From Social to Ethnic: Racing Backwards to Fragmentation


By Amar Yumnam
The events getting un folded in Manipur are increasingly informed by violence and threats. In my last two interventions in this column I had talked of the Satanic behaviourism acquiring footholds in Manipur and the increasing retreat of the state from politico-socio existence. In the case of the first I had spoken of the fast decline in the character of our Very Important Persons in terms of converting their legitimate power to indiscriminate one. I had also spoken as to how this has made devil of their offspring as exemplified by the shooting to death of a non-nobleman`™s son by a son of a Very Important Person. In the last week`™s input, I had explained how the state has disappeared from crucial areas of societal existence. This is most salient when the people have no trust on the justice delivery system of the state, and thus start enjoying taking law into their hands. The latest example in this was the recent killing of a couple by an angry mob. That the couple might be at fault is another matter.

Now in this week we have witnessed the pressure from a section of the mountain population for carving a separate district for themselves. This was threateningly countered by a supposedly encompassing ethnic-based organisation to immediately withdraw the demands, and severe any ties whatsoever with the provincial government.

The Connectedness: While all these would appear unrelated phenomena on first sight, they are actually not. We owe an explanation as to why and how these could be related. In this connection, we need to go back to the political economic articulations and developments in the last three decades or so.

Manipur was a society very rich in social capital. This richness had an element of inclusiveness or rather an element of at least not conflicting with the others. We would find a reflection of this in the age old saying of the land that `Be competent, and one would be at the Palace`. May be this laid the foundation for the excellence of Manipuris in sports, and endeavours in other fields too for excellence. This spirit of competition was enveloped by a strong bondage for social cohesion and cooperation for collectively nourishing the good, and reform the bad. But all these elements of social capital started breaking down and at an increasing rate during the last three decades or so. Unfortunately this period coincides with the rise in the involvement of the state to transform public life. The state started projecting itself as an agency which could perform everything and achieve the non-achievables, with or without the social capital. The state in fact started behaving as if it could afford to do away with any social capital prevailing in the society, and this made the societal non-performance of the powers that be look like a powerful substitute for the forces of social cohesion. This definitely, as global development experience establishes, is not a sustainable situation. This is the kind of atmosphere where social gains would be sacrificed for individual benefits.

When such a situation arises in any multi-ethnic society, the social capital would be turned into ethnic capital. Ethnic capital thrives on an ideology of conflict with another ethnic group. In other words, ethnic capital is very exclusionary in both principle and practice. The protagonists of such capital have to busy themselves all the time in articulating perceived threats and suffered injuries. The people of the ethnic group are always to be warned of the conflicts and threats from other ethnic groups. This exclusionary approach for social existence should necessarily have an innate dynamics for degradation and breakdown. This would be because no ethnic capital is strong enough for mass-based inclusiveness and encouragement of investment for sustainable growth.

This danger of ethnic capital is particularly strong if the particular ethnic group happens to be a conglomerate of many and the formation of a single ethnic is still incomplete. The constituents of the conglomerate would in due course start articulating along the same lines of ethnic capital for this is the only way to sustain identity and ensure within-group cohesion.

Exactly Happened: I am afraid if this is exactly what has happened among the politically highly mobilised and articulated groups in the mountains of Manipur. The long years of political articulation for purely political reasons have only served to sharpen the fast emergence of ethnic capital in lieu of the social capital which they would have desired. This is how we now observe a non-reversible trend of small group-based articulations instead of the inclusive social capital. Inclusiveness begets inclusiveness and exclusiveness invites exclusion. Social capital is inclusionary whereas ethnic capital is exclusionary. Inclusiveness causes sustained development whereas ethnic capital only fosters conflicts. Social capital provides an environment for socially productive entrepreneurs to emerge while ethnic capital encourages destructive entrepreneurs. An environment rich in ethnic capital would be an environment where drug addicts would be plenty for it does not give an environement for positive social dreaming.


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