TODAY -

Beyond the Episode
Death of Politics and Destiny of Manipur

By Angomcha Bimol Akoijam *

The brutal murder of the migrant workers speaks about the destiny of Manipur more than many would care to know. It is not a specific episode but something that marks the nature of our trajectory as a collective political being. It is high time for us to do some crucial soul searching.

Who could possibly be the enemy of the poor labourers who struggle for life on a daily basis?

Would a people who are already fighting for their own right to life and dignity, to be recognised as a self-respecting and respected member of the civilised global community of peoples, be the enemy of such labourers?

Shouldn't we ask this question, irrespective of the fact that the idea of terrorism as an act of targeting "non-combatants" has been there for a long time before the same discourse has come to inform a politics of de-legitimisation in the post 9/11 global order?

Indeed, what political legitimacy could the enemy of these labourers people who have already been hounded out of their own homestead by destitution and castist discrimination achieve by murdering them in cold blood?

Even if one were to go by an intriguing suggestion that the influx of these labourers to Manipur is a part of a sinister design to subvert the economy and demographic character of the State, who are the victims here anyway? Shouldn't we ask this question irrespective of whether there would be retaliation against the Manipuris outside the state or not?

In any case, isn't it critical for one to know what has made such an influx possible in the first place? For instance, do we need to ask as to how many "sons of the soil" would do the labour that these migrant labourers do for "us"? Unlike them, don't our own "local" labourers (e.g., rickshaw pullers) cover their faces to protect their "dignity (of labour)"?

What is the nature of our economy anyway? Isn't it a donor-driven economy that primarily sustains itself on "grants" from "others"?

Incidentally, don't some people term such an economy "colonial" or "neo-colonial" that subverts our collective being? But how do we try to resist, if at all there is such a resistance to, this economy?

By partaking in it or getting seduced by its culture of "easy money" its underhand dealings, percentage cuts and institutionalised corruption and the corresponding practices of ideological, intellectual and moral bankruptcy, and the capacity and willingness to kill each other for one's shares of the spoil?

Are these questions relevant to those for whom murder with impunity and dead bodies being dumped, displayed or discovered here and there have become part of the "normal" daily life?

The answer should be a categorical "yes" precisely because the brutal murder of the migrant workers is nothing but a symptom that signals the deepening of a "life threatening" disease that afflicts Manipur. And that disease is violence in its unbridled form that has come to entirely usurp politics in Manipur today.

Politics has been divested of its cardinal search for a life that can be articulated and practiced in terms of "justice" and "rights" etc. Even politics as power has been simultaneously trivialised and vulgarised in terms of solely practicing tangible violence.

Thus, affected by this disease, the body politics of Manipur is marked by ideological and intellectual bankruptcy and weakening of institutions.

Beneath the Symptom

Symptoms of the deadly affliction have manifested time and again for a long time now. But each time, people seem to have responded only to the symptoms, and that too episodically. As a result, most have failed to recognise, leave alone addressing and grappling with, the underlying aliment that afflicts the body politics of the State.

For long time, Manipur is a State, where the lawful agencies of the State could kill people with impunity and principle of criminal jurisprudence could be thrown to the dustbin (such as exemplified by the enforcement of the notorious Acts like the AFSPA, and conducts of the executive arms of the State).

Does anyone care to remember that ours is a state where custodial murder of a woman and a public display of her dead body has been defended and justified? And that ours is a state where police could shoot down a citizen for a traffic altercation that he had with them in broad-daylight?

Indeed, in Manipur, for a long time, the legitimacy of the State has been sought, not in terms of "governance", but primarily in terms of its capacity or potential to commit, or threat to commit, violence that goes beyond the institutional restraints of a politico-legal order.

In the light of such an orientation, "Do's and Don'ts" issued by the Supreme Court while delivering its controversial judgment of upholding the "constitutionality" of the AFSPA obviously stand in reality as hollow directives.

Indeed, with the deepening of the hold of the murderous violence, kaapthatlura and loishallura (should you be shot or finished off) seem to have become the vocabularies of discourse on "political issues" and haattok-uu and loishillu (kill him/her or them and finished him/her or them off) seem to have become the only "political directives".

Rescuing Politics

To think of it, fifty years before the Supreme Court of India issued such a morally nice sounding directives, the Chinese People's Liberation Army had also issued what it called "three main rules of discipline" and "eight points for attention" to its revolutionary fighters.

Its rules of discipline included nice sounding directives such as "obey orders in all your actions", "don't take a single needle or piece of thread from the masses" and "turn in everything captured".

And the call for attention included directives such as "speak politely", "pay fairly for what you buy", "return everything you borrow", "pay for anything you damage", "don't hit or swear at people", "don't damage crops", "don't take liberties with women" and "don't ill-treat captives".

Obviously these directives underscored the fact that every tactical move or act implicates a politics which cannot be anything but articulated and practiced within the moral and ethical domain of human existence.

Indeed, the legitimacy of modern State, and any political movement, critically hinges on its capacity to claim and project such a politics that has its foundation in the moral and ethical domain.

That every State, and also political movement, always seeks its legitimacy in the name of the "people" and their well-being is precisely because of this nature of politics. That is also why it is said that "governance", far more than "sovereignty", vitalises and legitimises the modern State.

This being the case, parties involved in a "political" conflict must show that it is morally and ethically superior to its adversaries.

Without such a claim, if any one of them seeks to rely on its capacity to exercise violence in its unbridled form, it would not only alienate the people but also delegitimise its projects.

One ought to remember that the USA invasion of Iraq has been carried out in the name of protecting "democracy" and saving ordinary Iraqis from their Dictator! This is a moral claim that seeks justification for its brutal force.

If the USA were not to claim and project such a moral and ethical high ground, leave alone any support from the rest of the world, its soldiers would not fight and its citizens would also reject the war univocally.

We say that the confrontation between the State and the "non-State" in Manipur is a political phenomenon, and that it must be resolved politically. But we must recognise that this claim entails recognising the fact that violence in its unbridled form cannot be allowed to usurp politics.

But as it stands today in Manipur, politics is dying in the hands of a culture of unbridled violence perpetuated from all sources and sides. And those who speak about and for the people of Manipur shall not allow this death of politics.

Indeed, people's loyalty will be ultimately with those who seek to reinstate politics by rescuing it from the unbridled violence that critically threatens the very existence of politics in Manipur, and thereby the political being of Manipur itself.

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* Angomcha Bimol Akoijam wrote this article for The Sangai Express . The author can be reached at bimol_akoijam(at)yahoo(dot)co(dot)in . This article was webcasted on June 25, 2008.

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