There is a lovely passage in James Joyce`s `Ulysses` which gives the readers a rather unusual insight into racism. Stephen Dedalus, a protagonist of the novel had just joined a school in his hometown Dublin as a young teacher, and was being teased by his older colleagues, most of whom English, during a casual impromptu meeting on campus. At some point, the conversation digresses to the Jewish problem, with Dedalus` older colleagues making irreverent jokes about the community. The young teacher, uneasy and somewhat piqued, excuses himself and leaves. As he walks away, a good natured colleague, in the same jovial tone of the conversation that had been ensuing, calls after Dedalus who halts and looks back. Did you know Ireland is the only country which never had a Jewish problem, he asks the young man, adding, `do you know why?` Impatient but curious, Dedalus awaits the answer. `Because Ireland never allowed the Jews to enter Ireland in the first place`, he said and laughed. This is a paraphrase from memory and it is unlikely to be accurate to details, but the point is, this impish joke contains a valuable insight. It somewhat says the same thing that the familiar old adage does: good fences make good neighbours. It would be good for those sceptical or cynical about the idea of introducing a regulatory mechanism for migrant inflow into Manipur to consider this thought. The ILPS demand does not have to be seen as born out of an essential racial antagonism per se, but as a measure to prevent descent into such a state in the future. If Manipur appears like an ethnic nightmare today, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh, with the ILPS is intact, are relatively tranquil. The condition in Nagaland which also has this system is far more complex, as we all know.
Nightmare indeed it has been for the past fortnight, ever since the unfortunate death of Sapam Robinhood, a 16 year old schoolboy on July 8, hit by a police tear gas shell on the face. Street clashes and police brutality became the order of the day until the government decided to take a step back and withdrew an earlier bill which those demanding the ILPS say was at best a placebo. No prizes for guessing that the situation can revert back to hell if things do not work out as planned or desired. What is also loudly evident is that civil society movements can be and has been powerful in Manipur. The rich fund of passion in the society is beyond question. While this is a priceless asset, in the absence of moderation, things can spin out of control into chaos and mayhem. A hint at what can happen under such a circumstance is there for everyone to see in a cell phone video which has gone viral on the internet, in which a burly moral policing Meitei woman bullies and brutally beats up an elderly Nepali woman for using alcohol, patronisingly citing and seeking sanctity of her action in the name of the ILPS agitation. Leaders of the movement must be wary of the fact that the passion on the streets being such, even democracy can transform into what Karl Popper referred to as ugly mobocracy.
This moderation must ideally come from the place`s intellectual elite. But unfortunately this is where the shadow has always fallen. If it is at all a consolation, there were other places in the world ill of the same malaise as W.B. Yeats noted of Ireland`s chaotic days, when it became a place `where the best lack all conviction/ and the worst are full of passionate intensity`. Curiously, in August of 2005, in an editorial titled `Silence of the Statesmen` evoked by a similar crisis in the state, the IFP had written how the quality of democracy in Manipur was the loser for the silence of the state`s statesmen. Others have also picked up and elaborated on the theme in their own writings in the years that followed. It is unfortunate that 11 years later, the vacuum still has not been filled adequately, and we are left complaining again the lack of interest of the national media in the ILPS issue, and therefore a shortfall of understanding of the issue by the larger Indian public as well as policymakers. Unlike in the national media, at home, there are plenty of discussions. But the two are understandably different. Here it is mostly about how the issue should be tackled. For the national media it is the macro picture of what and why the issue is hot. It is sad that the state`s intelligentsia, especially amongst its Diaspora, have not been able establish bridges with the media in their cities of residence to give their revolutionary thoughts the desired praxis, a term now suddenly in vogue. When it comes to the crux, witty stabs with two liner daggers or even tedious sermons on the social media cannot contribute much to the winds of change sweeping the land.
Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam