As history has recorded, every autocratic regime has bullied publishers critical of the government’s plan and policies and has often left them compromised with their worldview. These regimes often placed progressive publishers behind bars under the pretext that they conjure up danger for the public, so that these publishers would walk along with and endorse the autocratic system.
The situation described above does not seem to differ from what Manipur’s media fraternity has witnessed in the last two or three years. It is more than clear that the present ruling dispensation cannot withstand any voice of opposition. There are countless episodes in which many journalists and Kanglei youths have been incarcerated and harassed for expressing independent views, distinct from those of the ruling party. The democratic rights of the people, in particular the fundamental rights, are uncertain, or rather suspended, under this regime, and this is what is ringing in most people’s heads.
The government’s act of targeting media people, particularly those engaged in radical journalism, is still going on. A few days ago, the editor-in-chief of the online news portal The Frontier Manipur, Sadokpam Dhiren and Paojel Chaoba, the executive editor of the same news portal, were detained by Manipur police in connection with the publication of an article entitled “Revolutionary Journey in Mess” written by a person by the name of M. Joy Luwang of Singjamei. According to the police’s FIR, the editors were arrested as the article published by the news portal would cause fear to the public causing them to commit offence against the state as the article promotes revolutionary ideologies and activities of revolutionary groups besides labeling the union and state government’s rules of law as colonial law.
Here, as a Kangleicha, I strongly question why this article was deemed seditious in the FIR when the state seemed to have no issue with it when other newspapers in the state published it. In this connection, it would be worth recalling that the same article for which the two editors were arrested had already been published in one local vernacular journal and another English evening newspaper long before The Frontier Manipur published it.
Kanglapao, a vernacular journal, published it in October 2020 under the title “Hangatna Yawolgi Ihou Yenglubada.” Probably because of space constraints, the article was reproduced in parts continuously for seven days. The first part was released on October 3, 2020 while the last part was published on the 9th of the same month, 2020.
Furthermore, the same article was published by the Imphal Times on January 2, 2021, under the title “Journey in the mess of the revolutionary.” By contrast, The Frontier Manipur, published the article only on January 8, 2021. Looking from a timeline angle, The Frontier Manipur‘s editors have to be arrested only after editors of the above stated two news houses have been picked up.
Given these facts, we cannot help but suspect that the government of Manipur, or some people in the ruling power resorted to this action not out any belief that the article was seditious in nature, but as a kind of taking vengeance for some disagreement they had with the news portal’s administration. For, it is logical to say that what was not seditious for Imphal Times and Kanglapao published it, cannot be seditious for The Frontier Manipur as well. If the government really thinks it to be seditious, then they must not forget that they need to pick up a few more publishers and editors and write the same FIR against them as well.
However, I am not saying that the state should take tough action against all the news houses that have published the article or other articles on a related thread. Rather, here I am only pointing out the law cannot be applied selectively to different individuals. Even if all the means of violence are now centralized in the hands of those in power now, it does not mean that they can pick up anyone at their whim even if they are speaking against the regime. The regime’s authoritarian attitude towards its citizens and the apparent lack of a sense of fundamental rights is terrorizing the people and eroding the democratic fabric.
Moving a little further from the argument put forth above, I would like to question why these media houses would not be allowed to publish such articles. It is quite clear that Manipur is a state in which there has been an armed conflict between non-state actors as generally referred to here as the Naharol or Insurgent groups and the Government of India since Manipur became part of the Indian Union in 1949. What is even more apparent is that most of the contemporary political or cultural issues we have experienced have centered on this Indo-Manipur political conflict. Multiple times, many well-known personalities from all walks of life have articulated the intense need to resolve this issue through dialogue and debate politically. From this view, one point is more than certain. We need to address this problem through dialogue, discussion, and negotiation to make society go forward.
Media is a shared space where all parties, even conflicting ones, can share their thoughts and understand each other better. On the basis of the idea gained through the process, the State may also take steps to resolve the conflict in a mutually acceptable manner. Before we can formally bring this issue to the negotiation table, we must observe each other and recognize which contradiction between the two is antagonistic and which is non-antagonistic.
From a strategic point of view, the State must be prepared to acknowledge that writing that speaks non-state players’ language will most likely be in antagonistic tone rather than respect the government. It is imperative for the State to let those minds speak out in order to map plans to carry the matter to a good conclusion. Listening to their ideas and discussing them would allow the State to perceive the issue from a non-state actor’s viewpoint, and this will help resolve the issue quickly. And not doing so, as suggested above, would just plug all the possibilities for an end to the decades-long issue.
Non-realization of this fact would take society from bad to worse. Over time, it can enter a point where no one can any longer accommodate another’s opinion. In such a situation, it is not difficult to imaging anarchy by people breaking out on every Kanglei street. Over time, it can enter a point where everyone is drained of the spirit to pursue meaningful existence. So, now is the right time to let people, particularly those with opposing voices, be given room to express their opinion in order that democracy remains intact.