Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Response to “The nation state and its territory”

Bimol Akoijam
MS Prabhakaran, the author of the article,The nation state and its territory (Hindu, 8 June, 2011), is an old hand in the state of affairs in Northeast. In fact, you can almost count him as one of the Northeasterner as such. However, he, like most non-professional academics who haven’t grappled, perhaps, thoroughly with the conceptual categories and perspectives that are being invoked in his above article, ends up conflating the "categories" and correspondingly created confusions and avoidable conclusions which have far reaching political implications.

For instance, his conflation between “state” and “nation” and “nation-state” have produced a distorted idea of “territoriality” vis-à-vis the former three categories. In a similar manner, because of his conflation between “memory” and “history”, he fails to see the difference between those articulating the “Naga nation” and the “Manipuri nation” (and the geo-political statuses and the issue of “territoriality” in juridico-political terms) in the light of the “aspiration” that distinguishes between what he has termed as something that “came into being within living memory or has been a stable polity for centuries”.

Consequently, he misses two crucial aspects. First, he misses the difference in the definitions of “Manipur” and “Nagaland” (correspondingly, what are these two “entities”); for instance, going by the Schedule 1 of the Constitution of India, which incidentally also gives enough hints on the historicity of the formation of the present postcolonial Indian State (as different from the “idea of India” which has been appropriated by, albeit in a truncated form that does not sit well with, the present Indian State), the former (Manipur) existed as a “geo-political” entity with a stable polity before the commencement of the Constitution (thereby the present Indian State) while the latter (Nagaland) as a “geopolitical entity” with a “stable polity” came into being by virtue of the Constitution (thereby, after the present Indian State and in some sense, by virtue of its political will).

Secondly, that the historicity and contemporary reality of postcolonial politics have produced an “instable polity” in Manipur was completely ignored in his analytical engagement. It is worthwhile to remember that a state with a constitution of its own with a democratically elected Assembly based on universal adult franchise and a “responsible” government was unceremoniously dissolved by New Delhi as it “took over” the state in 1949 and initiated a long 23 years of a bureaucratic rule of Manipur by New Delhi.

This aspect of Manipur's recent history has critical bearings on contemporary Manipur. Having been freed from the alien rule, while the rest of world got the opportunity to shape their destiny on their own terms and aspirations as a mark of postcolonial ethos, Manipur was reduced to an unfortunate trajectory in the form of a deprivation of that postcolonial experience of self rule. As a result of this ironical post-colonial life, the sense of “peoplehood” and polity based on the notion “popular sovereignty” in Manipur has been weaken over the years. Indeed, the fractured nature of the idea of “people of Manipur” has lots to do with that weakening of a democratic politics in the state. The awareness of being a people who have a common stake in the socio-economic and political processes determined by a shared (democratic) polity of being a state was substituted by a political culture wherein the people have been reduced to (competing) “clients” whose well-being was/is critically depended upon their competing proximity to the distant “patron” (New Delhi) and its representative at Imphal.

In fact, this "patron-client" relationship between New Delhi and Manipur reproduces and re-enforces subservient mindset and lack of self-confidence to deal with issues with a sense of one’s own sense of agency associated with old feudal and colonial dispensations in Manipur.  In fact, this "patron-client" structure is one singular aspect that critically determines not only the political culture in Manipur but also many other aspects of life beyond politics in the state.

It is also this aspect that brings in New Delhi as a primary mover in the region, particularly Manipur. Incidentally, it is also a fact that the deepening of the present so-called “ethnic” divide in Manipur is not un-related to the ongoing negotiation between the Naga rebels and the Government of India. This has also been subsequently left out of the analytical purview of Prabhakaran’s analysis.

On the other hand, things get complicated in Manipur as derivative discourses and politics that smack of “two-nation” theory (deeply informed by some sense of “ethnic” and “religious” ideas) and a majoritarian nationalist imagination that smacks of “imperial nostalgia” (a strand of which is a counterpart of Hindu nationalist, either in its right wing variety or those who equate “Indic”, wittingly or unwittingly, with “Hindu”) continue to play havoc in Manipur.

And yet, the political class and its intelligentsia of a “nation” whose birth trauma was caused by a “two-nation theory”, and whose contemporary life continues to be haunted by the ghost of that theory and remnant communal politics, have hardly countered the aspirations and politics of similar kinds that marked the so-called “ethnic conundrum” in the Northeast, particularly Manipur. 

Indeed, that the leadership and members of the intelligentsia in this country have never denounced the political ideology that smacks of “two-nation theory” (saying that people with different religion or ethnic groups have different “destinies”) that lies behind the territorial demands is a telling revelation. (In fact, I have come across well-known public figures and lobbyists who denounce communal politics and its concomitant ideas in the case of the so-called “mainstream” India while supporting the same in case of what’s happening in Manipur).

Thus, generally speaking, these issues have hardly been acknowledged, leave alone addressed, when one talks or writes of the “conflict” ridden Manipur and its contested and unstable polity. The present write up by MS Prabhakaran is no exception to that kind of articulation.

And it must go without saying that such absences or denials have critical bearings on the present and future of not only the Nagas or the Manipuris but also the people in the entire Northeast and arguably India as a “nation” and more accurately as a postcolonial “state”.