By Angomcha Bimol Akoijam
Last week, the scientific world erupted with excitement with the discovery of a sub-atomic particle, which is possibly the long sought ‘Higgs Boson Particle’, also popularly known as the “God Particle’. It is a discovery that will have crucial bearing on our understanding of space, time and matter. In short, this discovery of the particle, which is believed to be a ‘building block’ that gives all matter in the universe size and shape, will enable the scientists to put the pieces together to understand ‘how the universe exists’. Just as one is drawn to this historic moment that marks the culmination of nearly half a century old search, the challenge of making a coherent sense of Manipur today with its myriads of issues and problems comes to mind.
Quite obviously, the state has been bogged down by all kinds of issues and problems for decades now. Lack of proper infrastructures such as decade old dismal power situation to dilapidated and non-existent roads, collapsing education system and massive migration of student population outside the state, high incidence and prevalence rates of HIV and drug addiction cases, rising violence and crimes against women and children, simmering inter-community tensions and conflicts, extrajudicial violence, crimes of extortions, dismal fiscal situation often reflected in inability to provide regular salaries to the government employees, rising unemployment and institutionalized and rampant corruption, and over and above all these, the decades old armed insurgencies in the state, Manipur is definitely far from being a ‘little paradise’.
Making sense of what, how and wherefores of this state of affairs in the state as coherently and meaningfully would require painstaking work. Like the scientists’ attempt to reconcile their understanding of the micro world of subatomic particles with those of macro world of the cosmos, such a work shall entail us to reconcile the myriads of issues that we confront as private citizens (as individuals) with those of the public (as collective). And such an effort must also be informed by an outlook that physicist Werner Heisenberg once famously puts it, ‘We have to remember that what we observe is not nature itself but nature exposed to our method of questioning’. In short, we must know how to raise informed or right kind of questions in order to put the pieces together for a coherent understanding of the mess we are in today. Only then, will we be able to achieve an informed understanding for actions which are coherent and visionary for a better present and futures.
In this regard, one can think of two issues that we need look at: the nature of political economy of the state and the generations of the citizens of Manipur.
Political Economy as a Framework
While critiquing Marx’s economic determinism, well known economist John Kenneth Galbraith nonetheless insisted that Marx was right insofar as the demise of the erstwhile Soviet Union had lots to do with the nature of its economy, particularly its production and distribution system. Besides, the class interests of various segment of the society, their worldviews, aspirations and conducts, are crucial in understanding their place and role in shaping a given polity or state of affairs of a place. It is here that we must acknowledge and assess the role of our ‘grant-in-aid’ economy and its political adjunct that shapes our political culture and the interests and aspirations of the citizens. The subservient and Delhi centric world views of our political leaderships that mark their conducts are critically related to the nature of this political economy. Only then will we be able to understand the propensity of our political class to rule the state with a preoccupation as to what New Delhi would say, if not surreptitiously administered the state on behalf of or under instruction from the power that be at New Delhi, to the general belief of the electorates that the party which is in power in New Delhi must also ‘rule’ at Imphal. Similarly, the general disinterested character that marks our professional middle class with respect to public issues and their tendency to shrink into their private interests are also guided by the fact that almost all of them are employees of the state whose economy depends largely on the political funding from New Delhi. Indeed, if we are to make sense of the responses of our intellectual academic class, including those in autonomous institutions, we are must take note of the effects of such a political economy. One must not forget that much of our class of nouveau riche (largely made up of government officials, political class and contractors) derive their class status by virtue of their proximity to or capacity to exploit, either legitimately or illegitimately, the wealth of the state. And aspirations of other classes which do not come under these groups of people, aspire for the status and their lifestyles.
Even though, our political culture and state affairs in the state have lots to do with the nature of our political economy, the visions and activities of the independent civil society groups, intellectuals and youths who are committed to change shall be crucial for a better Manipur.
Generations as ‘Building Blocks’
Another crucial issue that we must keep in mind is the location, character and responses or contributions of the generations of citizens in making what Manipur was, is today and will be in the future. We can think of broadly four sets of generations. The first one was those who were born in late 1890s and early 20th century. As they were born into and shaped by the transformations brought about by colonial modernity, they were the ones who laid the foundation of what we know as ‘modern Manipur’. Literary awakening of the 1920s to the socio-cultural and political ethos that marked Manipur in 1930s, 1940s and early 1950s were the fruits of their labour. The second generation is those who were born in 1930s, 1940s and early 1950s whose cultural and political works have critical bearing on the contemporary Manipur. This is the generation which confronted the consequences of the choices of the preceding generation and disillusionment of the postcolonial situation that Manipur finds itself in the 1960s and 1970s. It’s the foundation of a new ethos which is aptly conveyed by their song, ‘anouba jugki, anouba asha puduna laklo naharol, semlasi anouba sansar’. The youthfulness of the socio-cultural ethos that sings and celebrates ‘Sana leibak Manipur Kolloi nanggi Manipur’ is something that was picked up by the next generation who were born in 1960s and 1970s. In that, the socio-political ethos of the second and the third generations, notwithstanding the contestations, comes to be the mainstay that marks Manipur.
The post statehood (i.e., 1970s onwards), Manipur witnessed the expansion of state institutions and its economy as well as the creation of local elites who took over power from the bureaucrats who used to rule Manipur. The pressure and dynamics of these development and the political and moral corruptions that followed have been critical aspect of contemporary Manipur. The generations who grew up and absorbed as professionals and the excluded and struggling unemployed and under-employed citizens in this new scenario have children who are in their late teens and 20s today. This can be called the fourth generation who will shape Manipur in the days to come.
This fourth generation, having been born to the moral and political crises of their parents, and also exposed to the globalized cultures and the consumerist driven neo-liberal economy just as to the cynicism of a decadent Manipur presided by violence and ethos of the second and third generations which have become suspected, it is anybody’s guess as to what kind of Manipur it will be in the days to come.
But as Sir James Johnston once said, we have not heard the last of Manipur, centuries old life of a collective will continue to be asserted for a life with dignity and well-being. And the direction of that assertion will have lots to do with how we make sense of the building blocks of our life, the ‘God Particles’ of the little paradise in order to generate informed understanding and actions.