By Amar Yumnam
We had reacted earlier that the faces in the new cabinet in the government after the elections in last February do arouse greater expectation, goodwill and trustworthiness in the resultant governance that would arise. This seems to have been proved right. While three young ministers have now attracted large public attention in the positive sense in a State long used to negative synergies of development administration, I would take up two areas of two of them as massively significant in the light of emerging international, national and regional development scenarios.
Highways and Education: I would consider the recent interest, enthusiasm and pronouncements in connection with the road infrastructure and the education sectors by the concerned Ministers as timely, imperative and consequential if taken to their logical conclusions. We have had government after government and ipso facto Minister after Minister in Manipur who were looking after the problems surrounding these two sectors. The land and her people have also experienced the quality of governance or rather the lack of it, and have also borne heavy costs because of it. We have never had during the last two decades or so a kind of sustained governance commitment to improving these two sectors. Any response to any problem in these two areas by the government has been at best cyclical or knee-jerk so far, but the two new Ministers do give a kind of fresh air. It is exactly here that the present two decision-leaders in these two sectors seem to be aiming for bringing about a kind of structural approach to the issues involved rather than being just cyclical; this is exactly the need of the hour as well.
It is now established that inequality is rising in India. It has risen in Manipur as well. The time is now for us to move beyond the utilitarian concept of just per capita income to a more ethical dimension of opportunities. This is urgent and important. The emerging Asian development initiatives do demand of us to be fully prepared so that we too participate and reap benefits of the unfolding scenario. While the resultant inequality may have something to do with the efforts an individual puts in for survival, there is another aspect of opportunity and circumstances where an individual can hardly do anything about. It is in these two areas where the state should play an important role in order to provide an atmosphere of equal opportunities and circumstances. This is exactly where I find the two new faces in the ministry of Ibobi very appealing.
We often say that the people just maintain calm even after months of blockade in the national highways connecting Manipur with the rest of India. We do not realise that the main explanation for this is to be found in the general well-being of Manipur having disconnected with what happens on the highways. In other words, we have observed no sign of Manipur’s growth coupling the country’s growth trajectory. We also complain of the fact that the highways are subject to repeated blockades. Now the explanation for this phenomenon is to be found in two realities. First, the Imphal city has failed to serve as the centre of attraction for employment and other opportunities. This being the case, those settling on the national highways do not incur any tangible cost while imposing the blockades while a deep political point is made. Secondly, it also speaks of the absence of development policy encompassing the entire Manipur. The attention the blockades have drawn is because of the adverse impact it has had on the vocal and articulate sections of the population rather than the adverse effects on the general populace.
Now that the new Minister looking after road linkages has shown needed interest on the condition of the highways, he must now prove that he means business and is looking for structural changes rather than just cyclical enthusiasm. As stated above, Manipur does not yet have a kind of development perspective encompassing the total geographical space. Now that the highways are going to witness improvement and Asian Highways too are emerging, the Minister should apply his mind on how to evolve a kind of network which leaves no village untouched by modern transport facilities. The highways, national and international, would have meaning only when the people in every corner of the land have a stake in them directly or indirectly. When this is ensured, blockades in the highways would be a thing of the past and naturally at that. People would now be more involved in undertaking new productive activities.
The Minister for education too has shown commitment and enthusiasm for bringing about change in this sector. The challenge before him is larger and responsibility bigger than under any other minister. While he has put a time frame of six months, we would be happy if he could put some reforms in place within this period. It is a sector where reforms take time to take effect and bear fruit. But we are encouraged that the minister is talking of structural changes rather than just cyclical outpours. Education in Manipur is today characterised by some very disturbing features. First, we know that there is a large exodus of both students and funds for school and college education. Secondly, the remaining education sector functioning in the State is very expensive, involving a high public expenditure without any commensurate return in terms of service. Third, the first two features generally cause a kind of unexplained remorse, reinforced by the prevailing political-economic scenario, as exemplified by the huge problem of drug addiction. Fourth, the poverty of performance in this sector has also led to the collapse of the collective vision and ethical attitude among the population. In these circumstances, the sector is in urgent need of purge for removing the influence of rogue elements, governance lethargy for reforms in this sector and lack of application of mind of the responsible persons in this sector. We need to make the government the chief, core and effective functionary in this sector.
The Challenge: The two ministers have already aroused the imagination of the people and have given hope for the emergence of new governance in Manipur. We understand that there would certainly be resistance from the forces which have taken advantage of the prevailing scenario. This would arise both from within the government and from without. But Manipur’s future as a land where hope and facilities are equalised and prepared for joining the rise of Asia depends on what happens in the two sectors of education and infrastructure linkages today.
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