By N Neihsial
I am a foreign tourist just arrived at the Imphal Airport: Tell me one compelling reason or attraction for which I must visit Lamka (Churachandpur) after having come all the way to Manipur. Or I am a senior Government officer from another part of India and I have come to attend an important meeting in Imphal. I have only one spare day before returning to Delhi. Tell me why I should prefer to visit Lamka instead of Moreh.
It is said that Place Branding (including place marketing and promotion) is a new umbrella term encompassing nation branding, region branding and city branding; and it is image communication effort to the target people, resources and business. In the Govt context, it can also be understood as a governance strategy for projecting images and managing perception about places. As of today, there is global competition of 2.7 million small cities/towns, 3000 large cities and 445 metropolises to attract people, resources and business. The concept has originated in the later part of the 19th century, but it has gained prominence in recent years. That’s why we have been hearing of some Chief Ministers of other states visiting foreign countries trying to get foreign investments, if not from that Government, then at least from the diaspora of the dominant community of that state. All these efforts are part of place or city branding. I don’t know whether Lamka (Churachandpur) is included or counted in the list of global competition of place branding.
We know that most of the famous cities or places of the world do have nicknames. These nicknames might have been the outcome of conscious choice or a result of the general perception of people about the PLACE. The city of New York is known as the, ‘The Big Apple’, Jerusalem, ‘The Holy City’, Paris, ‘Illuminate City’, Silicon, ‘The Tech capital’ of course, as Vegas ‘The Sin City’ because of the large scale gambling opportunities there. Occasionally, I used to listen to Lamka local News channels like Tullou TV, Angels Vision, etc. when one day, one of the news reader mentioned was that the District Aids Control Authorities had carried out a general checkup/ survey in the town area. None of the 160 prostitutes checked was found suffering from HIV. This mute side of this news item gave me a little shock. Oh, my little sunny beautiful town of Lamka has grown up? It’s no more that small little town I knew in my student days. It requires, now the Services of 160 or more of KS1 . Of course, it’s not that point we would like to drive here. I am not passing any judgment. The crucial point is how we should brand our place or town. If we don’t consciously brand it, it will in any way brand itself through the actions or inactions of the people. It is good to have a positive and attractive nickname.
It is said that people’s true perception about you gets revealed in what they say about you when you are not in the room. As a person from Lamka, I am not really able fathom about how outside people would perceive the place and its people. Let’s reflect on this. Since a reasonably good number of persons from the district are found in jobs outside the area (Govt. and private), would people perceive us to be a place of highly educated and enterprising people? I am not sure. We don’t know much about people of other places. They may be doing equally well or even better than us. Lamka town or Churachandpur, earlier used to be humorously called ‘the land of Presidents’ because of various clan-based organizations. Does this image still persist? Perhaps! In that case, would outside people perceive this town and brand it (mentally) as the place of hyper and communal saturation where people are busy pulling each other down, like crabs? This image seems to be nearer to the truth, in the way the churches, the students’ bodies and philanthropic organizations are established and run, frantically competing for more visibility and attention. If this is the likely image created consciously or unconsciously and nurtured, would it be the desirable and beneficial one for us and our future generations?
The unfortunate thing however, is that even if we do not make conscious efforts, we are daily being branding in the perception of others. The question is whether this continuous process of created perceptions will attract people, resources or business. When we talk about branding a place, we are basically trying to make the place from being just a location to a destination. As of now Lamka is only a geographical expression in the map of Manipur, India. There is really nothing unique about it to be a destination point particularly for outside people. It may be the destination for the local people and for their kids who are settled here.
In this context, I remembered the year I retired from service. To my limited knowledge, at least four officers from Lamka or Churachandpur district must have retired in Delhi since time past. I wonder whether any or all of them have decided to settle and built their houses, business, etc. in this town. If they had decided to settle in this native place, like people from our neighboring state of Mizoram, about Rs. 4 crore or Rs. 400 lakhs would have been poured into the town area. To this extent, the level of money circulation would have increased. The common people, particularly the marginalized sections would have indirectly benefited. If not, that much of money must have gone to other people and places like in Delhi. Unfortunately, we cannot blame them or find fault with those who chose not to come back and settle in their native place.
Who should brand Lamka with positive and attractive images so that it becomes a destination for the local people (to live & do business) and for tourists to visit. How shall we go about branding it? What are the strategic options? The answer to the first question would be: everybody. In our respective fields of engagement, we need to be conscious of the fact that through our doings and undoings, we are branding our HOMETOWN somehow or the other in the eyes of the outsiders. While this may be true, there are, however certain aspects which need to be consciously addressed by the leaders of our civil society, the Govt. and the District administration that would consciously and deliberately promote the positive branding. We need to start asking the right questions to ourselves.
- Why not promote and encourage the people to start and run the best restaurants in town, serve only organic food with the unique traditional taste?
- Why not encourage the people to start and run the most unique hotels and guest houses having their own charms?
- Why not set-up resorts and natural sanctuaries to attract people?
- Why not develop our educational Institutions, Bible Colleges, Hospitals to be world class?
- Above all, why not start circulating and encouraging unique public habits and cultures which are good for everyone and also attractive to outsiders?
We do have the strength and capability. Everything of what we are is not always negative or repulsive. There are many positive things about us and our (birth) place. The only thing lacking is the awareness and deliberate efforts to take the first step in the journey of making Lamka (Churachandpur) the best place in the world and become a destination for the global population.
Look back at the questions at the beginning of this article.
1. We need not be overwhelmingly upset about this. The Churachandpur district is, in any way categorized as one the most impoverished districts in the country placing it at 575th position out of 640 districts by the Ministry of Panchayati Raj in 2006.
2. The communal dynamics of Lamka could be amazing to outside observers. They would not separate from each other but constantly would like to be separate entity in every aspects like a bitterly bickering married couple. It deserves a full satire play on them.Manipur, Churachandpur, Lamka