By Pradip Phanjoubam
In a few days, another year would have come to a close. The more important question for beleaguered Manipur is, would a new beginning have been ushered in with the start of a fresh year? Or would the same vested interests who today have a vicelike grip on the affairs of Manipur, ensure that the dreadful Limbo continues to determine and define life in the state.
For anybody who has lived in Manipur long enough, it is difficult not to be pessimistic, and in all likelihood, the status quo would not be broken on at least most of the fronts. Life in Manipur will continue to be measured from one bandh to another, one blockade to another. Corruption at practically every level of the official power hierarchy will continue to determine who gets what job and which government officer gets the preferred posting and promotions etc.
Just as the Niira Radia tapes revealed a deep-seated and unholy camaraderie between corporations, politicians and the media, Manipur’s version of such a nexus, the minister-bureaucrat-contractor triumvirate will continue to decide what percentage each should keep of the official booty from developmental funds. That is, whatever developmental fund is left untouched by various shades of armed extortionists posing, pretending, or self-appointing themselves to be the executive will of the people.
Indeed in a peculiar way, the adversarial positioning of the state and those avowedly fighting the state, share a deeply entrenched vested interest. Since both represent power and its equation in the state, there is little anybody else can do to effect a change in this structure. The revolution which once sought to dismantle this structure has been effectively absorbed gradually, although discreetly, into the structure itself. The adversaries have in an undeclared yet profound way, begun to complement each other. One cannot anymore prosper without the other.
Although the end or the beginning of a year is just an arbitrary man-made marker, there is no denying everybody has come to be conditioned into believing this point in the annual calendar is where the old is rung out and the new is rung in. There is also no denying that this psychological tuning is important, after all, the mind is what colours up and motivates our lives. In the few days ahead, before the old year ends and the new year begins, it is important for all to sit back and do a mental listing of what each of us as individuals and then what each of us as social beings want rung out. The important point is to see if there is a discrepancy between the two sets of desires – what we want for ourselves as individuals and what we want for the society.
The dysfunctional nature of aspirations in Manipur being such, it will not be a surprise at all if in many cases it is discovered that the popular vision of individual welfare and societal welfare are diametrically the opposite. The duality that exists between corruption and peace is an apt example. In what has become the universal pursuit today in the state, everybody is after easy money, right from those at the top of the hierarchy of the social ladder to those at the very bottom. In getting their hands at money, the outlook today is, the end justifies the means.
Therefore, from petty officials who take petty bribes to make files move from one desk to another, to the bosses who ultimately pass the content of these files who take percentage cuts of the monetary values promised by the files, everybody think their ways are legitimate. Petty traders to big time merchants do the same. Even the onlookers have come to buy this argument, and therefore would even admire lifestyles of the rich who live far beyond what their legitimate incomes would have afforded them.
What is not realised is, corruption is a zero sum game, and not a regenerative and creative one in which everybody can win together. Whatever money is pocketed by anybody through corruption, and luxury or vanity he buys with it, is also the value that would deplete from the public fund meant to ensure quality life for everybody. It is also a thumb rule that injustice and deprivation ultimately would come to be translated into violence. So when somebody who has aggrandised himself through corrupt and unfair means, wish the murderous turmoil in this land came to an end so that Manipur can become the paradise it was once fabled to be, let him also realise he is more responsible for what Manipur is today than anybody else.
If the state and its people are able to acknowledge this disparity between individual and societal concerns, there cannot be a more relevant resolve for the coming year than to attempt bridging this gulf. There cannot be a better and quicker route to peace for all than this either.
The most important resolution of our society for the coming year then should be first and foremost, find a way to curb corruption. Since when we talk of corruption we usually mean official corruption, and understandably too, for corruption by and large is about of misuse of public office and public exchequer, the task must to a great extent be the responsibility of those in power. So many people have said this, and the people in power must be in cognizance of this too, that the root cause of most of the vexed social problems in the state is official corruption.
Above everything else, even more than the creation of a widening disparity between the rich and poor, corruption has ensured the demise of all sense of justice. There would have been hardly any justification in anybody complaining somebody growing in stature because of merit, but all would be given to disillusionment and despair at consistently seeing corruption changing the rule of the game and relegating enterprise and merit into the background. Indeed, corruption has destroyed almost unrecognizably the old, universal faith that there is no substitute for honest hard work to success. The chaos all around in Manipur today is the manifestation of the despair and cynicism resulting from this destroyed faith in the fundamental orderliness and fairness of the system.
Corruption however is not solely about those in the government. It is also very much a mindset of the whole society. A culture of narcissism has descended on our society, and few ever see outside of their immediate interest. However, no individual exists in a vacuum and the overall welfare of the society is also ultimately very much in the interest of his own welfare. Neglecting this unwritten rule therefore can only be to the detriment of everybody. Manipur’s predicament is adequate proof of this. As the saying goes, when the tide rises, all the boats will rise, and by the same logic, without the tide rising, no individual boat can rise, no matter how privileged its occupants are. Everybody has to think of giving back something to the society for the social mechanism to always stir clear of malfunctions.
This also evokes the familiar thumb rule of the traffic. If everybody on the road were to drive as he thinks fit, there would be chaos and jams on the road, and nobody would be able to drive. Everybody therefore has to give up some freedom to drive as he pleases by observing traffic rules and regulation for everybody to benefit from the pool of freedom each sacrificed and contributed. In the end, we get only as much as we give the society.
Corruption has been the cause behind most of the problems faced by the state today. But sometimes, as in some of the most dreaded diseases, the prime example being HIV/AIDS, the causes as well as the symptoms can become equally life threatening. A patient can die of the infection, but he also can die of secondary infections to which his depleted immune system cannot offer resistance. So even if corruption, and therefore the denial of a just social order has been the cause of the social disorder in the state, today the social order too has become life threatening. This being the case, while the old strategy of tackling the cause must be pursued relentlessly for a long term solution to the problem, it has also now become essential to tackle the symptoms.
Let the fight against corruption continue, but Manipur’s immediate problem is also the absence of peace. This New Year, let us all then resolve to contribute to peace initiatives and a conclusion to all the conflicts in the state. In this too, it is not just the government, but every individual who must shoulder the responsibility.