Manipur’s New Woes and the Vanishing Peace

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India definitely is not a peaceful country, peace being understood in the negative sense of absence of violence. Rapes are definitely on the rise and there is no sign of any respite. During the last ten years abduction cases have risen by almost 100 per cent, with 44,664 such cases in 2011. Attacks on the most defenceless, the kids, are also on the rise, with Delhi alone recording 9000 missing kids this year so far. No wonder India’s ranking as a peaceful country is among the lowest in the world. This worsening scenario is particularly threatening during the last five years or so. In other words, it is as if we are missing governance throughout the country.

The situation is no different in the case of Manipur as well. If we are to recall the 1950s and 1960s, these were the best days. People were driven by a spirit of change, euphoria of a future after the merger with India and massive social mobilisation for enhancement of life. But come the 1970s and 1980s, all these were evaporated and replaced by a spirit of grievance and hope betrayed. This emerged as the fundamental grievance of Manipur. Organisations promising a better future and life with pride by replacing the existing state took birth and became a rallying point for widespread mobilisation.

It now seems that anything with the Indian tag should show signs of decay sooner than later. The highly Indian oriented province, Manipur, of 1950s and 1960s was converted into an anti-Indian one by the 1970s and 1980s. The worsening scenario of India and the degrading picture in the provinces cannot be without some fundamental flaws in the political economic qualities of the Indian state and the accompanying failures in policy governance.

In the case of Manipur, the fundamental grievance is now coupled by a whole load of new and non-traditional security issues. Poverty is now a real issue with new dimensions absent in the earlier form of poverty where societal security was prevalent. Socio-economic disparities across the province are now going to engulf the land with violent articulations across ethnicities and the spatial divide. Environmental degradation with no meaningful response to it is a genuine problem. Even the development administration and implementation in the land is still conducted in a model of the 1940s and 1950s wherein environmental deterioration was considered unavoidable. This further implicates with the rising thereat to the livelihood of the mountain people of Manipur whose traditional source is getting weakened with no modern substitute rising. In such circumstances, every social articulation is being given an ethnic colour. This is adding a new and dangerous dimension to the social articulations across the province with differing ideological overtones. Further to indulge in armed struggle has now emerged as the norm to strike home any point by any group. These new security issues have not yet drawn the attention of the Indian state but have the potential to dampen any positive quality and asset present in the province.

It is in the light of these issues that I strongly feel the imperative for reassessing the orientation and relevance of the political economics of governance and policy making under the Indian state. We must remember that the nation state as it emerged first in Europe was in an atmosphere of peace and stability. But the comparative features in India and our region have been vastly different. Nevertheless, these should have been taken care of through appropriate interventions in the policy arena.

Now what do I mean by appropriate interventions in the policy arena. Manipur, and for that matter the entire North East is culturally different from the larger Indian component. The population composition too is much more ethnically heterogeneous in the region than in the rest of India. The geographic heterogeneity is intense in the region with differing slopes, disease conditions, climatic variations, etc. Now these variations are also accompanied by institutional differences including differences in property rights regimes. Here we may ask as to what should be lesson we learn from the global development history and the theory of policy sciences?

The policy foundation and orientation in such contexts should be based on multilateralism. But, in an absolute contrast to this, the Indian state’s response to the policy design for the needs of the regional economy has been based solely on unilateralism. Further the strength of the policies should be derived from culturally situated developmentalism. Here too the Indian state’s response to it has been militaristic approach to anything to do with development intervention in the region. The Indian state seems to have absorbed a very racist lesson from the debacle of the 1962 war and thus somehow ensure a militaristic strength in this part of the world whatever the case. Otherwise, there is no explanation of the defence minister visiting and assessing the development works of the National Highways in the region.

Now what has been the outcome of the unilateral and militaristic approaches to the developmental needs of the region? First, development intervention has not had anything to do with the perceptions of the people. So participation has been absent and aloofness and non-identification with anything to do with the government has been the norm. Second, the first has had the cultural impact of massive bribery and corruption as acceptable and unavoidable norms. The third round impact is even worse. The very democratisation process has now suffered the inevitable impact of bribery and corruption. The recent panchayat elections in Manipur are non-failing testimony to the decentralisation of corruption and bribery.

We would have no grudge if the impact of the unilateral approach to development intervention were confined to the effects I have just mentioned. But it is not so and the scenario is much worse. The bribery and corruption syndrome getting decentralised now threatens the very survival of the social institutions and the social capital of the land and people. How fragile our social capital and social institutions are has been fully established by the manner in which each candidate fought the elections to the panchayat bodies. So far we were witness to the bribery and corruption in the functioning of government machinery, and the ability of this in converting the organisations fighting originally for a brighter future and better state into bodies as more or less corrupt as the government machinery. But the decentralisation of this trend and consequent compromise with our social capital would only spell permanent disappearance of the social fabric and ultimate doom of the society.

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