Brief political and historical context, breakdown of democratic governance in Manipur
Manipur, with a population of about 2.7 million people spread out over 22 thousand square
kilometers is on the most easterly corner of India. It borders Myanmar (formerly Burma) to its
east and southeast and the Indian states of Nagaland to its north, Assam to its west and Mizoram
to its southwest. It is also in close proximity with China in the north and Bangladesh to the west
and southwest. The state, with its multi-ethnic, multi-religious state (sometimes referred to as a
microcosm of India populated by indigenous peoples), is also strategically located as it is the
primary road (and future rail) gateway between the sub-continent and Myanmar as well as
Southeast Asia and beyond. Its population is concentrated in the centrally located Imphal valley
(10 per cent of the state’s area). The remaining population lives in the surrounding hills.
Following the 1891 Anglo-Manipuri war, Manipur came under British suzerainty, its status
remaining unchanged until the British left Manipur in 1947. It became a part of the Indian Union
in 1949. However, with the discontentment of some section of Manipuris around the merger and
alleged discriminatory treatment, resistance movements were started and escalated into open
armed conflict since late 1970’s. The government of India responded by promulgating the
colonial Armed Forces Special Powers Ordinance on 16 April 1950, six months after the merger,
through the provision of an Act, in Manipur. By 1958, Indian parliament enacted the Armed
Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Act with minor modifications to the preceding
ordinance. Thousands of people are estimated to have been killed in the last three decades by the
armed forces of the Union and other law enforcement officials. The Act is alleged to have
created a culture of impunity and, in extreme cases, gave security forces a carte blanche to
commit rape, torture and carry out custodial killings. This has led to gradual replacement of
democratic rule of law by an authoritarian rule.
While deciding the constitutionality of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act of 1958
(Naga People’s Movement for Human Rights vs. Union of India), the Supreme Court of India
passed by far the most conservative judgment in the annals of its history. In total disregard of the
Right to Life of the people of Manipur and the North Eastern region of India, the court upheld
the Act demonstrating a profound failure of the highest judiciary of the country to exercise its
mind in a free and fair manner.
Today, democratic governance in Manipur has become an almost obsolete term. Denied
and delayed justice system with a failing judiciary apart from denial of several democratic
rights to the people, election violence and the lack of transparency and accountability of
bureaucrats and politicians alike in the election processes, poverty, lack of proper development
infrastructure, lack of participation of the people in the decision making processes, et al,
have all been instrumental in effectively depriving people of almost every democratic rights.
Institutions of the state appear to have utterly failed to promote democratic governance in
Manipur. Corruption is rampant in official circles; there is a general lack of commitment by
the local political leadership to public welfare, and respect for the rule of law by all entities has
alarmingly diminished. While the answer to correcting these lacuna lays in active grassroots
population participation in the whole governance processes especially in election- the rudiment
of a democracy, they have been sidelined, subjugated and manipulated.