The northeastern state of Manipur has long remained one of the most volatile and sensitive regions in the country. The problems of political violence, insurgency, ethnic conflict, migration pressure, inter-state disputes and underdevelopment have become integral to the understanding of the political process and economic development of the hill state. In spite of the offer of several autonomy packages, adoption of a policy of political accommodation and doling out of economic concessions, violence has been endemic in the area. The region has always been in the news for all the negative reasons: agitation, violence, abuse of human rights and corruption.Manipur has been tense for over a week now, and has seen one student die in clashes between protestors and the police over implementation of stringent laws against outsiders coming into the state. What’s playing out in the state is not a religious divide but rather a politicised issue.
Manipur was one of the many princely states which resisted merger with India, and when finally it was absorbed into the Union, it was not as a full-fledged state but as a Part-C state, with a status even lower than a Union territory. However, protests after protests with increasing tendencies towards violence, resulted in upgrades of its political status in bits and pieces, until in 1972, it was awarded full statehood. But the belief that only violent protests can make the Union take notice had already been conditioned among local citizens, as R. Constantine notes in his book “Manipur: Maid of the Mountains”. This is also one of contemporary Manipur’s many tragedies.Under pressure from unrelenting violent street protests in the state, the Manipur government on Sunday decided to withdraw the Manipur Visitors, Tenants and Migrant Workers Bill, 2015. The MLR&LR Act 1960 covers only the 2000 sq km central Imphal valley. The hills, which form a whopping 90 percent of the state’s territory, except in rare pockets, are left out of the purview of this Act.
This has also meant legal land ownership transfers can happen only in the fertile valley, which has led to continued shrinking of living space with each passing year. As anyone who understands a little bit about supply and demand knows,Moreover, though the valley is only 10 percent of land area of the state, more than 60 percent of the state’s population today is concentrated in it. The topography as well as the population distribution pattern has also skewed the development drives, with much of the developmental funds of the state remaining in the valley area, in particular the capital Imphal.The consequence today is a sharp divide between the hills and the valley, but this is not all, for there is also a pronounced urban-rural divide. In old colloquial Manipuri, the word for “urban” had come to be “Imphal”, making the rural-urban and outsider-insider divide sharper than ever. The dust needs to settle before any further action can be taken. Manipur has a long way to go before the healing process can begin. What it needs now is tranquility.