It is good news that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi would be visiting Manipur on December 3. Imphal is being done up ahead of their arrival. Besides the wooden railings constructed on the sides of the roads the visiting leaders would be travelling on, the medians are being freshly painted and potholes filled. Something else Imphal which has not seen for the past many decades is becoming a familiar sight too – these roads are actually being swept daily. For the duration of the visit we can also imagine power supply suddenly becoming regular in the Imphal area, traffic made orderly, smartly uniformed traffic policemen and women out on the streets to monitor vehicle movements… We will also not be surprised at all if thousands of green houseplants and flowers in neat flower vases appear overnight along the planter spaces on the medians of relevant roads, only to disappear no sooner than the VVIPs leave the state. This can hardly be referred to as a facelift for Imphal, for the term facelift has a sense of a degree of permanence about it. No this is instead a whitewash Imphal is receiving. The muck below the thin veneer of cheap lime paint would be remaining as they always have been, to ultimately show up again once the veneer wears off.
It is perfectly in place to do a house cleaning to welcome guests, much more so if the guest is somebody who holds the number one job in the country and another who has been listed among the most powerful women in the entire world. This is a way showing respect. Any state would have done it. However, in other states it would have been genuinely about cleaning up the place so that the VVIP guests feel at home and welcomed. The entire operation would have been merely about doing a little extra of what has always been a matter of routine governmental exercise. In the case of Manipur, over and above all this, the other apparent motive is to cover up evidences of lack of governance. Here potholes are allowed to remain and not mended before until expand uncontrolled to sometimes leave entire stretches of roads in total ruins. Likewise, school children learn of very obvious and universal road signs such as the “Zebra Crossing” in school text books only for they never get to see them in their own living environments of their cities and towns. The list of such glaring lacunas would be endless, and since these have become so widespread, everybody has learnt not to miss them, and in fact come to consider these absences as normal.
While as we said the current Imphal cleaning up activities are perfectly in place and necessary, we do hope this was accompanied by a little more open hearted honesty. We wish the visiting dignitaries were also taken along some of the eroding and crumbling, but all the same extremely important roads in Imphal. As for instance, it would have been in perfect honesty to take the VVIPs to the Lamphel area along the RIMS road. Nobody in the Imphal or the state would disagree that this is one of the most important roads in the city for along it are some of the most important health facilities, including the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences, RIMS hospital. Everyday thousands rush along it, many of them in desperate emergencies of life and death situations, yet this road has been in totally atrophy for the past many years. They could have also been taken for a short ride along National Highway-53, the second lifeline of the state so that they can have a sense of what Manipur is living through. This is not about inviting humiliating scorns, but of letting the visiting VVIPs get to have a feel of life in the state and what a harsh reality this condition is. But we know we are wasting our words. In all likelihood, the visiting leaders would return to New Delhi impressed by all that they have seen, eager to agree this state is indeed a “little paradise” where the “gods took to dancing”. What probably would not have crossed their minds while the image of Manipur lasts for those few valuable hours in their memories before they fade amidst all their other engaging concerns, is that though they were in Manipur, they may not have seen Manipur at all.