Politics, Government and People: Linkage and disconnects in Manipur

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By Amar Yumnam

For politics, I would ask a member of our tribe, Paul Krugman. He now occupies the inimitable social and professional position once occupied by Milton Friedman. As a prominent member of the tribe, he won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2008. Besides his key position as a Professor at Princeton University, he is right now Centenary Professor at the London School of Economics as well. When he speaks and writes, the world listens. He says: “Politics isn`t about policy details, it`s about broad thrusts and whether people think you`re on their side”. Paul is talking of the politics to be played by the politicians in general and the politicians in power. When people feel that the politics being played are on their side, they do vote such politicians to power. When they feel that the politicians in power (read government) play politics favouring them, they do lend support to the initiatives of the former. This is where the million Manipuri question arises: Why is it that the government happens to be the least trusted organ of the state in Manipur? The people of all creeds belief the government to be not on their side, and the situation has reached such a stage that they are not even expecting it to be on their side. In fact, the people do not feel the presence of the government except in ill-mannered sirens and horns in crowded areas of valley, and not in their well-being in both mountains and valley. They all try for articulation and pursuit of limited group agenda instead of a society- and territory-wide agenda, and particularly in a context of government failure to project an encompassing pursuit.

This calls for a collective introspection on why such a situation of disconnect between politics and people, and governance and development prevails in Manipur. Here the recent book on Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson gives lots of food to think and apply contextually. These two, Daron is an Economist and James is a Political Scientist, are the authors who gave us six years back another great book on the Economic Origins of Democracy and Dictatorship. In the recent book, they argue that institutions matter and do make the difference. Inclusive institutions ensure sustained development while extractive institutions fail to carry any society forward. Looking at the institutional plurality and the governance failure to foster endogenous institutional evolution in Manipur, the arguments in the book are absolutely relevant. They write: “Nations fail today because their extractive economic institutions do not create the incentives needed for people to save, invest, and innovate. Extractive political institutions support these economic institutions by cementing the power of those who benefit from the extraction. Extractive economic and political institutions, though their details vary under different circumstances, are always at the root of failure.” They continue further: “What is common about the political revolutions that successfully paved the way for more inclusive  institutions …is that they succeeded in empowering a fairly broad cross-section of society. Pluralism, the cornerstone of inclusive political institutions, requires political power to be widely held in society, and starting from extractive institutions that vest power in a narrow elite, this requires a process of empowerment.” The years of democratic exercise in Manipur have failed miserably to take the land and the people towards a direction of inclusive political culture and shared development experience. Governance in the land does not occupy any space in the mind and the hearts of the governed.  The people in Manipur are yet to experience what Howard McIwain emphasised so wonderfully in 1940 as the fundamental needs for social advancement: “the legal limits to arbitrary power and a complete political responsibility of government to the governed.”  In such an atmosphere, the economic and political inequalities are bound to result in social instability, pluralistic tensions and non-emergence of development dynamics.

Whereas innovation wherein the old should undergo creative destruction and new constructive creations should continuously evolve for advancement, the picture in Manipur has been altogether of a different kind. As Daron and James write: “Sustained economic growth requires innovation, and innovation cannot be decoupled from creative destruction, which replaces the old with the new in the economic realm and also destabilizes established power relations in politics.” The demands for character and services in Manipur are not for positive qualities and qualifications. No society anywhere has ever experienced sustained development when there are no such inherent demands in the social functioning.

Here it is relevant to note that there has recently been many studies covering more than fifty countries and thousands of population on the relative character of people working in the public and the private sectors. Usual economic theory tells us the importance of mission preferences (altruism or otherwise) in determining the work and service performance of individuals and also of the sectors in which they join for their employment. The cross country studies have found that individuals with altruistic inclinations join the public sector. This attraction is particularly driven by the commitment of the public sector to such inclinations. Now let us look at the scenario in Manipur. Here there is no competitive and thriving private sector to provide livelihood opportunities to meaningful numbers of the population; the government is necessarily the employer and provider of livelihood opportunities. This is where the question arises as to why we encounter a kind of character in the individuals employed in the government sector in a way very contrary to the global picture. Why are we facing a phenomenon where the individuals with altruistic qualities have almost been completely crowded out by the individuals with mean characters? Is it a kind of composition wherein the entry of individuals with altruistic qualities is increasingly shunted out? We also need to enquire as to why the government itself is displaying a kind of mission preference very contrary to the international norm. Has there been a capture of the state by the individuals with non-altruistic mission preferences such that the government is forever disconnected from the population? Something like that seems to have happened in Manipur.

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