Issues that keep Manipur burning: A Reminder

L Malem Mangal *


The state of affairs in Manipur which has began to unfold since her undefined association with the Union of India in 1949 anticipates critical engagements to address myriad of threats and issues that we face today. Serious attempts to address these crucial issues from various quarters have been made by different actors throughout the last seven decades. The outcomes however have been received in a rather much more baffling package than ameliorating her conditions towards a progressive existence.

This brief essay attempts to highlight certain core issues that endanger the existence of Manipur as a historical and political entity. The purpose for re-highlighting or re-reminding of these issues arise time and again for its overarching importance towards a holistic understanding, articulating and formulating strategies that could help defuse collective anxieties surrounding our existence and future of Manipur.

For the issues highlighted here, there can be two crucial perspectives: first, how do we see the nature of political relationship or conflict that exists between Union of India and Manipur as a historical and political entity and second, how do we approach to any given method for its possible solution. The seriousness of the following reminding issues depends upon the perspectives we adopt.

Core Issue 1
Manipur Becoming a Part of the Union of India: The 1949 Question

Just as Manipur completed two years of attaining freedom from the colonial British rule, her people again became a victim of the imperialist policies of the then leadership of India. The 1949 Merger Agreement cut short or betrayed the democratic aspirations of the people of Manipur. The then popularly constituted Manipur legislature was arbitrarily dissolved and her administration had been taken over on 15th October, 1949. Manipur’s first tryst with Democracy was nipped in the bud.

The nascent Indian state even before her polity was shaped and adopted breached all established norms of conduct governing relations amongst sovereign states. India’s tryst with democracy began after committing one of the most serious crimes of international concern. Established rules of international law become relevant to drive home the point because the act or conduct of the then Dominion Government of India was in relation to another independent historical and political entity called Manipur.

In simple terms, the formal conclusion of Merger Agreement between the then nominal Head of Manipur and the Dominion Government of India are governed by international law. Thus, in brief the rules of the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties and the UN Charter testify that India had annexed Manipur in 1949 and since then it has been an occupied territory. Manipur became an annexed state or territory and her people an occupied people.

This is the legal status of Manipur from 1949 till this day under the established norms of international law. In international law, an annexed state or territory and occupied people means a people of a territory who have not been able or yet to exercise their freedom to establish a polity according to their own free will and legitimate expressions. It also means the people having been deprived of to determining its own polity, had not been able to exercise their freedom for economic, social and cultural development.

This is the right of a people to self-determination. Manipur and her people have been deprived of the right of self-determination by the Indian State. The deprivation of a people to exercise their right of self-determination gives rise to non-state actors or national liberation movements. A state of conflict emerges marked by repressions and bloodshed.

The inability, unwillingness and failure to address the national question of Manipuri peoples and subsequent state of conflict that has led to systematic breaches of the established norms of international humanitarian and human rights laws give rise to responsibility of the Indian state. India assumes the role of an administering or occupying power in Manipur since 1949. Under international law, a State administering or occupying a territory or people entails certain international obligations to fulfil.

The conduct and responsibilities of the both the parties to this conflict – the national liberation movements of the occupied people of Manipur and the Indian state become a subject-matter for international law to concern. These aspects of the conflict can be discussed in a separate write up.

Core Issue 2
Attempts to Dismember Manipur’s Existence: Institutionalising the colonial Divide and Rule policy

Manipur as a collective historical, political and cultural entity had survived genocidal onslaughts at the hands of the invading Burmese (now Myanmar) army and colonial British during the early 19th and mid of 20th centuries respectively. After bringing Manipur into its fold, the Indian state has adopted the British divide and rule policy in order to dismember Manipur’s existence as a historical and political reality.

In order to bring to an end to national liberation movements in North east India, the decision-makers have time and again came out with policies to cut Manipur into pieces on ethno-linguistic lines. The gap which existed between the hill and plain peoples have been capitalised to effectuate the divide and rule policy. It needs to note that seeds of alienation were sown between the hill and plain peoples of Manipur through a series of historical and political wrongs committed by successive Monarchs and it deserve special note that the invasion of Vaishnavism had been having the most deleterious effects till this day for the emotional and cultural alienation.

These gaps in the existential symbiosis amongst the sections of the society have been used to further policies detrimental to the existence of Manipur as a collective entity. Serious campaigns have been launched especially in the hill areas of Manipur to re-align the demographic configurations purely on ethnicity and their repercussions stand to justify the demand for exclusive ethnic homelands or greater ethnic-lands by merging ethnically contiguous areas of neighbouring states of the region.

The genocidal campaigns between Nagas and Kuki, Kukis and Zomis, and Paites during the 90s are examples of such exclusive ethnic aspirations. Insecurity, marginalisation and alienation in all aspects of collective existence fuels ethnic communities to become victims of the divide and rule policy of the Government of India. Those aspirations that fell into this trap become blind to the collective historical, political and cultural symbiotic existence of Manipur.

Dismembering Manipur by re-drawing her boundaries on the basis of ethnicity perhaps emerges as one of the most convenient and simplest method to disengage Manipur’s existence as a historical and political reality.

Core Issue 3
Brutal Assault on Demography, Natural Resources and Economy: Socio-economic repercussions of an occupied territory

Indian occupation of Manipur brought in another worry for the people. After the Government of India illegally scrapped the Permit System following the occupation of the region, large numbers of immigrants began to pour in into the state. The erstwhile Permit System of Manipur was a mechanism which helped check the influx of immigrants into the state. Gradually, these immigrant populations began to take the helm of affairs of the market economy of the state.

A large chunk of trade and business particularly of goods and commodities imported from main market centres of India are under their control. They enjoy a ‘protected monopoly’ of trade and commerce vis-a-vis the Manipur market and the goods and commodities coming from Indian trading cities. The traditional means of producing goods and commodities of the local people who lack in skills, technical knowledge, necessary infrastructures and institutional support have no place in today’s market.

Handloom and handicraft products at the least remain significant local merchandise in the market. Lack of a production base without necessary infrastructure and institutional support system reduces Manipur’s market into a captive one.

A business middle class emerges out of these immigrant traders’ communities and began to eye playing electoral politics and it has already inaugurated. The case of Jiribam is a point here. The demographic implications of the immigrant population are gradually beginning to show the Tripura syndrome. Jiribam case has rung the warning bell of the incoming challenges that has arisen from associating with the Union of India. The natural resources of Manipur do not belong to its people.

It is the Union Parliament which is authorised under the Indian constitution to determine policies for development or exploitation of the natural resources and also the beneficiaries of such natural resources development projects. Constitutional norms of India clearly stipulates that only the Union Parliament is entitled to make laws regarding the development of natural resources such as mines, minerals, oil and natural gas, petroleum and its products, rivers, inter-state river valleys, etc.

These are defined under the Union List of the Seventh Schedule of the Indian Constitution. Development as in an occupied territory is to further the interest of the metropolitan power. The exploration of oil and natural gases in Jiribam and Tamenglong areas, hydro-projects and dams at Loktak, Ithai Barrage, Mapithel and Khuga Dams amongst others in the face of stiff opposition by the local peoples or affected communities stand to testify the aggressions on socio-economic space of our society.

Leaving Manipur whose legal status under international law remains as an occupied territory, other states under the Union of India are virtually exploited of their resources. State of West Bengal v. Union of India (1963) is a point. The Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition and Development) Act, 1957 entitled the Union Government to exploit coal mines deep into the territory of the state of West Bengal or any other constituent state in India.

The Government of West Bengal protested and challenged the authority of the Union Government. The Supreme Court held that the act was constitutional and therefore, the Union Government had every authority to exploit the natural resources found inside the territory of West Bengal.

Further, to materialise India’s Act East policy (formerly known as Look East Policy) intense relations in trade and commerce have been initiated and agreements concluded with her neighbours in South East Asia. The Indo-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement is an example. The ASEAN-India Free Trade Area (AIFTA) came into force in 2010. To facilitate this policy, Special Economic Zones (SEZs) have been proposed to set up in Manipur also. SEZs are areas that will function to promote export of goods and services produced in India.

Indian and foreign investment companies will finance to develop necessary infrastructures to promote trade in exports. These areas are treated as foreign territory as far as they function to promoting export trade. Crucial implications which these zones can have for our society includes: the types or range of goods and services that will be promoted for export trade from Manipur and that of the work force who will put their labour for such production.

Besides, the operation of such zones could have implications on the socio-economic conditions of the people. Lack of skills and technical knowledge in industrial productions can pose a serious challenge for the local work force thereby necessitating the pouring in of skilled work force from outside the state. This would further worsen the issues of dependent market-economy, demographic challenges and other socio-cultural and political consequences.


The above mentioned issues are not anew. They have already informed, shaped and influenced our conditions of existence. Serious scholarships and activism from different actors had also made remarkable contributions towards finding solutions. However in-spite of all the contributions and engagements a fundamental problem remains. Concrete outcomes for these questions are yet to see. The decades long struggles, resistant movements and popular voices seems to have yet to produce its desired goals.

Or what are our desired goals? One can also reasonably ask what answers or solutions are we all trying to find out. Have we even identified and articulated the issues that seriously undermine our existence as a collective historical, cultural and political reality?

What are our existential crises? In the absence of questions, what solutions are we trying to find. Why are we maintaining comfortable silence?

Why has our civil society not been able to clearly articulate their positions, strategies and objectives with regard to our existential crisis?

Reactive articulations as and when necessary seem to have the effect of gradually losing social legitimacy in the long run. Why do we always tend to wake up when it seems we are about to be too late?

One last reminder, we are accountable to Manipur’s history and future.

* L Malem Mangal wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is pursuing PhD from the Department of Law, North-Eastern Hill University, Shillong
This article was posted on June 08, 2018.

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