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Manipur Crisis: From Local to International

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Manipur Crisis: From Local to International

By Amar Yumnam
Imphal, May 13:

The Manipur inter-ethnic conflict has now taken a transformation from a local issue to one drawing international attention. I would mention at least three aspects of this transformation process. First, the Kuki-Meetei/Meitei killings was not even a full-fledged local issue, but this turned to be a very short stay as it became a fully blown provincial-level inter-ethnic conflict sooner than later. This conflict remained, however, confined to the local print and electronic news media. This naturally, as the conflict was allowed to continue, drew the attention of the larger India media soon. But now it has not confined only to the Indian and International news media, and it has started getting attention in debates of deep and wide issues in serious books. We all know who is Raghuram Rajan – a top Economist at the global level, former Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, former Chief Economist at the International Monetary Fund, and now a Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago; he and Rohit Lamba has written a book titled Breaking The Mould: Reimagining India’s Economic Future and published towards the end of last year (2023) by the Penguin. In this book, Rajan and Lamba mentions the conflict thus: “While traditional economic conflicts, such as worker strikes, have been on the wane, the vicious circle of low employability, leading to few jobs, mass unemployment and frustration, is now showing upin new forms of social conflict. The bloody clashes in the summer of 2023 [the killings of each other were just starting when they wrote and published the book] between the Meiteis and Kukis in the border state of Manipur have their roots in the lack of economic opportunities for the youth, which then spills over into anger over the perceived unfairness of reservationsor restrictions on land purchases. There is much to do.” The International Commission of Jurists has also come into the picture very recently questioning the geographic-related demographic steps taken by the Manipur Government on the conflict. Second, we have been interacting with persons from outside Manipur and in places outside Manipur since the mid-1970s. While caste issues have been lived experiences of majority of these people from outside, the inter-ethnic crisis in relationships was never associated with Manipur. In none of these varied interactions of the last half a century, nobody would care to ask as to our ethnicity when we meet.But today we can guess from whatever query they make that new persons we meet would like to know our ethnicity. I feel myself fully ashamed inside for we were never brought up with thinking on the deep divides across ethnic lines. Third, while the people still await the governance actions on the inter-ethnic crisis, Manipur was hit recently by an unprecedented rainstorms and hailstorms.
These caused widespread cost to the farmers and families specializing in production of vegetable products and marketing them for sustenance of families; in fact, their engagements are a key foundation of the economy of Manipur. The result we see now is that these farmers and the families dependent on own supply of vegetable items would be further thrown into the ocean of helplessness from the heavy economic disturbances caused by the inter-ethnic crisis.
Now the major pride of Manipur of sustaining peaceful relationships across the ethnic divides has been brought into question. This is a very unfortunate outcome, given the lack of resources and the need to go outside for employment for the people of Manipur, for outsiders would think twice before giving job to anyone from here. Further the economy of the province is already in absolute doldrums.
At this point, we need to ask as to how this kind of very difficult atmosphere for the common people has come about. In my earlier inputs in this column, I have already put the blame at the doors of governance. Here also, without wasting time, I would blame the governance for the very sad scenario Manipur wears today in both qualitative and quantitative terms. This failure in governance has been committed by both the Provincial and the Central Governments. The Central Government should have endeavoured to apply her mind and fully appreciate the National and the International political economic implications of the crisis and should not have allowed it to linger for more than two weeks at most. When it comes to the recent environmental disaster, the Provincial government should have been fully aware of it. When anybody travels into or move outside Manipur by air, it would be easily evident that the visible mountains from the windows of the aircraft are all bald; this is a significant indicator of the deforestation Manipur has suffered.
So Manipur today faces multiples of issues with multidimensional implications such that it would be difficult to achieve the “aim of government ..to govern well and in the best interests of the people over the longer term.” In one of my social media posts, I have suggested that an Experts’ Committee should be constituted to identify the best policy options in the prevailing context. Let me end by quoting from the Rajan’s book referred in the beginning: “In arriving at the right decisions, a good government must be aware of what it does not know and be willing to learn. It must seek advice from all kinds of politicians, technocratic experts, experienced bureaucrats, business people and civil society organisations to map out the contours of what is feasible. It should decentralize decision-makingwhere necessary, formulate policy with a deep sense of empathy towards the people whom its decisions will affect, build a consensus around the decisions it finally takes, and use data, public debate and criticism to correct course periodically. By contrast, if the leadership is overconfident of its own capabilities, centralizes decision-making, is disdainful of consensus, and willing to suppress inconvenient data and criticism, even a seemingly strong and decisive leadership can turn quickly into an unprepared and disastrous one.”

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