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E-Pao! Opinion - Money power versus people power

Money power versus people power

By: Thangkhanlal Ngaihte *

There are some things that one finds revolting, viscerally or otherwise. But these can, sometimes, inexplicably provoke both laughter and anger simultaneously.

So it was last Tuesday. Newspapers including some Delhi-based ones reported about the negotiation taking place between representatives of the All Tribal Students Union, Manipur (ATSUM) and the Manipur Government. ATSUM have been imposing an economic blockade on the state. The blockade has been imposed ‘as a last resort’ by the tribal students organization after the State Government utterly failed to act on the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the two. The demands and agitations were not new. They have been there since, or even before, the Congress-led Secular Progressive Front (SPF) government took power in the state five years ago.

The crucial point here is that the Manipur government did not reject ATSUM’s demands. Nor are the demands illegitimate. The government has, in fact, acceded to most of the demands and signed MoUs with it in which the modalities for implementing them were laid out. This happened not just once, but quite a few times. The drama runs as follow. After the datelines for implementing the agreements passed, agitations were re-started, followed by another round of negotiations which results in yet another MoU. Five years have passed this way without anything substantive done on the ground. Now, just as the present round of economic blockade started affecting normal life in the state, the government, as is its wont, call its sleek spin masters to battle and tells ATSUM: ‘Ok, we’re sorry. Pardon us. But it’s not really us, but the Election Commission that should be blamed. Their model code of conduct is preventing us from acting on the MoUs. Elect us to power again, and we will implement them first thing in the first morning’.

Words fail me. But the newspapers told me that ATSUM withdrew its agitations subsequent to this ‘promise’. Which is shocking in a way, but not surprising at all.

The story above is not an aberration in this wonderful state of ours. It represents an established government policy, employed to good effect during the last five years. It’s the favoured modus operandi of this government as far as handling agitations and protests are concerned. Just how damaging it is to the state and all of us in the long run may never be realized by many amongst us.

So, we stand back and watch as the Government blithely signed MoU after MoU with organizations of all sorts. The ‘agreements’ thus signed leads of course to calm for sometime as the aggrieved party waits for the Government to implement what it promised. The Government, of course, did nothing. A classic pressure cooker situation develops. The datelines came and those who have resources and support renewed their agitations at a fever pitch; feelings of being wronged coupled with realization of betrayal forming a deadly cocktail. Those who could no longer sustain the momentum wrung their hands in frustration and go on quietly with their dull lives. They were not about to trust the Government ever again.

I do not dispute this Government’s contention that they had inherited empty coffers from the Nipama-cha government (It will be interesting to see how much money they left themselves when they go, though). The leading lights of this Government love to mock at the poor fellow and contemptuously make fun of him. I have no doubt that Nipamacha Singh was spineless and inept and that he makes for a sorry sight when he was the CM. And of course, he was nothing like Ibobi Singh when it came to faking, corrupting and engaging in deceit.

The problem I have with this Government is, thus, not really about unfinished dams and flyovers. Or bad power supply or even normal corrupt practices. On these parameters, this Government may in fact fare much better than the previous Governments. The grudge I hold against this Government goes much deeper than these.

Under this Government, it became standard practice for ministers and their hangers-on to hand out money–hard currency– at all functions they attend. There is instant gratification here, compared to say, building a good road which pleases no one in particular. It’s better still if ‘the money is from their own pocket’. Money is being valorized like no other time before. So much so that it becomes almost unthinkable for social and educational functions to be organized without a contractor or two attending them as chief guests.

Talking of contractors, it was not long ago they openly gripe about ‘percentage cuts’ imposed on all works sanctioned to them by none other than the CM himself and senior ministers. The Apunba Lup openly said in the newspapers that the CM is imposing a 10 percent cut from all funds coming under his charge. It’s something Ibobi Singh never cares to refute. And of course, the way the chief minister gained national prominence was courtesy a juicy story in Outlook about him donating money to two outlawed insurgent outfits.

Under this Government, we witness all important watch-dog institutions throttled and belittled (You don’t have to take my word for it. Ask, for example, Justice WA Shishak, who’s chairman of the Manipur Human Rights Commission). MoUs became convenient tools to wear down agitations and buy time. Inquiry commissions became cynical instruments to ‘cool down people’s anger’ (During negotiations at the CM’s office over the killing at the Vengnuam EBC Church last year, the Government side which included our own ministers sympathetically advised against the demand for judicial inquiry into the incident saying that such commissions have a knack of never finishing their job – and they cited the Manorama and Tipaimukh commissions to prove their point! The other sides bought the argument–which is, indeed, irrefutable – and for favour of quick resolution, a magisterial inquiry was set up. The MoU stipulated that the Inquiry should finish its job in one month, counting from August 22. It has not, of course. Till date).

The cumulative impact is that no one believes what the Government said and promise anymore. Even when they swear by it. The entire state machinery loses its credibility. This government betrayed our trusts and mocked at our goodwill so much so that we all became bitter, incorrigible pessimists. Under its evilly spell, everybody becomes mental wrecks or intellectual zombies. The sun has gone out of our lives and there is darkness everywhere.

Our moral edifice has collapsed. Our spiritual compass has gone haywire. It is impossible to say if the huge gap in trust between the population and Government will ever be bridged. Or whether the Government and its organs will ever recover their credibility again before the public.

It is due to the above reasons, primarily, that I want this Government to go. Lock, stock and barrel. Five years ago, this government came to power on our votes, including mine. They had had their place in the sun. They failed us. They have to go. To elect them again would be to put a seal of approval on their conduct which we cannot.

One immediate dilemma. Who are the alternatives? In our situation, only moneyed people seem to have any real chance of getting elected, and good and honest people usually don’t have lots of money. So, as Arundhati Roy will say, the choice placed before us is usually only between a pepsi and a coca cola. There is no option of choosing a nimbu pani or fresh water.

Nevertheless, we have to show that we are angry. We have to vote for change. In many constituencies, this election is going to be a contest between money power and people power. The drum beats are already there. ‘Rupees 100 per day for every volunteer and free mobile phones. Plus perks’. There is actually a term for it: rent-a-crowd.

Luckily for us, it is still votes that decide the outcome. The politicians had had their day. Now, it’s our turn. Let’s stand up, and show that in the ultimate contest, it is people power that still rules.




* Thangkhanlal Ngaihte - researcher & freelance writer, is a regular columnist of The Sangai Express.
This article was webcasted on February 04th, 2007 .


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