TODAY -

Manipur of our times: The three big issues

Kenish K *



When it comes to matters of disturbances and instabilities, Manipur always seems to punch above its weight. And insofar as political disorders are concerned, this State could give some bigger States in the Union a run for their money. Today it would not be an exaggeration to say that this State has become a cauldron of political instabilities, social disorders and ethnic wranglings. Sometimes it is very disturbing to see the State slowing sliding into anarchy, if 'anarchy' is the proper word to define the prevailing situation in the State. It seems disturbances and Manipur have become very good bedfellows!

What constitutes the 'three' big issues which the State is presently confronting are entirely a matter of personal opinion. And no two persons may share the same opinion. In my opinion, the following are the three big issues of our times are: law & order, ethnic divide and territory. However other issues which this writer have no included in the group but are nevertheless continue to be very important to this State are economy and governance. It goes without saying that the poor economic conditions of the State has contributed immensely to our present plight. Since our present economy is in no position to absorb the ever increasing number of educated youth, many of them get strayed from the proper path contributing to the ongoing crisis in the State.

Regarding governance, there is a wide perception that this State, like many other States in the country, leaves much to be desired. When it comes to exercising what Michael Mann termed 'infrastructural power' i.e. the ability to legitimately make and enforce rules or to deliver necessary public goods like safety, health and education, the perception amongst the mass is that the State has not live up to their expectation. Some even consider the failure of the State to exercise its authority on appropriate occasions and to respond to demanding situations accordingly as the cause of many problems afflicting the State.

Let me take up the first of the three issues i.e. 'law & order'. When it comes to law & order, there is a general perception that a sense of impunity flows through the State. When the perpetrator of a crime (whether against the State or its citizens) gets away without getting punished for his act, it is sure to have two impacts: the victim is sure to have a sense of helplessness and the perpetrator will be emboldened to commit another crime. However the issue does not end there. Whenever any incident breaks out and the parties involved get the feeling that the State is not going to act, they take the matters into their hands and try to carry out their type of justice which they think is commensurate with the crime. Here we can see the trend of people burning down houses of the alleged perpetrators of a criminal act which is rightfully termed as mob justice.

In many other cases, the act of mob burning down government institutions and uprooting peace and spreading disturbance besides public property has a serious repercussions for the State. The lost of physical infrastructure is not as important as the reinforcement which the mob receives besides encouraging future mob as well. Imposing economic blockade on the Highways, burning down of State Central Library(during the meetei mayek agitation), burning down of government offices in different parts of the State during protests, etc. are all attempts to undermine the authority of the State. It is important for the Government to assert its presence whenever such incidents happen besides negotiating for peaceful resolving of problems whenever they arise.

Another challenging issue of our times is the grave issue of 'ethnic divide' prevailing in the State. Today the State is deeply divided on ethnic lines. Is the multireligious, multilingual and multicultural feature of our society the cause of the divide which is too glaring to be ignored? Is the incompatibility of our views the cause of this ethnic faultlines? Or are the inhabitants of this society suffering from what Georg W.F. Hegel termed the "struggle for recognition". The exact cause is not very certain.

In this regard, the observation of Francis Fukuyama (in his book The Origins of Political Orders), may be relevant. He wrote that a great deal of contemporary politics revolves around demands for recognition, particularly on the parts of groups that have historical reasons to believing their worth has not been adequately acknowledged: racial minorities, women, gays, indigenous peoples, and the like.

Fukuyama further observed in the same book that, "today we label demands for recognition 'identity politics'. This is a modern phenomenon that arises primarily in fluid, pluralistic societies where people are able to take on multiple identities..." Whatever might be the reasons for the ongoing conflict in our society, the urge for recognition amongst all the ethnic groups is certainly one of the many reasons and that urge flows from the fact that a particular person or a community or an ethnic group is no less capable, worthy and capable than the other existing groups. This then one can conclude is partly due to the fact that our present society is more fluid than those of bygone eras and the increasing contact with outside world and education have played their parts in creation of such a society which in itself is not harmful.

However the unfortunate part is the deep division amongst the groups inhabiting the State. Samuel P.Hungtington presciently observed in his widely read book, 'the clash of civilizations and the remaking of world order': "...for people seeking identity and reinventing ethnicity, enemies are essential, and the potentially most dangerous enmities occur across the faultlines between the world's major civilizations..." Though his observation is regarding the division along civilization lines, it is nonetheless relevant in any society looking for reinventing its identity and asserting its presence and the same is visible in our present Manipur society as well.

However the tricky part is that outside the region, no one would be identified as a Meitei or a Kuki or a Naga and the perceptual differences which we harbour amongst ourselves has not meaning to someone outside the region as they cannot distinguish from our features as the same is not written across our foreheads for their easy identification and they would call us either as Northeast irrespective of our State of origin or the community to which we belong to.

To this generation, the issue of 'territory' has come to assume no less importance in comparison to the above cited two issues. The tension between those raising trident demands for homeland and territorial integration and those struggling to maintain the status quo of the present boundary of the State of Manipur have ensured that the State will not see peace and stability for a foreseeable future! However this issue is inextricably linked to the issue of ethnicity and demands for recognition as a separate entity.

But we have no choice. We can't wish away all these issues and finding a solution remains the only solution. Whenever I think of such times, I am always reminded of a conversation between Frodo Baggins and Gandalf the Grey from JRR Tolkien's undying work 'The Lord of the Rings'. Here I would like to mention the context of the conversation. Frodo Baggins, a Hobbit is supposed to carry the ring to the Crack of Doom to destroy it and hence prevent it from falling into wrong hands and he wished that the ring had never come to him. Gandalf, a wise Wizard gave him an advice, to ameliorate his pain and to encourage him to take the journey. The conversation between the two is as follows:

Frodo Baggins: "I wish it needn't have happened in my time.

Gandalf: "so do I and do all who live to see such time. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

Many would sympathise with Frodo Baggins but many more would agree with the wisdom of Gandalf. After all, we have to decide what to do with the time that is given us!


* Manipur of our times: The three big issues wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on October 5, 2015.


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