E-Pao! EI - Land Of The Living Dead


By: L.Keivom IFS(Rtd) *

Few spots on earth can rival the natural beauty of Manipur valley fenced from all sides by blue mountains with the Loktak Lake in the middle, the largest fresh water lake in eastern India. The inhabitants fondly called this fertile plateau ‘sana leipak’, a land of gold. Nature here is kind and endearing. It is pleasantly warm in summer but never gets hot as ‘hot’ is understood in mainland India. Winter is mild and sunny, prefixed and suffixed by smiling autumn and spring. It is indeed a veritable paradise on earth.

I was born and brought up here. My children too were born here but brought up abroad across the continents where my diplomatic assignments took me. As our family has now spread over across the globe, none of us live in Manipur anymore. But we love the land. It bears the original mark of our identity. It is our cradle, the original nest, the beginning of our existence. This land is the only spot on earth that we can legitimately claim our own. No other place can take its position. Manipur was our homeland.

Breaking Silence

Since I left D.M.College, Imphal in 1963 and joined government service in 1967, I hardly had time to stay in Manipur except for occasional visits lasting a month or less. My longest stay at a stretch was seven months in 2003 after my retirement. My recent visit in 2004 lasted from August 22-October 12. Every time I visited Manipur I had to fight within me the temptation to write what I saw and heard but resisted for care of hurting the sentiments of my people whom I love and cherish.

This time I changed my earlier view. My conscience or inner voice told me that for the love of the land and its people I must speak out and that every soul that cares his or her land and people should gather strength and courage to speak out. For passive silence and toleration of wrongs amount to tacit approval of the evils which have been afflicting the land and its people.

The Killing Field

Manipur of to-day is no longer Manipur that was. The society has now gone back to the Hobbesian state of nature where people live in continual fear and danger of violent death, where life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short, where swords but not words reign supreme and where they embrace not with loving arms but with deadly arms of AK-47s. It has become a land of the living dead where they empty out their anger and frustration from the barrel of guns.

Whichever side you turn, you see uniformed men with deathly toys in their hands. On the streets are government security personnel and those in the backyard are the so-called Ugs (underground soldiers). They all wear uniforms and batches and carry weapons. They co-exist side by side. They are afraid of each other because they too are mortals and the toys they carry kill effectively and mercilessly.

The worst part of it is that much before they kill you, they kill your freedom first. All these in the great name of freedom and integrity. One side kills to defend freedom and integrity of the whole country and the other side kills to demand and achieve freedom. One side is armed with Armed Forces Special Act (AFSPA), a licence to kill a suspect with immunity from legal prosecution which is a clear negation of the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution.

The danger point in this is that a suspect is not necessarily the culprit and the obnoxious act provides a big room for an innocent to suffer unjustly. As a father has a duty to discipline a disobedient child but not to kill, the government has also the same rights and responsibilities but not to kill except through due process of law. AFSPA is a negation of that due process and no amount of articulation in its favour will justify its existence.

A Failed State

The more realistic issue is: what necessitates the imposition of such a draconian law as the AFSPA? Let’s see the picture of Manipur. According to my observation, Manipur has since long become a failed State. Corruption of all kinds has eaten away its foundations and the machinery therefore inevitably collapsed. Elected members with little or no vision at all have been busy making ministry after ministry but never have the time to run the government.

It is a State where every elected MLA, in a ceaseless war of position, is vying to become a Minister. If he is not given a berth in the Cabinet, he rebels and plots to bring the Ministry down to form another one. If I remember correctly, at one point of time the Opposition had a solitary Congress member namely Mr. Rishang Keishing as his men left in droves to join a coalition government. Party affiliation and loyalty has little or no meaning amongst the foxy Judas Iskariots whose culture is thriving on outward allegiance and inner betrayal.

A House of Cards

Only a stable House can provide a stable government. Unfortunately, Manipur for long has been having only a house of cards which collapsed at every knock of power-hungry politicians. Ministry after Ministry fell like ninepins and elections after elections held in the past returned more and more ambitious members bend on looting the coffers of the State to make good their election expenses and amass some for the next elections.

I was told time and again that, on paper, successive ministries had already undertaken projects after projects, dammed and bridged every river and nullah worth its name, terraced every imaginable hillside for cultivation, provided almost every village some form of schools with complimentary teaching and administrative staff, health centers and dispensaries, electricity and potable water supply. The list is endless but the reality is shorter than a hotpant.

Looting the looter

Consequently, the list of people’s frustrations and complains is getting longer and longer but theirs tempers have become shorter and shorter. Every imaginable government job carries a heavy price. The criteria in the employment market is money. You pay the price, you get the post. Nothing is possible without money and nothing is impossible with money. Thousands of educated unemployed youths who cannot afford to buy employment either have to go outside the State to seek employment or to sit idle at home indulging in drugs or to take up arms and join the underground outfit.

The ongoing famous saying in Manipur is that if you want to build a good house and provide economic and physical security to your family, join the underground. It is a sad alternative to joining election politics but equally and immorally lucrative. The new equation is simple and straightforward: politicians loot and you loot politicians.

Believe it or not, this is the way the system operates in Manipur. The Ugs now decide who will get elected. And once elected, it is the turn of the elect to support the electors and oblige their demands and wishes. It is a classic remake of Mrs. Shelley’s Frankenstein and the monster he created. There was a time when a voter actually and in person cast his or her vote in the ballot box at the polling booth.

Even now, on paper, a voter still casts his/her vote in the ballot box in a polling booth but with a difference: now an unseen hand casts the vote for the highest bidder through the barrel of a gun. That is the way our proxy democracy operates in many areas in Manipur. It’s a complete sham but it works in its own fashion. They loot the looter through democratic machinery and share the booty. Nothing official about it, as the advertisement goes.

Dead Voters

I was told that the number of houses officially declared and registered in the villages is much more than the actual number of houses, and accordingly the number of voters too. It is indeed an inflation of a strange kind perhaps not found anywhere on earth. How could this happen? Because enumeration in Manipur is a great political bargaining game. In some areas, there are more voters than the population.

The dead do not die here for good; they faithfully surface again at the time of elections. If you sit with any official and ask his experience on election duties, he will tell you many juicy election tales that you will never find even in a book of fiction. Strange things happen naturally in this land of deception, a paradise turned into a blazing inferno by its own people. It certainly beats Dante’s inferno.


Laldena Intoate Hmar send this article written by L.Keivom IFS(Rtd), who writes regularly to
He can be contacted at [email protected]
This article was written on Saturday, October 23, 2004

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