The first time I heard about Manipur Students’ Association Delhi (MSAD) was in 1993. 1995 onwards, from time to time, I came in touch with some MSAD office bearers. In 1997, I visited MSAD’s office at Indra Vihar (North Delhi) to contribute to the preparation for an integrity rally scheduled for August 13, 1997, which was organised in response to a ceasefire agreement signed between Government of India and NSCN-IM. The following years, I attended MSAD’s programmes. I devoted lots of time in a series of interactions to strengthen students’ movement for democratic rights in general and MSAD in particular. I remember the way many late-nights were spent with Arambam Noni, Ksh. Imokanta, Ksh. Otojit, Atom Saphaba, Jacko, etc., on the top terrace of Zakir Husain College Hostel. There were many others with whom I discussed about the goals, ways, and means of organising students to espouse the causes of Manipur’s national democratic movement. Ipso facto, I stepped into MSAD’s rank and file with a clear agenda. In short, my consistent contribution to MSAD began in the late 1999 when I became its President. There was no turning back after that, though time’s changes made my role changing and gradually diminishing. Overall, my roles as MSAD’s simple member, observer, casual volunteer, executive member, advisor, editor, regular volunteer and sympathiser has covered 25 years in 2022.
My official entry into MSAD happened at a time when it was recovering from a temporary dark phase. To recall, there was a politically moribund clique, who projected themselves as having a link with an outlawed armed revolutionary party of Manipur, controlling MSAD for some years. They were supposedly neither trained by the outlawed party for mass revolutionary work nor they had a clear objective, way, prospect, and skill to organise students. No matter how much they tried to show themselves as patriots, what they actually did was keeping MSAD under their personalised or self-centred tyranny. Their intimidating actions to suppress dissents not only tarnished the revolutionary image of the outlawed party but also shooed away many prospective youngsters, thereby, making the Association weaker and dysfunctional. However, they subsequently lost any legitimacy to hold on the Association further longer.
Soon a committed team of young students rose up and constituted a rejuvenating committee to rebuild MSAD. They were Arambam Noni, Michael Achom, Laishram Nandakumar, Namoijam Khedabrata, Ksh. Otojit, N. Malemsanba, Thingnam Sanjeev, and their supporters. They mobilised people and organised MSAD’s Freshers’ Meet cum General Election of 1999. The tyrants and their rival tried to field their respective presidential candidates. I was another force, but neutral of any partisan conflict. At the election venue, we had a long discussion and they agreed to retreat if I would contest for the President’s post to work together in future. In this some members of the rejuvenating committee played important roles. With all these supports, I became MSAD’s President (1999-2000). My colleagues in the executive committee were Soraisam Prakash (Vice-President), Arambam Noni Meetei (General Secretary), Angamba Kh. and Abash (Joint Secretaries), S. Megajeet (Finance Secretary), Mairembam Prithiviraj (Public Relations Secretary), Suresh Nambram (Academic & Magazine Secretary), N. Johnson (Games & Sports Secretary), and Chanchan. B (Cultural Secretary). They were energetic, committed, and hardworking.
We were a united team forged by consensus and tireless collective works. While our activities were numerous, there were some noteworthy contributions that had long lasting legacies. For instance, MSADs current logo was designed and adopted during our tenure. We did away with pre-existing letterhead that had a complex design embodying some religious-communal symbols. For fund raising, we believed in the principle of “work and earn” instead of complete dependence on conventional begging or donation. To raise fund, we introduced a system of “on spot collection of entry fee” from those attending cultural activities such as thabal chongba. This system saved time, labour, reduced organising cost, and ensured reasonable profit. This system has been continued till date. We also organised fund raising charity movie show and sale of annual calendar. We also constituted a football team comprising players from various communities and regions, which continued to exist for some years. We introduced MSAD’s annual publication entitled Maheiroi. We rejuvenated documentation or record keeping, a tradition that continued under my supervision till mid 2014.
I could not recollect all the names of hundreds of executive members and advisors and thousands of regular and casual volunteers with whom I have worked on various issues in different times. As my memory is weak, I regret that I am leaving out a vast chunk of the names of those who wholeheartedly had contributed to the Association. While every activity had significance in its corresponding time and situation, the activities were too numerous that I cannot recollect and mention all. This reminiscence, therefore, is an aggregated reflection of some major trends/themes where I have played some important roles. The credit of the efforts goes to MSAD and those who had worked for it.
Election and Election Committee
Till 2000, MSAD’s annual general elections were held on cultural day such as freshers meet or thabal chongba. Usually, an Election Committee was constituted instantly at the programme venue to conduct election. There were no formal rules of election. An Election Committee that conducted an election was nowhere to be seen after the election, to keep a record of the candidates’ profiles and election related documents or to conduct vacancy filling, and etc. As election and entertainment programme coincided there was lack of focus on election. Everything was conducted casually and in a haphazard manner. Candidates were allowed to contest election without proper verification or personal information. The system had many setbacks. As election was open to all, anyone, without a second thought or planning, could react emotionally at the program spot by some emotive factors and contest election without a sincere agenda to work for MSAD. A stranger to the Association could instantly fight election, win, and vanish. There were instances when elected executive members failed to attend the Association and they could not be traced. There was less time for election campaign. Logically, interaction between a candidate and voters was either minimal or nil. All these had serious ramification and needed rectification. We, therefore, from around 2002, made it a norm to formalise election rules and procedures. We constituted Election Committee as a semi-autonomous body to conduct free and fair election. Election Committee members were appointed after proper verification. Members had to be non-partisan; every member must not involve in election campaign either for or against any candidate. Nomination forms for a candidate, proposer and seconder, and election rules and procedure were published in advance. Strict procedures of nomination filing, candidate scrutiny, voting, election, and oath taking ceremony were introduced. MSAD’s general election was no longer clubbed with any other programme. This practice has been continued.
Advisory Body and Audit Committee
Till 2000, there was neither a formally constituted regular Advisory Body nor an Audit Committee. The absence of regular Advisory Body and Audit Committee had many setbacks. A regular Advisory Body was needed to give guidance to executive members and timely intervention to solve problems affecting MSAD. A regular Audit Committee was needed to keep a check and balance of financial transaction/ management, transparency and accountability. Other volunteering committees were needed to provide spaces to those who might be disinterested to contesting election or carrying the burden of an executive member but would be interested in working on a specific thematic committee. Therefore, from 2000 onwards attempts were made to have annual Advisory Body for every executive tenure on an experimental basis. Advisory Body became mandatory, got more formalised and structured by a new constitution adopted in 2007. Similarly, mandatory Audit Committee and other volunteering Committees became formalised. Despite all these efforts, modus operandi of Advisory Body, Audit Committee and Committees varied under different executive tenures. Audit Committee’s functions were paralysed in many executive tenures due to either Audit Committee members’ lethargy or Executive Committee’s irresponsiveness or combination of both. In many tenures, most of the prescribed volunteering Committees were either vacant or dysfunctional. Most of the executive tenures failed to fulfil the goal of recruiting members for all the prescribed committees. For more constitutional expectations and prescriptions please read MSAD’s constitution.
Documentation and record keeping are important for an organisation. Unfortunately, during our tenure the preceding President did not handover any document. I was told that he possessed a boxful of documents. I tried my best to convince him directly or through feelers to handover those documents or copies of it. But he did not cooperate. Instead, I was told, he deliberately destroyed them all. Since then, I started collecting documents beginning from my tenure onwards. Collection continued till the mid 2014. I maintained a good repository. In mid 2014, due to certain circumstances, I decided to handover the repository to the incumbent executive team. I approached them to help me in digitising the documents. I proposed them that I would offer logistic, technical, and financial supports if they would provide me some volunteers to assist the work. There was no positive response. Due to lack of manpower and time, I could not digitise everything. Instead, I handed over to them the entire collection in May 2014. Thereafter I no longer collect any physical document, other than some soft copies that were available from time to time from internet. When need arose, I tried to check MSAD’s repository. But the search was fruitless as record keeping was no longer centralised at a place under a custodian. Documents have been scattered and lost. After many years, in 2022, when MSAD’s 50th Year Anniversary Souvenir was planned, I searched for the collection I had handed over to MSAD. Unfortunately, most of the documents over have been lost without a trace. But some digital documents from 2007 onwards are still available in MSAD’s e-mail account.
Maheiroi: In Delhi I was inspired by abundance of revolutionary literatures available in university campuses. I was also inspired by Naga Students’ Union Delhi’s book entitled The Nagas At Work published in 1996. I wished to see “our” publications. By “our” I am ‘patriotic’ Manipur compatriots. If “ours” is lacking I wanted to contribute to it. Therefore, once I formally stepped into MSAD, my agenda was to start publication. Fortunately, our executive team agreed with my proposal to publish an annual magazine covering MSAD activities and themes on Manipur. We entitled it as Maheiroi. But publication was a difficult job. We lacked technical skill and experience. Fund was also very scarce. Volunteerism was lacking. However, my commitment was strong. So, I did most of the data entry and layout making, though very slow and tiresome. We managed to bring out 200 copies of photocopied magazine. We could not afford to do binding in a press. So, I used a larger size stapler and did paperback binding. Annual publications were continued in the next executive term. It was also a photocopied magazine with home-made binding using a stapler. The following year’s publication, in which I had no role, was printed in a press. Its content compromised quality as it resembled a normal college magazine with short stories and poems without informative / polemical articles sharing perspectives on Manipur unity, development and peace. Thereafter there was a long break. Publication resumed in 2011, and continued without a break in 2012, 2013, and 2014. The attempt in 2015 failed as there was disagreement in nominating editorial members. It is said that a soft copy version was attempted in 2017/2018. I have not seen a copy of it. There was a long gape in publication only to be followed by another publication in 2020. Out of the total eight volumes printed so far published, I was fully involved in seven volumes. The paucities in publication were not primarily due to lack of fund, but as a result of lack of interest, commitment, and consensus. Of late, apart from being appointed as an editor of MSAD’s 50th Anniversary Souvenir entitled Eehouroi, I am given an opportunity to work in the editorial team for Maheiroi. Eehouroi is now ready for press. I am ready to contribute to the latest edition of Maheiroi as well. I wish MSAD continues with publication.
Newsletter: Another publication I have attempted was a bimonthly publication entitled MSAD Newsletter. It was a small volume of 8 pages that covered two monthly chronological record of MSAD’s activities and valuable documents or articles related to development, peace, and unity of Manipur. The booklet was designed for information dissemination to help mobilisation to expand MSAD’s member and sympathisers. It was supposed to be published both in print in limited number for selective distribution and e-copy for wider free circulation. Publication started in the late 2007 and regularly continued for the next five years. I have edited all those publications. As it was the case of Maheiroi, newsletter publication was either paused or stopped as executive committees lacked interest, commitment, and consensus.
During our tenure we could not trace MSAD’s Constitution. We functioned without a constitution and it went on for some years. The absence of a constitution had many problems particularly on matters related to distribution of powers and functions of executive members, organisational responsibilities, and disciplinary rules. We could not bypass a pre-existing constitution, if there was any, but to check it for either amendment or draft a new one if the old one has become obsolete. There were series of discussions for some years to address the issue. There was no breakthrough in taking up initiative to have one. But some big events in 2004 and unfortunate organisational crisis in 2006 and 2007 forced us to rethink and hasten up constitution re-drafting. MSAD reorganisation meeting, October 2, 2006, nominated Malem Ningthouja, Giteshwar, Moses, Arambam Noni, Y Jillangamba, and Seram Rojesh to review MSAD’s constitution. But there was no progress for many months. MSAD Meeting, September 16, 2007, held at Dhaka Village, reaffirmed the decision of October 2, 2006. MSAD Meeting at JNU, dated September 22, 2007, constituted a Constitution Redrafting Committee. Malem Ningthouja, Bijen N, Malemshanba N, Noni Meetei, Ranjeeta Sadokpam, and Seram Rojesh were nominated as members. Notice was served on October 18, informing all members of the CRC to meet and finalise constitution redrafting on Saturday, October 20, at Shop number 19, Outram Lines. The CRC members who attended the meeting on October 20 were: (1) Naorem Malemsanba, (2) Malem Ningthouja, (3) Seram Rojesh, (4) Praem Hidam, (5) Rakesh Pukhrambam and (6) Sadokpam Ranjeeta. Others who present were; (1) Chongtham Thoiba, (2) Moirangmayum Indrakumar, (3) S. Gunajit Mangang, (4) Kakchingtabam Naresh Sharma, and (5) Moirangmayum Sanjoy. The meeting extensively studied an undated MSAD Constitution supposedly adopted in the 1990s. MSAD’s new Constitution was redrafted based on the pre-existing Constitution, new inputs, and extensive debates. The redrafted Constitution was adopted by a General Body Meeting attended by above 500 delegates, held on October 17, 2007, at Sir Shanker Lal Auditorium, University of Delhi. Since then, the Constitution has remained without an amendment.
MSAD, as I have witnessed since the mid 1990s, has been a students’ voluntary organisation. MSAD is not in the payroll of any party or institution. It is not a frontal organisation of any bigger organisation. There is no higher authority above the executive committee to enforce regular check and disciplinary rules or penalty. No one can compel the Association or any member to work fulltime throughout their tenure. Meanwhile, since any student can contest election and become an executive member, there is no guarantee that all executive members are experienced workers and will work systematically and consistently. There is no guarantee that all members will fully commit their time and resource for the Association. The Association is not a professional NGO with professional hierarchy or chain of command. The past history shows that MSAD is predominantly a loose democratic platform mostly run by a team of unprofessional, untrained, and undisciplined student volunteers using their precious spare time for consensus programmes. Therefore, the “moving average convergence divergence” of the last 25 years’ activities illustrates MSAD’s overall performance oscillates between up and down trends. The oscillation is the result of fluctuations in the numerical composition of different executive teams, organisational strength, annual programmes or activities, transparency, accountability, support, and participation. An annual up or down trend within a particular tenure depends on the strength of the corresponding executive committee and people behind them.
In 25 years, I have witnessed several tenures moving downtrend. I observe that downtrends occurred as a result of various reasons such as vacancy of executive posts, resignation, inactivity, internal strife, external pressure, negative circumstances, etc. When a downtrend reached certain lower limit of dysfunctional, volunteers who wished to see MSAD’s uptrend intervened to correct it. Correction involved efforts by volunteers to push up MSAD by directly supporting executive committee. Such situations happened many times in MSAD. There were also worse extreme situations of downward slippages. It occurred when the Association became almost dysfunctional without an executive team worthy of supporting. Such situations occurred in 1998, 2004, and 2007. In each such situations a rejuvenation committee was created to rebuild MSAD. In other words, there was no dearth of volunteers who jumped in into the muddy water to rebuild MSAD without delay. Excerpt of my letter, dated July 28, 2007, addressed to a volunteer, reflects a worse situation and rejuvenating effort:
… It is difficult for me to pass a comment on who was responsible for the ongoing interregnum in the history of the Manipur Students’ Association Delhi. By the middle of 2006, it became apparent that the executives were divided into factions and there was no legitimate advisory board that would have intervened into the partisan politics. The interest of the executives in the functioning of the Association was dwindling and urgent need for admission of new volunteers have become apparent beyond doubt. The annual general election, usually held in Autumn, if held, would have attracted new volunteers and executives.
The extension of Sharmila’s anti AFSPA protest in Delhi from the first week of October  had downplayed the suggestion to hold an election in the Autumn. Despite of its internal disunity and weakness, MSAD took active part in the month-long protest against AFSPA in October and November 2007. Parallel to the protest movement, active volunteers who took active part in the movement, took up the initiative of amending the Constitution with new rules and regulations with the hope that MSAD would function in a proper channel in a consistent manner if structurally reorganised. The initiative, despite of the fact that it was upheld by everyone, was temporarily dropped for various reasons. By December, almost all the executives, except the general secretary have left the Association. The suggestion to hold an election was revived again in the first two months of 2007. However, the election scheduled for April 2007 was arbitrarily suspended at the last moment to the utter dismay of the Election Committee [There was alleged partisan politics by some members of the election committee in fielding candidates vis-à-vis a rival panel constituted by a group who attempted to usurp MSAD’s executive posts using muscle power and intimidation in the name of an armed organisation in Manipur. Following the intervention, the Election Committee resigned. The rival candidates/groups escaped responsibilities and some of them instantly left Delhi. Many feared to jump in to conduct election.]. On 18th June 2007 an Interim Working Body of MSAD took over the charge of the Association.
I would say that all of us who have stakes in MSAD are directly or indirectly responsible for being lull and passiveness when MSAD was troubled with internal strife and external intervention. I would, however, like to inform you that I have had several rounds of discussions with some of the individuals and the organisations who have played roles in the Association. Every one shares with me the same opinion on the questions of strengthening MSAD and a new take off based on transparency and collective understanding. As you are aware of, the Association stands at a juncture when its sympathisers remained restricted themselves to mere moral support and the few of us who are ready to carry the load are exhausted of financial resource and manpower. Coming to the conclusion, we need forward looking people who would devote time, energy, and money in the initial phase of the take off. Once it begins, i.e., the campaign process, we may draw the attention of several students and free them from widespread apprehensions and misunderstandings that are being circulated against MSAD. Unless we do that and show a principled stand on transparency, democracy, and collective decision making within MSAD we would be wrong to expect any co-operation from anyone. Unless one takes the responsibility of leading the initial take off, nothing positive could be expected from any circle. I am ready to sit, discuss, and co-operate with anyone who is ready to offer himself / herself for the initial take off.
My idea was “MSAD must progress” by defeating counter-productive sectarianism. Progression must involve: (a) consolidation of MSAD’s base across regions and communities among Manipur students in Delhi, (b) building cordial relation with other Northeast students’ organisations based in Delhi, and (c) development of internationalist outlook manifested in broad fraternal ties with other progressive organisations in India and beyond. To achieve it, I and like-minded colleagues, either in personal way or as a team, attempted series of approaches. One, we tried to change a predominant negative impression about MSAD as a Meetei centric Association run by a clique of Imphal youth from elite families. To overcome it, we, from time to time, initiated several trust building interactions with Kakching, Sekmai, Meetei-Pangal, and Tribal students. We wanted to make them feel MSAD as their organisation so that they work as MSAD’s volunteer. We respected their separate organisations, but asked them to have faith in building Manipur’s common agenda under MSAD’s banner. Gradually, over the years, we dismantled sectarian walls as many from Kakching, Sekmai, and Meetei-Pangal held MSAD’s key posts in different executive tenures. Unfortunately, the case was different for tribes. Those who were sympathetic to MSAD and held executive posts were discouraged by their tribes. But MSAD’s relation with tribal organisations was cordial as exemplified by exchange of gifts, invitation, and joint actions from time to time. Two, MSAD also maintained good relation with other Northeast student organisations based in Delhi. Series of joint actions were organised on common concerns. Three, MSAD also maintained good relation with many democratic or progressive forces in India through joint actions and exchange of solidarities. However, MSAD’s progression is not smoothly linear. It fluctuated in different tenures, though progressive outlook has been retained as individual choice by some volunteers.
Throughout the long journey of MSAD, I have witnessed students from different political, ideological, and experiential backgrounds contributing in different capacities as executive members, advisors, committee members, casual volunteers, and so on. I have seen diverse characters holding official posts. Overall, MSAD’s executive members in a span of 25 years are mixture of revolutionary, progressive, enterprising, pragmatic, transparent, regressive, sectarian, chauvinistic, corrupt, ultra-adventurists, idealists, and self-centred persons. Inasmuch as different characters exist so as diverse and contentious ideas are. In short, ideas occupy important places in MSAD. Ideas are reflected in discussions, debates, writings, and works. The predominant idea that everyone upheld has been the idea that students must constitute themselves into an organised body to safeguard and further their interests, strengthen and promote unity, integrity, and understanding, and enhance socio-cultural and educational development. There is no disagreement on it. But there are other ideas that were debated from time to time. Some of the ideas that I tried to promote were to: (a) uphold the principles of voluntary unionism, i.e., rights to self-determination of nations and nationalities; (b) spread awareness of civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights; (c) fight imperialism, colonialism, and reaction; (d) fight terrorism in any form by state and non-state forces; (e) fight any form of social discrimination, subjugation, exploitation, and assaults; (f) fight economic deprivation, exploitation, destruction, and underdevelopment, (g) defend Manipur’s territorial integrity and peaceful co-existence among communities, and (h) organise, educate, and lead youth through involving them in democratic activism as a way of life. I have tried to inculcate these ideas through MSAD’s platform. I have tried many times, consistently with full commitment. My long 25 years of association with MSAD, in one form or other was, therefore, a journey of struggle for ideas and activism. The struggle was within MSAD on the one hand and between MSAD and external forces as well. There is nothing to hide, but let the future remember that in this journey I have experienced trials and errors, temporary successes and long failures, hopes and fears, fames and threats, supporters and enemies, loyalists and deceivers, and many more. My long journey with MSAD, therefore, is also a story of memories. Some memories have faded away. Some are suppressed. Some are within me. Some, as I write, are printed for you!
25 years in MSAD is a long journey for one’s lifespan!
My love for MSAD will remain always!
October 10, 2022
The writer is an independent researcher, Ph. D. in History from the University of Delhi and a former fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla