State of Fringe States

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The extent to which corruption has penetrated life in Manipur is depressing, to say the least. Election times bring out this aspect of the state most vividly, and this is relevant considering the election to the State Assembly is less than a year away. The extent of the rot, it may be recalled was exposed in a tragicomic way in a gruesome incident during the 2007 election. In that incident, in a deadly ambush by militants on an election party near the Myanmar border in the Ukhrul district, one of the five government officers killed was found to be fake. It is almost a macabre twist to an old, irreverent and rather racial joke (probably coined in the West) about the way the Chinese population was multiplying and spreading in the 20th Century everywhere in the world: “You throw a stone and it would land on a Chinese”. In Manipur today, you throw a stone and the chances are it would land on a fake or a proxy government employee, as was the case in the Ukhrul ambush of 2007. To push the issue a little more, if the stone was thrown during election time in the valley districts, it almost certainly would have landed on someone who has either bought or sold his vote for as paltry a sum as Rs 300. And if you were to deliberately aim the stone at someone who is a committed party loyalist, and who believes in voting on considerations of party ideology only, you would have to have very good aim to hit a target, for they are a dying breed and exist only in tiny enclaves, such as amongst the cult worshippers of Marx and Lenin.

In many of the constituencies, observers of politics in Manipur will be quick to point out, most of the candidates who have been in politics long enough would have shifted party alliance many times. These shifts and migrations, as well as threats to do so in the hope of incentives, were happening even as late as a few months ago when the ruling Congress party was all but split in two by a dissident movement. The matter was reportedly amicably settled, but it is anybody’s guess what would have been the terms of the settlement. Party loyalty has been a myth in Manipur for a long time, and it still is. Mark our word, this will become more than evident when the next election comes around, and putative MLAs begin bargaining for election tickets of the different parties in fray. Depending on the ticket each manages, they would be talking differently scripted campaign languages and assuming radically different political postures. It will once again be a replay of the feeling of overwhelming farce when one considers how bitter rivals or steadfast allies in one election can fight the war from either side of the battle line, attacking or defending the party for which they get or miss the ticket.

One other thing will become painfully prominent, as always. This has to do with the lack of interest of the national media, marked by the conspicuously loud silence of a greater section of it on the issues of the election here. Other than the fact that this too will become fuel for political rhetoric for those in formal electoral politics, as well as for Manipur’s abundant brand of street-fighting, tyre-burning, habitual bandh callers, it does show how alienated Manipur and indeed the entire Northeast is from the Indian mainstream. But to be fair, we talk here of the hysterical corporate media which have come to invade every Indian drawing room these days, for there is also old faithful government owned “Doordarshan” and “AIR” to hold the fort and try to bring some semblance of balance and sense, however sloppy and benignly complacent in inefficiency the effort may be. Regardless of TRP value or advertisement market, the two will be dutifully covering the Manipur elections, sending OB (Outdoor Broadcast) satellite enabled van for live coverage of field events etc. Whoever said it is the fringe Northeast states like Manipur which insist on a ghettoized existence, resisting the self-proclaimed magnanimous overtures of friendship by the great “Indian Mainstream”? Quite to the contrary, it is more a question of this so called “mainstream”, which by its total apathy and condescension, is pushing the fringes further and further away. Dangerously too, we must add.

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