The kidnap and murder of a caretaker of the government’s water supply facilities at Irilbung and his son by gunmen belonging to a splinter militant group was despicable and the outrage of the Irilbung public over it is understandable though their mode of protest cannot be condoned. Indeed any right thinking person would empathise with their outrage. The extent to which inhumanity has been pushed to in the state in the past few decades of insurgency and counter-insurgency is appalling if not frightening. Cold blooded murders are today sought to be justified in the name of either the cause of so called revolutions or else fighting so called anti-nationals. The outcomes have been remarkably disconcerting by their similarity – unspeakable, mindless cruelty and violence. The victims have also been more often than not ordinary men and women caught in the crossfire. The latest of the growing number innocent victims are the father and son. A part of Manipur undoubtedly is descending into madness and a bigger part of it into despicable and mute cowardice for their inability to put down their feet and say enough is enough.
What are also conspicuously visible from the sorry episode are a complete disappearance of law and order, and its related agenda of rule by law. The first requires little elaboration. There isn’t a single day today with no reports of violence and intimidation, both by the law enforcers as much as by law breakers. Disruptive strikes and bandhs are an everyday phenomenon, and in total disregards of the government’s decrees against these, there does not seem to be anyone who gives two hoots before declaring one. Practically everybody today have no qualms about taking the law into their own hands. The second is about the government’s lack of will, inclination or imagination to evolve means to counter these through the application of the law. This becomes most prominent when situation demands its having to resort to using all the resources in its hands, including the right vested in the state to use legitimate and proportionate violence to prevent bigger damage to the interest of the public. The case of the recently concluded 121 days blockade of the state with the government doing precious little and seemingly content simply waiting and hoping the storm clouds would clear on its own is the loudest example.
Interestingly, the brutal murder of the father and son has demonstrated both these phenomena in one stroke. While the wanton kidnap and killing demonstrated the total failure of the law and order mechanism, the manner in which the Iribung public’s reaction of shutting down water supply scheme located in the area is simply being allowed to take its own course by the government shows its unwillingness to apply the principles of rule of law. The point is, if the first act is condemnable and at the same time shows the impotence of the government, the second is also equally outrageous. The public outrage is understandable but their demonstration of it is clearly an infringement of the law, yet the government does not have the moral courage or authority to act precisely by the application of the law so as to ensure this vital public service is not disrupted. Surely the government cannot be believing two wrongs can make a right.
The question as we see it is one of a depletion of moral authority of the government. If it had this, its assurance that the culprits of the crime would be brought to book should have been enough to pacify the public. But for this, it would have to mean what it says. It must be able to bring culprits in such crimes to book, or at least it must visibly make an earnest effort to do so. Past precedence being such, today if the government makes a promise it would fight these crimes, few would take it for its word. This is exactly what is happening at Irilbung. The public obviously do not trust the government would bring the case to a logical conclusion therefore they have resorted to the illegal means of sabotaging an important public service. The frustrating question in the minds of the public is imaginable. Is the government simply going to do nothing but watch the crisis to tire and fizzle out once again?