It is easy to say the beginning of a calendar year is the time to ring out the old and ring in the new. Millions after millions are now accustomed to repeating this by rote or cultivated intuition today. It is however unlikely many of all those who willingly drown and lose themselves in the tidal wave of New Year euphoria are aware how extremely difficult it is in practice to either ring out the old or ring in the new. All the same, we suppose it is one time in a year when a willing suspension of disbelief is well worth the while. Perhaps this very exercise of conditioning yourself to immerse in a transitory world of make-believe for a few days in a year has a therapeutic value, even if the date fixed as the beginning of a year is arbitrary, much like weekends in the smaller cycle of time on the same calendar. In a circle there is neither a beginning nor an end, hence putting these markers would have to be at their genesis, a matter of fiat of an emperor, government or religion. Except in the modern mind which has been conditioned to believe it is new, there is nothing new about a frozen January 1 when half the living world is in deep hibernation.
Contrary to the mistaken belief held by many, January 1 as New Year is not a Christian date either. Its origin stretches back to the days of the Romans who in the year 153 B.C. decided this date which coincided with the beginning of a civil war, to be the beginning of a new year. Till 1582 when the Gregorian Calendar adopted the tradition, it is said early Christians actually forbade the celebration of New Year as it was considered pagan. Numerous versions of New Year celebration history tell the same story and many of them are available on the internet. For Christians, December 25 would have been a much more significant and relevant marker on the calendar as New Year day. For much of the indigenous world, the first day after the vernal equinox on the lunar calendar, or the first day of spring, is New Year day. Bihu, Sajibu Cheiraoba, Beisaki (Cheiraoba), and so many more, all within a few days of each other, would be some examples of this. These dates are a little less arbitrary too for they mark the beginning of a visible regenerative cycle of the natural world. This is not a case for a shift in a calendar date though. This is just a reminder of how our sense of new and old year is just a matter of tuning the mind. Since we have all tuned in to it, January 1 is a great day for everybody. Whether or not empirically supported or not, at least the psychological catharsis this date brings is tangible.
So will Manipur be ringing out the old and ringing in the new on January 1? Quite unlikely, although we must add the new BJP government has been trying hard to project itself as the harbinger of change. Its effort is most commendably visible in moves to bridge the divide between the hills and valley. Ministers in the state cabinet, starting from the chief minister, N. Biren himself, have been routinely travelling to the hill districts to instil confidence amongst the people. The gesture is good but it remains to be seen how close government intents and actions match. So far it has been a matter of announcing economic packages, but as to how trustworthy these packages, announced as they are by a bankrupt state, will remain a matter of doubt until the packages are actually delivered. Again there is the question of official corruption. Signs are this is not about to go, despite the CM setting up a pet anticorruption cell attached to his office. What the government should do is to set up an autonomous body to do this job, just as specified by the Lokayukta. Only such a body not subservient to the government can have the power to combat official corruption, which we all know has come to be deeply institutionalised in the state. As of now, there is no sign the new government is brave enough to make this move. The violent conflict scenarios that have been the state’s bane, and continues to be so too, would likely remain in the brand new year 2018. The lesson for Manipur in this, as indeed for everybody else is clear. While the universal euphoric sense of renewal that January 1 brings is refreshing, real changes for the better do not come automatic with the turn of calendar years. They have to be earned with unremitting commitment to peace and justice, ingenuity in approach to problems, and above all, a willingness to put in hard and honest work.