Federal future needed


From all that we have seen in the past one month of street agitations, it is obvious the state is on the verge of a dangerous precipice today. As demonstrated by the clashes at Moreh today, one small spark can ignite an inferno. Thankfully good senses prevailed this time, and although the clashes were ugly, the trouble was prevented from either persisting or spreading to cause more damages. What is also evident from the incident is, the mistrust between the communities is extreme. This is apparent even on internet discussion circles. People, even those who would be considered enlightened and therefore capable of detached assessment of the situation, were surprisingly so eager to presume guilt or innocence of the different parties in the clash depending on their own ethnic affiliations and personal biases, without even waiting to confirm facts on the ground. If the event was tragic, the sideshows on the internet were saddening. It is depressing too to realise how much most of us are prisoners of our own perspectives, often making us miss realities beyond individual narrow visions. There were of course very mature and moderating voices too, and all credits must go to them for preventing all the hatred generated from spreading.

What is also clear beyond doubt is the communities in Manipur have extreme distrust for each other. What one community does, the next one suspects therefore tacitly or openly they all end up opposing each other. This will take the place nowhere far. But mere sermons cannot be the remedy for this malaise. Invocation of past fraternal relation cannot be the salvation either although this has lessons to offer. The way forward then is to think in terms of a social architecture for the future. For a multi-community society like Manipur, this architecture would have to be in the nature of a federal power structure. All decisions that are billed to be in everybody`™s interest must have to be endorsed by a consensual voice of everybody first. Nobody must be taken for granted even for decisions which are quite obviously in everybody`™s interest. What must also be realised is, it is not so much history which binds the communities together, and even if this were so, history is a dynamic process and is constantly in a flux. It is given to changes. Even a nation is a daily plebiscite as Ernst Renan tells us. What on the other hand is the greater and more permanent binding sinew is geography. And certain geographies are integral and any attempt to separate them will result in conflict. The hill-valley bondage in Manipur is similarly placed. Each nourishes the other, but at another level, each also sees the other as a threat. Robert Kaplan has many different sketches of similar violent geographies from across the globe in his extremely readable book `Revenge of Geography`. Manipur`™s hills and valley may not like each other, but let it also be accepted that there is extreme conflict potential in severing the geographical bond between them.

Another point often missed, but must have to be taken note of is, in a multi-community society, elementary laws of arithmetic determine that 50 per cent is not necessarily the majority mark. It can be much smaller. The fallacy can come in another shape. In the current rage over a swelling `outsider` population for instance, the dreaded figure often cited as the number of `outsiders` is a third of state`™s population. But this `outsider` is not one bloc. If broken down to individual communities, the percentage each occupies would still be small. Many of them are already to a great extent indigenised. It would be prudent therefore not to treat them as a single bloc. In a related but not identical situation, there is a very interesting discussion on why the academic subject of sociology was never strong in British universities unlike in continental countries, in particular France. The explanation offered is, the British were able to so effectively translate their knowledge and intuition of anthropology into politics so effectively that they did not need sociology. Conversely, for the French, whose politics failed miserably, pushed out of the race for colonies in the industrial age by the British, sociology was an introspective reflection on how their politic went wrong. So when the British arrived in India, if they had also looked at India as one bloc, they may not have dared to dream of ever conquering it. But here is where their anthropology began working. They broke down the society into components and dealt with each component differently, ultimately conquering the entire sub-continent. They would for instance categorise people into martial and non-martial categories and think of different ways of dealing with either. Not in the sinister sense of conquest by divide and rule, but in working out harmonious community equations, such success stories must be recalled and emulated.

Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam


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