Economy Wounded, But Who Cares: Vote, governance and slippery population


By Amar Yumnam
On the second Saturday of this month, I entered with a friend a high-end cookies and sweetmeat store in Imphal; being high-end, the customers usually visiting this shop are also high-enders who have cultivated a taste for quality in goods over years of exposure outside the State. I had to enter the city business district (Thangal Bazaar in this instance) due to some unavoidable personal reasons and a friend accompanied me on my request. Since we do not usually enter the marketing areas often, we wanted to allow ourselves some indulgence by purchasing some exquisite items. But we were absolutely shocked. The display cases were mostly empty, and the salesman just related the impossible costs of preparing the items for which we entered the shop at all. It was a very pitiable look; the shop is there, the salesman too but very little to sell with the display cases mostly empty.  The more than century old (in terms of days) blockade along the highways have really eaten into the economic flesh of the polity.

German Unification: In the afternoon, I was reading a research report just sent by a colleague from Italy. The research was evaluating the economic impact of the unification of two Germanys by breaking down the Berlin Wall. The results are absolutely interesting. These testify the positive economic impacts of relationships maintained for non-economic reasons. In the particular case of the German unification, it has been found that West German families who had social ties to East Germany in 1989 experienced a persistent rise in their personal incomes after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Moreover, the existence of such households impacted positively on the regional economic performance through higher entrepreneurial activity and higher returns on these. Thus West Germany regions with stronger ties with the East have consistently outperformed other regions.  In a more technical language, it has been found that one standard deviation rise in the share of households with social ties to East Germany in 1989 is associated with a 4.6 percentage point rise in income per capita over six years. This is a very powerful testimony to the strong relationship between social ties and regional economic performance.

Look At Us: Now let us go back to the story of empty display cases in the high end sweetmeat shop in Imphal consequent upon the blockades. Besides the expected rise in prices under the impact of the blockades, many other important socio-economic implications are coming to the forth. The mountains catching fire in Manipur is absolutely understandable. We must accept that we have not developed the mountains for more than six decades while the major development outcomes have been visible in Imphal only where the majority population are Meetei. Given the differential geographical structures and the more or less clear demarcated settlement of the different ethnic groups, the heightened articulation along ethnic lines is easily understandable. Further, since there has been very little development in their areas of settlement the people naturally have to feel the protection of whatever perceived ethnically owned boundary of territory as the proverbial last straw. Still further, there is the usual adding fuel to the fire scenario when the road medians in the Kangla Park area are improved more than seven times a year while the mountains suffer from absolute absence of roads, schools and health facilities. This is where we say that accounting of development expenditure now needs to be done with the accountability component inherent in it. For instance, all the annual audit and accounting reports on road construction works should specify the road sections where the expenses have been incurred rather than the present one of just tallying the vouchers. This is the only way to evolve accounting with accountability.

The issues of widening distance among the different ethnic groups have been with us for quite some time and with particularly heightened temperature for the larger part since the start of this new century. The results are visible now. Unlike the unification and resultant economic expansion Germany have experienced, what we have experienced during the last decade of this century is but the relative decline in per capita income of Manipur from the more than 83 percent of the national average in the beginning of this century to about 50 percent of the national average today. This has happened despite the more than four-fold increase in plan expenses during this period. Something somewhere has terribly gone wrong. 

Search Governance: Since we have been witnessing the build-up for the contemporary unsavoury scenario and are now facing crises in multiples of dimensions, we naturally need to identify the root cause for all these. Without mincing many words, we must say that the blame for the crises we are facing today should squarely fall on the nature and quality of governance we have been unblessed with. The absence of governance at both the provincial and the national levels have never been so wonderfully established than by the ongoing blockades. Imagining the long term effects of these disturbances makes our hearts shudder. There definitely is going to take a long time to reverse the rising tide of ethnicity meaning necessarily against one another. In the meantime, the negative economic impact of worsening social ties would get reflected in slower growth of Manipur, particularly in the mountains. Further, even if genuine developmental interventions are attempted today, these would not easily convince the mountains. In other words, establishing the credibility of governance in the mountains would now be a very costly affair.

It is in such times that the elections are coming round the corner. The governments one after another have ensured over the years that there be utter disconnect with the people. This does serve the purpose of the now powerful, wealthy and majority politicians. Since the people feel no connection with the government and expect nothing from any government, the elections are reduced to plain one day stand alone shots. The wealthy, powerful and corrupt politicians can never think of a more congenial atmosphere to pave their way into the political power. Spend heavily and resort to muscles as much as possible and more effectively than others, then the remaining five years are cool for personal aggrandisement. But now the million dollar question with our future at stake is: how prepared and committed the people of the land are to work and vote for a better Manipur?  


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