Too Much Bad Press

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Yesterday in the Sunday edition of the widest circulated English daily in the country and arguably in the world as well, The Times of India, did a full-page feature on Manipur, calling it among others, a failed state, and possibly Independent India’s first to earn this status. A lot of others have used this label liberally in reference to the state, but coming at time such as now, it should have a special significance. This is not just about what the government bosses in New Delhi whose pleasure is vital for the health of the government in the state would think the affairs in the state when they see the story, but much more about what this kind of persistent negative publicity would do to the morale of the state and its people as a whole. All the pride that every chest in the state swell with at the news of our great achievers in the arts, sports, various intellectual fields and indeed heroic resistances to injustice put up by heroic people like Irom Sharmila, end up undone so thoroughly every time the state gets a public hammering with bad press earned by the performance of our leadership class of politicians and bureaucrats. The stigma of a rampantly corrupt state, non-performing and slothful bureaucracy, the tantrums of filthily rich progenies of government officials and ministers with their nouveau riche opulent lifestyles, the wayward killer policemen, the raging insurgency movements most of which have lost the plot in the new modern environment, the inability of the state’s political and intellectual leadership to come up with an imaginative resolution to this problem, and now its inability to even take care of a siege of the state for two and a half months and still counting, are nothing anybody in the state would be encouraged about. It is surprising that in the face of such allegations, those on whom the charges are levelled can walk with their heads up.

What is even more dangerous for Manipur is the ruling clique’s brazen disregard of public opinion even at being abused publicly with the meanest words. This absolute absence of moral shock at being pronounced guilty of heinous crimes is akin only to the psychological makeup of pathological killers and hardened criminals. But if they do not give two hoots about what reputed newspapers and televisions accuse them of, the shame and outrage that fail to register with them invariably pass on the public of Manipur. Imaging the silent trauma students from the state studying outside the state, as well as young professional seeking their careers in various metropolises of the country, would be going through at reading about their homes written in these manners in these newspapers. Since those accused would not challenge these reports and broadcasts, these young men and women too would have no other choice than to silently absorb the humiliation. Can children growing up with such psychology ever be able to be proud of themselves and their heritage? Consequently, can these impressionable minds growing up ashamed of their selves and their guardians, and being made to be always ultra sensitive of every talk of corruption even amongst peers in their school and colleges, ever have healthy approaches to life? There cannot be a worse crime committed to the future of Manipur than this by this generation, particularly the power wielders.

It has not happened in the past, so it will be unrealistic to expect it now, but we wish the government would challenge the accusations levelled at it and its functionaries by the newspaper named. This at least would put the ball back in play. Their silence now would mean a public and cowardly acceptance of guilt. If the charges were minor, and to that extent results of understandable shortcomings, the damage to public morale would have been manageable. But when a government is accused of rampant thievery of public exchequer, including executing Centrally sponsored schemes only on paper, it cannot simply remain silent. Even if the leaders privately know they are guilty of many of the charges, public decorum and protocol demand that they seek proofs from those making the allegations at the pain of facing legal defamation suits if they fail to comply. After all, they are public leaders and not private citizens and therefore their responsibility is to not just about saving their own skins but also of rescuing public reputation of the state and its people as a whole which they have so badly soiled.

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