Ignored by district debates
In the myriad discussions on the controversy of the Manipur Government’s recent creation of seven new districts, there is one deafening silence among those slamming the government’s move as sinister and supposedly calculated to divide the Nagas for electoral gains. For whatever the reason, everybody seems to be taking it so much for granted that the parties involved in this unseemly drama are not just the United Naga Council and the Government of Manipur, and that there is at least one other very important and immediate stakeholder – the SADAR Hills District Demand Committee, which, it may be recalled had also resorted to similar coercive tactics as the UNC before and are equally capable of doing it again in the event of their demand being turned down. In fact, it will also be recalled that this committee had also called for a blockade after the UNC had called theirs on November 1 in anticipation of the state government giving in to the former’s demand. This second blockade was withdrawn within a few days, probably on the government’s assurance that their long standing demand would be met, and was indeed met as per the cabinet decision of December 8 midnight. Let everybody know it then, there cannot be any solution by any bilateral or trilateral agreement reached between the UNC, Government of Manipur and Government of India, if other stake holders continue to be so stubbornly ignored. Together with the demand for SADAR Hills district was also Jiribam on the Assam border. This tiny enclave of predominantly non-tribal population of Meiteis and Bengalis could not have been made a part of any district reserved for STs, such as Tamenglong, for the legal and administrative problems this would have caused in terms of land ownership and enfranchisement, to name just two foreseen hurdles. This enclave was all this while attached to the non-reserved Imphal East district, 220km away, and the logistics problems this would meant for domiciles of this former sub-division even in matters of acquiring simple but necessary official documents such as the Adhar card, is only to be imagined. The district status for Jiribam therefore is well reasoned. Tribal populations in non-reserved districts pose no problem for these populations can continue to be as they were wherever they are, but it is not so the other way around. There are many countries, such as Canada, where tribal populations who have settled in non-reserved provinces, and are engaged in modern professions, are deemed ceased to be tribal, and for these countries, maybe the opposite logic works, but this norm is not in practice in India.
Our basic contention is, if the SADAR Hills issue is to be put to rest, domiciles of SADAR Hills cannot be ignored in the discussions. Even if the claim that a big section of the population here are not original is to be given some credence for argument’s sake, the question remains as to what defines an “original population”. Can populations who have settled at any place for 200 years or more be still termed as aliens? It may be recalled even the effort by those demanding a restriction on immigrant influx into the state through a legislation similar to the Inner Line Permit System, to give this definition a legally tangible shape by taking the base year of settlement of “original populations” as 1951, was rejected by the President of India, and rightly so too. Our approach on this matter has always been “thus far but no more”, so that those who are already in the state should be treated as bona fide domiciles. However, we have also always argued there must be a way to ensure no further influx and land transfers to immigrants happen. A legislation to regulate and restrict further influx would be the most democratic way of doing this. It is true immigrants bring in new skills and knowledge, but it is equally true immigrants drastically pull down wages much to the detriment of the local labour and employment markets. Why just Manipur, even superpowers and super markets such as the US and EU are facing this problem, and because little precautions were taken in the past, the ugly backlash has been for bigoted leaders to come to power in these countries on immigrant demonising campaigns.
We also fail to see how the other districts which have been split caused any division of populations. In the non-Naga districts, there have been no problem and in fact the decision was celebrated with fanfare. In the Naga districts too, we cannot still figure out how any division has been caused. Ukhrul and Kamjong will both remain predominantly Tangkhul provinces as they always have been; Tamenglong and Nungba will also both be Zeliangrong provinces; and Chandel and Tengnoupal will retain their population mix as before. Moreover, these new district were separate Assembly constituencies already so how do these new districts amount to sinister divisions of populations?