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Titular King Faces Prospect of Severing Ties With His Traditional Support Base

Despite strong opposition from a number of powerful and influential civil society organisations and cultural bodies of Manipur, the titular king of Manipur Leishemba Sanajaoba is contesting for the lone Rajya Sabha seat of Manipur by accepting the offer of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as its nominee.

After Naga People’s Front (NPF) candidate Honreikhui Kashung withdrew his candidature for Manipur Rajya Sabha seat, the titular king is fighting against Indian National Congress (INC) candidate Tongbram Mangibabu for the poll scheduled on March 26, 2020.

Many civil society organisations and cultural bodies of Manipur urge Leishemba Sanajaoba to rethink and withdrew his candidature for the lone Rajya Sabha MP of Manipur. They demand Leishemba Sanajaoba to abdicate his throne if he is not able to withdraw.

United Peoples’ Front (UPF) and its allied CSOs including NIPCO, MAPI-Council, AMKIL, All Manipur Tami-Chingmi Apunba Nupi Lup, All Manipur Women Social Reformation & Development Samaj, Ereipak Enaat Chanura Loinasillon and Nongpok Leingak Apunba Nupi Lup, have demanded Leishemba Sanajaoba to abdicate his throne before he becomes an MP of the Rajya Sabha.

UPF president, Warepam Second as spokesperson of the group of the allied CSOs said that the people of Manipur and the CSOs are deeply hurt by the unexpected decision of Leishemba Sanajaoba to become a Rajya Sabha MP.

The people of Manipur both from the hills and the valley have been looking up to him and respecting him for safeguarding dignity of the palace even after Manipur merged into India on October 15, 1949. However, his decision to join Indian politics will belittle the palace and drastically impact on the traditional, social and cultural practices and values of Manipur.

They said that even if it is Leishemba Sanajaoba’s right under the Indian Constitution as a citizen to contest for the MP seat in the Rajya Sabha, the people of Manipur don’t want their king to join electoral politics because Leishemba Sanajaoba is not an ordinary Indian Citizen. Once he has joined Indian politics, his position as titular king and his duties as head of the state for cultural practices and rituals of different communities of Manipur and his values will be gone down deep into Indian politics and lost Manipur’s legacy.

There is no denying the fact that in independent sovereign, socialist and secular republic of India, there is no a position of king in any state of India. However, the existence of the palace, continuity of the throne and the presence of king make Manipur different from the rest of India. The titular king still has a significant role in many cultural activities of Manipur.

Another group of CSOs, the Coalition for Indigenous Rights Campaign (CIRCA), Manipur, has also demanded the king to abdicate his throne if he wants to go down his chosen path.
CIRCA Manipur president Somorendro Thokchom said that they were shocked by the drastic decision of titular king Leishemba Sanajaoba to contest the Rajya Sabha MP election. He further explained that CIRCA Manipur was set up in 2015 by like-minded organisations who wanted Manipur to return to its pre-merger political status. CIRCA Manipur sat down with Leishemba Sanajaoba and reached a mutual understanding regarding this objective. Since then, CIRCA Manipur has been collaborating with the king in various initiatives and functions. However, his decision to contest the Rajya Sabha MP election has not only created rifts in this relationship with CIRCA, Manipur but has also hurt the sentiments of the people.

CIRCA President Somorendro asserted, when Manipur became a part of India in 1949, it lost its political sovereignty. However, the presence of a king has signified that its cultural sovereignty is still intact. The continuity and existence of king is also a symbol to the world that Manipur was once a proud and independent kingdom.

However, Leishemba Sanajaoba’s decision to become an MP under the banner of the BJP is an indication that Manipur is now going to lose its cultural sovereignty as well. CIRCA, Manipur cannot help but believe that this is an attempt by the Government of India to get rid of Manipur’s cultural sovereignty for total dominance, Somorendro claimed.

He further said that in the eyes of CIRCA, the king and Leishemba Sanajaoba are two separate entities and explained that they worship a king in the highest regard as a king is a cultural, ritual and traditional institution which has survived through thousands of years while Sanajaoba is just one individual. Being a king means one has the people backing him as his subjects. But being an MP means he will become just another individual who will act according to the whims and fancies of BJP.

Somorendro reiterated that Leishemba Sanajaoba must step down from the throne if he wants to become an MP and also wishes to safeguard the cultural sovereignty and sentiments of people of Manipur.

Strong criticisms to the decision of the titular king to contest for the lone Rajya Sabha MP of Manipur seem not to cease.

Another group of cultural organisations including HERICOUN, UKAL and LSTK strongly condemn the decision of titular king of Manipur Leishemba Sanajaoba to contest the Rajya Sabha election on BJP ticket as reprehensible and unfortunate for the Manipuri society and urge to the titular king to withdraw his stand.

HERICOUN president Longjam Ratankumar as spokesperson of the group said that the king is not just another ordinary person and the royal palace has inseparable ties with the history, culture, religion and tradition of the state. It is indeed a living structure that keeps alive the thousands of years old civilisation of Manipur. So far, it has been playing the central role in upholding and promoting the indigenous religion, culture, and identity of the state.

Everybody knows how King Boddhachandra was forced to sign the Merger Agreement under duress and retired Indian home ministry official G K Pillai termed it as a grave mistake committed against Manipur while stressing the need for an apology to the people of Manipur by the Government of India. Till today, several experts are calling the merger agreement as a violation of rights of the people. Going to the upper house of the parliament by the titular king is a testimony of surrendering the long stand of opposing the historic blunder by the royal palace and an act of ratifying the merger agreement. As a head of cultural and religious affairs of the state, he should always choose the neutral position and should not act in favour of any community or religion or group of people or any political party. The titular king himself had expressed his view on neutrality.

However, joining BJP will make him member of a political party, which will degrade the neutrality of the royal palace. Joining politics will cast a dark shadow on the identity and credibility of the royal palace and it will be a loss for Manipur.

Ratankumar further said that a king is no king without his people and he should have opened up to his people and scholars of the royal palace before taking the decision. HERICOUN, UKAL and LSTK consider the decision of the titular as an unfortunate one that would be detrimental to the society.

As our king has joined Indian party politics, the sanctity of Sana Konung, the Royal Palace and its significance are diminished to a great extent that it seems irreparable in future, HERICOUN president Longjam Ratankumar said.

The powerful front of civil society organisations, United Committee Manipur (UCM) has labelled the political development as an attempt by the Government of India to absorb the king of Manipur into Indian electoral politics and dilute the issue of the merger of Manipur into India in 1949. UCM further clarified that it has no objection with Leishemba Sanajaoba as an individual entering into politics on his own accord, but demanded him to abdicate his throne if he wishes to do so.

UCM president Sunil Karam asserted that even if Manipur is no longer regarded as a princely State, the people have been looking upto Sanajaoba as their king and the king testifies that Manipur was once a free and independent State.

UCM will never accept him, who is the cultural head of Manipur, going to the Parliament while still on the throne. If he wants to go, he has to abdicate his throne, Sunil demanded.

Sunil further explained that BJP gave its ticket for the Rajya Sabha election to Sanajaoba as he is the king of Manipur and it is an attempt by Delhi to make it clear that the king has joined Indian politics and he no longer has any problems with the issue surrounding the merger of Manipur into India in 1949.

Sunil said that Leishemba Sanajaoba will no longer be a symbol for the people of Manipur if he joins Indian politics. This can even lead to cracks in the relation between the people of the hills and the valley in the future.

To strengthen the stand of UCM, its secretary general Kh Athouba added that in the past, the titular king had claimed that he did not imagine he would be approached by the BJP for nominating him as their candidate for the Rajya Sabha election.

Stressing on the seriousness of the present political development, Athouba reminded Leishemba Sanajaoba that it is the people who have been holding him up as their king all this time and it does not mean that he rules over all of them.

Leishemba Sanajaoba cannot go to the Parliament by compromising the more than 2000 years old history and culture of Manipur, he cautioned that UCM’s demand for the king to abdicate his throne if he wishes to join Indian politics, will also reverberate with the people.

The UCM secretary general further continued that the State Government is also at fault regarding the hasty decision to give the MP ticket to the king. He reminded that earlier, Manipur Legislative Assembly adopted a resolution and handed over 180 acres of land to Shree Shree Govindajee Temple Board, whose Chairman is Leishemba Sanajaoba. But today, the king has been sidelined and the Chief Minister himself has become the Chairman of the Shree Shree Govindajee Temple Board. The land belonging to the Board, generates around Rs 36 crore in revenue annually. The king was deprived of all these benefits and then ultimately baited with the MP ticket after he had suffered enough, Athouba alleged.

On the other hand, few organisations and bodies like All Zeliangrong Arts and Cultural Organisation (AZACO), The Khoirentak Khuman Village Authority, Tangkhul Naga Long, Tangkhul Chief Association appreciate and support the move of sending the titular king as Rajya Sabha MP of Manipur.

However, the list of civil society organisations and cultural bodies condemning the decision of titular king and urging him to abdicate the throne if he has to go the Upper House of Indian Parliament as the lone MP of Manipur is endless.

Eramdam Singpangbi Apunba Khutpu (ESAK), People’s United Youth Alliance (PUYA), League of Indigenous People’s Upliftment (LIPUL) and Iramdam Kanba Apunba Lup (IKAL); All Manipur Muslim Organisations’ Coordinating Committee (AMMOCOC), Committee of Civil Societies, Kangleipak (CCSK), MEELAL and Federation of Haomee are among the organisations which urge the titular king to reconsider his decision.

Another union of CSOs of Manipur, the Protection and Preservation Committee Manipur (PPCM) also urge the king to abdicate the throne if he has to be Rajya Sabha MP respecting BJP’s stand.

Alliance for Socialist Unity, Kangleipak (ASUK), an alliance of insurgent groups – Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL) and Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP), has said that it would be a right decision for titular king Leishemba Sanajaoba to surrender the royal title if overwhelmed by the ideology of RSS/BJP and decided to contest Rajya Sabha election.

The titular king can choose the path he desired just as King Edward VIII of the mighty British Empire did after surrendering his royal title for the sake of his beloved woman, the outfit said and appealed to Leishemba Sanajaoba not to hold the royal title and become MP at the same time.

Sharing outfit’s thought on nomination of Leishemba Sanajaoba as BJP’s candidate for the upcoming Rajya Sabha election for discussion and deliberation among public, an ASUK statement the main agenda of RSS/BJP in nominating the titular king as MP candidate is to remove the word ‘distinct’ from our distinct identity and to dilute the same and gradually assimilate into Mayang (Indian) culture and bring indigenous religion of Meetei/Meitei into the fold of Hindu religion. Nomination of titular king as MP candidate can simply be termed as a step to complete leftover of the political blunder of 1949 forever.

The Kangleipak Communist Party Military Council – KCP-MC (Pro) has called a 15-hour General Strike from 6am to 8 pm on March 21 condemning the decision of the BJP government to send the titular king as Rajya Sabha MP of Manipur terming it as an attempt to erase history of independent Manipur.

Armed insurgent group Naga Revolutionary Front (MNRF) has also urged the people of the state to boycott Leishemba Sanajaoba in response to his acceptance to join the Indian mainstream politics.

The criticisms and pressure on the titular king Leishemba Sanajaoba to abdicate the throne as he has not withdrawn his candidature are mounting. However, Leishemba Sanajaoba is firmed on his stand to be the lone Rajya Sabha MP of Manipur by respecting the offer of the ruling BJP and going ahead against the wish and desire of the people. He justifies his stand that he can do many development works for the welfare of the people of Manipur.

Now, the question crops up is – Whether the titular king Leishemba Sanajaoba will respect the voice of the people or try to win the hearts and minds of the people with the development funds of MP?

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