The legend of the Laiyyars : An election tale

Thangpu Haokip *

A word of warning right at the start: this piece of writing might perhaps be the most ridiculous story for such a time as this, a time when election is on the horizon and political parties and candidates scamper around places seeking for favour. I say ‘ridiculous’ because such has the time been lately: ridiculous.

To be sure, just quieten yourself for a bit, close you eyes and help your mind to concentrate on this one question: Is there any politician today whom we can truly place our hopes on? Although the question pertains in large measure to the upcoming election, it may as well be considered in view of the general state of affairs we find ourselves in today.

By that, we mean to say that the socio-political scenario of our land has of late become deplorable to an extent where virtues such as justice, honesty, integrity, charity and the likes have seemed almost archaic.

Once upon a time, honesty used to be the best policy. I remember my younger days when many automobiles would have the writing “Honesty is the best policy” painted on their bumpers and anyplace convenient. Of course, the widespread inscriptions of such statements do not guarantee their practice, nor does the absence of such engravings today mean the total loss of morality.

The point rather is to say that times have changed immensely, and this change has perhaps not spared the alteration of society’s moral and ethical codes. One may ask then, can ethical values change over time?

Well, the best answer they say is a rhetorical question, which in this case may go something like this: Take the moral code of honesty for instance, how many honest politicians, bureaucrats and cops can you name? You might run out of names before you use up all your fingers for counting. That less!

Let’s go talking about the election tale now. What and who are the Laiyyars, you might ask?

I could try answering straightaway. But I believe a look farther into the past would best answer the question. This will take us back to the story about the beginning of election in Manipur, a forgotten story which has faded from all memories. Perhaps for many of you, this could be the first time you will be hearing it.

Long ago in the ancient kingdom of Manzipar (as Manipur was once known), before the people of the land knew anything about election or voting, there was peace. (Now, peace like the moral values mentioned earlier has also become an out-dated, almost extinct concept today).

Words such as political parties, nomination, scrutiny, rally, campaigning, voting, booth-capturing, bribing, tampering with results and the likes were far from people’s wildest imagination. The Manziparis (the people of Manzipar as they used to be called) consisted of diverse ethnic groups with many similar cultural practices as well as unique ones in terms of language and religious belief.

The differences amongst them notwithstanding, all tribes of Manzipar lived in communal harmony, every tribe concern about the common good than for itself, and every individual working towards the collective welfare. The land flourished too from the harmony observed amongst the different people-groups across race, language, religion and culture.

For nature was pleased with Manzipar, the land was fruitful and productive and rich in floras and faunas. The forests of the hills teemed with animals and birds of many kinds, and the rivers and streams of the plains were abundant with variety of fishes and aquatic species. No single group of people claimed supremacy over the land.

Each group cultivated the land as per their requirement and ability. There was never the intention of trespassing over another’s farmland nor the greed to cultivate more land than required for one’s sustenance. Trade was minimal since everyone was capable of sustaining oneself and one’s household.

The Manziparis shared the common practice of organizing themselves in a manner which resembled a communitarian system. There was no single individual or group of individuals who held exclusive power. For matters which demanded consensus, every member of the community was entitled and responsible to be present and express their views.

Cases of disputes were almost non-existent. In rare cases of conflicts, the parties involved were made to spend a whole night outside of the village. At dawn, they were summoned into the presence of the whole community and inquired if they had resolved their conflict.

Upon a positive response, they were welcomed back and allowed to continue life as usual; a negative response however invited another night outside, and more so until they had reconciled. Not so far away in the kingdom of Laiyya, there lived the Laiyyars who were known for their wickedness and treachery.

Of the many malicious characteristics, the Laiyyars were notorious for their shape-shifting ability. With this power, they could change their appearances and take the form of any living being, both human and animals. Having soon destroyed the land they inhabited due to their greed and recklessness, the Laiyyars laid their covetous eyes upon Manzipar.

But to conquer Manzipar was a task impossible since the strength and number of the united Manziparis greatly outstripped the Laiyyars. They needed to devise a different plan. It was then that their shape-shifting ability came to their rescue.

The Laiyyars chose their best shape-shifters and sent them to infiltrate the tribes of Manzipar. Their first objective was to identify prominent individuals from each tribe and eliminate them. Then they were to take the form of the deceased individuals.

Once they had accomplish that, the next objective was to instigate their respective tribesmen to claim supremacy over the land and for which they ought to promote the shape-shifter to be their undisputed representative. The success of the mission of every shape-shifter who infiltrated the different tribes thus brought in self-centredness and destroyed the once-harmonious life of Manzipar.

The disguised, shape-shifting Laiyyars dealt with any opposition by mobilizing support from within the tribes through enticement, false promises, bribing as many people as possible and through every corrupt means available to secure power.

When the innocent Manziparis found no choice to deal with the rising influence of the Laiyyars, they were compelled to embrace the practice of election and voting to decide who should hold power, a practice which was devised by the shrewd Laiyyars themselves.

In that too, the Laiyyars were assured of power since they subscribed to no ethical or moral codes. In this way, the Laiyyars introduced the practice of election in Manzipar which continues to this day.

Legend has it that the Laiyyars – those conceited and self-seeking shape-shifters out in the streets to entice, instigate, cheat and rule over the innocent – still walk among us today in the form of corrupt politicians.

Now, that sure is one ridiculous story you might say. Absurd too, no doubt. But we did warn you about it at the start. This is a fiction, a ridiculous one at that, nothing more .

* Thangpu Haokip wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on April 07, 2019.

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