Whistleblower's musings... Then some trivia. Write to me at ranjanyumnam@gmail.com

Monday, June 04, 2007

Me, Myself and Manipur

FROM whatever angle one chooses to look, Manipur’s problems defy solution. There are several intractable issues and there is no quick-fix formula for what many observers believe are probably problems of Maipuri society’s own making, that which stem from indecisiveness, lack of resolve and self-serving orientation. This last is the most critical.

It will not be wide off the mark to suggest that most Manipuris behave like an island unto themselves and, if given the choice, would hoist their own flag and establish foreign missions. Self-interest, rather than public interest, has become their motto and a yardstick to determine their course of action in private and public life. Call it ambition or egoism — the choice is yours — individual advancement and glory are what the average Manipuri craves, compelled by the prevailing circumstances.

An example: Manipur reels under severe power cuts, yet everyone blames the government instead of doing something to alleviate the sufferance. One may marvel at their apparently sadistic stoicism, but, no, they are also defaulters when it comes to paying electricity bills. “If you don’t pay up, then shut up, no more free lunches,” says the government, even if that is a little harsh for its grilling citizens with a three-hour power cut every day. Clearly, Manipuris are suffering from electricity anorexia.

They love bandhs, dharnas, strikes and joint action committes, but not when it comes to a case of “let there be light”. Which makes one wonder whether these are the same people who erupt in uncontrollable rage against the murder of a Manorama Devi, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and the Nagalim issue. Mind you, this is the same society that gave birth to Irom Chanu Sharmila, an icon of the struggle against the Army’s presence!

It all boils down to the fact that self-aggrandisement and comfort, more than a collective shoring up of the public good, is the accepted commandment. Instead of chiding the government and following through, Manipuris resort to convenient, if not blatantly selfish, shortcuts — like buying inverters and gensets. Those who can’t, rot in darkness. Idealism, morality, civic sense, political conviction, fairness or patriotism are forgotten principles.

Every general election is instructive of these virtues (or the lack therein) among Manipuris. It is normally fashionable for them to lambast the shortcomings of the government and politicians, but come an election and they change colour overnight. Even the harshest critics rush to become cheerleaders for contesting hopefuls. Patronage in the form of jobs, plum contracts and access to the corridors of power are guaranteed if they hobnob with the right candidate. The bottomline is individual enrichment, not altruism.

So it makes for amusing reading when commentators in the local press talk of how the last assembly elections came to fruition with the peolple’s participation, and that Indian democracy had triumphed over secessionist forces. That is a hard pill to swallow given Manipuri fickle-mindedness.

That insurgents are very much involved in the election process is an open secret. Every political party or candidate is backed by one insurgent group or the other and it is difficult to agree with analysts who say that the smooth conduct of the electoral process is a clear rejection of militant organisations and people’s affirmation of their faith in Indian democracy. The ballot triumphing over bullets? That’s wishful thinking! During polls there’s calm enough, but the last ballot has been cast, the bullets take over. Bureaucrats serve merely as rubber stamps for underground organisations, and ministers too must do their bidding.

The point is, a typical Manipuri has no opinion about anything. Ask a woman if she favours the insurgents or the government and she will probably draw a blank. Depending on whether you classify her as a commodity or a confirmed opportunist, anyone can command her loyalty. She would sprint to the camp that gives her the best odds to quick and easy booty. Which is no surprise for a small state whose only bloodline entails scarce resources that everyone has an eye on. Getting access to them is guaranteed by either of two means — guns or political patronage. Mind you, the competition is tough so don’t blame Manipuris for being what they are. Their fate, until some miracle happens, is sealed.
(First published in the Statesman)