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Contemporary Policy Debate And Challenges In Manipur: Put the people back at the centre

By Amar Yumnam

The core issue of the present century is the social and economic advancement of the people and places. The earlier distinction between social and economic has now disappeared. The earlier understanding of transformation as just people-centred and neutral to characteristics of a place is no longer the approach. It is at this global intellectual and policy juncture that Manipur is now very strongly preoccupied with efforts to emphasise ethnicity-based vis-à-vis territorial-based rhetoric. Of course, there has been a qualitative transformation in the qualitative characteristics of the articulation on the different sides of the protagonists. The basis of articulation was predominantly antagonism earlier, and this is now being replaced increasingly by more of political ones and eagerness to get closer by the shared feelings among the heterogeneous population; something like the shared commitment to reconstruct in Western Europe at the end of World War II from the ravages caused by the War is now discernible among the population of the diverse ethnicities in Manipur.

Since the nature of the debate has now undergone a transformation from one of based on antagonism between diverse ethnicities to a search for one where the present is shared for a brighter future across ethnicities, we need to reappraise the methodology of looking at issues plaguing Manipur. Here we need to reiterate some fundamental realities whose appropriate understanding is paramount to take the people and place forward. First, we must accept the fact that the truths of history cannot be altered. We may attempt to provide differing interpretations, but the historical event can never be altered. Second there is the absolutely unalterable reality of geography. We may alter the qualitative characteristics of a place like causing environmental degradation but it is beyond the capability of humans to alter location of a place. Third, every human being has a location. People may change location but the location is never mobile. Fourth, it is deepening and widening interaction between places and people that causes development and not otherwise.

The present political preoccupation and policy articulations by both state and non-state actors in relation to evolving a solution to the dogging problems of Manipur centre on certain interventions with distinguishing characteristics. First is the solution based on ethnic-based interests. The second is a close one to the first and emphasising decentralisation as the foundation.

This is where we need collective application of mind and shared evolution of a mechanism for long-term transformation. Let me take up the issue of decentralisation in Manipur. Is decentralisation the core issue for the laggard social and economic development in Manipur? I do not think so contextually and given the global lessons from Africa, Europe and Asia. The problem has been rather one where the capabilities of the administration have not been created and the process of creation has been compromised. The imperative is one of eliminating the forces stunting the evolutionary process of administrative capability. Further, given the size of the economy, level of development and the spread of the market mechanism, decentralisation as such would not deliver the objectives of social and economic development. What Manipur demands now is one of performance on the administrative front with least cost. What is paramount now is not enhancement of governance expenses but stunting the reach of the stunting forces; the entanglements of the political process should not be at the cost of social and economic advancement of the people.

Another reality of Manipur should also be kept in mind while applying mind on the possible policies for social and economic transformation of Manipur. While in most global cases the mountains and the valley have been discontinuous, it has been different in the case of Manipur. Here both the valley and the mountains have been continuous historically, culturally, mythologically and economically. Of course policy lapses inter alia have played havoc with the economic continuum. But the solution cannot lie in creating a discontinuity in what was not there to begin with. Enhancing the economic linkages and expanding the size of the shared market would be the economical way of ensuring social and economic development.

One very disturbing feature of the current political preoccupation of the various articulations has been the ignoring of the interests of the commonest of the common people. In all the articulations and counter-articulations, the basis is anything other than the interests of the common population. The primary need for Manipur is to avoid the repetitions of the ethnic-based political disturbances of the last half a century or so. The only sustainable solution for this lies in evolving a kind of social and economic transformation where the opportunity for advancement is ensured even for the commonest of the common population. The issue cannot be taken care by decentralisation as such. The long term solution is economic and not otherwise.

Source: Imphal Free Press



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