Development Bargains

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Social science certainly is no easy science. The limits to which a proactive leadership is expected to take the initiative in policy framing and consequently the limits to which the raw will of the population by and large must be allowed to have its way, for instance is no easy matter to decide. We suppose democracy is about negotiating this tension and arriving at the optimum equilibrium – a sublimation process in which the people’s will is moderated by an elite leadership and translated into policies. And there can be no hiding from the fact that democracy is about electing an elite leadership by a population to lead the way and take decisions on matters of concern to the entire population. The standard of this elite is another matter, but then as so often said, a democratic polity can only get an elite leadership that it deserves. The leaders that we have elected to lead us are hence the leaders we deserve.

This notwithstanding, the question is, how must our leaders negotiate conflicts whenever demands of public will and their own supposedly more enlightened visions of the future are contradictory as so often is the case. The same question is also for the public to answer, so that issues do not remain entangled and uncertain. The question is of extreme relevance to the northeast and Manipur is no exception. As for instance, there is so much resistance at the level of the people to changes these days and so many advocacies for the preservation of the traditional ways of life, or else a return to it, in the case of communities who had already accepted the changes earlier in their histories. The resistance to land reforms or the upsurge of revivalism we are all witness to, are just two illustrations. The need is to see these issues against the context of the questions that we posed – what must be the elite’s response to these pushes from below. Must they treat these loud messages as sacred and a principle of democratic norms that cannot be violated? Have they a right to sit in judgment to decide if these voices are born of short-sighted passion? Or is there a middle ground between public passion and their own better judgments that this elite must seek? We are inclined to believe in the last proposition so that it becomes the duty of the elite leadership to moderate and sublimate public passion and aspiration with the greater vision they are supposed to possess or else train to acquire. To deserve to remain as leaders, they must first of all have to gain the moral authority and confidence of the people through the demonstration of their sincerity of purpose and competence in their job.

Consider this. The rationalization that Indian intellectuals often forwards in soothing the public not to be disappointed by the fact that the Chinese economy is growing faster than the that of India is that India’s deficit is made up for by the fact that its people enjoy the freedoms and safeguards of democracy. That China has been able to be a step ahead of India by paying the price of not having democracy. The rationale is not altogether without attraction, for indeed many will agree that the price India is paying for having democracy is worth the shortfall in GNP growth rate behind China. The point is, can this same argument be forwarded in the traditional societies’ resistance to reforms and modernization. In Manipur for instance, we know resistance to land reforms in the hills preserved the traditional land ownership pattern, although it has also retarded development at the same time. The same can be said of any protective attitude towards traditions or customs when pushed beyond the demands of rationality. The fear for the adverse effects of the railway reaching Manipur, the fear of cultural influences from outside, etc to name just a few more. Are the prices being paid, and in most case it is in terms of development, worth the price? Is it okay for instance for Manipur to stagnate at a growth rate of 3 percent when the rest of India grows at 8 percent if certain traditional ways of life are preserved? On a smaller canvas, is it okay if the more open valley areas of Manipur have more access to the rewards of modernity and grows faster than the more conservative and traditional hill areas? Sometimes politics makes people say yes to these questions, but we all know from experience what such inequalities, regardless of how they came about, always turn into dangerous time bombs. It is to prevent these consequences that a constant committed negotiation between popular will and the vision of democracy’s elite leadership is called for.

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