Hill-Valley disparity in Manipur: When political-development inequity and structural unfairness meet
The geographic clustering of valley-centric development calls for better integration of standard theories and aspects of the political geography of hill districts.
The present government’s pro-valley policy is a new normal in Manipur political and development dispensation, the valley-centric policy, function, and approach is the asymmetric political threat to geographically distinct and unglued hill districts tribal population
It is likely that 2020 is a year that most people won’t soon forget. It is a year marked by a pandemic and an unprecedented electoral delimitation process is set to transpire in Manipur. In the past, we had witnessed a denial of political justness and development negligent to Ukhrul and Kamjong districts for over 20 years. The present government’s pro-valley policy is a new normal in Manipur political and development dispensation, the valley-centric policy, function, and approach is the asymmetric political threat to geographically distinct and unglued hill districts' tribal population. The existing rationalization heavily focuses on the political and developmental incentives of valley leaders to align themselves with influential valley populations at the expense of hill districts' populations. The disparity is exposed, when we consider the following three broad areas:
I. Geography and Political
Manipur state with a population of 2,855,794 (2011 Census Report) has a geographical coverage of 22,327 sq.km. Geographically, the state can be broadly categorised into Hills and Valley. Ethnically, culturally and linguistically, the tribal in the hills and the Meiteis in the valley are both distinct categories, unique in their ways. The underrepresentation of the tribal people is clear when we consider existing territorial constituencies: population size and the extent of geographical coverage of a territorial constituency. There are 33 recognised tribes in Manipur. Traditionally, the tribal people, who are overwhelmingly hill-dwellers, occupied and still does, approximately 90 per cent of the total geographical area of the state, accounting for a population figure of 1,217,744 as per the last population Census (2011), which translates into 42.8% of the total population of the state. For an instant, a single Phungyar Constituency with 2300 sq.km geographical area is larger than all the 40 valley constituencies put together.
The hill areas are represented by only 19 members in the Legislative Assembly of the state (a mere 31.6% of the total seats). Contrastingly, the Valley population of a mere 1,628,224 (57.2 per cent) is overrepresented with 41 MLAs (68.4 per cent), even though the Valley accounts only for 10 per cent of the total geographical area of the state. The electoral injustice or discrimination of the tribals by the existential political system of the state becomes more evident when the political debate gets subjected to the test of scientific and empirical verification: On average, an MLA from the Hills represents 60,887.2 population and that of an MLA from the Valley represents 40,705 population, as per the last population Census (2011). Moreover, two districts of Ukhrul and Kamjong (erstwhile Ukhrul district) never had an MLA with a Cabinet berth in nearly two decades, despite representing one of the largest districts in the state.
Equally important is the fact that one of the mockeries of democracy and the flaying of Constitutional norms have been in execution since 1952, through the unfair Parliamentary elections conducted in the state of Manipur. The inner Parliamentary Constituency of Manipur is an unreserved seat covering the non-tribal people of the plains, whereas, the Outer Parliamentary Constituency is a reserved Parliamentary seat for the Scheduled Tribes of Manipur.
Even though the Constitution provides for reservation of Parliamentary seats for the approximately 100 million tribals in India, the 7 segments of Thoubal district (erstwhile Thoubal Sub-Division, excluding Bishnupur Tehsil) and 1 segment 4of Jiribam district of the non-tribal Meiteis with approximately 2.3 Lakh voters, have been unfairly clubbed, electorally, with the reserved Outer Parliamentary Constituency meant for the tribals, which is why, the ratio of the electoral population of the Outer and the inner Parliamentary Constituencies is 61:39, thereby, simultaneously rendering democratic injustice upon the non-tribal populace of those 8 aforementioned Assembly Constituencies, incapacitating them to contest Lok Sabha elections in the Reserved seat.
II. Development and Infrastructure
The Valley districts of Manipur are among the most developed districts in Northeast India. North East Region District Development Infrastructure Index 2009 (The Development Infrastructure Index was based on 7 indicators, viz., transport facility, energy, irrigation, facility, banking facility, communication infrastructure, educational institutions, and health facilities) shows that Imphal West Ranked at number 1 as the most developed district in the entire Northeastern States, Imphal East Ranked 6, Thoubal-11, whereas the tribal district of Ukhrul-68, Tamenglong-75, Churachandpur-76, Chandel-78. The valley is the most fertile part of Manipur; the valley settlers are well connected with the rest of the world with three national highways and one international airport.
In few years Imphal will become an international market and soon will be connected with the railway line. In the state, the district-wise Development Infrastructure Index shows Imphal West-1, Imphal East-2, Thoubal-3, Bishnupur-4, Senapati-5, Ukhrul-6, Tamenglong-7, Churachandpur-8, and Chandel-9. It indicates that developmental work is only taking up in the valley of Manipur and the hills have been given step-motherly treatment for many decades.
III. Educational and other Importance Institutions
Manipur has 8 universities (Central Agricultural University, Dhanamanjuri University, Manipur University, Manipur University of Culture, Manipur Technical University, National Sports University, Sangai International University, Manipur International University) 2 Medical Institutes (Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences, Regional Institute of Medical Sciences) 3 Technical Institute (Manipur Institute of Technology, Indian Institute of Information Technology, National Institute of Technology). All these universities, medical institutes, and technical institutes are located in the valley alone. The Indira Gandhi National Tribal University is the only university located in the hills area which is located just 22.8 km from Imphal.
While all the above-mentioned factors certainly matter for decision-making calculus, the geographic clustering of valley-centric development calls for better integration of standard theories and aspects of the political geography of hill districts. The governments heavily favour valley population interests over hill districts population interests and engage in location-specific economic activity in the valley and adopt political appeasement to the hill district representatives, as a result, the age-old “Chin-Tam Amatani” become a mere rhetorical political slogan for valley-based politicians and leaders. Besides, the past and present governments extract maximum development resources from the central government in the name of hill districts. We urged the Chief Minister N Biren Singh to adopt political justness and development fairness in the current dispensation to facilitate the peaceful co-existence of hill and valley population. May this political prejudice committed by the past regimes be rectified by finding a just political solution and development equity.
(The views expressed in the article are the writer’s own)