[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Manipur madness

Please help make the Manifesto better, or accept it, and propagate it!


Oh - God!

Ram Narayanan


Manipur madness
T.V.R. Shenoy


We stand today on the cusp of the third millennium of the Christian =
calendar. To gain some perspective into where India stands today, permit =
me the conceit of comparing where we stand today with where we were in =
A.D. 1000.

Truth be told, it is a depressingly familiar story. The three-way battle =
for power between the Rashtrakutas, the Palas, and the Pratiharas had =
exhausted all three, leading to a dangerous vacuum in the Gangetic =
valley. The states at the periphery -- Kashmir and Kamrupa for instance =
-- were so involved with troubles of their own that they were gradually =
drifting away from the national mainstream. Over the whole host of petty =
principalities hung the threat of an Afghan invasion. Only South India, =
thanks to the Cholas, offered any signs of hope.

How much has changed? South India, with its commitment to reforms, is =
still the hope of India. The barbarians from Afghanistan continue to =
gather at the gates of India. Kashmir and the Northeast continue to be =
as troubled as ever. And the masters of the Indian heartland, the =
teeming plains of the Ganga, continue to bicker.

Or do they? I confess that I may be clutching at straws here, but I see =
some faint hope that India's leaders have learned the lessons of history =
and are, finally, able to rise above personal interests where national =
interests are concerned. While this column has never been a fan of the =
Congress (I), let me pay tribute where it is due -- to Sonia Gandhi.

The president of the Congress (I) has been taken to task on previous =
occasions for her hemming and hawing. In Bihar, she began by calling for =
the resignation of the Rashtriya Janata Dal ministry -- and then =
proceeded to form a coalition with it. The Congress (I) tried taking =
credit for initiating reforms -- and then senior Congressmen mauled =
Manmohan Singh. Against this background, may I say how refreshing it was =
to see the Leader of the Opposition step forward to take two measured, =
courageous steps: On Manipur and on economic policy.

Sonia Gandhi's speech at the FICCI meet was a pleasure to hear. While =
warning her audience that there were compulsions to being in the =
Opposition, she seized the occasion to reiterate her party's commitment =
to economic liberalisation. I don't know who her speech-writer was for =
the event, but I hope that the Congress (I) president keeps him on!

Or could it be that we were finally hearing the voice of Sonia Gandhi =
herself, untrammelled by anyone in her entourage? That is a possibility, =
given that she followed up one courageous pronouncement with another: =
Her decision to back the Union Government on Manipur.

I am not sure if most people realise just how bad the situation has =
become in the Northeast. Our beloved western neighbour has made sure =
that the ISI has gained a claw-hold. There are some elements supported =
by China. And it is all too easy for militants to disappear across =
porous frontiers into Bangladesh and Myanmar. So what exactly is it that =
makes Manipur worse than its sister states?

Simply this: Nowhere else are ministers accused of being hand in glove =
with militants. Have you ever heard of a minister attending a militant's =
funeral after he was brought down by the security forces? If not, look =
no farther than the deputy chief minister of Manipur! But he was not =
alone -- two terrorists were found in the transport minister's bedroom, =
and another minister allegedly paid lakhs of rupees to another outfit to =
buy arms. Some say as much as Rs 50 crore pumped in by ministers as a =
group every year!

The police is completely helpless. In fact, officers have admitted that =
they are forced to pay "protection money" to the militant groups. The =
situation is so bad that funds have been sanctioned so that policemen =
can buy back weapons that have been captured from them!

The policemen's colleagues, the officers of the mighty Indian =
Administrative Service, have been cowed into absolute compliance. They =
sit at home rather than risk running into some militant in office. That =
is not an exaggeration -- Manipur's terrorist groups think nothing of =
strolling in to dabble with files.

I assume they are just taking turns to practice running the state. This, =
if matters continue to drift, cannot be too far away. The militants are =
already running a parallel government -- operating everything from =
ration shops to collecting taxes. Other than IAS and IPS officers, does =
anybody in the wretched state actually pay income tax to the Government =
of India?

By any reckoning Manipur is a fit case for President's Rule. The =
Constitutional machinery hasn't just collapsed in the state, it has been =
taken over by the militants. These facts are nothing new, but have been =
long known to the Government of India. So why hasn't the Manipur =
ministry been kicked out long since?

The answer is that such a decision must be ratified by both Houses of =
Parliament. It is known to everyone that the Vajpayee ministry lacks a =
majority in the Rajya Sabha. Effectively, the threat of President's Rule =
is meaningless unless the support of the Congress (I) is forthcoming.

I would like to pay my tribute to the front benches on both the Treasury =
and the Opposition for the maturity they displayed on this occasion. The =
prime minister decided to approach the leader of the opposition in a =
kind of 'Track Two' diplomacy. Once she signalled her interest, the home =
minister spoke to her in person, and the Union home secretary presented =
her with all the unhappy details.

It would have been easy for Sonia Gandhi to pretend that this was =
something for the Union government to handle on its own. She could have =
threatened to block any move in the Rajya Sabha. She did nothing of the =
kind, instead offering to work together in the interests of the nation.

Manipur is a small state, but that does not diminish what Sonia Gandhi =
has done. She has just signalled her determination to offer cooperation =
where national interests are at stake. If we are lucky, we may see more =
of the same when it comes to tackling the ISI, or the Women's =
Reservation Bill, or disinvestment.

The last year ended on a bitter note thanks to the hijacking of Flight =
IC-814 to Kandahar. Today, thanks in part to Sonia Gandhi, I can =
sincerely wish everyone a ``Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!''

Ever heard of a minister attending a militant's funeral after he was =
brought down by the security forces? If not, look no farther than the =
deputy CM of Manipur!

This is the National Debate on System Reform.       debate@indiapolicy.org
Rules, Procedures, Archives:            http://www.indiapolicy.org/debate/