There is nothing black and white about life. If every dark cloud has to have a silver lining, it automatically implies that every silver lining must have a dark cloud. Manipur is probably spared of the dilemma, for as of today there is no doubt it is under a dark cloud. It can also only hope for the silver lining without having to go through the philosophical exercise of extrapolating whether the putative silver lining would again be dove-tailed by more dark clouds. Manipur’s dark clouds are not difficult to visualise. The complex and often antagonistic ethnic relationships in this multi-ethnic situation is just one. Even if a fatalistic approach were to be taken on the issue leading to the belief there can be no way to prevent the differences between the various ethnic groups, the question would remain as to how to reconcile this which the idea of fair play and justice. It is true that in the continued absence of the right kind of leadership, Manipur is likely to continue in the present state of chaos on the issue for a long time. On the other hand, the fact that in practically every field of economic activity there are people who not only want to be participants but also are committed to put in their best to be top performers is a clue as to how this problem can be put behind us. Unlike say in most other north eastern states, there practically are no areas of economic activities in which the Manipur society does not have skilled or semi-skilled participants. Given the kind of economic and political leadership, the economy of the place can and would probably be able to find its rightful place in the globalised economy.
The trouble has always been about stereotyping. Think Manipur or think north east, and the general mindset in the rest of India has been to think of exotic folk and tribal dances, or else of small, family level cottage handloom industries. This stereotypical image of the northeast into which Manipur has also been invariably cast, is one of the most difficult mental barriers that has to be broken. Come to think of it, apart from this mindset which has managed to limit the collective ambition of the place, there is nothing to prove that the state has lagged behind much in most of the primary fields of economic activities with the rest of India. In many fields, Manipur may not be shining as desired, but it is not really much below national average. Indeed, in the independent professions, Manipur has not lagged behind much. In the information industry, service sector, health and many other vital areas of social life, the state has not been doing too badly. The Manipur University has produced tall intellectual figures such as Oja Gangmumei Kamei, Prof Horam and others, whose names and intellectual reputations would measure up to any peer in the country and outside. Independent and autonomous professions such as medicine, engineering, journalism etc, continues to throw up brilliant talents, and so too in practically every area of urban and rural economic activity. You want to have your child’s uniform modified, or your favourite handbag repaired, or your sophisticated motor vehicle repaired, you probably would not have to look too far to find the right professional to do the needful. In other words, economic activity in Manipur is not a simple patron-client relationship between the state and its subjects. Although on an incremental basis, this relationship is being redefined in favour of those professions under the protection of the government, nobody can say that professions independent or autonomous of government patronage are failing to come of age. The vital question to determine the success of an economy, as to whether it would collapse in the absence of the government will not have a simple answer for Manipur. In fact, even in the virtual absence of the government all these years, the place although not prospering has not collapsed altogether.
This fact should both come as a hurdle and an opportunity for the leaders of the state. Here is an economic and social condition of a place which is in a bad shape but all the same one which is standing on a solid foundation of human resource potential which can be taken advantage of to reinvent the place. Manipur’s leadership hence have a much less onerous mission ahead, for they do not have to start from scratch, but only build on a rich tradition and foundation. This also implies that the leadership unable to make capital of what is essentially a priceless capital will stand the prospect of being condemned forever by history. On the other hand, this also means somebody with imagination who is able to truly identify the economic pulse of the place can claim the historical credit of taking the place to newer heights simply by acknowledging the place’s potential and building on it.