The Siege Within

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People who visit Manipur for the first time or after a long gap, have often remarked that their impression of the state is that it was strikingly similar to Cuba not for anything else than the atmosphere of a prolonged siege. Very much like the cities in Cuba, reeling under a extended, crippling economic embargo imposed on it at the behest of the United States, Imphal struck them as possessing the dusty, never renovated look, paints peeling off, broken unrepaired roads, unswept city centre etc, and generally a look of stagnation all around. The public buildings, the bridges, roads, except for a very few, all seem so listless and devoid of any conscious architectural quest for beauty and harmony. In these structures, there is absolutely no evidence of the artistic heritage which the place is richly endowed with. What exactly is wrong? Cuba’s siege mentality is a consequence of externally imposed political conditions, but it would be interesting for an insider to ask what exactly it is that is giving neutral observers the impression Manipur’s cities and towns are like Cuba’s? Is there really anything that has frozen the outlook of the place as a whole, making it unable to see or think outside the narrow confines of the immediate? The place’s concerns, its public debates, its public issues and in fact its horizon seem so limited that the abiding and widely held ambition today seems limited to merely a steady job that guarantees a livelihood. The atmosphere is dreary and even oppressive.

One of probably many reasons for this seems to be that the place’s power centre seems to have passed away from the hands of the government and has come to rest with practically anybody who cares to contest for it. From the proliferating number of militant groups, or the matching numbers of students’ organizations that spring up periodically, to the explosion of JACs or Joint Action Committees, in recent times, all have learnt, in the absence of any sense of governance, that they too can grab their share of State power and be direct influences on government policies. A social Pavlovian conditioning has resulted leading these organizations to resort to disruptive activities like bandhs, blockades and public curfews, crippling life and bringing our already bad economy to grinding halts all too often. Momentums of daily economic activities thus broken take a long time to come back on rail and pick up pace, but here, they seldom get the opportunity to do this, as another bandh or blockade would be upon them before they even get their breath back from the last one. Adding to this chaos outside is the lethargy within government offices. Late arrivals and early departures from office by lower rung bureaucracy, long tea breaks any time of the day, unannounced absence, can frustrate anybody who seeks passage of government files.

This sense of siege is a nuisance that has grown out of proportion, but there is yet another which is, in our opinion, more dangerous. This one has grown out of an ever depleting self esteem, making the society excessively defensive – making the individual shift blames for all his faults to others as a kind of ego defence at his abject inability to handle the consequences of these shortcomings. An inferiority complex, as we all know is often guised as a superiority complex, and any psychologist will tell us that the two are the two sides of the same coin. The “I’m okay you are not okay’ attitude is at face value an expression of superiority complex, but at its soul, it represents an attitudinal problem that betrays extremely low self esteem. The correct balance, as Thomas A Harris tells us, is of an attitude of “I’m okay, you’re okay”. It exudes a calm confidence, a drive to succeed, as well as the grace to acknowledge weaknesses and faults – a courage to pick oneself up everytime one falls and walk again. Our society has lost the ability to analyze its own weaknesses and shortcomings. That is why we are in the midst of a mindless culture of protest at each and everything, even the most trivial and inconsequential. We must free ourselves from this mindset and strive to begin thinking outside the box that we have chosen to confine ourselves in. This is the only way we can rescue ourselves from our problems.

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