By Angomcha Bimol Akoijam
I suppose, except for those who are in a denial mode for obvious reasons, the state of affairs in Manipur has been bad, if not worse, for a long time. And any attempt to bring about a change for the better would entail proper understanding of the situation in the state. In other words, it requires some intellectual work or intellectual intervention. Expressions such as analysis, planning, vision document, public debates and so on allude to intellectual work. And insofar as life in the state has been bogged down by all round dismal condition, the contemporary state of affairs also point towards a critical failure on the part of those who do, or suppose to do, ‘intellectual work’.
It should, therefore, go without saying that just as our political class, including those in administration, and leaders of the voluntary organizations of civil society must be held accountable for the state of affairs, those who do intellectual work must also be equally held responsible for the same. And I suspect, such an admission is bound to ruffle the holier than thou self-image of those who are more than happy with their propensity of pointing accusing fingers at others, particularly towards the political class and the naharols (rebels), for the ills of contemporary Manipur. This does not, however, mean that all those who do intellectual work shall be offended by such an admission. For, I am aware of people who seek to fill in the gaps by carrying out their responsibility despite the challenges of the debilitating environment.
Rhetoric of Ground Reality as Anti-intellectual
There are various reasons for the abject failure of the intellectual class in Manipur. One crucial aspect that has significantly contributed to the said failure is the familiar anti-intellectual posture of brushing aside any attempt at analysis as ‘theoretical’. Such a posture is often backed up by rhetoric of ‘ground reality’ and ‘practical’. Incidentally, the ‘actions’ of those who take an anti-intellectual posture do have some implicit views and ideas or ‘implicit theories’ on the what, why and how of the state of affairs in the state. After all, a cursory conversation with any one of them on any of the issues will reveal that they do have some views on what, why and how of the issues. In short, they do have some ‘theories’ about the issue. In that, it is not a matter of an absence of a theory but that of competing theories. It is here, that we must ask: despite so many organizations and groups, over and above the agencies and institutions of the state, doing ‘actions’ for the betterment of the society, why is that Manipur is in such a terrible situation?
Given the state of affairs in Manipur, one can legitimately suspect that most of the actions must have been informed by some theories which are not sound or good. But the issue still remains as to why many would condemn intellectual inputs from professional academics and other intellectuals as ‘theoretical’ in the state. What does the refrain ‘ground reality’, something that is often thrown up while dismissing any analytical work, mean?
I suspect there are four possible meanings of this refrain ‘ground reality’. First, it could mean that there is a suspected disconnect between the analysis and the ‘facts’. Second, it could simply mean that one does not understand the language or vocabulary or the formal structure of the analysis. That is, it could be an indication of one’s paucity of understanding of a body of knowledge. Third, it could mean that one knows the analysis but one doesn’t want to face the responsibility which the knowing entails. In short, it is an alibi for inaction. Fourth, it could also mean that one sense that the analysis is knowable, which, in turn, could generate some fear due to the violent and oppressive situation and hence one dismisses the analysis. In other words, it is a defensive response of self-preservation.
Insofar as a sound analysis is presumably characterized by a coherence of ideas and facts (or as Kurt Lewin famously indicated when he insisted that “there is nothing so practical as a good theory”), the first meaning of ‘ground reality’ cannot be an anti-intellectual rhetoric. For, discussing ‘ground reality’ is to evaluate and sharpen the intellectual effort, not dismissing it. The last three meanings of the expression ‘ground reality’ can be convenient rhetoric to de-legitimize intellectual work.
Derivative Knowledge and Class Interests
The above anti-intellectual posture is not the only reason that has contributed to the failure of intellectual work. There are two aspects that contribute to the failure of intellectual intervention vis-à-vis the state of affairs in the state. One is to do with certain kind of knowledge and another is rooted in the class interest of the political economy of the state. Derivative categories and perspectives which do not speak to and of the realities of the situation could not only render the knowledge irrelevant but also produce alienated and or disoriented intellectual response to the state of affairs. A product of a higher education wherein one becomes the slave rather than the master of the concepts, categories, perspectives and theories can produce such a spectre. Without a capacity to make sense of the moorings of the intellectual categories and make those have a conversation with one’s own realities can contribute to the process of making intellectual intervention irrelevant.
The other issue has to do with the class interests of those who are supposed to do intellectual work. Given that we have a political economy which is driven by not only the state but also a grant-in-aid, much of the middle class professionals and members of the intelligentsia are not given to critical engagement with political authority that presides over the state of affairs.
It goes without saying that until and unless we honestly confront the above issues, the prospects of a change in the contemporary state of affairs in Manipur shall remain a distant dream. I have been contributing regularly to the print media in Manipur as a crucial site of public sphere to generate public opinions. Now, Imphal Free Press has given me an opportunity to write a regular column every Wednesday starting from today. And I hope to share intellectual work to incite and excite and provoke and promote ideas on issues that are of public concerns in the days to come, all from an intimate distance.
(The writer is an Associate Professor, Centre for the Study of Social Systems, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University-New Delhi)