Two infamous cases of Poppy and Refugee have been clubbed as “Popgee”, which has to be pronounced as POP-JI. The two cases are at their apogee, thus merited attention of the state government in its fight against drugs on a war footing.
By Paojakhup Guite
2023 is risen! The first two months of the new year have notoriously witnessed two infamous, tectonic incidents in the state of Manipur in a quick succession.
The last week(s) of January saw the introduction of a policing/surveillance system as part of poppy cleansing campaign by the state government under Chief Minister, Shri N. Biren Singh’s pet project, “War on Drugs 2.0”.
The first week(s) of February gripped the government apparently with its worst form of influx of non-citizens across the porous Indo-Myanmar international border along the state of Manipur.
I have clubbed here the two infamous cases of Poppy and Refugee as “Popgee”, which has to be pronounced as POP-JI (and, not as PUB-G though). The two cases are at their apogee, thus merited attention of the state government in its fight against drugs on a war footing.
The root-shoot complex
One of the policy failures of the government in its fight against poppy is evident in ignoring the root-shoot dichotomy of the plant. Doing that would have helped in a total elimination of poppy by now. Therefore, government in its beginning lacked a structured and well-defined strategy in dealing with the arguably ‘elimination’ drive against poppy plantation, primarily in the hill districts of Manipur. The irony of the drive is that it was merely apparently aimed at ‘destroying’ rather than ‘eliminating’ poppy. The raison d’etre of the campaign is to root out the herbaceous plant. But, the government explicitly has directed its campaign by destroying only the shoot part of the plant. Ergo, it is clear that the government’s initial step is tantamount to the proverbial “putting the cart before the horse”. The ‘root’ is notional and implicit; it’s something not to do with the literal meaning of the root system of the plant where one should literally pick out the roots of poppy. To eliminate or for that matter, root out the alleged illegal poppy plantation in totality, the government should have begun its focus on the root system right from its inception (WoD, 2018). The government arresting village Chiefs/Chairmen who are accused of giving a go-head to villagers to plant/cultivate poppy is like treating the symptoms and not the cause. In other words, it is part of the government’s shoot-out strategy in its attempt to eliminate the illegal plant. For the drive to be more effective, the government has to begin from scratch by introducing novel initiatives- awareness campaign, alternative livelihood and the like. Given the potentials of WoD 2.0, government stands a good chance to succeed with the root-strategy rather than the shoot-out strategy. Better late than never.
The Panopticon Metaphor
The stern action of the Government of Manipur against the poppy cultivation (Plantation) is mired in controversy of its legality for the dearth of empirical evidence to prove it globally. The controversy revolves around its medicinal value. Undoubtedly, poppy per se is not an abusive substance. However, it’s proven fact that poppy has unintended insurmountable ramifications on morality though in a lesser degree as compared to that of local made liquors.
Most recent, the State government took up a bold step by putting Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) like drone in place to spy the areal acreage of poppy plantation across the rugged mountains in some hill districts of the state. This is unfortunate as far as the civic life of a democratic citizen is concerned.
The drone is a surveillance system (Foucault, 1970) which draws from Jeremy Bentham’s work on the Panopticon discourse in the mid-18th century. Jeremy Bentham, an English philosopher and social theorist in the mid-1700s, invented a social control mechanism that would become a comprehensive symbol for modern authority and discipline in the western world: a prison system called the Panopticon. Michel Foucault, a French intellectual and critic, expanded the idea of the panopticon into a symbol of social control that extends into everyday life for all citizens, not just those in the prison system. At a time privacy is incorporated in the Constitution as a Fundamental Right, introducing a drone will bring more questions than solutions.
The Government should rethink to adopt an effective solution to eliminating Poppy cultivation in the State. Cutting it in the bud won’t do. The figurative root part initiative has to be taken very sooner than later.
Post-ice age, environment and man sustain their interdependence through ecological balance. With Agricultural Revolution, man began eating into the environment. Worse is that, with Industrial Revolution man started destroying environment to tap the natural resources, thus turned human beings into a consumer society. In a way, Science and Technology is worsening the pace of destruction of ecology.
Interestingly, WoD 2.0 is well-equipped with Sc & technology. Just as Natures like river is personified and given a rightful claim to be protected by humankind in New Zealand, the same way soil can be given the same treatment in our case. Knowing this fact, the government has given a due concern for the protection of environment in a holistic manner. However, it fails to recognise that it plays a second fiddle in destroying the quality of soil by using a drone for spraying a chemical(s) to uproot the illicit poppy. One should always keep in mind that the cultivators have done badly enough in polluting the soil by using different chemicals over again and again. The government is also not transparent in what kind of chemicals it uses. If the government of Manipur had actually deliberated on the use of aerial spraying of chemicals for the destruction on poppy plants in Manipur, it should have highlighted both the merits and demerits of the plan (Wakching Lai, The Frontier Manipur).
In the name of protecting forests, the government has missed out on subtleties of the soil, for which its purpose is said to defeat by itself.
Semantic Slipperiness of ‘influx’
At the backdrop of the fast pacing of WoD 2.0 Campaign, there emerged a mass immigration issue in the state. The influx happened on the porous Indo-Myanmar international border across Manipur segment. Some pessimists have misread this with keeping poppy issues in mind. Their argument is that the wave of Golden Triangle has reached Manipur, so the immigrants sneaked into the state so that they can carry out a huge poppy plantation freely in India (Manipur). Therefore, they have dubbed them as illegal immigrants or refugees and the like without a proper understanding of the terms. This is unfortunate and bereft of humanity.
It’s a common sense that our neighbour country has been under the grip of Military Junta since February 2021. Chin state and the Sagaing Region of Myanmar are bordering India, and they are the ones which have been offering the fiercest resistance against the Military Junta. The non-bonafide influx who have fled to India (Manipur) are traced to these regions of Myanmar. They have to be given a humanly treatment keeping aside all the derogatory tags like refugees, because this has bad connotations on the border tribes of India (Manipur).
As per media reports, it is learnt that Government has done enough to deal with this issue in a very sensitive manner. On humanitarian ground, the government has to think twice of its act in arresting and putting them in confinement. It would be wise on the part of the Government of Manipur to accommodate them in a very co-ordinated manner. It is advisable to the government to either give shelters to them anywhere it deems convenient or let them settle in the border villages where they were arrested from. In this direction, the government has to work in collusion with the CSOs and village chiefs of the border areas in question. The government should buy time for Myanmar to return to normalcy and only after that only can it deport them to their country which they had fled. This will speak volume about Manipur in particular and India at large in a very humanly way to the international community. It is noteworthy that the Myanmarese influx have expressed their note of gratitude to the people of Manipur for having been handled in a very positive way.
(The writer is pursuing an MA in Media Governance at the Centre for Culture, Media and Governance, Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) University, New Delhi. He may be contacted at [email protected]).