New Atmosphere But Old Habits In Manipur: Time to transit to assessment from assumption

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Amar Yumnam

The latest edition of the Sangai Festival has one positive social spill over. Unlike the arousal of craze for festivity and treatment as a temporary escape from routine boredom of daily life by the people in the case of the earlier versions, the latest version shows signs of eagerness to involve and contribute to projecting a positive image of Manipur by a cross-section of people. Instead of the earlier milieu and perception, we now observe an atmosphere of widespread eagerness and expectation. This is good but we must hasten to add that this is not good enough to yield the desired outcomes.

The old habits associated with activities like in inaugurating a Club building in a locality still characterise the mannerisms, functioning and performance of the people involved in the manifestations of the various aspects of the Festival. The police personnel do however look much improved in their behaviour and engagement with the people, and we do hope they sustain this culture.

The world we intend to project for Manipur and our readiness strength to participate in the sustained interactions with the dynamics to be unfolded continuously through various levels and components of exchanges are based on a framework very different from the one the society and the government of Manipur are long used to. This far the society, the people and the government of the land have functioned on assumptions. The society and the people have so far assumed that they should be necessarily subservient to the government. The people have also assumed that the government should be necessarily sincere, efficient and committed to the cause of the people and society. The government too have assumed so far that they can take things for granted and the people should necessarily accept the functioning and performance as sacrosanct. These overall assumptions get reflected in the detailed functionings of the various personnel in different activities. Take the case of culture. Many talk of our culture as very rich. Fine, no arguments about it. Many talk of the biggest freshwater lake, the Loktak. No arguments about it either. Many talk of the nice handicrafts of Manipur. No complaints about it. Many talk of the ethnic variety of Manipur. No contradictions about it. Many talk of the varied sports strength of Manipur. No disagreements either. There is euphoria around of the road and rail connectivity in the offing. Well understandable in the light of the historically lived experience of the people. All these are visible in the various dimensions of the Sangai Festival in its present edition. But we have a problem here. All the contemporary talk on all these are based on but assumptions, nothing more and nothing less. This is where the problems and weaknesses arise.

Whenever any society plans for integrating with the rest of the world, the efforts can never be founded on assumptions but are to be invariably founded on assessments. This is the only approach to evolve relational and exchange dynamics for taking the society forward, and without vandalising the future of the related societies. The government today can no longer afford to function by assuming that the people of Manipur can be taken for granted as it used to be the case three or four decades back. The functionaries and agents close to the government of the day should be foolish to imagine that they can continue with the style imbibed three decades back. Well, sniffer dogs are the best friends of the security forces and worst enemies of the smugglers involved contraband goods. Similarly, the society of Manipur have now acquired a strength of owning a few social sniffer dogs, who can watch every step as indicators of what goes on in the mind of the government and the agents; they may not possess biting and life-elimination capabilities immediately but their long run impact can in no case be ignored `“ so says the global development history. Culture in a connected world has to be explored and assessed the capability of it to be utilised as a foundation and framework for the wider context; it is no longer the leikai (locality) ethos and mannerisms that matter but something based on much wider framework. In all the talk of attractiveness for Manipur, the time has come to assess the culture of the people of the land and people as a foundation for globalised interactions instead of just assuming as beauty. The talk of the Loktak as an attraction should no longer be based on assumptions but the lake should now be assessed as a destination. Now the handlooms and handicrafts are to be assessed in terms of the value of the attractiveness as to how much they can make the outside world spend on them. There is both urgency and imperative in this as Manipur cannot think of joining the global manufacturing value-chain. Interactions with the outside world would link us with the markets outside, but we need to assess our own markets as well for meaningful participation, meaningful in a way very different from the `border trade`™ in Moreh. The roads and the rails being developed for linkage with the outside world are being mentioned as promises for the future. But there is no assessment as to how the evolving infrastructure is prepared to serve the purpose of linkages with the outside with an eye to the needs of purposefulness. The contemporary world linkages are based on speed and efficiency, given the technology already available and the areas where new development is called for. But these have not yet been issues in the case of Manipur by assuming that any road and rail network should be necessarily good.

In fine, the future of any society in the contemporary world of today can never be thought of in isolation but only in a relative and relational framework. This involves keeping in mind the contextual geographic and institutional realities and the available technologies worldwide with an eye to the future. Manipur should now be inculcating a culture of assessment and get out of the world of assumptions. In the larger contextual frame, the United States President is joining the celebrations of the 2015 Republic Day of India as has never happened before. This is a very strong political statement. The fast emerging culture of respecting time and speed in functioning, and the strong framework of pro-people regulations for ensuring speedy and efficient performance in India must have definitely impressed the American decision-makers, particularly as the Asian Big Guy (read China) is throwing cash everywhere. But in the case of Manipur, there is no sign yet of this wind having touched the land-mass of Manipur. Should it be that Manipur should always be laggards and not participants in the race of development? The result would depend on whether we move from assumption pleasantries to really serious assessors or not.

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