Manipur Against Corporate Plunder

An Interview with Jiten Yumnam

Malem Ningthouja

Manipur is a strategically militarised economic zone of an expanding empire of the finance corporates. It is strictly regimented and indirectly ruled by centrally funded local kleptocrats, who function in collusion with elements of finance imperialism. Unrestrained extraction of super-profits by external forces causes heavy loss for the indigenous masses and diversion of their nation from progress. Corporate plunder and loot are, however, covered up by deceptive propaganda about capitalist growth model as the only ultimate schema to achieve development, equity and peace. This deception traps many into perpetual ignorance, oblivion and misadventures. Many are seduced into a fantasy of building development, equity, peace and democracy. Such fantasy could not hold on for any longer as vexed crisis and unrest are exploding. Take the case of India’s Act East Policy and its impact on Manipur. AEP is a finance project, that, in practice, partially materialises temporary economic relief for some local vested sections. Larger chunk of the relief is accumulated by a coterie of socially parasitic kleptocrats, who shamelessly eulogise self-aggrandisement for a tiny share of the trickled down spoils of the overall corporate plunder. Many took for granted a leap towards development by misreading the deceptive face- value of the ongoing projects such as railways lines, dams, mining, oil drilling, militarisation, administrative and commercial buildings, sports university and finance intrusion. The bitter truth is imperilment in various forms —perpetuation of economic underdevelopment, ecological destructions, domination by settlers, suppression, exploitation, institutionalised terrorism and concealed pogroms, deprivation and pauperisation, and the overall organic murder of Manipur, i.e., its history, current pillars and future. Precisely, the propaganda hype surrounding Act East Policy, as it is enforced in a militarily occupied territory to achieve maximum extraction of super-profit at the cost of the colonised, could not satisfactorily redress the deep rooted crisis cited above. On the contentious edge, therefore, are, frustrations with the existing growth model, evolution and dissemination of revolutionary hope, democratic struggles, and the consequential vicious cycle of State repression and mass resistance. The views of Mr. Jiten Yumnam to throw some light on the basis of his grass root experiences.

Editor: You are critical about the ongoing ‘development’ projects in Manipur.

Jiten: Yes, the government is constructing a series of projects in the name of development. This includes a series of extractive investments, hydro­power projects and other massive infrastructure projects. These projects have benefited corporate bodies and a section of elites. On the contrary, these projects are responsible for large scale displacement, environmental catastrophe, militarization and suppression of fundamental rights. These projects are practically exclusive, undemocratic and incompatible with the wishes of communities. The state and corporate bodies enforce these projects through repressive force, including military. But I have a different understanding. Development, I believe, should address the needs and wishes of communities. Communities must be involved in decision making. Their rights must be recognised and respected. Projects must cater to the need of fulfilling environmental sustainability. There should be accountability of all stakeholders. There should be justice.

Editor: So, you are confident about the locus standi of your activism!

Jiten: The locus standi is to keep people at the centre of development process. It means, projects must adhere to universal development and human rights standards. Communities should be consulted and involved their consent taken for any ‘development’ processes, affecting their rights, land and future. Any development process suppressing community rights, voices and space is simply arbitrary. There are several examples. The initiatives to exploration and drilling of oil has been done arbitrarily, without the consent of the peoples, initially by Jubilant Energy, and continued by AlphaGeo and others, in collusion with the State. It involves corrupt and manipulative practice, causing confusion and tensions amongst people. On the other hand, the 105 MW Loktak Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project has caused havoc. It had caused large displacement. More than 80,000 acres of agriculture land are still submerged under water. People are demanding decommissioning of the controversial Ithai Barrage to reclaim their land. But the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation continues to insist on construction of another 66 MW Loktak Downstream Project. The project destroys ecology and diminishes food production.

Editor: Can you theoretically interconnect ‘developmental’ projects, militarisation, and repression?

Jiten: One can analyse it in this way. First, there is an armed liberation movement to create a sovereign Manipur. The State invests in militarisation to suppress this movement. A repressive law known as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 has been enforced to empower the State’s repressive forces to function with impunity. Second, several projects are extensively taken up for the purpose of capitalist extraction and exploitation. Many people are badly affected by these projects and they are rising up against the projects. In this scenario capitalist projects, militarisation and repression are reinforcing one another. The military, para-military, police and other auxiliary forces are the handy tools for defending capitalist project and suppression of democratic agitations. The project sites are fortified and heavily guarded by them. They indulge in targeting mass leaders and activists.

Editor: Your phrase “developmental aggression” sounds very powerful. Would you like to elaborate it?

Jiten: Selfish and greedy agenda of the exploiters are manifested in various forms of aggression. In other words, capitalist (or finance) corporate expansionism incorporates militarisation and repression. It comes, as mentioned earlier, in the form of destructive projects. Corporate elements, in collusion with State, adopt aggressive tactics to enforce their projects. They are least bothered about promoting ecological balance, community rights, and equity. They violate constitutional fundamental rights and other universal human rights standards. In short, when capitalist growth model, that primarily serves the interest of finance imperialism, are enforced, devoid of mechanisms to deliver equity, transparency and justice, then such process becomes “developmental aggression.”

Editor: It seems you are unhappy with the Mapithel Dam.

Jiten: The Mapithel Dam stands out as a significant edifice of corporate plunder that was carried out in collusion with local collaborators. It is a dam created by means of blocking the Thoubal River; on the pretext of fulfilling electric supply, water supply and irrigation. People have demanded proper impact assessments with regards to ecology and the rights of those who would be forced located in either upstream and downstream areas. However, the State has constructed the dam in a hasty and arbitrary manner. People rose in protest. The State suppressed it, and, subsequently fortified and militarised the dam site. Politicians, contractors and construction companies like Ansal and Progressive Construction Limited, Coastal Private Limited have benefited from it. The longstanding delays of project and cost overruns involved massive corruption. The overall consequence is devastation. Community customary norms and Indian Forest Rights Act, 2006 were violated. Affected peoples have not been adequately compensated and rehabilitated. The ecological destruction remains irreparable.

Editor: You seem to be saying that Finance is global in character. In that case, is there a Corporate violation of international human rights norms?

Jiten: First, ICCPR/ ICESR 1966 and UNDRIP 2007 were created in the spirit of promoting and defending the principle of UDHR 1948. The UDHR principle, in a broader sense, includes the right to self determination of nations (nationalities or indigenous communities). Second, Manipur belongs to the indigenous peoples inhabiting it, and, accordingly their political, economical and socio-cultural rights had to be protected and promoted. They must enjoy the rights to self-determination over their land, resources, and the environment to enjoy free prior and informed consent making. Manipur, however, has been in a state of military occupation, under whose protection corporate plunder are carried out with impunity. Plunder, in whatever sense and forms, violates the universal humanitarian principles and norms cited above.

Editor: Don’t you think India’s Act East Policy can be used as a privilege to speed up the defensive strategy of the people?

Jiten: Corporate onslaught or finance imperialism is deeply rooted in Manipur. India’s aggressive push for the Act East Policy is revealed in several Memorandums of Understanding that were signed for oil exploration, laying of oil pipelines, mining, and road construction. The North East India Business Summit on 21st and 22nd November 2017 exemplified, that the Asian Development Bank, Japan International Cooperation Agency, and World Bank were making an inroad in an unprecedented scale. Manipur must rise up, if it has to withstand the challenges. It must pursue struggle: (a) to assert for self-determination over their land and resources, (b) to strengthen the indigenous economy for sustainable management of land and resources, (c) to adopt a model of equity in economic organisation of the people.

Editor: What holds back the movement for people’s democracy?

Jiten: The obstacles are manifold: (a) State repression on democratic movements and mass leaders; (b) State divisive policies; (c) sectarianism and communalisation amongst the mass organisations and leadership, and (d) rapid spread and consolidation of external market forces at the cost of the indigenous polity, economy, social fabric and communal harmony. To overcome these obstacles, there is need to: (a) understand the overall context, agenda and strategy of Finance imperialism; (b) respond at multiple levels according to the changing tactics of the State and market forces; and (c) building strong mass base solidarity and unity across the communities of Manipur and beyond.

Editor: Let’s hope for development, peace and democracy sooner or later!

Jiten: Thank you very much.

End note:

1 Jiten Yumnam is a journalist, human rights advocate and environmental activist from Manipur (India). He is the Secretary of the Centre for Research and Advocacy, Manipur (CRAM). He was arrested in 2009 for his active role in the protest against fake encounters. He played in important role in establishing CRAM in 2004. The objective of CRAM is to contribute to advancing the human rights of the indigenous peoples of Manipur, through research and advocacy.

Click here to return to the September 2018 index.