Referendum of Spirit


The ongoing discussions on the future of Manipur at various circles, including on many internet social networking forums are an interesting development. Many of the discussions especially on the internet are surprisingly bold and open in nature, but this may be because of guarantees a degree of anonymity and distance from the actual spot of trouble and thereby relatively free from any immediate threat of rubbing people and organisations with power on the wrong side. It will be good if the same openness becomes a normal instinct for everybody in any given situation without the mask of anonymity or the perceived barrier of distance. In Imphal or Delhi, the matter needs to be thrashed out with no holds barred, and not merely for the sake of discussion, but with the explicit intent of shaping and reshaping an idea, defending which has resulted in half a century of violent insurrection. The frustrating and even dangerous uncertainties under which several generations have spent their youths and indeed lives are nothing to trifle. Many young men and women swept away by the ideology of defending this idea never lived to be adults too. These sacrifices would without question make any discussions on the idea, especially dissenting ones, sensitive. However, coming to terms with this bit of traumatic recent history of the place and people courageously and honestly is the only way some light of hope can be shed on the future of this beleaguered state. Let the discussions continue then, and without any attempt to trivialise this history of trauma, all must insist on an honest and the most befitting future for the place. The courage to do this will vital. The biblical saying “as you sow, so shall you reap” must be what informs this important enterprise before us all.
But the question remains as to whether any debate on the issue can ever be honest or open. In the past this has never been so. The tone and tenure of these debates had always been predetermined depending on whether it is a government institution or a civil society body with known ideological leanings which is organising the show, so much so that everybody would know what to expect from any of these debates before they even started. Dissents have always been frowned upon, or even openly discouraged, so that each of these public discussions always ended up an exercise in agreeing with each other on the issue or issues flagged. Since no dialectic was encouraged or fostered, the outcome is not a lift to a more enlightened view of the same idea. These discussions hence are devoid of any qualities of a debate, and are in many ways more of a signature campaign in which interested parties push forward their agendas and give these issues a semblance of a public mandate. Needless to say these so called public mandates are false and deceptive, precisely because they are never the revelation of a more informed truth through active and free thought engagements. It is not surprising then that few or none of them have ever actually been translated into any tangible policy outcome.
The time has come once again to reassess ourselves and our aspirations, and let this opportunity at a new self understanding not go waste. Indeed, the discussions on the proposed plebiscite to determine the future political status of Manipur can and serve as another important unannounced referendum of conscience. The all important questions of “who am I?” Where do I stand? Where do I want to stand? What is the future I want for myself and my children? Who is a Manipuri who would be voting? Are all the ethnic communities in the state equally comfortable with any given idea of a plebiscite determining Manipur’s future? These questions can prove to be uncomfortable for anybody, but nonetheless they must be answered. Whether or not the plebiscite issue gets the ultimate thumbs up from the government as well as all the people of the state, what everybody would have gained in the process whichever way the outcome goes, is a better and much more honest understanding or the Manipuri self. This understanding will not be the idealised self that so many have harped on all this while and from this perspective tried to picture what should be a common Manipuri aspiration. On the other hand this will be a more realistic self image with all the moles, warts and other imperfections that are the attributes of any living organism or society. Once we have come to terms with this new image, future political policies and enterprises will be more realistic and achievable too.


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