By Angomcha Bimol Akoijam
It is possible to change the state of affairs in Manipur. But who shall do the needful for that change? If we go by, as Marxists would say, a ‘concrete analysis of concrete condition’, we are bound to sense the crucial role that the members of the intelligentsia of the state must play. Correspondingly, and paradoxically too, it is the same class of people who have also significantly contributed to the creation and sustenance of the mess in the state. I shall come to this aspect later.
One enriching moment during my recent visit to Manipur has been the discussion that followed the release of The Rise of Middle Classes In Manipur, a volume edited by Prof. Gangmumei Kamei, at Manipur University last week which I had attended. During the deliberation, the role of middle class of Manipur, particularly those educated professionals such as academics, in bringing about a change for the better in Manipur was raised by a well-known member of the electronic media the state, Rupachandra Yumnam. I was struck by the spirited responses, some that speak of self-indictment or admission of guilt by academics, from some of the participants to this seemingly expected question.
Incidentally, in a public lecture some years back in Imphal, I had sought to draw the attention of the public and members of the intelligentsia in general towards the significance this class for any attempt at bringing about a change in the state of affairs in Manipur (First Arambam Somorendro Memorial Lecture, 2006). The responses both from the academics and activists circles then were less than enthusiastic while some did respond with palpable hostility towards the suggestion. The tone and tenor of the responses this time around are distinctively not defensive as it were some years back. Truly, times are changing in Manipur and we have reasons to be hopeful.
Class Interest and Educated Professionals
Incidentally, the concerns that underscored the spirited deliberation that followed the question on the role of middle class, particularly as educated professionals such as those academics in the University system, is the very basis of this column as it was laid out in its first edition (Intellectual Deficits and State of Affairs in Manipur). However, expecting this segment of the class to perform the expected role must be rooted in concrete understanding of their conducts and their class interests within the given political economy of the state and its historicity.
Just to establish continuity, in the first edition of this column wherein I had hinted at the challenges of invoking the said class to play a role in bringing about a change for the better in the state, allow me to quote from that write-up: “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.” This is to say that our educated middle class professionals are largely uncritical, self-serving and they end up either defending or allowing the status quo to continue. And this character has lots to do with their class interests that are, in turn, determined by the nature of (their location in) our political economy.
It is this class character rooted in the given political economy that makes them defensive and non-committal to efforts for social change, radical or otherwise, in the state.
Intellectuals and Political Class
The discussion on the role of professional educated middle reminds me of the Memorial lecture I had mentioned earlier. Here, I would like to liberally quote from the same in order to further the debate once more.
“In Manipur, I have come across a tendency amongst social scientists to begin their comments on the realities of their societies and the state with a defensive opening remark, “let me share some views from the academic vantage point” or let me share some academic views”…By saying that their views are “academic” or from an “academic vantage point”, do they mean to suggest that their views have nothing to do, or are incommensurate, with the reality of the state of affairs on which they are commenting? Or, does it reflect an inability or unwillingness to take responsibility for the implications of their comments and views? Perhaps, professional academics in Manipur need to seriously reflect on these questions for themselves and for Manipur and her people…
…if Manipur has been marked as a unique geo-political and cultural entity in this part of the globe, it has not been solely because of its political or military legacies; it is also critically because of its class of authors, thinkers and preceptors who have left us with ballads, songs, and various genres of literature along with the treatises on a range of issues, and cultural institutions in course of its history…if our society shows any signs of ill-health, our attention should also be focused on the health of our academia and the intellectual class as much as on our political class. In a sense, I would even place a higher responsibility on the shoulders of our academic community, particularly those working in autonomous institutions like the university system, and the intellectuals than on our political class …
By placing such a higher stake or responsibility on our academia and intellectuals, I am not absolving the responsibility of our political class, particularly the politicians. Neither am I devaluating or discarding the significance of the place and role of the political class or political institutions in our society, But rather it is to acknowledge and squarely face an unfortunate fact of our life—that is, the political class of Manipur is, willy-nilly, trapped or constrained by the existing “patron-client” (political-economic) structure between New Delhi and Imphal, and its concomitant ideological components. Whether one likes it or not, it has been a political-economic structure that produces our political class as a coterie of “middle-men”, whose power and legitimacy come primarily from their proximity, and capacity, to represent the interests of the political lordship at New Delhi rather than the people of the State whose will and wishes it is supposed to represent under the modern democratic polity…But at the same time, we have to remember that a people with an alienated political class, disconnected or uprooted from their own people, encourages despotic rule and, worse, it amounts to inviting subjugation of the people to forces from without.
…no society can live without a professional political class or political institutions; a healthy society requires a mature political class, well versed in the rules and nuances of the power game, including electoral politics, and capable of stewarding the society with the vision of statesmanship. …We need to produce and groom a mature political class for the survival and health of our polity and society…(and)…shape a political culture with a mature political class that its moorings firmly grounded on its own soil. Only then could we hope to ensure a real rule by our own political class, even if it operates within the constraints of an existing system, under the democratic imperative of the people whom it should not be able to displease. Such a political culture should enable us to distinguish this real rule from that of the rule by proxy with no local accountability, by forcing the latter to come out undisguised as it is and for what it is. Such a political culture can never flourish in a society with silent or defunct academic and intellectual classes.”