Devils and Holy Cows

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Devils and Holy Cows

By Angomcha Bimol Akoijam

For the state of affairs, or the mess to be precise, in Manipur, whom do we hold responsible? Our political class and its leadership are the obvious class of people that come to our mind. Perhaps, our criticisms of this class of people are justified. Besides, pointing accusing fingers at the power that be at New Delhi are also there. Of course, there are enough instances whereby people do swear and blame our naharols, the insurgents, for the same. Incidentally, such feelings and thoughts have been echoed largely in private domain in contrast to our public criticism of our political class and New Delhi. Perhaps, legitimate as such criticisms are, one is tempted to ask: Are they the only ‘devils’ in our eyes who have created and presided over the mess that Manipur has come to be? I suspect, not.

Indeed, there are the media, civil society groups, professional organizations, intellectuals, ‘prominent citizens’, middle class, educated youths and students and various other ‘interest’ groups. Are these categories of people mere holy cows and victims in the absurd theatre that Manipur has come to be? I suspect, however some want to present them as such, these categories of people have critical contributions in the making of Manipur as we know today.

Three Realms and Beyond

Governing our collective life has been what Montesquieu had described as ‘three estates of realms’, the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. Modern institutions have the check and balance mechanisms through the separation of power amongst these three realms. When the executive fails to carry out their responsibility, the legislature seeks to make it accountable (a function called the ‘legislative oversight function’) and when either of the two fail, there is the judiciary which intervenes. Public Interests Litigation (PIL) is a reminder of the same judicial function.

Beyond these three realms, there is the ‘fourth estate’, the media, which brings out the voices and concerns of the general populations and other interests groups. In a sense, it is a realm which seeks to generate and assert the ‘public’, in form, content and intent. Besides, there are other realms, such as civil society groups which also ensure that the public good is sought after and maintained.

These are basics of modern collective life. Normally, explaining this all over again might invite a Sherlock Holmes’ ‘Elementary, My Dear Watson’ kind of response. But in Manipur, it seems, it is no longer elementary. For, some of the basics of a civilize life have been so distorted that any attempt to look at the stake holders, the different realms, are made with resistance, if not outright hostility against any attempt to bring out the role of these different realms, particularly those that exist beyond the three realms.

To many, in fact, as long as one criticizes the political class, the insurgents and even New Delhi for the mess we are in today, it seems perfectly okay and acceptable. But if one dares to turn the critical gaze at the other realms of our society and polity — the intellectuals, the civil society groups, the media etc, one seems to encounter defensive responses, which, amongst others, include denials and or playing perfect victims, and even vicious attacks against those who seek to make these categories of people see their role in the making of what Manipur has become today.

Incidentally, it seems that our political class seems to show an ability to accept the criticisms, by their silences or meek attempt at explaining away the criticisms by diverting the issue or deflecting the responsibility. Even the insurgent groups do express once a while that ‘people have been alienated from the movement’ etc.

But will our media, intellectuals, civil society groups, prominent citizens, middle class professionals and other interests groups would be able to spell out their role and responsibility in the making of the present mess that we are in today? Or are they capable of accepting criticism? That’s a political and ethical question.

Thinking Institutionally and Taking Responsibility

There are ample examples that can show the distortions of different realms that have produced, nurtured and sustained the mess in the state. For instance, take the case of the dismal power situation in Manipur. The atrocious lack of electricity in the state remains for a decade now, spanning across two plan periods and numerous annual budgets being presented. It is an institutional failure. But what is the general understanding on the situation, across board? The wide-spread retorts that one gets to hear in private or public sphere have one common theme: people do not pay electricity charges/bills, that’s why we do not have power. That the ‘institution’ has failed to generate or collect the dues is not an issue. Or the question has never been on what has been done by the concern institutions to tide over the problem or what have been their plan projections of the demand and capacity of supply etc. No wonder, life becomes miserable as institutions are allowed to escape their responsibility.

On the other hand, with the obvious failure of the executive to ensure a modicum of adequate power in the state, did we see the legislature seeking to make the executive accountable for the failure? In short, has there been any debate on the issue whereby the members of the Assembly, taking reports and assessments by constitutional body like the CAG or their own assessments on the issue, tried to make the executive accountable and respond to the situation all these while? Incidentally, just as Delhi is not dark as Manipur is, we have seen the legislature has sought to make the executive responsible and accountable for their decisions and acts in the Parliament (including taking the CAG report as a basis on issues such as 2G scam or coalgate). And of course, ‘national media’ have also been buzzing with these ‘public debates’ on such issues of public importance.

Incidentally, just as the executive has failed to provide adequate electricity, and the legislature have also not done their expected role to ensure accountability on the issue in Manipur, one PIL was filed at the Guwahati High Court. And it’s been more than a year, and we are yet to see whether the Judiciary, the third realm, can make those institutions accountable so that we have a modicum of functioning institutions, rule of law, and a life with dignity and well-being in the state.

But what has been the role of the other sections of our society and polity on such a crucial issue? That’s anybody’s guess. However, there have been enough reports and talks of ‘development’ in the state. One wonders as to how one will to generate employment or establish industrial units (manufacturing and service) with this kind of power situation. But flyover and market buildings seem to have been flagged off as ‘signs’ of our ‘development’, ‘modernity’ and ‘progress’. And there has been talk of turning Manipur into a tourist paradise with international airport etc, without bothering to ensure the basic element as electricity in the state.

Of course, electricity is not the only one. There is, amongst other, the perennial armed insurgency. If one were to understand from some editorials in newspapers in Manipur, there has never been any serious attempt to address the issue by the successive governments or our political class. Of course, despite its undeniable presence with critical impacts on the life and times of the state for decades, denial and distortions of the same have been by and large the hallmark of the polity and outlook.

In short, what have been our responses to some of the critical issues that affect our collective life, including the kind of understanding on those issues? This question cannot be only for the political class but for the rest of the society as well. When the collective life is in such a critical mess, we cannot selectively make devils and holy cows out of our society and polity. It’s time to look at the role of the categories of people in which each one of us gets implicated.

That’s a way to regain self-respect, agency, responsibility and a better Manipur.

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