By Amar Yumnam
In this column last week, I had sung a feeble song of the competitive spirit of the Meeteis and the relative sharpening of this in recent years vis-à-vis the other ethnic groups in Manipur. In this intervention, I would like to emphasise that, unfortunately for all of us, this phenomenon is not an unmixed one. The divide within the Meetei community is as well getting deeper and unhealthier by the day. This divide too is as unfortunate and dangerous as the widening one between the Meeteis and the rest.
The Meetei Divide: The community in the valley of Manipur is now increasingly divided between the elites and the downtrodden. The elites are composed of those who are in some form or the other wielding certain power, enjoying certain status and those who can successfully align with these for sucking blood out of the system. The downtrodden are all the rest who wield no power, enjoy no status and do not possess the knack of aligning with the powerful for personal aggrandisement. They are surviving somehow, but definitely not living their lives. They have no voice and cannot have a voice either despite being a majority in the society.
In the context of other societies, we do find and experience the powerful middle class who are sources of social articulation and enlivening the lived experience of people of all sections of the population. But in the Meetei community, it is as if we do not have any middle class. The middle class here are very elitist, and do behave and act like the barons. They hesitate and endeavour to distance themselves from any identification with the issue and people of the downtrodden.
The Behaviour: The elitist behaviour of the society is now fast catching up among the remaining ethnic communities of Manipur as well. We would not have any problems with this trend if the elites were inclusive in their character and endeavouring to uplift the downtrodden to their levels of existence. But this simply is absent in the context of Manipur. Not only are they exclusionary in their character, they make their own offspring too behave the same way. In other words, one distinguishing overall behaviour of the elites in Manipur has been the absence of a social outlook, failure to instil a social character among their offspring and thus uprooting all from the society in which they exist. This must be one of the reasons why powerful and influential families in Manipur do not stretch over generations. The elites in any period are absolutely transitory for they are not founded on the strength of a character.
Now we find the dominance in the larger social context of Manipur by behaviours symbolising communalism, corruption and criminality. The failure to establish a society-wide character across as well as within each community group is now costing the society heavily. The easiest card any elite in any community can play is the communal card. The mind is still fresh with the pride Manipuris had till about the mid-1980s about the complete absence of any semblance of communalism on this soil. The condition is now fully reversed and, even worse, we have now become shameless about it. In Manipur we now have quite a few who articulates everything along communal lines and thereby establish their identity. The safest way elites of Manipur variant should play is all the time articulating the communal interest. Now any communal interest has necessarily to be as against the interests of some other communities. This serves at least two purposes in favour of the elites in Manipur in whatever community they belong. First, it diverts the downtrodden from introspecting into the degenerating means of aggrandisement of the elites. Secondly, it helps in sustaining their dominance over the downtrodden in their own community.
But this communal card is only a cover for all their misdeeds. If one is truly communal, one should do anything for any other member of the community. While doing this, one should not be looking forward to returns. But this is not the case in Manipur. Anybody in some power or the other of any community would demand and accept bribes from the members of his own community before executing anything in favour of the latter. In other words, while communalism demands that corruption should not be a deciding factor in performing something favouring another member of the same community, the reality in Manipur is just the opposite. Communalism has been played out successfully by the elites in Manipur while also practising corruption in a neutral way.
All the elements of the behaviour of the elites in Manipur mentioned above are all criminal in nature. But we can also talk of other usually known criminal acts. We need to ponder deeply over the nature of the usual crimes of murder, rape and theft increasingly being encountered in Manipur. Whereas a deep rooted communalism would be characterised by committing such crimes over the members of other communities, in the case of Manipur such crimes are mostly intra-community.
In Fine: In fine, what we have in Manipur today is the sharp division between the elites and the unfortunate. This is accompanied by manifest behaviour of communalism, corruption and criminality. The most dangerous picture is the rising prevalence of this among the members of the political class as well as the bureaucracy. The political leaders are supposed to be giving us a larger vision of a higher order of existence, but they are indulging in anything other than that. The bureaucrats are supposed to have undergone a rigorous training of secularism, nation-building, gender-sensitivity and neutrality, but in practise they are moving farther away from these in Manipur.