The religious undercurrent of the problem is a mere consequence but not of a cause. The real issues are political in nature more specifically the governance aspects. The single judge order of the Manipur high court directing state government to include the Meites community in the list of Scheduled Tribe is of course a triggering point yet it does not reflect the core issues. The governance crisis is a consequence of the formation of nation-state especially in conflict areas.
By Nayakara Veeresha
The governance crisis in Manipur has crossed the state and nation boundaries and drawn the attention of international organizations. The issue of underdevelopment between ‘hilly’ and ‘plain’ areas is a common point of development conflict in most of the North-Eastern states. Similarly the growing demand of some of the socially advanced communities to include in the list of Scheduled Tribes is posing administrative and governance difficulties in the states where tribal population is high. The continuation of largely British template of governance in the form of Sixth (fully excluded areas) and Fifth (partially excluded areas) Schedule of the Constitution and the measures such as Inner Line Permit (ILP) are the pointers that need political dialogue among the union and state government. Tribal land alienation, non-application of sixth schedule to the autonomous district councils, illegal migration from Myanmar and the loss of land and livelihood are some of the critical governance issues that would require a visionary leadership to resolve the same. The ineffective implementation of Article 371C is seriously eroding the progressive development of Manipur state.
The religious undercurrent of the problem is a mere consequence but not of a cause. The real issues are political in nature more specifically the governance aspects. The single judge order of the Manipur high court directing state government to include the Meites community in the list of Scheduled Tribe is of course a triggering point yet it does not reflect the core issues. Currently the status of a tribe is determined on the basis of indicators such as “primitive traits, distinctive culture, geographical isolation, shyness of contact with the community at large, backwardness” as per the Lokur Committee recommendations in 1965.
The administrative procedure adopted to approve/disapprove the demand of a community to the ST list is demand from a state/UT is sent to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs. The MoTA will forward the request to the Office of Registrar General of India (ORGI) and National Commission of Scheduled Tribes (NCST) respectively. A community can be included in the ST list only if both these offices approve the demand for the same. In February 2023, the MoTA evaded and refuted to answer the question on the number of requests that the government has in hand with regard to the inclusion of ST. However, it must be noted that there is a total of 112 communities from 21 states sent proposals to include in ST list as of July, 2018. The Manipur high court’s judicial governance reflects the failure of governance on the state and union government in developing a rationale criterion for determining the ST status of a community.
The governance crisis is a consequence of the formation of nation-state especially in conflict areas. The state development as a political sovereign authority in North-Eastern region is contentious in terms of evolution mechanisms and processes. Hence forth this region is prone and vulnerable to the variety of socio-political conflicts ranging from secession, insurgency and insurrections. Oommen (2001: 216) notes that the “most nations in South Asia did not ever demand sovereign states; they are state-renouncing nations”. This does not mean that these regions do not have states as such; they do have states of their own which differs from modern nation-states.
The political nuances and the dynamics of the extension of the ILP in Manipur with specific reference to the politics of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are critical. The historicity of the ILP as a movement and the subsequent emergence of the unrest towards Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) need merit at this critical juncture of political unrest. The link between the CAA protests and the ongoing resistance clearly reflects the political motivations of BJP to push the politics of majoritarianism in the Manipur where in the Meities are inclined to the political ideology of BJP. The attempts made to extend the ILP to Manipur are a step towards the Hindu Rashtra after math of Assam. However, the politics is less about the visible dimensions and runs deeper into invisible aspects. In the current instance, the affirmative action’s of granting Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to the Meities community explores the subtleties of BJPs majoritarian regime. The reservation to the communities that are socially ‘dominant’ and influential negates the principles of natural justice.
The ILP extension in the Meities dominated nontribal areas of Manipur is an explicit indicator of BJP’s desperate efforts to capture the region. The non-extension of ILP to Tripura and non-scheduled areas of Assam defies the logic of ILP extension to the Manipur. The ILP inclusion in the CAA, 2019 is just a piecemeal approach to contain the rapid expansion of resistance towards CAA in the entire Northeast region. The CAA is an existential threat to the identity of indigenous people of Northeast India as it exerts greater pressure on the land and other resources of the region. Most importantly, the CAA and the ILP extension to Manipur and the grant of ST status to the non-ST communities all these steps of BJP aimed to gain strong hold in the Northeast region electorally and emotionally to pursue the identity and religious politics. On a broader note, the BJP’s politics of hegemony is focusing on deepening the society on the basis of caste, religion, gender and promotion of intra and inter conflicts between the tribal’s and non-tribal’s. The ILP extension neither sufficient nor helps in curbing the influx of illegal migrants into the Manipur fully.
The issues behind the political unrest are deeper and call for a political dialogue. The selective approach so far adopted by the union and state governments has clearly failed to mitigate the conflict. An urgent and mission mode approach is imperative to resolve the constitutional, humanitarian and political crisis. Deducing the conflict to the majoritarian- minority binary and to the law and order problem is not going to help the local communities and government. The Union Ministry of Home Affairs do well in rekindling the Research and Policy division as a policy think-tank that existed in the mid 1960s to understand and analyse the political conflicts in the country.
(Dr. Nayakara Veeresha is an independent researcher and writer on the issues of governance and development)