Manmohan reads while Manipur burns

Weak leadership can worsen the Manipur situation

The situation in Manipur is arguably one of the most challenging national security issues facing India today. In the absence of a coherent strategy from the Indian government, Manipur is getting caught in the swirl of local chauvinist politicians, drug smugglers and militant groups that are bent on exploiting the situation to gain political mileage. These are just the right ingredients for Manipur to become the latest state to be hit by terrorism and insurgency.

While his key ministers are making contractictory statements, Dr Manmohan Singh’s leadership is again conspicuous by its absence. One has yet to hear from the Prime Minister of India on the government’s strategy on handling the sensitive situation in Manipur. More than a decade ago, another weak government was unable to deal with an incipient security threat in Kashmir due to its weak leadership. While there has been considerable media attention given to the Army’s role in tackling the insurgency in Manipur, the more appropriate question – that of the Indian government’s lackadaisical handling of the situation – remains unasked.

The way I see it, Dr Manmohan Singh has been found wanting yet again.

Related Link:

If the POTA is wrong, how can the AFSPA be right? If the AFSPA is right, how can the POTA be wrong? If it is wrong to use special legal powers against the lawless elements in the rest of India, how can it be right to use them against the people in the Northeast? If it is right to use special legal powers against insurgent elements in the Northeast, how can it be wrong to use them against the terrorists in the rest of India?

By its unwise and ill-considered pronouncements and promised policies on the question of special powers, the present government finds itself caught in a web of contradictions and runs the risk of causing in the minds of the people of the Northeast perceptions of double standards towards them. [B Raman | Outlook]

27 thoughts on “Manmohan reads while Manipur burns”

  1. Good Outlook article that tries to understand how the people feel in NE. But who will read it and who will care. Everyone’s busy doing their own things. It’s too late to let those places go also. There will be more mess. We should not have merged them with India in the first place.

    Try to get a book called “Strangers in the Mist – Tales of War and Peace from India’s North East”. The NLB in Sg has that book.

  2. Mate Shikar, read your history. You have this misconception because just like our neighbor Pakistan we are also victims of “manufactured history” and biased textbooks.

    The land is not ours. Nagaland joined the Indian union with the provision that it would be allowed to leave if it wanted. When it tried to exercise that right the army was sent in. Try to find out what happened in Sikkim. Or what did the Indian government do when the Tripura tribes themselves became a minority in their own land. Try to find out what (or how much) Assam gets in return for its oil.

    Indian government has constantly followed the method of intimidation and/or bribes to the favorite rebel faction of the moment.

    The land is yours is it? How many times have you been there? Have you ever volunteered to work in a HIV clinic in Manipur? Can you speak Mizo? You know most of the “mess” that is created is because of the ignorance of rest of Indians about the people and culture in the NE. And this ignorance goes straight up to the rulers.

    You cannot ever rule by force. You have to win the love and trust, and that will only happen if you go and share the pain of the people not by saying ignorant things like “they can leave, but the land is ours”.

  3. Until the British times there was never a single unified territory like the India of today. India was always geographical entity, never a political state. The various states fought with each other and even outside it. The Cholas carried out unprovoked raids into South-East Asia. The Sikhs attacked and occupied Ladhak and Zanskar. More recently, Before the farce “elections”, India did take over Sikkim by force. How about the training and funding of LTTE and Chakma rebels (in Bangladesh) by India’s RAW.

    Colorado and Nevada were never taken over by the US using force. There were parts of pre-existing Utah Terr. and Colorado Terr. that were merely re-organised. In the case of California, the occupation was the result of wider US-Mexico war and heavy-handed Mexican rule in California. Before even the US attacked, the settlers had revolted against the Mexican rule.

    In a collective union like India, once the states recognize that economies and sustenance are dependent on each other, they will not separate out. You are either the buyer or seller of goods to another province. In the case of North East India the integration with rest of India has not happened.

    Even after the take over of California, the Federal government was paying market price for the goods mined from California as everything was privatised.

    They resources are taken away from NE but not much comes back in return. On paper there is a lot of money but by the time it comes down to the people, there is not much. While there is corruption in other parts of India, the net effect is not that bad. There is a large private sector providing jobs and in some cases running essential services. We can start an IT companies in Bombay, set up an R&D centre in Bangalore, but Meghalaya or Mizoram don’t see these kinds of investments.

    Until the 70s the Central government shied away stating the fact that these areas were too close to China and strategic investment were not feasible. For example the refinery for processing the Assam oil was set up in Bihar further diluting the low price paid to Assam for the oil. This type of scam did not happen in Texas. Even after the peace with China in the 80s, harly anything has happened in terms of investment.

    It is not about moral high ground. It is about force. You say all men respect strength and power, then what is wrong with some people standing up for their fair share and using guns. Why, even India’s independence struggle had some armed freedom fighter that fought against the “unfair” British rule.

  4. Preetam,

    I thought I’d validate your comment about the deal the North Eastern states get out of being in India. So I did some quick analysis using data from the Union Finance Ministry’s Economic Survey. (

    First of all, the 11th Finance Commission’s does give the north eastern states very favourable allocations. The states themselves are running mega budget deficits, knowing full well that Central assistance will be forthcoming.

    Second, I did some analysis of my own, using data for some key states representative of the country. See

    Clearly, per capita assistance to Jammu & Kashmir and Manipur is among the highest. If you see per capita assistance to the state as a fraction of its per capita GDP, it is clear that these states get a very good deal. The Central government gives them 20 paise for every Rupee they earn,as compared to 3 paise for Goa or Kerala. Assam does better than many states getting 7 paise to the Rupee.

    At least based on this back of the envelope analysis, the contention that these states get a raw deal from the Union government does not hold up.

    More generally, I think looking at how much a state gets in return for its resources is only half the picture. Resources are useless if there is no market to consume them, or investors who can extract those resources, add value and sell goods to markets. Assam may have oil resources but in the absence of domestic investments and markets, they cant do anything with it. That’s not counting other costs like internal & external security, healthcare, education etc etc.

    The presence of the north eastern states contribute to an Indian whole that is larger than the sum of its parts. The benefits go both ways. The theory of exploitation by a greedy central government out to deprive the states of their resources does not hold up in the Indian context.

  5. Remember I wrote, “On paper there is a lot of money but by the time it comes down, there is not much”. That is why I say you got to go there and see what happens to all that money.

    Why is there no conscious effort to encourage IT industry in highly – literate peaceful and picturesque Meghalaya? Why is it that pre-paid SIM cards are banned (fearing that the insurgents will use them)? We don’t want to trust them, why should they trust us.

    Indian government is not interested in long term; they do deals for the short term. Like in 1974, the UDF (united democratic front) – a party formed by moderate Nagas that with the support of independents formed a majority. The home ministry called the governor L.P.Singh and asked him to stop the swearing in. Delhi was afraid that UDF might openly support Naga freedom. LP realized that doing so would further alienate the people and he refused to follow Delhi. Soon enough Delhi got some congress-backed ministers to defect from the UDF and brought the government down. This is the kind of circus the people are living in. And the people have realised that they get ear only when they take up the gun.

    Brainless politician want to change the names of Bombay and Madras. Want to show nationalism by renaming the train stations. Why can’t the Assamese charge market price for the oil?

    It is easy for us to debate here. We do not pass by checkpoints, constantly living on the edge. No media company in India has the courage or willingness (Tripura – where is it? Aiyya so far and no good hotels) to even tell what happened there in the last 50 years. The torture of that girl is nothing new. The security forces have been doing such things for years. More aphathy we show the worse the problem gets. People there don’t want money, they want to be understood, respected and given opportunities.

  6. >> You say they should never have been merged with us in the >>first place, I’m curious to know why did’nt these people revolt >>at the time of union?

    Those who could revolt did revolt. They were put down by the Army. In some cases like in Manipur, the anexing was kept secret until the security forces were in place to deal with it.

    >>Maybe these people lack any type of entrepreneurial spirit >>and work ethic and then proceed to place the blame on the >>central government for all their ills.
    The entrepreneurial spirit and work ethic you have comes from a social structure that you take for granted. No one comes and destroys your home, you do not live under curfew for 10 years of your life. The schools in your city worked. You do not have to leave your state to go to a faraway place to study, where people called you names like “chinK” or in one case I know a girl got asked for her passport to prove that she was Indian citizen.

  7. Preetam,

    All those grievances you suggest are equally applicable to people in other parts of India. India seems to discriminate against all its citizens equally.

    Corrupt officials, curfews, chaotic social structures are quite common. Bihar is just an extreme example, but the poor governance cuts across the states. The north east is no exception. This is not to suggest that they do not need development programmes or assistance from the government, it just means that they should get rid of the persecution complex. Rather, you should stop seeing them alone as being persecuted.

    It is difficult to ensure economic integration without some changes to the demographics – ie people from other parts of India settling in the north east. If this is done, then there are cries saying that the ethnic composition is being changed and transmigration destroys the North East’s unique culture. In China or Suharto’s Indonesia, this was accomplished by force, leading to cries of politically motivated transmigration. In India, economics-motivated transmigration is avoided because of fears that it will be seen as political. In many ways, it is exactly this lofty-softy attitude that is responsible for the north-east’s backwardness.
    It is a result of seeing them as exotic tribals whose way of life needs to be protected, rather than citizens who have similar aspirations as that of the rest of the country.

    The IT industry is a classic example – it took off in spite of the government. In the end, the North Eastern states have to govern themselves better, but you just have pampered politicians willing to raise the bogey of separatism to get more goodies from the Centre. Manipur, for example, has a budgetary deficit of 58%. You cant blame the central government for that, can you?

  8. Well I did not even begin to mention the culture or demographics though I will mention Tripura where the original tribal inhabitants now are just 28% (from 50% in 1947) of the population. Yes, China and Indonesia are more evil but they do not go around saying that they are the “biggest democratic” country.

    The software industry came up in Bangalore not “inspite of government” but because of the base of Science and Military complex that was built after independence. The northeast always suffered because such investment in that area was considered “unsafe”. Even Kashmir had HMT and HAL factory. Handouts never helped anyone other than the politicians. We need to show them how to fish. Also, the illegal logging in the hills of Arunachal and Nagaland dosn’t show up in any economic data.

    And who is reponsible for creating the corrupt politicians there. The centre has contantly played dirty politics, buying off politicians. The first generation of true leaders who were willing to negotiate were sidelined by Delhi by elevating minors. There were second chances (like the UDF example) but Delhi in it’s paranoia gave up those chances too. Similar policy in Kashmir too has come back to bite the centre.

    There is an also an issue of belonging. A Keralite or a Bihari does in the end consider himself to be Indian because they fit the image of an Indian. You see people like him in the movies, in the media. Tell me would an actress from the NE would be acceptable in a Bollywood movie. Now I am not talking about affirmative action to push the NE people into Bollywood. All I am saying is that they were better off building their own identity. Once a community has confidence in its identity it is more acceptable to change and outside influences.

    It is like trying to hold on to your ex-girlfriend who does not love you anymore. Every act of yours is only going to send you further apart.

    And Shikar, empty nationalism has never helped anyone. You don’t want to become Pakistan of 1971. Do you think more force is going to help those angry women in Manipur like India? They are not terrorists; they are schoolteachers and office workers who are seeking redress for a legitimate injustice. Lets just forget the past 50 years, this one incident is shameful enough for the Army and the Home Minister to issue apology.

    Yes, I love Pakistan. Have you been to Hunza across Karakoram, it is one of the most beautiful places on earth. As for the leftist and other “ists” you accuse me of, well the only moniker I would like to claim is that of a humanist. Countries are “imagined communities”. I consider an economic union tapping on each other’s talent a more viable entity to a jealously held political union.

  9. Preetam,

    Your arguments are racist. It appears that north easterners cannot feel Indian because they do not look Indian…so what’s this Indian look anyway?

  10. Preetam: Heard of Danny Denzongpa? Didnt do too badly in Hindi movies, did he?

    J & K would possibly ever have become an issue had not Indira dismissed Faroukh Abdullah’s govt on whatever grounds. But that has been a feature of all governments, whatever their hue/belief. Its all about power, whether it is elected governments or nominated guvnas.

  11. What I was referring to was not racism but cultural difference. The whole region it self is a microcosm and sees itself culturally closer to South-East Asia rather than South Asia. The kids in Nagaland and Manipur prefer Korean pop to MTV India. The popular culture is different from a teenager in Bombay or Jaipur. They don’t stay glued to Cricket on TV, they like football and volleyball. There pop-idols are not Indian actors or singers. We never try to understand this.

    That is our problem we wanted to be a big large nation with all the territory that the British gave us on a platter.

    Yes, I heard of Danny. He is from Sikkim (usually not counted in the seven NE sisters – Nagaland, Mizoram, Tripura, Meghalaya, Assam, Manipur and Arunachal that I was talking about). Anyways, let’s talk about Sikkim. Sikkim also enjoys 50 year tax free status. But what you don’t hear is that in Sikkim also the original majority indigenous Tibetan communities now constitute about 21% of the population. Who knows when the trouble will start in Sikkim?

    We make noise when Pakistan supports terrorism. Have you ever taken time off to mourn the dead in (Indian trained) LTTE attacks on innocent civilians? I am not an apologist for terrorism or Pakistan but stop this double standard. We refuse to see the ills of our side.

    Don’t listen to my rants, or even the media (that chooses to ignore), get a backpack and go to the north-east. See with your own eyes.

  12. Preetam,

    Cultural similarities do not constitute enough grounds for common statehood. The converse is also true – Hawaii and Peurto Rico culturally dissimilar to mainland America. Indonesia stretches this to the extreme. (Both US and Indonesia have a similar motto E Pluribus Unum and Bhinneka Tungal Eka – Unity in Diversity.)

    For that matter, Pakistanis play cricket, adore Bollywood and share language and cuisine with India; yet they claim have enough reason to live in a separate country.

    It says much to the success of the Indian system that these people can be part of India without being forced to join the Indian mainstream culture.

    When you mention the demographic change in Sikkim, you only prove the point I made previously: when the centre tries economic integration, it causes people to complain about demographic manipulation!

    But you are right about the LTTE. India is in many ways getting just desserts for its myopic policies backing the terrorists. Rajiv Gandhi paid for it with his life. Terrorism in Sri Lanka is as reprehensible as it is in India. Yes, I see the ills of our side; but that should not prevent us from standing up to terrorism perpetrated on us.

  13. >>For that matter, Pakistanis play cricket, adore Bollywood and >>share language and cuisine with India; yet they claim have >>enough reason to live in a separate country.

    Yes, they used to play cricket and watch movies before they became Pakistan. There is a common hindi-urdu culture,

    Manipur and Naga hills was one of the last kingdoms to come under the sway of the British. The British only started including Arunachal (then called NEFA) in their maps just before the World War II. (That is why the Chinese claim Arunachal, There is an interesting incident when questioned by Nehru about the Chinese claim of Arunachal, Zhao En Lai – the Chinese foreign minister asked Nehru to refer to the map of India in his own book – Discovery of India. To the embarassment of Nehru his book had the pre 1940s map)

    Both US and Indonesia had problems, In the case of US (and in China more recently ) the better economic management of these “ethnic” provinces have helped reduce the tensions. Indonesia, like India suffers from mismanagement and narrow vision of the politician.

    I love Pakistan, There are lovely and kind people there too. They just want to get on with their lives. It will interest you to know that RAW has also funded seperatist groups in Baluchistan and other parts of Pakistan. This is a game in which innocent become the fodder.

    Yes, I do love Pakistan as I love Burma, China, Lao, Vietnam and many other places. Life is short, you should not limit your belonging. You got to look beyond things like petty nationalism. The world will be a better place if we go to far away places – tell a joke, fall in love, make a little kid smile. Like it says in the Koran – “We made you of man and woman into tribes and countries so that you may know each other”

  14. Just a couple of points.
    Manipur and Assam (Kamarupa) have been part of the the North Indian empires from the Magadhan periods (either as part of the empire or as a vassal).
    The Govt has realised the neglect of the NorthEast (to a small extent) and has taken steps to address that. The IIT at Guwahati was a great step and will definitely go a long way in the development of the area. There have to be similar efforts, especially getting in industries. IT, Biotech, Pharma seem to be particularly well suited due to its dependence more on human capital and less on machinery etc. The Govt and the States need to encourage private industry to set up their units there. NorthEast, from what I have heard (I havent visited yet). The other aspect that need to be worked on is tourism and small-scale hydropower units. These steps will go a long way in addressing youth employment issues and infrastructural development. The BIMSTEC intiative is a step in the right direction. In addition, there is definitely a need for a greater appreciation of the NorthEast by peninsular India from a cultural perspective. Bollywood etc. has a duty in this aspect. I would definitely love to learn more of the NorthEast but I dont know where to go. So the Education Ministry and other associated ministries and NGO’s have a greater duty in this aspect.
    Any more ideas??

  15. I was in an India Tourism office a couple of months back. I asked one of the guys about the Inner line Permit for the NE. The guy just passed me a booklet. I skimmed through it and told the guy that the the information I want is not there. The guy got angry and told me that this is all the info they have. The Indian Embassies are more clueless. The best info on the region, I found was in the Lonely Planet guidebook for India. I guess you got to just go there take your kids there show them that this is also India. So when they grow up, they are not prejudiced.

    It is time to stop talking about how much we love India. Fall in love with a girl from a place a 1000 kms from your place. Make the next generation of Indian kids. True integration happens with people, the government can’t do much.

    >>You say you love Pakistan, China then why the fuck don’t you go live there?
    I do spend a lot of time in China and no one tortures me there for jaywalking. That is the problem when you create a certain image of a country based on hearsay.

    The large scale expulsion of Pundits started in 1989. That is almost 40 years after political union of Kashmir with India. What happened in those 40 years – years of feet-dragging and broken promises?

    Israel, Chechnya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Philippines and let me add South Thailand and Xinjiang (China).

    Ask any 70s guy and he will tell you how cool and peaceful a place Afghanistan was. Most of the places you mentioned have genuine grievances. There is an only a certain amount of time before an oppressed or ignored society reaches tipping point and take up armed struggle. The religion acts as a motivating and binding force. And to add to the chaos governments tend to ignore peaceful protestors (Tibet) and tend to negotiate with armed groups (IRA).

    We grew up in relatively peaceful areas, the things around us mostly worked. We can’t even begin to understand what happens to a kid who grows up in situations like most of these places.

  16. Preetam,

    You humanism and empathy is appreciable, but unfortunately it condones terrorism.

    The experience you describe at the India tourist office is an everyday phenomenon for anyone who has dealings with lower-level government officials. Try getting a driving licence, marriage certificate, ration card or similar things, and you come across the similar apathetic attitude. The chances are, if you ask them about Karnataka or Haryana, you may get a similar response. Lonely Planet may be your best guide to India !

    There is nothing wrong in talking about how much we love India. We seem to love it, in spite of what I said in the previous paragraph. What may need to be corrected is the “Mera Bharat Mahan” attitude without even having seen how much progress countries like Malaysia or Thailand have made.

    I take issue with what you said about Kashmiri Pandits – why do you sweep the crimes against them under the carpet? Promises were broken for them too. It was simply a case of ethnic cleansing based on purely religious grounds. Indian secularism is surely weak if it refuses to condemn those atrocities.

    In the end, when you talk about ‘tipping points’ and supporting religiously motivated armed struggles you end up agreeing with Shikhar ! Surely if it is justified for minorities to take up arms to redress their grievances, it should be equally justified for others to do so too. What that would do to civil society is anyone’s guess.

    Remember Gandhi, remember Chauri-Chaura. Nothing, absolutely nothing justifies violence and terrorism.

  17. >> I take issue with what you said about Kashmiri Pundits – why do you sweep the crimes against them under the carpet?

    What happened to them is wrong. But remember that it did not happen in 1948 or even after that. All that time and goodwill was wasted away by Delhi.

    You have strong feeling against the “terrorists” just by “reading about” the evil things they do. Just imagine what goes through the minds ok a Kashmiri or a Manipuri when they see these things happen to their neighbor or to their own brothers or sisters.

    Talking about apathy, Consider Mizoram where Rajiv Gandhi made a conscious attempt at peace and the peace had lasted since then. The state has 82% literacy rate and it is on the way to cross Kerala by 2010. There is so much talent but suffers from lack of communications and power. The gas pipeline from Burma is also going west to Bengal. Mizoram has not reached the corporate radar yet. While the state government may be responsible for this lack of promotion, I see no articles on any of the business magazines about Mizoram.

    All I am preaching is that in the absence of the Government showing the light, It is up to us the people to build these networks. People to people networks, business connection go a long way in maintaining peace.

    And the first step is to get informed. There is no weakness in picking your own faults if anything that helps you becomes stronger. Don’t worry about what image we portray to outsiders. China’s bad image has not stopped it from being the no 1 investment magnet.

    Yes, condemn terrorism but make sure that we also protest against the “wrongs” committed by your government and the army. That brings us back to the original post. The home minister or the Army has still not issued an apology or any clarification on how the girl died.

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