By Amar Yumnam
Napoléon Bonaparte did not have the experience of contemporary Manipur when he said: “Nothing is more difficult . . . than to be able to decide.” The latest incident in Saikul of burning down of a village by people of a neighbouring village displays in full bloom the social character of Manipur today. Unlike Napoleon people have by now mastered the art and science of mob judgement and instant delivery of justice. During the last few years, we have been witness to many such incidents at intra village levels. But now the speed of progression has reached the stage of such delivery of judgement and justice at inter-village levels. Now we shiver thinking at what level this trajectory would stop. Would it ever reach the ultimate?
Certain facts about social character are established by the latest incident. First, it proves that there is a rising aversion to thinking in Manipur. There is widespread distaste for application of thinking response to and management of private and public affairs. Second, the rising adoption of collective violence testifies to the public belief of it as the best, surest and unaccounted achievement of an objective. Whatever the case, violence counts and it counts better when committed in a collective way. So the Napoleon worry has been taken care of by the mob deciding without thinking and adopting violence as unencumbered tool of enforcing the decision.
So when the whole world is looking towards Manipur today in the rising global awareness of the imperatives for enhanced connectivity between South Asia and South East Asia (the latest being the documents and proceedings of the recent Annual Meeting of the Asian Development Bank at Noida), the people of the land are busy in indulgences least related if any to the unfolding global scenario.
Now the collective mind may or may not appreciate the urgency and need for reversing the attitude of collective aversion to thinking while acting on any issue, the lessons of global development tell us that this is not a sustainable condition. The better it would be for Manipur the sooner the people go for a thinking approach to settlement of disputes and yearning for justice. It is exactly here that we need to examine why such a culture of mob adoption of violence as the mechanism for delivery of justice has risen to dominance in social behaviour. This would call for examination of the political economic trajectory of Manipur during the last more than half a century.
Democracy entails the necessity of emphasising the values of norms and respectability at the individual levels. Each single life would matter and the society would live up to the needs of social commitment for honouring and protecting each individual life. But democracy as practised and manifested in the case of Manipur during the last sixty odd years has been very far from this approach. Instead of a developmental approach to addressing the needs of a border region and the requisites for social transformation, the absolutely militaristic approach has caused the upheavals leading to the contemporary situation. Any democracy should create an atmosphere for an individual to indulge in romancing for life. But the case of Manipur has been one where the sole and absolute militaristic mechanism to take care of everything has led to repeated societal experiences wherein the individual does not count; any individual could be easily deprived of his/her life without the minimum level of accountability needed for democracy to flourish. When individuals have not been given the social and public space for functioning and romancing with life, and when anything untoward happening could be responded only by a collective voice, the collective becomes the only viable character and the individual disappears. In such a situation, thinking would necessarily be the casualty. Since the democratically rationale approach did not form the foundation of the state approach to the societal issues, the negative forces would naturally rise side-lining the thinking individuals. These negative elements are those who can easily thrive on the mob-frenzy. When such elements were fast emerging to the forefront in the 1980s and 1990s, the state should have responded with clarity and determination. But it did not happen. The governance failures on this count were two fold. The law and order enforcing agency at that period of time was dominated by flamboyant and absolutely corrupt functionaries. They were rather capitalising on the riding mob frenzy for their own personal gains but unfortunately long term social losses. The civil component of the governance was no better either. Instead of endeavouring to evolve a responsive and responsible governance mechanism, this segment too thrived in the prevailing social confusion. They mobilised, nurtured and colluded with a new group of social actors. This new group consisted of a set of contractors unfit for any social responsibility but widely adept in fishing in troubled waters. They created an atmosphere where they could indulge in rent seeking while at the same time allowing the powers that be to enrich themselves without much effort. The connivance of these two elements saw the mob frenzy as the easiest tool to mobilise and manipulate to portray themselves as social workers. What they have been indulging all along has been in social manipulation, elimination of any scope for thinking in social behaviour and allow as much intra-village tension so that the public would turn a blind eye to their acts of stealing. Education lost her values in the society.
The culmination of these trends in the social functioning of Manipur during the last quite a few decades is what has happened recently in Saikul. But it would be good if the collective and the individuals in Manipur realise without any loss of time that the situation needs correction. The hold of the contractors in the social, political and educational execution of functions should now be eliminated for the future of the society. The mob frenzy should be replaced by a thinking approach to social problems. The social ingenuity of Manipur is now under acid test.
(Amar Yumnam is the Director of Center for Manipur Studies and Prof. of Department of Economics, Manipur University)