Old memories come flashing to 80-year old A.K. Krishnan when he tries to recall the past elections in Manipur. Born in 1932 in a Tamil family of Indian roots in Thanjavur and living in Myanmar, Mr Krishnan once had a roaring business as a travel agent based in Rangoon. After the erstwhile military junta nationalised businesses of the Indians, majority of them Tamils, in 1962, his battle for survival began. Unable to cope with the changed situation, he, along with his wife and children, boarded a ship arranged by the Indian government to bring back Indians facing hardship in Myanmar. The ship docked at Chennai port after five days.
“We were given food and shelter in a refugee camp at Sathanur Dam village in Vellore. After staying in the refugee camp for two months, I went to Madurai and started a business in electroplating. After it failed, I started for Moreh in 1967. I have been living here for the past 45 years,” Mr Krishnan tells The Hindu. This border town is 109km off Imphal and can be reached in about three and a half hours on the National Highway 39.
Every Tamil family settled on this border town in hilly Chandel district in Manipur has the same story to share. They take pride in converting the once nondescript and densely-forested border area into a border trade point between India and Myanmar using their old Myanmar connections. Most of these people, who fluently speak Manipuri and Myanmerse apart from their mother tongue, run petty business while a few are engaged in export and import through the land route between India and Myanmar.
“For the Tamil people of Moreh, the sixties, seventies, eighties and the early part of nineties was a Golden Age. We had very good trade and business across the border. With the decline in the formal border trade and commerce coupled with other factors, life here has become very tough. Chinese goods are now available in Myanmar, and the Myanmarese are no longer interested in buying Indian goods. Recurring blockades along NH 39 has added to the cost of Indian goods,” says Mr Krishnan's son K.B.S. Manian, who is the principal of Netaji Memorial English High School—set up in 1967 by the Tamil Sangam, an association of Tamils in Moreh.
The declining border trade through the Land Custom Station at Moreh and collection of ‘taxes' by insurgent outfits have forced many traders settled in this border town to return to their native places in South India in search of greener pastures. Although, according to the electoral roll, there are about 3,000 Tamils and other south Indian voters in this border town, many have already relocated to different places across India. Moreh town falls under 42-Tengnoupal assembly constituency.
Former trader N.S. Narayanan, who now teaches Tamil, says the actual number of Tamil and other south Indian voters living in Moreh now could be less than a thousand. A commerce graduate from Tamil Nadu, Mr Narayanan, who was born in Rangoon, was only four years old when his family returned from Burma in 1964 and stayed in Ramanathapuram district in Tamil Nadu for three years before shifting to Moreh in 1967.
Having been forced to live with a poor sense of security and a loss of business due to the decline in trade and commerce, the Tamils and other south Indian communities don't see much hope in the coming elections. “After undergoing so much of turmoil in our early lives, we want to live in Moreh peacefully without any interference. We vote in every election, but we do not involve ourselves in the politics here,” says Mr Manian.