By: Amar Yumnam
The months-long blockade on a main National Highway and the consequent stoppage of flows of goods and people by some autocratic elements of the Naga groups has definitely had a deleterious effect on the economy of Manipur. The prices of goods have skyrocketed. The costs of air-travel have tripled or quadrupled. These effects are yet to subside.
Toxic Effects: While the fall-out in terms of more intense desire to aggressively pursue the farming activities in the valley has been noticed by this author and others, the other toxic secondary effects of these primary effects have escaped the attention of the people. I would rather like to emphasise two secondary effects, which have not been good. First, there has been a massive transfer of income to the black-marketers and hoarders of fuel and other important items of consumption. While this transfer has been mainly within the residents of the province, the second effect is not so. As a result of the rush for air-tickets and the resultant mark-up by three to four times in prices of air-tickets for flights reaching or leaving Manipur, there has been a massive transfer of income out of the State into the coffers of the various airlines connecting Manipur with the outside. The toxicity of this effect is rather high and cascading in the sense that it all is happening at exactly the time when the prevailing level of welfare of the province is under threat. It is exactly the kind of situation we talk about in a vulgar way where the modesty of a woman eking out a living by selling country-liquor has been violated and the liquor too drank out without paying the price. But who cares! Even the decision-makers in the provincial government rather look for avenues of contractual benefits than addressing the pressing needs of the population. It is a classic case of collapse of governance both in terms of the political and the bureaucratic components. Heaven would not come forward to help us when our own government looks to the other side when the people are facing economic hardships. Now it even looks like that the heavenly cooperation of friendly monsoon would not yield the potential benefits in the absence of complementary interventions for productive activities from the government.
System Stunted: While the above toxic effects are bad as they are, we even suffer from a systemic disease. This latter disease has a longer term deleterious effect on the growth of the economy and the social stability of Manipur. This disease has different manifestations in the mountains and the valley of Manipur.
Before we elaborate on the toxic effects of the disease we may chip in a word or two on the economic system India is pursuing. With the state committed to ensuring welfare and opportunities for advancement to all irrespective of caste, creed, sex and region (I know there can be many reservations on the genuineness with which the Indian state pursues these goals), India follows a path where the problems of organising production, directing distribution and pursuit of growth are to be guided by the functioning of generalised markets. In other words, India puts importance to the economic signals emerging from the various agents and regions and puts trust on the ability of these signals as guide-posts for further welfare enhancement.
If we look back to the development history of the ages gone by, we are told of instances where priests or philosophers were advising the then rulers on how to respond to specific economic problems of the time. But these advices could never be generalised for the economic forces behind the problems were not reproduced, and hence the economic factors in daily life could not be generalised. But the conditions today are very different. The production, distribution and welfare issues are so intertwined today with reproducing economic forces that we can no longer continue like the days when priests and philosophers could one day advise the rulers on something to be done and forget the underlying forces immediately after. But unfortunately for Manipur, we continue to function as if we were in a period well before the Industrial Revolution.
First, let us have a look at the mountains. It is true that, and I have spoken and written about this umpteen number of times, the developmental issues of these areas have long been neglected. But today, I would rather talk of the internal dynamics which are inimical to the economic growth of the areas themselves. Today the articulations in the mountains are so politicised and appropriated by a very few politicking groups that the reproducing economic forces have not been allowed to have the overt manifestation. In the absence of these signals, the dismal life continues to prevail for the larger sections of the mountain populace, and the social state of affairs are conducted as if we are still in the period of autocratic rulers of centuries back; the few politicking groups would keep issuing diktats on the people on how to behave, respond and articulate on issues.
The scenario is no better for the valley either. Whereas the reproducing economic forces have been allowed to come to the fore in the valley, the failure of governance has stunted the full-fledged emergence of a thriving economy. The times of economic crises are periods when the state should be exercising the regulatory power so that the market players do not extract super-normal profits. But in Manipur, we now have a situation where those running the government move in tandem with the market players in order to earn abnormal profits at the costs of the common men. In other words, we now observe a kind of situation wherein there is an unwarranted transfer of income form the common men to the businessmen and the decision makers in the government. The fate of the woman country-liquor seller has now befallen on the common people. We see that a students’ group has entered the scene and is endeavouring to enforce a certain kind of discipline in the market. Good as it is, it is neither a sustainable nor a socially stabilising intervention; it is rather an example of height of governance failure.
Well it is these systemic diseases which would kill the State in the long run rather than periodical blockades.