Why Development Cannot Climb Hills?

Uneven Development and Identity Politics in Manipur; Take example from Sikkim and Meghalaya, if they can build quality public institutes in high terrain and inaccessible areas, it is a clear indication that political will and policy making are what it takes to develop any place or build any public institution, and not the topography of the location or the people who lived there.

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Photo: Somipei Tingphei

Manipur’s chequered history of hill-valley divide has resurrected in its varied forms again, but this time it is not in the form of demands for ethnic enclaves, but for equal development opportunity for hill areas and more autonomy to Autonomous District Councils and HAC (Hill Areas Committee). In the aftermath of HAC’s proposal for new MHADC Bill, intended to repeal and replace the old Act, the affairs of the state has come under serious scrutiny by CSOs, intellectuals and common citizens. What we are witnessing now is an attempt by the citizenry to unravel the quagmire of ‘uneven development’ between the hills and valley in Manipur, initially ignited by the debates in the State Assembly, followed by social media frenzy over how the hill areas have been deprived of deserving allocation of funds and given step-motherly treatment by the state departments and agencies.

In some way, we can say that the representations of figures and amounts sanctioned for hills and valley widely shared in social media platforms are flawed and does not bear much resemblance with the official statement from the government. However, what actually needs our attention is the actual official statement that has come from the state government and how serious attempts has been made by some intellectuals to justify the un-equal allocations for fund for hills and valley, rather than addressing the serious question of why and how hill areas are still deprived of development.

Taking cue from James C. Scot’s famous lecture ‘Why Civilizations Cannot Climb Hills?’ the state of uneven development in Manipur is an indication of the perennial question ‘Why Development Cannot Climb Hills?” Scot argues that ‘Hill people are the past of valley people’. They live on the ‘fringes of the State’ and ‘the idea of Nation-state has been to control the periphery and to expand the state sovereignty till the borer’. Thus, it is clear that ‘hill people’ have always been looked at as people who are still ‘living in the past’, located at the periphery, and to be controlled for the purpose of maintaining state’s power; but not the center of state’s attention. On the other hand, Scot also argued in his book Art of Not Being Governed that development in the ‘Uplands’ is part of ‘state-making’ process, and thus ‘state-making’ is stylized as ‘development’. Again, development in hill areas is not just for the sake of development itself, but for other purposes. The arguments put forth by James Scot is a sweeping statement about vast areas in the Uplands of Asia, and may not have direct references to the events in Manipur state. However, given the nature of uneven development in the state, the treatment towards hill people by the state may have some reflection on how these communities have been socially constructed and constituted in the past. And, that past considerations of notion of hill people (chingmi or Hao) may have consciously or unconsciously effected the state’s policies and administrative treatment towards them. However, we must also keep in mind that the problems of development in the hill areas of Manipur is not just a case misdemeanor by one leader or one party or one government per-se. The uneven development in the hill areas should be considered as cumulative product of years and years of administrative apathy as well as mistreatment in policy making by those who have been at the helms of affairs.

There are varied examples that we can cite from Northeast states itself on the question of uneven development, and we can take example from M. Sajjad Hassan’s paper ‘Explaining Manipur’s Breakdown and Mizoram’s Peace’. Sajjad Hassan diagnosed Manipur’s problem as a situation where ‘social forces’ have ‘retained authority’ and ‘politicized their narrow identities to capture state power, leading to competitive mobilisation and conflicts’. In hindsight, what we can understand is

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