Fundamentalism, fanaticism, etc were once political philosophies alien to Manipur. The state was once upon a not so distant time, known for it liberal approaches, if not in religion, at least in the public sphere of politics. That the Muslim community which constitutes barely seven percent of the state’s population was able to throw up a chief minister, that too from a regional party, leading a government as stable as any other, itself speaks volume of the general frame of mind then. Likewise, two Nagas have occupied the highest seat of the government, one of them becoming the longest serving chief minister and the other again a leader from a regional party. But in all likelihood, such a liberal culture is a thing of the past, ethnic relations having polarized and crystallized to such fearful extents, often bringing the various communities to the brink of open conflict with each other. It is more than likely, that those given to extremely conservative approach to politics are unaware they have crossed the boundary of the liberal principle and into fanaticism. This is one of the weaknesses of the subjective vision. Hence, there is the need every once in a while for all of us to do the litmus test on ourselves, and our outlooks. That is, if we agree there is no other salvaging value for our society than a good dose of liberalism and tolerance. In this light, Sir Winston Churchill’s witty and insightful definition of fanaticism should be helpful. He said “a fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.”
If a fanatic is indeed one who is incapable of changing his mind on any issue, coupled with a dogged insistence on the same issue remaining in the public forum, we do feel the image of our society at this juncture must come across as inclined to the fanatical. Very often it is essential for the truly introspective to turn the accusative finger at himself. Anybody who claims to be adherents of liberal values cannot forego this exercise, however painful it may sometimes get to be. Manipur has become a society that makes a lot of fanfare about public debates and discourses, but let us briefly consider as to how much perspective shifts these debates have ever been able to effect. The persistence of the same issues even after decades of their being put on the public “discursive” forums, are itself an indication that these “discourses” have had little effect by way of awakening inner rational honest dialogues, capable of making the individuals as well as the collectives they belong to, revise their stances or else become more accommodative of the diversity of perspectives that is the predicament of an ethnically diverse state like Manipur.
Discourses and dialogues must have problem solution as their ends, but this does not always seem to be the case in our situation. One the other hand, these have become just another method of campaigning and pushing opinions and political standpoints. On practically every public issue this is happening – ILP and its opposition, Tipaimukh Dam, Armed Forces Special Powers Act, multiplying insurrections, script revival, land reforms, Sadar Hillls, homeland, identity, notions of sovereignty, peace settlements etc. Come to think of it, on none of these issues, have the people made any headway despite all the public discourses and discussions. What meaning, under the circumstance, can we attribute to all of these then. Have they all been empty exercises, failing as they did to come up with any problem solving strategies to tackle or resolve any of our most vexing problems? The stiffening of stances will also have put an end to the liberalism of the past that ensured our brand of democracy steered clear from being reduced to just a number game played along ethnic lines. At this juncture, it is unlikely political lobbies and campaigns can ever as easily cross the ethnic divides. But it is not too late yet. All it takes is for all of us, especially our intelligentsia, to realize Manipur’s salvation lies in a fresh dose of rationalism and liberalism. That only a liberal spirit of accommodation, rather than selfish and mono-linear exclusive visions which have come to dominate our present, can ensure the emotional integrity of the land and its people. Cementing territorial integrity will be a logical and natural consequence of this condition.