The Sangai Festival: Time to plan for next interventions

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By Amar Yumnam

This year the Sangai Festival seems, as of the indications of the plans being portrayed now, would be different and big. It would be so because of the differential participation of the two most significant neighbouring countries, Myanmar and China, in the Festival consequent upon the personal involvement of the head of the people of Manipur. It is good. But what is more important for the people and land of Manipur is making the Festival impactful. We can it impactful and the desired benefits emerge from the Festival only when it is accompanied by post-festival engagements with the neighbouring countries based on well-structured policies. Here it must be clear to us that such policies in the present context cannot be based on the principle of “we will cross the bridge when it comes”, but rather fully anticipate the bridge and plan out in a perspective manner to cross the bridge to a brighter world. In the language of scientific thinking, we must evolve a paradigm a la Kuhn, and establish an ambition for enhanced search for truth.

Now this task for paradigm evolution and ambition building is not something which can be postponed to the future. Further it goes much beyond the sale of handloom products to the international visitors to the Festival. Now whenever such events are organised anywhere in the world, there are always two principles to be and being observed around the world. First, there is the need to create a kind of improved linkage between the domestic consumption sector and the domestic production sector. Such festivals should help in generating this kind of congruence within the region. Second, there should also be designs to gain ideas of the international picture and gain inroads into the international network of markets.

What I am trying to say is that the Sangai Festival should not be seen as one shot kind of event; it should be seen as an input, only a small input, to the larger design of the economy we wish to ultimately see emerging. All the festivals in Manipur so far have not move beyond the gathering of some stalls and some customers in a localised context for a few days. The time is gone for good for that kind of event; there is no need any more for additional editions of that kind of festival. Time is now for festivals which generate ideas and opportunities. Time is now for firing the imagination of people and facilitating the emergence of positive entrepreneurs. I emphasise the term positive entrepreneurs for the land and people of Manipur have had enough of hooligans in the guise of society-servants and entrepreneurs flourishing by doing business in socially damaging contraband goods. We must now endeavour individually and collectively to create an environment where entrepreneurs adding socially beneficial more production, new products and newer markets (domestic as well as international) are generated for the economy is established.

Now given the imperatives before us, the question arises to identify what are the issues where we need to apply our mind for the post-Festival world we visualise for us. First, we need to be alive to the reality of existence of border as an element in policy making here. Now this concept of border in the context of Manipur is in two senses. One, we are the border of India and link to South East Asia. Two, this leads to the fact that we have international borders as part of the territory of Manipur; though international relationship issues are to be handled mainly by the central government, the provincial interests can in no case be ignored. The moment we realise this and accept this as an input in our articulation, many issues would fall in place. The recent issues arising out of fencing in the border is not without causes. To begin with there are lots of discontinuities in our own border areas. Because of the absence of socio-economic transformation, the various ethnic groups’ articulations have remained as they are instead of getting evolved into shared economic interests. Further, because of the development discontinuities between the border areas on the other side and this side of ours, there has not emerged any shared objective. This is happening despite the presence of continuity in ethnicity and culture. The problem has been compounded by the following of policy by the Union Government, in so far as relationships with South East Asia are concerned, where there is duality, one for the rest of India and another for the region in the North East of the country. This heterogeneous policy approach has so far jeopardised the possibility of emergence of shared trans-border objectives, Look East Policy or otherwise.   

Second, the fundamentality of contemporary development is the need to recognise the role of ideas and technology as key elements in the development process, and involve in international economic relationships in a meaningful way. Readers may kindly recall here my reflection on the success of CCTea and SM Motors enterprises in Manipur.

Third, we need to be fully conversant with the recent industrialisation and development paths of the countries in South East and East Asia.

Given these core issues confronting us, we must evolve policies to address these in right earnest so that the enthusiasm and zeal out of the forthcoming Sangai Festival do not suffer natural decline. In fact, this is the only way to make the Festival impactful and make it a turning point for the land and people of Manipur. There is both necessity and urgency for evolving policies relating to the three core issues I have mentioned. First, we must evolve a border area policy comprising of the economic and social interventions to be put in place so that the ethnic discontinuities are replaced by shared economic interests. Second, the trans-border discontinuities should be immediately addressed so that the transient conflicts are resolved and security concerns no longer jeopardise the development opportunities. Third, If not thinking of exactly dovetailing into the successfully prominent model of industrialisation in South East and East Asia, at the least we need to be very clear of our objectives for converging
with the success on the other side of the border and chart our path in clear terms. 

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