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University, Education and Society: Chequered Trajectory

By Amar Yumnam

In a recent function in Manipur University, an ex-Vice Chancellor related a sad and disappointing experience with the Chief Minister of Manipur who held the helm of affairs during the early 1990s. The university was an institution then funded by the provincial government. I would not take name of the Chief Minister, but it was during his reign that the most unlikely and most unthinkable as well as anti-historical Meetei-Meetei Pangal communal riot took place. It was during his reign that the ethnic clashes in the mountains of Manipur started occurring in a very violent way. All these were social incidents which completely negated the cultural ethos of the people of Manipur. This was also the Chief Minister who did not understand the Indian economic reforms initiated in 1991, and so left the State of Manipur completely unprepared and unadjusted to the changed policy environment. This particular politician is now in absolute political oblivion, and there is only a dim, if any, chance of his regaining any political space. But he had left such a bad legacy.

Now what really causes even more pain is the recent revelation that he had proposed for the abolition of Manipur University to the then Vice Chancellor. Instead of attending to the cause of social advancement by fostering the vigorous growth of higher education, he had the ‘gumption’ of proposing the abolition of the only university of the land. Thank God, he ultimately lost his political power and the University survived the ill-will of the then head of the people of the land. I feel shivers down the spine imagining the social consequences that would have occurred if the Manipur University were at all abolished as per the whims of the then political leader. The social, knowledge and economic capability would have taken a nose-dive, both absolutely and relative to the position of other societies around the country. The chaos we are now in would have been much worse, and Manipur would have been a crime-State. The land would have been absolutely ungovernable. The social debate and the accompanying quality which now characterise the land would have been unimaginable, and we would be living in a fools’ paradise. It would have been a society without any foundation for critical and rational mind. Once again, thank God that the then Chief Minister could not have all as per his designs.

Difference Today: Compared to the predecessor of the early 1990s, Okram Ibobi Singh is far more committal towards social development and his capability for action too is sharper. With the conversion of Manipur University into a Central one, the academic and other happenings are now much richer than those during the previous avatar. Now that the interests of the University are being taken care of by the Central government, the focus of the State government should be fully on how to reform the school education and improve the colleges under it.

Here we need to recall once again how the period of Industrial Revolution became a watershed in global development trajectory. Before the industrial revolution too, there were experiences of growth here and there around the world. But all these were reversed over time. But after the Industrial revolution, growth became irreversible and sustained. This new experience with growth has been the romantic area of research for economists over the centuries. In this process of research, one finding is emerging as a strong marker for the new period distinguishing it from the pre-Industrial revolution experiences of growth. While the accumulation of wealth before the Industrial revolution had a large element of luck and treachery, the growth during the Industrial revolution and after is founded on knowledge. This foundation of knowledge has to be continually strengthened and expanded in a sustained way. Only then the growth would be sustained. This has been the most important lesson of development provided by global experience.

Historical Opportunity: Okram Ibobi today stands at a very critical moment of history. This criticality itself provides an opportunity to him to do something for the long term transformation of Manipur, and thereby reserve a place in history in a way very different from his predecessor of the early 1990s under whom only communalism gained strength. In three areas of social sector, Ibobi has proved what he is made of. They are health, roads and market places. These have established that if once committed he is capable of seeing things through.

Given this strength of the present Chief Minister, the social scenario today and the developmental requirements of the society, we expect that he should now be concentrating his attention on education. Education has turned out to be the weakest link in his administration. But the society can no longer afford to continue with this. The historical responsibility and the principles of social accountability demand that the needs of the school education system and the college atmosphere should be addressed in right earnest. We know Ibobi has the capability to rise to the occasion, and if he does not, history might be cruel on him. While attending to the call of the times, he should be starting his reforms in a very inclusive way covering the mountains of Manipur in a robust way. If he is able to perform this task he would be remembered as the only true leader of Manipur for the current phase of history.



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