CASSANDRA IS A priestess in Greek mythology. She is the daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy. Cassandra is the younger sister of Hector, the hero of the Greek Trojan war. She was gifted with the power of prophecy by Apollo, the god. Upon being given, Cassandra did not return his favours prompting Apollo to curse her – her prophecies not to be believed by any. There are many versions of why her prophecies were made not to be believed. In modern understanding and usage, one is a Cassandra if one speaks of the truth and/or predicts disaster or misfortune. Cassandra predicted the fall of Troy. Troy indeed fell.
Like Cassandra, Ukhrul Assembly Constituency (44-ST) has spoken a few truths in the Manipur Legislative Assembly. For speaking truth to power, Ukhrul A/c (44-ST) have always been silenced by means, legal and illegal, over the years of existence of the State of Manipur; punished through underdevelopment and left unattended, which saw an exodus of youth in the 2000s that came to the public realization of its magnitude only during the reverse migration of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Ukhrul A/c has always been the Cassandra in the politics of Manipur. Fast forward to the present-day Manipur, Alfred Kanngam Arthur as the then MLA, Ukhrul A/c was stripped of his legitimacy for raising the issues concerning Hill-Valley gaps and spearheading the ADC Bill movement. Arthur pointed out on the floor of the House on 4th August 2021 that the Actual Expenditure on Development for the Hills was 108 crore against 5000 crore in the Valley (2017-18), 150 crore against 4900 crore (2018-19), 120 crore against 5000 crore (2019-20) and 141 crore against 7000 crore (2020-21). On Actual Expenditure on Forest and Environment (19 crore against 66 crore in 2017-18), Arthur pleaded, ‘Speaker sir, this is Environment and Forest. Forest, I think, 90% of the forest is in the Hills’. The irony speaks for itself. The common knowledge, thereafter, is that the projects he championed for were all stripped or delegated elsewhere.
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Now, Ram Muivah, MLA, Ukhrul A/c (44-ST), seems to be facing the same music. If what was flagged on the floor of the House on 25th February 2023 happened to be true. For Ukhrul A/c (2022-23), 8 crore out of the expendable 652 crore was allotted under Public Works Department, which means 646 crore for the remaining 59 Constituencies. One could only wonder how much of it went to other Hill Constituencies. Speaking of annual State level Shirui Festival, it is only a matter of decency in an odyssey to extend gratitude to the host for the shelter and meals provided by the host. Likewise, for the welfare of Shirui Festival, dignitaries who have earlier graced the various editions of the festival have the moral obligation to push for the disbursement of the antedated funds. Whatever the vendetta in the political game let alone ‘singling out’, indifference is not decency. More than the particular representative, the citizens of the said Constituency need a prompt response as the year approaches for a new edition of Shirui Festival. If the Government of Manipur is not in a state to host such festivals, or for that matter, all festivals, in all fairness to all, it ought to not organize such State festivals, including Sangai Festival, Kut Festival, Lui-Ngai-Ni Festival and the likes.
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On 26th July 2023, Ram Muivah, MLA, Ukhrul A/c, raised the issues of infrastructural deficit, in anguish, in Ukhrul and other Hill Constituencies on the floor of the House. If the Ukhrul MLA is being made a scapegoat for bringing the burden and anguish of his Constituency on the floor of the House, and if a Constituency had to be punished for sending one of the most eligible representatives to the House of the State, where is Manipur heading to? If Manipur was heading in the right direction, Ukhrul A/c also had better enlighten itself to send ineligible representatives to tackle the issues of underdevelopment by way of boot-licking. If not, the whole political system of Manipur is a concern.
Speaking as an electorate from Ukhrul A/c who braves the storms of dust on the road, National Highway-202, to come to Imphal, travelers are often picked on the road by the Traffic Police in Imphal for driving dusty cars and reasons known to all, or laughed at for arriving with dusty hair. NH-202 is the lifeline of Phungyar A/c (43-ST), Ukhrul A/c (44-ST), and Chingai A/c (45-ST), which furthermore necessitates the attention of the Government of Manipur. Three birds at a throw is not a bad arithmetic.
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Also, to speak as a citizen from the Hills, the gaps are too enormous to speak of the integrity of Manipur. If Manipur have 29 colleges under Manipur University in the Valley and only 7 colleges in the Hills, according to the Department of University and Higher Education Staff List, 2022, Government of Manipur, excluding Dhanamajuri College, which now is a University, the debates surrounding the integrity of Manipur lack logical and moral consistency. All the more inconsistent if RIMS, JNIMS, National Sports University, NIIT and others concentrated in the Valley are taken into consideration. What has unraveled does not reflect fairness. Not to mention the unfairly lopsided Special COVID Pandemic Economic Support under Idea Stage Category of Manipur Startup Scheme (2020-21, Phase I), which selected 390 beneficiaries in the Hills against 4110 beneficiaries in the Valley in a total of 4500. An 8.67% for 42.8% of the population and 91.33% for 57.2% of the population.
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The absence of fairness is an absence of inclusiveness. The Government of Manipur might have a lot to pick, with a pinch of salt, from Alfred Kanngam Arthur on matters relating to Article 370 (C) and inclusivity in the context of Manipur, which should also form the basic structure of governance and decentralization in Manipur keeping in mind that all is not political/communal but also social and economic. Or the bees are to swarm to where the nectar is. In Manipur, the Valley is the only place where the nectar is. A location that is bearing the burden of population explosion. To common sense, decentralization of infrastructure is the way forward.
Again, to speak as a citizen of Manipur, it is learned here that what Ram Muivah on 25th February 2023 shared, a general observation on the Budget on the floor of the House, hits home. Manipur Budget is allocating more funds to ‘regulatory departments’ than ‘development departments’, ‘subject to corrections’. That a State like Manipur should focus more on the ‘development departments’ than the ‘regulatory departments’ is a textbook crash course learning experience for all the citizens of Manipur and more so for the decision makers and policymakers, while a fair allocation of the Budget (not perforce between the Hills and Valley) would be a logical question on the sanity of the State and its decision makers and policymakers. Though it has always been clear that moral responsibilities and justice are not so common here, citizens have to only but hope and believe that positive changes are ensuing, going forward.
Speaking as a citizen of India, the delay in the ADC election in the Hill Districts of Manipur is a concern. If it remains lapsed since November 2020 despite the knowledge of the Central Government of India, where is justice for the Hill Districts of Manipur? Does not such complacency further legitimise the various demands for separate nations, states, districts and so forth? The citizens in the Hill Districts of Manipur have been crying for ADC election for almost three years. A democratic state does not discourage its citizens from participating in its governance and exercising political rights.
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In and from the midst of all these chaotic chasms and systemic structural injustice of such magnitude pleads a people’s representative for fairness and justice only to be made a scapegoat. Should a political representative not speak but conspire in silence? A change is eagerly anticipated. Or would Ram Muivah become the next Cassandra like Alfred Kanngam Arthur for speaking truth to power? Would Ukhrul A/c be made a scapegoat again for an electorate of Ukhrul A/c has spoken again?
In the context of Manipur, only Ukhrul A/c (44-ST) may seem to bear the brunt today. It is, however, the whole of Manipur eventually, for what is being spoken of the Valley against the Hills is only for the benefit of the elites, who themselves are seemingly unaware of what they today speak of as it is only carving paths for crony capitalism to make further inroads into the fabric of Manipur. Ironically, what is unfortunate is that scholars and thinkers from the Valley consider the Hills as the greater evil than crony capitalism. Crony capitalism is flexing its muscles and spreading its tentacles right in the backyard using the elites. Scholars and thinkers of the Valley and the Hills alike as conscience-keepers of society have not spoken enough for the last of Manipur citizens (not even of the Valley by the Valley nor of the Hills by the Hills) but lay sedated in the rhetoric of Hill-Valley divide, not realizing that the Hills and Valley themselves are deeply divided class-wise.
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The grievances and concerns expressed here are only from the perspective of an electorate of Ukhrul A/c and are not directed in any means or capacity to negate or ignore the grievances and concerns of other Constituencies. While encouraging public debates on any issues for an inclusive Manipur, it is also a fervent wish to respect all the scholars, thinkers, decision makers, policymakers, and all stakeholders from the Valley and the Hills alike, and, irrespective of their constituency, political party affiliations, district, ethnicity, gender, religion, etc., I wish not the Cassandras be crucified if Manipur were to remain a Jewel of India in actuality and potentiality, not as a sort of romanticism. But would Manipur in time fall like Troy?
By Shaokhai Mayirnao (firstname.lastname@example.org). The author is a PhD scholar at the Tata Institute of Social Science, Mumbai. Views are personal.
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