By Amar Yumnam
We need not master the great Einstein’s theory of relativity to establish that the deteriorating condition Manipur now finds herself has to have roots in our cumulative actions over the years. When I say cumulative actions, I include not only the aggregate and prominent behaviour of the people but also the non-actions of provincial and federal governments.
Average Life: We have just had a very significant political economic debate over the definition of poverty line in India. Well, this was a debate mostly relevant to the centre of India and of little consequence to the periphery like Manipur. If relevant at all to Manipur, it is only to the extent of being worse here. We know for sure that prices of items of general consumption are higher in Manipur than anywhere in the Gangetic plain, the Dravidian plateau, the Indus Valley and the Western Ghats.
The situation is unfortunately getting only worsen in Manipur. In the accompanying table we give the Per Capita Net State Domestic Product of Manipur as a percentage of the All India Per Capita Net National Product during the last few years for which we have firm data.
The figures in the table unmistakably reveal the uninterrupted decline in the relative position of Manipur. In other words, Manipur started the twenty-first century with a level of well-living a little below the Indian average, but in less than a decade it went down to about only half of it.
Here we must remember that General Strikes, General Blockades, Economic Blockades and the like accompanied by more or less absence of governance have been the norm of Manipur during the last few years. Given the way we have experienced blockades stretching over months during the last two to three years, we should not be surprised when we find our general living standard much below the half-way mark of the national average the moment the data of these very recent years emerge.
Riskier Trends: This relative decline of the position of Manipur is bad in itself, coupling as it is the unfavourable initial condition to begin with. But the scenario which worries a social scientist is the underlying social trend consequent upon this relative decline and the political disturbances during recent years. I would speak of two such trends as particularly disturbing. One trend relates to the relative effects on different socio-economic classes and another to the differing impacts on the communities in Manipur.
The first negative impact of the recent political articulations and the relative worsening of the economic scenario is the widening gap between the better-off and the worse-off sections of the population. The unfolding economic dynamics has worked in favour of the people with a regular source of income and those who can exploit the prevailing atmosphere for rent-seeking and personal aggrandisement vis-à-vis the common people. The marginalisation of the poorer sections of the population has been so complete that their spine has been fully broken; the poor feel the pain but they cannot make their pain even an election issue, whether in the valley or in the mountains of Manipur. This definitely is not a socially sustainable situation, but one which can get manifested in any inconceivable instability sooner or later.
This however is not the end. There is another social trend getting manifested along community lines increasingly over the last one and a half decades. The political articulations for the sake of political ends have definitely taken tolls on the capability of the people in general in different aspects of the development process. This is visible particularly among the ethnic groups in the mountains. We had earlier one major community in the mountains the members of which were competitive academically and intellectually and were on the verge of the next stage of being competitive on the technological front as well to the Meeteis. But the excessive politicisation during the last few years has seen the disappearance of the earlier competitiveness strengths in this community instead of moving into the next phase of the transition process, and displacement from their position by another tribal group.
The Meeteis have turned out by default to be benefitting out of the various political articulations and the excessive politicisation processes and the accompanying disturbances of blockades. Now the academic, intellectual and technological gap between the Meeteis and the rest of the ethnic groups in Manipur is wider than it was a decade or so back. It is as if the various socio-politico-economic disturbances have only honed the commitment and competitiveness of the Meeties, who are now concerned as a community more with joining the global race forgoing ahead on the bases of skills rather than being bogged down by the contemporary political cross-currents. This again is not a socially sustainable situation in a heterogeneous society like Manipur’s. Any meaningful development process in the land should necessarily be covering all the different ethnic groups, and narrow the widening academic, intellectual as well as technological gap between the Meeteis and the other ethnic groups. To this end all the ethnic groups should be turning their attention to in order to avoid the approaching social catastrophe.