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THE murder of over 14 poor people in Manipur by armed thugs has triggered not just outrage but also bitter soul-searching among many Manipuris. In addition, it has emptied the state of its migrant labour, largely from Bihar and other Hindi-speaking areas, with thousands fearfully leaving for the safety of their homes.
The people who were killed were not terrorists; their murderers were. The victims were not members of a gang; their murderers were. They were not agents of the Indian State; but who knows who the killers worked for.
Their only crime was that they were people from outside the state who had come to work and earn a livelihood, largely as daily wage earners, and were the easiest targets for the gun-wielding killers who have arrogated to themselves the right to dispense death and life any way they wish.
Manipur has been spiralling out of control for decades; the recent murders are only a sharper manifestation of the collapse of the instruments of the State and the mindless violence to which armed combatants are prepared to descend.
The real terrorists must be hunted down and brought to trial, without allowing them to slip through the loopholes of law.
We may recall that the United Liberation Front of Asom, another armed group which now believes in setting off bombs at public places in Assam, conducted such an ethnic cleansing effort in January 2007: not less than 70 Hindi speakers died in that mayhem in poor hamlets, far from the highways and safety of police protection.
Ulfa was telling the governments of India and Assam that it did not care about the massive deployment of security forces because this could not provide security to the most vulnerable.
The State has no interest in protecting the poor, only using them, for it protects the powerful. Since when does the slaughter of the innocent and poor become a great act of courage against the State? It is a stigma on any group that claims to fight for freedom to turn on the helpless like predatory wolves, just like the Shining Path Maoists of Peru. It shows the hollowness of their ideology and their reliance on the fear factor.
Yet, there is another impact of such actions which the armed groups or their acolytes may not have considered. They have played completely into the hands of the Indian State and strengthened those who support a military crackdown and an armed solution to political problems.
They have ensured the retention of the draconian, anti-people laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act or the Nagaland Security Regulations because their use will be justified by those favouring “tough action against terrorists.”
The killings of the poor represent direct and definite opposition against those who believe that such laws must be repealed and have no part in a democracy, including heroic figures like the hunger striker Irom Sharmila, whose courage and perseverance is internationally respected.
Angomcha Bimol Akoijam, a prominent Manipuri scholar has written in anguish, and I quote: “Violence in its unbridled form … has come to entirely usurp politics in Manipur today … Even politics as power has been simultaneously trivialized and vulgarized in terms of solely practicing tangible violence.”
The killings in Manipur have overshadowed the elections in Nagaland, Tripura and Meghalaya.
Anti-incumbency was not much of a factor here barring Meghalaya, where the astute Purno Sangma stitched together a coalition after the elections that cashed in on anger against the Congress Party’s DD Lapang and his coterie.
The Congress’ desperation to form a government was only matched by its desperation when it quit on the eve of the elections to the Speaker’s post. Of course, it hasn’t given up plans to topple the Meghalaya Progressive Alliance which is led by Donkupar Roy.
Sangma has left national politics and now is concentrating in Meghalaya where he has also brought his two sons successfully into the State Assembly (one family now has five percent of the entire strength of the state legislature!) and where he definitely wants to leave his imprint.
Basic services here are yet to reach villagers and basic needs, including food security and health apart from primary education, are still to be met.
The Congress at the national level here and in the other states should learn a basic lesson in letting things be, instead of always playing dirty games with bags of money to bring non-Congress government down.
The Congress Party performance in Nagaland and Meghalaya, not to speak of Tripura, Manipur and elsewhere, reminds one of a Harry Belafonte calypso songs where a man complains about his children who talk back to him. When the mother admonishes them, the children shout “Oh no, my daddy can’t be ugly so.”
In Nagaland, the Congress doubly goofed; one by trying to toppling Neiphiu Rio’s government before elections were due and then forcing President’s Rule on the state.
It forgot that apart from distaste for Congress and its Machiavellian ways, the Naga public actually had benefited from some of Rio’s development programs. This surely means that, despite impersonation, rigged ballots and interminable peace talks, governance does pay political dividends.
The Naga peace talks with India are regarded as distant from resolution as ever. The National Socialist Council of Nagalim’s leaders have become “localised,” involved in local politics as much as statecraft and peace processes.
After a decade of unending talks, the “Naga issue” now appears to have assumed the shape of an internal problem of India, losing the momentum and rhetoric of earlier days.
In Tripura, Manik Sarkar’s CPI-M and its allies delivered a double whammy to the Congress Party and its ally, the Indigenous Front of Tripura. The latter claimed to hold sway among the tribals, who are one-third of the population, but just won one seat (earlier it held nine). The Congress was crushed. Again, Tripura has shown that governance – whether good or not so good — pays, especially with large numbers of the rural poor rising above the poverty trap.
The Congress needs not just to improve its ugly parent image but also to understand why people have turned against it so decisively – and why its allies in Delhi, turned rivals locally, have trumped it. This is likely to be the pattern of things in others states here as well.
The Chinese advice of introspection to the Dalai Lama is far more relevant to the Congress Party and its functionaries in the NER as well as their managers in Delhi.