Views & Reviews
Meitei Legislators Summoned, Administered Oath and Given Six Assignments by Arambai Tenggol; Shift in Governance From Democracy to Mobocracy
Rule of mobocracy and majoritarianism of Meitei community has been heralded by Arambai Tenggol in Manipur ignoring the rights of 42% tribal population. The 24th January 2024 incidence displayed an abject capitulation of the Manipur government to the rule of mobocracy. The capitulation to a mob rule has in one single stroke stripped 42% of the state’s tribal population of their democratic rights. Henceforth, the fear is only Meitei agenda which will be dictated by Arambai Tenggol (AT) to an emasculated state government will be considered for implementation. The democratic participation of 20 MLAs from the hill districts in policy formulation and decision will now become meaningless. Democracy has been thrown out of the window and is replaced by rule of mob by the majority community. There is no space in the government for the tribal representatives in mobocracy. The changing scenario will now push even the Naga population to wonder about the benefits of being part of Manipur when only the Meitei agenda and their point of view will be the overriding factor in decision making. In this context the capitulation of the state government to a radical Meitei organisation may be the last straw that broke the camel’s back. The other concern which has been weighing on the minds of the tribes is the Meitei community demand for Scheduled Tribe status primarily to grab lands from the “hill areas” of Manipur.
The dictionary defines mobocracy as a mob that has power, or is in control. In a mobocracy, large angry crowd, especially one that could become violent, tries to force its will on the people and terrorise the population. It is a term describing an oppressive majoritarian form of government controlled by the common people through the intimidation of more legitimate authorities. Lawlessness is a major problem in mob rule and leads to anarchy.
What has just happened in Manipur on 24th January 2024 with 37 MLAs including the Chief Minister, Meitei ministers and two MPs, one of whom is a Union Minister of state (MoS), capitulating to AT a radical Meitei organisation will go down as a turning point in the history of Manipur. The action of the Chief Minister (CM) and his cabinet colleagues succumbing to the diktat of AT, who has come in possession of guns looted from the state police armoury, would be understood as abdication of its authority to an NGO who sets Meitei-centric policy agenda and dictates terms to the government. The acceptance of the six agenda of AT by taking an oath has reduced the state cabinet to a mere rubber stamp. In one stroke the CM, ministers and MLAs, all from the Meitei community, are no longer in the driving seat and have been degraded from tall leaders to figure-head soldiers of AT. The subjugation of the MLAs will have far reaching consequences in the politics of the Imphal valley and the state as common people through the intimidation of legitimate authority will wield the power of the state in a mobocracy. The adverse impact of majoritarianism and rule by a mob may set the ball rolling for the minority communities to wonder whether their future is still aligned to that of Manipur ruled by a dominant community totally under the sway of radical organisations.
In a democracy policy formulation and policy decisions are in the hands of elected representatives. There are elaborate processes to be followed starting with proposal formulation by the department concerned, inter-departmental consultation and thereafter placing it for deliberation and decision of the council of ministers. The common people may demand from the legislators to introduce new laws or policies or carry out policy changes, and it is the duty of MLAs to take up the matter with the government. This will henceforth be no longer the case. Consultation with various stakeholders in a mobocracy is not in the agenda anymore.
Manipur is now witnessing subversion of democratic norms and constitutional provisions where a duly elected government and its legislators are summoned by an NGO which has already displayed its violent side. The elected members have been publicly humiliated and made to take an oath presided over by non-official private entity bereft of any constitutional and legal responsibilities. The administration of an oath by the NGO is unprecedented and displays a total breakdown of state machinery. The state government has fallen from its highest pedestal and has lost all credibility in the face of the world. This incidence indicates a serious breakdown of democratic norms and onset of chaos as the state government will be seen as soft, pliable and puppet in the hands of an NGO. The total subjugation of the state government to the diktat of a Meitei NGO has alarmed the tribals and its confidence on the state government has already started to erode. The only way out of this crisis, when the demands of AT do not materialise in the desired manner, could be to impose President’s rule in the state and put the state machinery on its rails again.
The incident also raises another question; is the NGO representative of various people of the state? A resounding No! The AT is solely composed of Meitei people and does not represent 33 recognised tribes of Manipur and the Pangal (Muslim) people. Manipur is composed mainly of two communities; the Meiteis and the tribals constituting 53% and 42% respectively of the State’s population. It appears that the majoritarian society led by an NGO has taken over a democratic elected state government abandoning all consultative processes of the government and laying down Meitei-centric policies that suits only the majority society and totally ignores the minority communities.
The ultimatum given on 24th January 2024 is to have six agenda laid down by AT implemented within 15 days. The approach adopted by AT and forced upon the Meitei MLAs amounts to forcing the minority communities to accept the policies of the majority people with scant or no regard to their rights. In other words, the interest of the Meitei community only is to be served and implemented and that the interest of minority community is subservient to that of Meitei community. Tribal voice does not exist.
To understand the impact of the six demands each one of them is discussed briefly:-
1. National Register of Citizens (NRC) has been a topic that has seen protests and violence across the country for some years now. NRC is useful and no genuine resident of a state would oppose detection of illegal immigrants. But the tricky part has always been the cut-off year, availability and reliability of detailed data and information of households. Census of 1951 is the cut-off year demanded by AT and this could be problematic as there may not be sufficient data and detailed household information to establish the progeny of families. NRC will affect not only the Kuki-Zo but Muslims too. Implementation may be easier in Muslim inhabited areas in terms of its geography, but it would be difficult in Kuki-Zo areas especially in a hostile environment. If the fear of the Meitei community is the demographic shift in Manipur on account of high population growth rate of tribals, the government should consider addressing backwardness and poverty in the tribal areas to check high growth rate of population rather than hope for large scale detection of illegal immigrants through this policy.
2. Abrogation of Suspension of Operation (SoO) with the Kuki militant groups may be appealing to the masses, but may not be acceptable. Firstly, the issue of impartiality will arise. Why should Government of India (GoI) adopt a biased policy for similarly placed militants hailing from different ethnicity? The GoI can keep So arrangement with UNLF Meitei militant group entered recently, but at the same time snap several years old peace deal with Kuki militant groups? Secondly, it would also mean opening up more fronts making it even more difficult for the security forces to deal with the ongoing ethnic conflict for which a solution is being explored? Thirdly, it could push the cornered Kuki militant groups to seek new re-alignment with other militant groups, for example the NSCN(IM), which would change the entire geo-political scenario in Manipur and the north east.
3. Myanmar Refugees in Detention centres have entered Manipur not by choice but for fear of losing their lives from aerial bombardment and ground forces attacks by Myanmar army. Now biometrics of the refugees have been taken and proper records are being maintained. It can now be safely assumed that when peace returns to Myanmar the refugees will go home and start their normal life in Myanmar. The refugees who had sneaked in earlier and have set up settlements was on account of Manipur’s policy of ‘push back on detection’ should pose no danger as they too will go back when peace return to Myanmar. The earlier refugees who entered Manipur illegally had no alternative but to set up their own living units in the forest as the state government did not provide them shelter and any humanitarian assistance at the border. What needs to be done now is to document them properly and not to harass and dehumanise them by deporting to Mizoram. It is difficult to understand why the refugees are a threat to the Meitei community. The refugees constitute mainly of women, children and elderly persons and should be allowed to stay on humanitarian grounds till peace returns to Myanmar. In the meantime, the state government should take all actions that is necessary to ensure that they do not leave the detention camps and are all accounted for when they are finally homeward bound.
4. Free Movement Regime (FMR)
From north to south, the Patkai Range, Naga Hills, and Chin Hills form the border between India and Myanmar. To the south of these are the Rakhine Mountains (Arakan Mountains). The India-Myanmar International Border stretches for about 1,643 kilometers (1,021 miles) along the northeastern states of India and the western regions of Myanmar. Fencing of the Indo-Myanmar border will amount to scrapping the implementation of Free Movement Regime which was allowed for this region based on historical facts when boundary was arbitrarily drawn by then Prime Minister Nehru and Premier U Nu of erstwhile Burma. FMR has enabled the tribes who have their tribal blood related brethren living on both sides of the border to continue their age old social, cultural and ethnic interaction. The Meiteis do not have any villages adjacent to the border and border fencing, which amounts to removal of FMR, would not affect them. Any action on this agenda taken by a Meitei dominated government and GoI, who is suspected to have a soft corner for Imphal valley, could be seen as a biased stand taken against the interest of Naga and Kuki-Zo tribes. To make matters more complex, besides the opposition to border fencing and removal of FMR by the Chief Ministers of Nagaland and Mizoram, the NSCN(IM) has come out against the very idea and has cautioned that it will disrupt peace. The states affected by border fencing and FMR are Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram. Meiteis have already antagonised the Kuki-Zo, but why make enemies with the Nagas of Nagaland, Arunachal and Manipur? The Nagas are not into cross border immigration.
5. Replacement of Assam Rifles with other paramilitary forces from the valley is unnecessary. All paramilitary forces are under the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). They have been imparted the same basic trainings including public relations. It is not the regiment that matters. What may be of concern is the high number of local people in the Assam Rifles who are sometimes perceived as bias and partial by other communities where they operate. It would be better for MHA to explore the option of limited posting of local personnel to their native places till peace returns to Manipur.
6. Delisting of Kuki-Zo. In the current list of ST of many north eastern states, the entry “Any Kuki Tribes”, Kuki and “Any Kuki Tribes including:” are found mentioned. In respect of Manipur, there is no tribe mentioned with the name of “Kuki”, but as “Any Kuki Tribes” and “Any Mizo (Lushai) tribes” along with the individual names of Kuki and Mizo tribes. The usage of word “Any” before the name of a tribe is not an isolated case for Manipur State alone and it is found in Meghalaya as “Any Kuki Tribes including:”, “Any Mizo (Lushai) tribes” and “Any Naga Tribes”. In Mizoram too, the names “Any Kuki Tribes”, “Kuki” and “Any Mizo (Lushai) tribes” are found listed along with the names of Kuki sub-tribes. In Tripura “Kuki, including the following sub-tribes:” is found listed implying that “Kuki” is also a tribe. In Nagaland just the word “Naga” and “Kuki” are listed without the list of any sub-tribes or tribes. It can be seen in the ST lists that “Kuki” is mentioned as a tribe in Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Tripura along with Kuki sub-tribes, but no sub-tribes are listed for Nagaland against the tribe name “Kuki”. From these facts, it appears that “Kuki” is a separate tribe. If the matter for deletion of “Any Kuki tribes” along with “Any Mizo (Lushai) tribes” that is being currently demanded by AT is examined in the context of the entire north eastern region, it would be clear that the tribe “Kuki” is listed in the states of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Manipur. In Manipur it is mentioned as the words “Any Kuki tribes” which does not preclude “Kuki” tribe, but included Kuki tribe. It would therefore be absolutely wrong to think that “Kuki” tribe can be removed if “Any Kuki Tribes” is deleted as the mother tribe i.e. “Kuki” would need to be inserted in the ST list of Manipur as a consequence of deletion of words “Any Kuki Tribes”. It can also only be deleted if the matter has been considered in depth by the state government to ensure that no other “Kuki tribes” are left unlisted in the ST list of Manipur. Basing on the premise that they are recent entrant in the state raises the issue as to how they are listed in five other states in the north eastern region (Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura). A word of caution; what is the necessity of antagonising a large section of Manipur society namely the Kukis if the motto is to live together as one in Manipur. After more than eight months of strained relationship between the Meitei and Kuki-Zo communities, the agenda for deletion of “any Kuki tribes” from the list of STs of Manipur would only serve to widen the fissure.
Capitulation to Mobocracy has pushed Manipur closer towards a break-up. The longer the estrangement, the chasm between different societies in the state will widen further and considering the volatile environment of majority versus minorities developing, a new geo-political alignment may emerge. The advice is to bring in positivity and dump negativity. It is urged to both warring parties to walk the path of reconciliation and focus attention to “Start the Talks” and prevent the land called “Switzerland of the East” from fragmentation and losing its crown.
@Aran Shimray on X