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Framework for a Shared Future………

by Rinku Khumukcham
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(Contd. from yesterday)

In a way it is good that the differences have come out into the open. And therefore we know that peaceful resolutions have to be found to these issues confronting Manipur. I believe civil society in Manipur, especially the Meiteis should alsorecognize the inherent conflict that exist and do more in finding solutions by way of dialogue and collaboration. Differences will not go away but if we can find more meeting points, a way forward can happen. Here as an observer, I want to plant some ideas that can be debated in the near future. It will be helpful if the idea of a federal model can be revisited and studied in-depth so that the multi-national and ethnic character of Manipur can be enhanced and protected. Federalism is not something new to us. India is also a Federal Union of States. Centre-State relations function on the principle of division of powers. What we have to do is take a re-look at federalism at the State leveli.e giving more autonomy to regions. A few years ago (November 5, 2007 to be precise) former Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh while speaking at the inauguration of the International Conference on Federalism in New Delhi had this to say. “We need, at times, creative thinking and redesign of institutions to allow the federal concept to adjust to emerging realities”. And therefore, a redesign of the present federal system is required at the State level in order to govern some of the difficult regions in India, especially in the North East such as Assam and Manipur with its multi-ethnic geography and demography. I have already spoken (in the earlier context of Naga integration) about the provisions of Article 244A that can be applied for giving more autonomy to regions. The challenge for Manipur as I see it is this. It needs to examine the status quo and adjust to evolving realities. Your history is proof that Manipur can evolve as a dynamic entity because you have always shown that all communities can live in peaceful co-existence. You have done it before and you can do it again. But yes, the new found aspiration of different sections of people will have to be heard and accommodated. Without having to blindly adopt western systems, in a State like Manipur which has its own unique problems as well as the genius of minds, I believe that federalism as a concept has to show ingenuity and innovation in managing these complex problems and contradictions you are faced with. And through this, hopefully you will be able to evolve a unified framework and continue to promote the ideals of a peaceful and inclusive society. If we can write a new political narrative, the ideals of peace, democracy and integration, so crucial to Manipur at this juncture, can be put in place. These are of course only the broad contours of what will require more discussion and wide ranging consultations at all levels. The idea though is to foster and allow diversity to coexist in a unified framework—one that perhaps does not exist at present or at least is insufficient. A Greater Northeast—The idea of ‘region-states’ Any discussion on the North East will be incomplete if we don’t mention about the Look East Policy of the Government of India, which has now changed to the Act East Policy under the present NarendraModi led BJP government. Despite the criticisms that may be there I believe that by and large, this policy has the potential to bring both economic benefits and greater integration to the region. A book titled: “Beyond Borders—Look East Policy and North East India” edited by DilipGogoi begins with this profound statement: “Southeast Asia begins where North East India ends”. According to the author, “this distinctiveness places the North East in a unique geographical and political space”. Also consider the fact that the North East region shares 98 percent international borders with Bangladesh, Myanmar, China, Bhutan and Nepal but it shares just 2 percent of its borders with mainland India. The question is whether we in the region have tapped into this socio-economic potential to unite and grow? You will agree with me that the theme of today’s lecture FRAMEWORK FOR A SHARED FUTURE—is very much relevant in the context of India’s Act East Policy. If I may add here, the success of the Act East Policy will depend to a large extent on how New Delhi, the respective State governments and people in the region are able to foster the elements of peace, democracy and integration in their policy framework and public discourse. I believe that grand development projects such as building roads and railway lines; power transmission; oil exploration; mobile/telecom connectivity or securing the borders; these will be the ‘hardware’ elements if we go by the language and logic of computer science. And therefore in order to successfully run this hardware we will require the software components to be in place i.e peace, resolutions, a democratic order and integration of the people. A holistic approach is therefore required. Despite our diversity or differences as people, whether Meitei, Naga, Kuki, Mizo, Karbi, Ahom, we should tap into what I believe is an underlying sense of unity. It may not be a political unity but certainly one that is based on shared values, common history and geography, cultural affinities, history of peaceful coexistence as neighbours and the hope of a common future. I believe a kind of subconscious unity among the North East people already exist.We need to build on this underlying sense of unity. I believe that our common identity as people of the North East region is a comparative advantage that needs to be tapped.All we need is greater dialogue and interaction at the level of civil society. Then of course, economic development of the North East region should be the other unifying force. The more I think of it the more I am drawn into this idea of a Greater North East region. The Prime Minister of India, NarendraModi, during the inauguration of the Hornbill Festival at Kohima on December 2014 described the entire Northeast region as a “Natural Economic Zone” – NEZ – and mentioning that this potential had so far remained untapped. He went on to say that the Government of India’s priority is to nourish the NEZ for the benefit of the NE (North East). So you see even at the highest political level there is recognition of evolving some kind of integration that goes beyond borders. The question is whether the Meiteis, Nagas, Kukis or for that matter the other neighboursare ready for such initiatives? In the book ‘Beyond Borders…’ that I have referred to earlier, one of the strategies suggested is that of having a shared economic integration with an imagined future ‘region-states’. The concept of ‘region-states’ is worth studying in the context of North East India. This concept is coined by Kenichi Ohmae. According to him, region-states are natural economic zones and they may fall within a country or they may straddle the borders of two or more countries. Perhaps Prime Minister Modi was referring to this idea of ‘region-states’ when he described the entire North East region as a ‘Natural Economic Zone’. Cross-border and inter-regional cooperation, which is also central to the idea of ‘Naga integration’ as earlier mentioned, will hopefully assist in a significant way in the process of moving towards greater unity and connectivity, not just of the Naga areas but the North-Eastern States of Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh and its people. At least in Europe, a conscious effort has been made to frame policies on cross-border cooperation with the larger goal of working towards “European territorial co-operation”. The idea or premise behind such an approach, whether we call it region-states, cross-bordercooperation or integration beyond borders, is to dilute the border effect and promote both social and economic cohesion; to contribute towards peace, security and respect for the rights of minorities. Policy makers in India should also study such arrangements and incorporate similar ideas into its system wherever it is required and feasible to do so. Some of the problems in India that are related to economic backwardness, ethnic unrest, geographical isolation, administrative disconnect and political alienation could do with out-of-the-box imaginative solutions like the ones mentioned above. I think the sky is the limit when it comes to developing the North East region as an entity. If we can resolve and set aside our differences and work on commonalities, there is hope for the future. Looking at the larger picture of the region as a whole therefore, finding answers to the question of peace, democracy and integration is going to determine to a large extent our place in the world. We need to work on a ‘framework for a shared future’ of the region. (To be contd)

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