In the aftermath of the sorry episode in which escorts of the Manipur Legislative Speaker, Th. Lokeshwor, beat up a sub-inspector of the police for not giving way to the VIPs convoy promptly enough, there is one more thing of importance made bare before the public: It is no longer possible to distinguish between spontaneous and stage-managed protests. While there were wide condemnations and adverse media coverage of the high-handedness of the VIP and his escorts, there were also protest pickets, or wakat mipham in colloquial lexicon, supporting the atrocious behaviour of the VIP and his men, although these were restricted to the Speaker`™s home constituency and the Assembly Secretariat. They were even demanding penalty for the victim for daring to stand against what they considered disrespect of VIP privilege. It is another matter that no one took them seriously, for what they were demanding was quite obviously against the pulse in the veins of practically every common man on the street these days. Although not many would have faced the same degree of atrocity as the unfortunate victim on that fateful evening, practically everybody would have experienced the indignity of being honked and sirened out of the way brutishly by these VIPs and their uncouth escorts.
These VIP convoys, although the chief minister, Okram Ibobi had once publicly pledged would prohibit them from taking shortcuts through the Kangla, still continue to do so. On second consideration, maybe this much should be allowed in view of the increasing and perennial traffic congestion on the main avenues that surround the Kangla, but many of these VIP convoys do not have humility and courtesy to do so silently. Even though within the Kangla there are only pedestrians who come to sightsee or pray, many of them still insist on using their beacon lights and sirens, as they zip by. Their eagerness to announce their presence is bewildering, and their act of doing so, a complete public nuisance. Probably they also know they are being a public nuisance, and one gets the feeling that like most spoilt brats, they enjoy the knowledge of their nuisance value. It is unimaginable this is happening when elsewhere in the developed world the effort is to scale down the pomp and fanfare of the State. Even in India, the arrival of Narendra Modi, and much more than him, Arvind Kejriwal, is giving new meaning to what VIP status should be.
Manipur however loves to be in its time warp and lives complacently by the values inherited from the colonial era where the colonial State towered over everybody and the plebeian public must by law be in mystified awe, if not in cold dread of all institutions and individuals that represented the State authority. The ideas of contempt of privileges reserved for these institutions, subjudice, sedition, etc are all about this. The legal understandings of these notions are however transforming, and sensibly too. Even in common usage, all the pompous honorific such as `Your Honour`, `Your Excellency`, `His Highness`, `Her Majesty` are all coming to be replaced by the more plebeian `Sir` and `Ma`™am` even in official communications. This equivalence brought about by an empowerment of the ordinary citizen, is one of the main features that distinguishes democracy. But in Manipur`™s time warp, there were protestors, outraged by the seeming disregard of `VIP Honour` by the man who did not side his car immediately, even if the traffic demanded he delayed doing this for a while so as to cause the least inconvenience to all on the road and to himself.
The blame for this arrested development of the mind in this regard however must go a lot deeper. Stage managing public protests have become a trend amongst our civil organisations, in the process robbing them of their values. Practically every day of the year, there are some group of women in some corner of the streets somewhere with a few placards announcing tired slogans, doing the biddings of some organisation or the other, supposedly protesting. And as in the case of the young shepherd of the school parable, who habitually played the prank of raising the `tiger` alarm and was ultimately killed by the tiger because nobody believed him when he screamed `tiger` when the animal actually appeared, nobody today pays any heed to these ghostly figures on street corners doing their wakat mipham. In Manipur`™s absurd theatre today, there is no longer any certain way of distinguishing spontaneous from fake responses of the people.
Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam