By Amar Yumnam
Manipur is lovely, lovable and exciting. This is for various reasons. First, we love her for we were born and brought up here. Second, with such a romantic past in every phase of her history, she is lovable to the core. Personally too, this place has made me meet the person I love most and realise why I do so. Third, it is an exciting place for anyone interested in socio-economic issues because of the unique socio-economic lessons to be learnt from the dynamics of the evolving grammar of society in this place.
The global experience has been that the generalisation of trust is an important ingredient for development, or, to put it more emphatically, widespread trust has a causal positive impact on growth of a region. The failure to generalise trust has been a most significant undoing in the Islamic world in recent decades. This generalisation of trust requires an atmosphere and a means for heightened exchange and interaction among the population. This is more so in an ethnically heterogeneous society like Manipur’s because exchange and interaction facilitate the generalisation of trust. But heightened exchange and interaction do not happen in a vacuum; these happen when the development interventions, like roads, are put in place for these to happen.
This is where the emerging grammar of society and evolving picture of Manipur turn out to be very exciting, not from the angle of development of the region but from the perspective of a physician who speaks of a patient with rare ailment as interesting case. The emergence of highway blockades, general strikes and the like as generalised tools of presumably social responses to issues and media for pressuring the authorities for action in a particular way is something to be seriously thought of in contemporary Manipur. In the old days when the infrastructure was as undeveloped as it could be, and exchange and interactions were periodic, there was a kind of generalised trust in Manipur as oral history tells us. But the directions in which the changes have taken place in recent decades are such that the traditional generalised trust has been brutally replaced by individualised trust. In an atmosphere of generalised trust, the social advancement facilitated by it benefits the whole society without discrimination.
But this definitely has not been the case in Manipur.
The deterioration in the nature and strength of generalised trust is to be treated as the cost of the conflicts that has been affecting the region for the last quite a few decades. The governance response to addressing the problems associated with these conflicts has been rather one of satisficing a few individuals instead of addressing the underlying causes of the conflicts. This had the impact of enticing a few protagonists and their followers towards a satisficing approach to life and livelihood with the unfortunate outcome of compromising the generalised trust. This definitely eroded the historical roots of development. More unfortunately, the governance too had satisfied itself with the concentrated approach of satisficing a few individuals instead of addressing the generalised issues of development for the larger population.
Now what happens is that human beings behave in a path dependent way in the sense that they also follow the means which had paid off. In an otherwise negative case, there could be an atmosphere wherein the few individuals who had monopolised the satisfaction become the powerful and articulate groups in such a way that the general population become irrelevant in every socially meaningful arena of action. Something like this has happened in the case of Manipur. The model of the social grammar currently being practised in Manipur is such that one has to be a significant player of protagonists of conflict. Since all the population do not have the inclination for this, only a few specialise in this. The governance also has been following the practice of attending to the satisficing needs of these few individuals rather than adopting a society-wide development agenda. Now the relationship between this approach of the governance and the satisficing few individuals has reached such a level of social strength that the benefits of development interventions are monopolised by these few individuals. The worst part is that the convergence of interests between the individuals and the governance has been such that the general population do not have the courage to complain in the open even if their own privileges have been usurped by the connivance of the few and the persons in governance. Though it is supposedly a democracy in name, the actual practice has been one of exploitative autocracy with the voice of the larger majority finding no place in the grammar of functioning of the polity.
This is the reason why poverty removal schemes have not delivered at all, and these caused the opposite of concentration of benefits in a few hands. Now this requires certain things in place in Manipur sooner than later so that the desired generalised social outcomes are generated. First, we need a definitive governance with social-wide presence in Manipur. The absence of the reach of governance has only provided an opportunity to a select few with pseudo-reform articulations for extracting the maximum from the governance and without in any case allowing the common population to share the outcome of governance interventions. The generalised reach of governance should orient itself to addressing the development needs which could be shared by all without any hindrance. Secondly, it continually serves the interest of these people that governance remains as poor as ever for this sustains their individualised prosperity and limited social relevance. The time has come for the larger population to raise their shared voices instead of succumbing to the periodic noises of the few specialists in pseudo-conflicts. Third, the delivery mechanism of governance for any development intervention should be the primary plank of action.