Thinking Inside the Box and Institutionally

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Angomcha Bimol Akoijam

Learning modern expressions or hooking on to popular idioms is one thing and understanding their essence or locating the same in the concrete condition of one’s life is another. Take for instance, it is often said that we must think ‘outside the box’ in order to tackle or solve the myriads of problems/issues plaguing the state of Manipur today. This proposition seems to assume that people have actually deployed the known means to tackle the problems that mark our messy and miserable Manipur. The truth is, there is hardly any evidence to show that people have actually done that. We have learnt to live with inactions and a self-imposed moratorium that have produced our collective life as a normalized abnormality.

To think of it, we have lost the sense of shame. Instant gratification, self-indulgence and momentary illusions and pride of a minai (slave) who is close to master is that which defines, it seems, our collective persona. It doesn’t matter when a well-known media figure tweeted that his media house has to arrange power at Mary Kom’s home in Imphal as there is no electricity. Indeed, what have been our responses to certain key concerns such as armed conflict and energy (read, electricity), or for that matter issues such as dismal infrastructures, education, health systems etc in the state?

Indeed, what’s there ‘inside the box’ anyway vis-à-vis these issues?

Hellish Distortions of a “little Paradise”

Only the vested interests and fools will deny that there is armed conflict in the state. And that this is a central issue for us precisely because it has affected almost all walks of life in the state for a long time. And yet, has there been any response from the Government of India or the Manipur Government which is remotely resembled to those initiatives with respect to similar issues in Kashmir? Obviously there‘s none. All that one has seen so far is ignoring or distorting the issue and or pumping in money and deploying more and more armed forces of the state in Manipur. To say the least, these are approaches which have made institutions and life twisted and miserable in the state. And we have learnt to live with the subsequent normalized abnormality for years.

To think of it, the state has not acknowledged that there is ‘armed conflict’ (meaning, there is an armed confrontation between the organizations that deployed armed means while demanding ‘sovereignty’ for Manipur and the state which deploys its military and other armed forces to defend the territorial and ‘national’ integrity of the postcolonial Indian state) in Manipur. This position has been more or less complimented by people of the state with their self-denial and or ‘lynching mentality’ (sort of ‘naharols sing si huranba ngaktani, hatokadabani’). In fact, such self-denial and such consuming mentality have significantly contributed to failure to deal with their reality realistically.

Incidentally, just as more and more people come under the cliental structure or network of a state driven grant-in-aid economy, people don’t to throw away, leave along eliminate, the corrupt practices such as getting rich by swindling public money. All that they do is to partake and live with those practices or even secretly admire those who become rich and powerful by virtue of their access to the wealth and power of the state. In other words, they thrive and long for the moment to become a part of that class of beneficiary who swindle public money and get rich, albeit they are morally and mortally very angry with what has come to be called ‘extortions’.

Such is the twisted world that the political class in the state, who ‘rule’ over Manipur and ‘defend’ India on behalf of the power that be which is located outside the state, are often accused of their links with the ‘insurgents’ by the agencies of the state. And on the other hand, many who swear by ‘motherland’ seem to enjoy intimidating and killing the people on whose name they wage ‘armed movement’. It is a scenario that becomes tragically comical as many seem to readily call anybody who speaks out and take a stand on public issues as someone who is either trying for election to become a politician or someone who is connected with the insurgents.

While in the wretched of the earth called Manipur, such twisted minds rule the roost, in places like Kashmir people make serious attempts to address, however difficult and intractable it may look, the issues. Interestingly, even the Chief Minister of a mainstream political party in Jammu and Kashmir respond to the issue of Kashmir imbroglio by saying that pre-1953 status could form a basis to resolve the issue. To think of it, it seems ‘Kashmir’ is the original ‘paradise’, and Manipur is a ‘little paradise’ by default, if not a misnomer.

Dark Vision of an Enlighten Minds

World over, the issue of energy is at the root of any ‘development’ thinking. From the small scale to medium to large industrial units, one cannot think of running these production and service industries without electricity. And yet, with a ‘vision through the chinks’, the people of Manipur will open their sweet and beautiful (some would say, slit) eyes to the fullest when a market shed and misplaced flyover were inaugurated as their signs of ‘development’. It doesn’t matter, it seems, that Manipur is the only state in this country which runs its capital city of Imphal, leave alone remote corners of the state, with barely a few hours of electricity in a day, that too, not for a week or months or a year but for almost a decade now. And yet, they will talk endlessly about ‘development’ — ‘tourism industry’, ‘health tourism’, ‘international airport’ and ‘international trade’ etc.

Perhaps, they think that the people of Manipur are — as indeed some British authors did observe that the people of Manipur are — ‘ingenious’ and therefore they can run hotels, hospitals and airports with podons or candles. And they expect production and service units (say, from automobile workshops to photocopy machines, rice mills to saw mills, internet connectivity etc), which are critical to enhancing employment generation and productivity, and thereby development, can be effected without adequate electricity. Frankly, I suspect, some might call their thinking as the dark vision of the enlightened minds.

Indeed, if not for such visions, I suppose, there would have been public protests, massive public outcry against the deprivation of electricity and the political leadership would have also responded to the dismal issue of energy in the state long time back.

To think of it, CAG reports had rocked the Parliament on the 2G scam. But the CAG report on the state of power situation in Manipur will not rock the Manipur State Assembly. Neither the omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient civil society groups nor the educated middle class will seek the institutions and people who are responsible for the same, accountable for such a crucial issue. To think of it, in places like Delhi, lethargic executive was forced to act on the issue of terrible pollution by taking necessary actions on CNG some decades ago as a result of the pronouncement of the Judiciary (in response to a PIL) and the response of the fourth estate.

Incidentally, more than a year ago, a PIL on electricity issue in Manipur was filed in the Honorable Guwahati High Court, which seeks judicial intervention to make the executive (and hoping that the legislature, civil society and the media will take it up) accountable to the issue. That is seeking institutional rather than personalized response to a public concern on an issue as central as electricity. Perhaps, the fate of that PIL will be reflective of what Manipur is ultimately.

Thus, far more than thinking ‘out of box’ solution, one must first learn to think ‘within the box’ properly, that is, known institutional and normative means or mechanisms. After all, one needs the constructs in order to deconstruct the same. And seeking to restore institutions and making them functional and accountable must form the beginning of that and thinking practice.

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