By Deben Bachaspatimayum
(This article was erroeously credited to another auther in a previous issue. We are making amends by re-running it.)
The Sadar Hills District Demand Committee (SHDDC), UNC, the state Government of Manipur and the Union Government of India to jointly compensate 3,79,188 poor people (17.5% of Population BPL, 2004-05 Report) for the loss and hardships they have suffered over the last 3 months. SHDDC & Co and UNC & Co. for trampling over the right to life of poor people and putting to extreme hardships in managing square meals against sky rocketed price. The state and Union Govt for neglecting obligation towards the poor, and not responding to the situation for 3 months, causing extreme hardship without any relief or enforcing laws to stabilize the situation. The four parties together owe a sum of Rs 5700 Crores in compensation for the 3 months long economic blockade (1st Aug – 31st Oct, 2011) to people below poverty line in particular.
Pay the poor for deprivation or pay the state and own the National Highways
Each of the family below poverty line who earns a meagre wage of Rs 56 per day for survival of their families had to spend another Rs 56 per day to keep their family hearths burning for their children during the economic blockade when prices on essential commodities sky rocketed. Each of these families must get a sum of Rs 5040 for 90 days to stabilize their family economy and recover the loss of their small little savings. And if without any further considerations – how the economic blockade only hit the poor families and their children below their belt – UNC and Co continue clamp economic blockade on the NHs they must be prepared to compensate another Rs 3808 for 68 days economic blockade last year (Apri-Jun 2010). If they don’t see good reasons in this demand of the poor then they must fully pay the Union Government of India, the entire cost of construction and maintenance till date, of the National highways passing through their ancestral domain so they may absolutely own it and do anything they like at their own sweet wills without having to answer to any group or community in the neighbourhoods. As long as they don’t pay to the Union Govt they must pay to the poor who suffered without any reasons.
Declare: No national highway in Manipur or enforce laws
Though the Government at state and centre may not be held accountable and answerable to the people as majority do not get representation but the state by the constitution has obligatory responsibility to ensure and maintain law and order. National highway is maintained by National Highway Authority under a set of rules of law. The government with its huge companies of security forces deployed should only remained silent spectator when the national ways are blocked for any reasons by any group of community. Worse for them is to remain as affected party by the economic blockade. It does not behove well when ground troops on counter-insurgency duty are purchasing booze from local vendors for simple reason that supplies in the army canteens are stopped because of economic blockade. People don’t need any sympathy nor should they expect the same from the people. Simple fact remains. The army, paramilitary forces deployed all along National highways and over-sized law enforcement agencies in the state are useless in the face of economic blockade. The big question will continue gap for answer: why the central government is not providing security on national highways and ensuring normal supplies of essentials for the common people? The state will have to be held accountable and answer why do not enforce law on the national highways even when economic blockades affects large population, their livelihood, and right to education for children. If they, for genuine reasons unable to provide security the central government must declare that there is no national highways connecting Manipur. But until they do so they must own responsibility towards the poor people and compensate jointly with leaders of SHDDC and UNC & Co. to each family of the poor.
The issue is the Governance not the people
The fundamental flaw in the Indian democracy which spells out as a Government of the people; by the people and for the people is conspicuous and revealing in the multi-party electoral political system. This must be studied and understood well before blaming any group of community. It is easy arose the communal sentiments but difficult to calm down by reasons. Systems are hard to develop but run easily once appropriately in place by reasons. The result of the 9th Manipur Legislative Assembly election 2007 is a glaring example to take to understand the fundamental problems of governance for a population of diverse race, ethnic communities and cultures.
It is not the 90% turn out but only 37% that make the Government!
One cannot be complacent and fooling by the impressive turn out at the polling station during elections. What remains hidden behind the impressive 80-90% voters’ turn out, reported by state election commission in the 9th Assembly election in 2007 is the hollowness and skewed people’s representation in the highest decision-making body of the state – the Legislative Assembly. The 9th Manipur Legislative Assembly – elected representatives of 60 persons where voted by only 37% of the total electors’ population belonging to all communities above 18 years of age in the state of 21,66,788 (2001 Census). Yet, all the decisions taken by small group of elected representatives voted by minority affect the lives and socio-economic situation of average citizens on day to day basis. The larger majority have been systematically marginalized from the Governance and the poor more acutely and adversely for the last 3 decades of Indian democracy in Manipur. The poor do not belong to this state government and they will never be unless the system gets reformed or changed. As long as the existing electoral politics continue the government will continue to be in reality of the elite, for the elite and by the elite belonging to all communities. The elites have no caste and creed. The newly emerging elite society in the state belongs to political class, bureaucrats, contractors, technocrats, professionals and business community. Their interests and security is primary to all others. This is what has been observed over the years.
It is a rule by a small elite minority! Why bother the majority?
Consider the statistics of last poll results. Each constituency had an average of 5-6 candidates vying for the assembly seat both in the hills and valley. More than two candidates in a constituency only divide the electors’ population in a constituency into fragments of small minority groups of close kins, clans and friends voting their candidate not on any issue of party ideology. This fragmented electors’ population make the Indian democracy a virtual illusion by electing representatives of small close minority groups assuming mandate of the people from their respective assembly constituency. 60 candidates who entered and /or returned to the last 9th Legislative Assembly in the state was voted to the power by only 36-38% of the total electors in each of the assembly constituency. If there were any poor people who voted for a winning candidate they would have been richly rewarded over the last one decade by the present ruling government. Furthermore, they would, by now, be aiming for more wealth and assets only to ensure that the rule of their masters continue for the next term to register into the newly emerging elite club. It is this group of elite the leaders have to, if at all, target for and hold accountable to their issues not the larger majority people. It is clear. It is not the larger population who make the government.
Leaders are elected by one’s kith, clans and cronies not on public issues
The poor and the large majority of voters (62-64% of total electors) at an average have no representation in the government for all time. The position of the Opposition in the Manipur Assembly, for the last two terms, needs no further discussion. It is suffice to say they are simply an acutely marginalized minority in the legislative assembly among the elites in power. They have no say especially because they also do not represent basic issues of larger population in the first place. Secondly, they were elected by own kith and kin, clans and cronies. The majority of the population which comprise of 63% of the total electors (10,66,170) and plus another 21% of the total of underage children population (4,65,388) do not either belong to the government or has any representations. So, they are also not responsible for anything the government does to any community or group. Why should large majority population be responsible for the issues and bear the burden of economic blockade for months together? What is their fault if it is not because they belong to a particular community other than Naga or Kuki?
Issues are genuine but the methods are not just
The leaders of all civil society and frontal organizations, especially in Naga and Kuki communities will have to reflect on their strategies and actions of addressing their issues and answer many questions to the larger population who for no fault of theirs victimized and penalized. Why should the burden of month-long economic blockade be imposed over all the poor and majority? How do the leaders imposing economic blockade for months on NHs justify that their action which they suppose is targeted to the Government? How do they pray over plateful of rice and meat every meal while starving thousands by their own action? Even the worst communal Government in the state have not starved its people what moral ground and authority have leaders to drive thousands to brink starvation? Why interests in making hundreds of people spend sleepless nights in queues for a litre of petrol to send their children to school or to buy essentials for double price? Why should the leaderships deprive children of school, pregnant women emergency access to hospital and patients in emergency oxygen and life-saving drugs in the hospitals?
The Economic blockade is a war against the neighbours whose support may be needed
Despite having expressed displeasures over the continuing blockade and appeals to lift it what is intentions of further resolving to continue the blockade if it is not a war against a particular community or larger population? Other people may or may not subscribe to or share the views of Naga and Kukis leaderships and their action why do they to arouse animosity? On the contrary, one is rather shocked to hear the audacity of these leaders, proudly announcing “economic blockade is the best method for addressing issues” even after acknowledging the fact that such action has given extreme hardships to common people! Do they know that their action is violating other people’s right to life and right to culture? One would still be sympathetic to the cause of Naga and Kukis leadership, despite the hardships, if the issues were of starvation in the hills, instead. But when right to land is given priority over right to life, education and culture can there be any good reasons to remain silent spectator and accept situation of starvation? Economic blockade is a war against a population in the neighbourhood. What do these leaders actually working for: Governance and better administration or an exclusive ethnic nation-state in the 21st century?
Educated leaderships can do more
Finally, in sincere appreciations of all the educated leaderships that has emerged in all communities in Manipur, especially those representing social and political organizations of different ethnic communities including frontal organizations and their capabilities of influencing the socio-economic and political affairs in the state it behoves them well to focus their attentions to the systems of governance that has caused the situation and spare the people especially those in the neighbours and poor across communities. It must be remembered that it is the neighbours only who will rush to and extend a helping hand at the times of need. They are the only one who will tell your stories to the future generations across communities only if the leaderships rise above the communal and narrow worldviews. Indigenous community cannot choose neighbour especially when the neighbours are also indigenous people.
It will be in the best interests of SHDDC and Co, UNC and Co, State Government of Manipur and Union Government of India to respect the rights to life and livelihood of the poor as they have nothing to do with the issues of Sadar hills, Naga integration and territorial integrity. Stop victimizing and starving the poor and unrepresented majority. Priority for the poor is securing the next square meal and to do a work that pays them. Most of them will also simply accept any amount of money for voting in favour or against a particular candidate in the assembly election for a paltry sum of Rs 100-500/ not knowing that they are selling their rights for the next 5 years. But they do that for their immediate requirements. They are neither represented nor responsible for the issues. Spare them. If there is anything the leaders must focus their attention, at all, it is the fundamental flaws in the electoral political system of Indian democracy not the people. Reinventing the wheels is neither a creative solution to the problem of governance nor desirable for the large majority and poor who will anyway be marginalized. But it is in evolving the given system to suit the realities of ethnic diversities that is given.
Expect help from others if actions are self-respecting and others
Indian Democracy is only the largest in size and population but not the oldest that is deep-rooted in our society. There are lacunae, loopholes and loose ends everywhere. This is increasingly felt by educated citizenry across India. Despite deficiencies and disappointments Indian democracy is young and flexible to enough to bend and open to change to suit the self-determination needs of all indigenous communities and growth of peoplehood across indigenous communities it has either occupied or adopted or inherited from British India. Expect and hope that Indian democracy can evolve to be the finest democracy in the twenty first century by drawing resources from its largest body of ethnic people and cultures, and knowledge. It is in winning together peace and development sustains not by defeating the others. This is possible only when leadership lead the people towards democratization of traditional society, greater participation of all people and improving representations deficiencies. Not by rejecting and communalizing society and politics but by working together. There are concerned people, though less, across communities if you starve them they will die and nobody in the neighbourhood will be able to be helpful to address the issues.