Extraordinary times


Extraordinary times these are that Manipur is living in. But its tragedy is, these extraordinary times are being met by a general ordinariness of mindset all around. The collective obsession as of today, it would not be too much of an exaggeration to say, is entrapped narcissism. Almost by a compulsion of circumstance, few if any are able to see, or are even bothered to see beyond the self and picturise the broader picture of what the future may shape up to be for everybody. An acute myopia has been forced on everybody, rulers and subjects alike, and life in Manipur has ceased to be about living but increasingly about surviving. Everybody is unto himself, and in such a circumstance, an obsessive self-absorption as a general rule is understandable. After all, when the individual is left to fend for himself in a free for all situation, the fundamental principle of self-preservation, defined so well by the evolutionary notion of survival of the fittest, would invariably become the accepted norm. An insatiable appetite for power and wealth, ill-gotten most of the time, is only one important consequence of this. On a more abstract plane, what becomes abandoned in the process is the broad liberal ideology that the very idea of liberty entails everybody giving up a little liberty so that everybody can have liberty together. Freedom in this sense becomes the praxis of rule of law, therefore its quality depends greatly on the respect with which the subject people hold the idea of rule of law. When greed becomes the norm, what is ignored is also the understanding that acute and widespread self-interest at the cost losing sight of the larger common good, is not in anybody’s self interest in the ultimate analysis.

There is a danger of ordinariness of leadership, and indeed of the general mindset, in extraordinary times. Such a pairing can have extremely grave consequences for the future. This hypothesis cannot have a better illustration than in a particular counterfactual study done on the fortune of France and the French Army which historians agree was the finest in terms of organisation and military hardware at the time of the rise of an aggressive Prussia under Bismarck known all along for his imperial designs, in the 1860s. James Chace, professor of international relations at Bard College, USA, writes in “What If?” (a collection of counterfactual essays, by some of the finest military historians in the contemporary Western world, edited by Robert Cowley) that given a wee bit more commitment, the French marshal Francois Achille Bazaine should not have had to surrender to the Prussians at Metz on September 1, 1870 along with 6,000 officers and 173,000 men, as the French Army was far superior. Unfortunately the French leadership at the time was marked by a remarkable ordinariness. He laments that “… an inept, posturing nephew (Napoleon III) of the greatest military commander in modern times (Napoleon) became the unwitting destroyer of the primacy of Europe.” The contention is, had Bismarck been denied the runaway victory at Metz, there is unlikely to have been the First World War, consequently no Treaty of Versailles in 1919, which in turn led to the Second World War. There would also not have been the Bolshevik Revolution, no Soviet Union therefore no Cold War. The course of history for the next 150 years that followed, and horrors of the last century would have been irrevocably changed. If Europe was not thus destroyed, economically and in terms of human resource (hundreds upon thousands of its finest minds presumably have been amongst the millions of casualties), for the good or the bad, the American Century too would have been delayed or perhaps still born.

The moot point is, what our leaders do or don’t do today, will definitely have a profound bearing on the future of the place, and beyond, if history is any evidence. The least that extraordinary times need is leadership inertia. When Manipur’s being, physical and metaphorical, is eroding in a total administrative vacuum, it is outrageous that our leaders still have the leisure not to think proactively to meet the challenges, and instead continue to leave it up to the mythical healing power of time to mend things. Poverty, unemployment, bad law and order, sliding incomes etc, on the one hand, and piling garbage, run down roadways, drinking water shortage, sinking rural health facilities, decaying education system etc on the other, cannot afford to be met with fading government presence. Bribe givers and bribe takers alike, let it be known that when a ship sinks, everybody in it will drown, and no amount of wealth in anybody’s hand can save anybody.

Source: Imphal Free Press


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