ‘protection of territorial integrity’, ‘equal development for hills and valley’, questions of social justice, quality education, conflict resolution, peace and harmony in the state, public security, accountability and transparency in development works, better transport system and services, healthcare, child rights and protection of women have had no connection with the routine periodic electioneering processes and governance in the state. On the contrary, the gradual improvement in the voting percentage in every election and single political party winning absolute majority providing the most stable government in the electoral history of Manipur at present time further shows that there is clear disconnect between people’s issue and electoral politics in the state. This Smart city is clearly not the need of the people’s situation.
The difference is easy to reckon from recent past. One MP from outer Manipur Parliamentary constituency could demand for ‘Honourable Naga political solution’ in the parliament session but none from inner parliamentary constituency took a position on the ‘political issue emanating from the controversial merger of the state’ which caused the protracted armed conflict in the state having taken toll of precious lives of younger generations. If the present MP from the inner constituency continues to remain silent to the Home Ministry’s recent position to the Supreme Court on extrajudicial killings in Manipur one surmise what is state’s politics all about? Whose government is this any way that people dutifully elect every five years that is run on 90% grant from the Centre? Is this for the people of state or for the contractors-turned-politicians or for the Central Government? It is this political economic context, the Smart city has been dropped in Imphal and so it is exciting for many who run the state and manage the centrally funded economy. Even while Manipur has to catch up with the winds of change under Act East Policy in the neoliberal global context, it could be worthwhile to question: how the proposed Smarty city is going to impact on and affect some of the persistent issues of the people.
How would Smart city which will be based on smart and intelligent technology (power dependent and on which there will no local control) impact on the galloping population of unemployed educated youths (already crossing 7 Lakhs), the armed political conflict and violence situation, corruption in recruitment processes, increasing crime against women and children, and increasing militarization, hill and valley conflicts over land and natural resources, the dependent economy of the state, food security of the increasing population as against increasing loss of agricultural lands to non-agricultural usages, and increasing number of large land owners over small land owners? Most importantly so, will the army personnel respect the honourable elected representatives of the people inside the Smart city? More fundamental question is also why Imphal has not so far developed as a functional city? But even as the Imphal city has to emerge as Smart city by external designs and described as engine for growth by economists what sector of economy the city is going to grow on? Even when we leave behind the past and take a leap into 21st century what is the VISION of the economy that the Smart city is designed to take the people to in future that is at least socially, culturally and environmentally friendly, also? Whose vision that will be of any way: of the indigenous people of the state or of New Delhi or of the elite class in the state? If there is no clear understanding on how the proposed Smart city might impact on the contemporary issues and situation or connection with, then, the foundation of this city must be reconstructed by solving the many of these socio-political and economic problems, first, while keeping the dream for smart city at a distant place in future. Justice must be done without delay. If the foundation of Smart city is being built on by burying the truth about the skulls found in erstwhile Tombisana High School campus and silently approving the extrajudicial killings and deep militarization in the state in line of the Union Home Ministry then one can be sure of having a ‘High Security City’ instead of a ‘Smart city’. For, the security of the elite class is important than common people in the streets! Some people are more equal citizens than others if security force has the slightest suspicion on the loyalty of ‘the others’ in this occupied native state.