Editorial – No Lesson Learnt

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Unseasonal torrents earlier this week brought misfortunes for dishonest contractors and engineers. The newly inaugurated, grand Nupi Keithel complexes at Khwairamband bazaar began leaking at several places in the roofs, and a stretch of newly built retaining walls along the Nambul River collapsed under pressure of the rising water in the river. There were plenty of excuses offered, but nobody, not even those making the excuses, would honestly buy the argument. In this technological age, when tunnels are made and highways and rail lines built under the sea, no amount of explanation can be enough to convince anybody that leaking roofs of a public building is unavoidable or that no retaining wall of even a minor river like Nambul, however well built, can withstand water pressure. The usual resort can also be expected in these cases. There will be scapegoats discovered to sacrifice and all accountability will simply end there. Nobody else will be held responsible.

There is no point going into details as to how and why these serious flaws made their way into these constructions. The details of how government contracts are awarded and executed and what percentage of the funds earmarked actually go into the work and which pockets the rest land in, and in what proportions the loot is divided between the beneficiaries are well known today. The more important fact that emerges from these sorry episodes is, Manipur`™s elite still has not learnt to look beyond the self. This class remains as always, extremely narcissistic and by the same definition extremely short sighted. It is unlikely they do not know that corruption and injustice is the fuel for the chaos in our society. The skewed moral legitimacy in the eyes of the public that this chaotic order has gained is by default of this elite which has today made democracy into what Shelby Tucker calls in `Burma: Curse of Democracy`, a kleptocracy. The mindless violence in our society, including the new despicable culture of extortion, have been allowed to have some justification for if it is not extortion at gunpoint, it would be extortion in a more sophisticated and insidious way by the infamous contractor-bureaucrat-politician nexus.

What goes around comes around. The ruling elite of our society knows this. The more they steal from the public exchequer, the more mutant and incontrollable the violence in our society would become, for this violence then comes to be seen somewhat as poetic justice for the inequity that corruption continually generates in the society. Needless to say this social inequity is getting worse the day. While the ruling coterie and their cronies live in increasing opulence, the number of ordinary people without any viable income is literally exploding. The nature and structure of opportunities in the society also being such, the disempowered and their children are left with ever decreasing hope of breaking free of their misery, while the coterie have ensured every opportunity under the sun in the state is purchasable with their ill acquired lucre thus seeking to permanently crystallise the unjust social structure in which they and their children are at the top. How can such a society ever be free of violence? Since the disempowered have no other means to rise, they would naturally begin looking for means to short-circuit the unjust system. Often they would seek to acquire asymmetric power, and this is why there is a proliferation of armed extortionist organisations. Degraded in the process are also those genuinely looking for a revolution and fight under well-charted liberation ideologies. This is a pathetic picture of our society, and more than anybody else, it is the society`™s elite who have to be blamed. By the elite, we mean not just those in positions of power, but also those who stand outside and pretend to be outraged. For indeed, more often than not, these criticism from the sidelines are more in the nature of `sour grapes` and given a situation where the power handles come in the hands of these critics, the first thing they too would end up doing is precisely what the objects of their criticism were doing all the while. True everybody has a self interest, and given the opportunity, any ordinary man would try to garner as much for himself even if the act would deprive others of their shares. What however is vital today is the understanding of the need to moderate this self interest to transform it into what is referred to as `enlightened self interest`. The first lesson in this is the realisation that by not stealing from public accounts, the individual is helping himself by building a healthy violence free society for himself and his children as much for all else in the society.

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