So many people, particularly journalists who come to Manipur return with the impression that it is a failed state. Most of these assumptions are however made on their first encounters with the manner the government tackles the law and order situation in the state. There are many parallel governments running parallel administrations, and the government which should have been the sole authority on these matters, is unable to anything about it. For long, the liberal talk on evolving a solution to the problem of insurgency has been for the establishment to absorb or else co-opt the rebel cause, just as protest cultures against the establishment as those of the hippie movement of the 1960s and 1970s were effectively absorbed and moderated within the larger American culture, ultimately transforming it into yet another voice in the democratic debate. This argument seems to be turned on its head in Manipur today. Rather than the establishment absorbing the revolution and its cause after due moderation to broaden and enliven its own democratic governance mechanism, the anti-establishment movements are beginning to morph the government and its machineries into doing their biddings. The Babupara incident some years ago in which 12 militants were rounded up from the living quarters of ruling party legislators in this exclusive and high security ministerial colony, is just one of the most outrageous testimony
There are more to Manipur’s cup of woe which only those who live here and not occasional visitors will get to know. The sense of insecurity prevailing is all pervading. First, this uncertainty is on account of a perpetual feeling of threat to life and limbs, most immediately by the spree of bomb blasts at crowded market places. Anybody can become victim so senselessly. Then there are the diktats and decrees, not necessarily from underground organizations, but from perfectly legal civil bodies and students organizations. Sometimes these threats get very personal as so many people who happened to rub any of these groups the wrong way, wittingly or unwittingly, know. But even when there are no cognizable threat perceptions, the worry is of waning prospects for the younger generations to get good education or respectable living in their later life. Education is in a dismal state, government jobs are scarce and command astronomical prices in the corruption bazaar, and there are no private sector enterprises that can guarantee service conditions anywhere close to government jobs. Quality of life is on a continuous downslide too. Even in the capital Imphal, clouds of dust cover many of its major roads when it is dry and muddy potholes cover them when it is wet. Garbage dumps with flies swarming around them litter the roadsides, the traffic is not only getting congested but on an incremental basis, unruly, making it dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists… and the list can run on. The only real governmental interventions that the state occasionally gets to see come by way of inane appeals by leaders for the people to shun the path of violence or sermons on democratic values. When will these interventions ever go even a little beyond appeals, is anybody’s guess?
However, despite all the misery, despite all the maddening anxieties, purely from the grit that only direct stakeholders in the future of the place can have, we still would like to, and do still believe, all is not lost. The ember of creativity is still not totally extinguished. Self-esteem and pride, not necessarily egoistic always, still run deep in the veins and arteries of the place. So while the leadership, political and intellectual, have time and again failed the people, certain inherent characters continue to instil the confidence that given the right environment, the place can rise from the rubbles soon enough. As somebody so rightly pointed out, the place is good in sports, demonstrating a rare combine of aggression and discipline. Its culture, theatre, cinema and other performing arts are rich, exhibiting an inherent creativity. It cuisines are varied, and sometimes extremely nuanced, drawing out the mixed and fine flavours of bitter-sweet, sweet-sour, pungent-soothing etc, characterising an inner sense of balance. Therefore, beneath all the darkness, deep down, the core potential, although battered, remains alive. Bertolt Brecht’s answer to the question whether there will be songs in dark times is, yes, there will be songs, of dark times. In many ways, the Manipur case is a demonstration of this.