People and government


It is rather fascinating that Beijing is no longer reputed for air pollution that it once was. It will be recalled how in the run up to the Beijing Olympics in 2008, there were so much concerns raised everywhere, and how the city may not be fit to host such an event that celebrates good health and human endurance. Recall also all the reports of how in order to rescue its own reputation, authorities in Beijing, began a scientific monitoring of the blueness of the Beijing sky every day right from the day Beijing won the bid for the Olympics. These efforts apparently paid off, and today nobody associates Beijing with air pollution anymore, and that reputation has shifted to Delhi where only recently even schools and colleges had to shut because visibility was reduced to only a few feet because of smog. In this dramatic shift, the spotlight is obviously on the role of the state, its efficacy and commitment to public welfare. Questions such as, shouldn’t democracy be about ensuring the state that is responsible to the people, inevitably stare back at the inquirer. And if the answer is in the affirmative, than shouldn’t the question that follows be, what should be made of the relationship between the state and people in China and India.

These discussions and concerns are curious and indeed sound a little superfluous for somebody in a place like Imphal. For years without end, Imphal has been under a shroud of dust during the dry seasons, and mud slushes on its roads and streets during the wet seasons. The conditions in the district headquarters and other townships are not any better either. And yet, everybody seems to have accepted this condition as their fate and beyond their control. Never have they thought of questioning why the government has done nothing about it. Given the size of Imphal, and more so the other townships, they could have been maintained like garden cities, with flower beds lining its roads, well-marked traffic signs, well-paved walkways, separate tracks for slow moving vehicles and cyclists etc, like so many European townships and country sides. And these are not so much about investments either, but of an attitude, both of the government and the people. Nobody however seems to want it to be this way. They are not happy about the dust that they and their children breathe in every day obviously burdening their respiratory tracts and perhaps even damaging them in varying degrees, but such is the mindset of resignation, they do not seem to believe anymore that bringing about changes in these matters is up to them.

Democracy implies the participation of the people in the governance process. This in turn implies that the people in a democracy cannot afford to be passive recipients of government policies. The need is for “radical democracy”, and this calls for the people to know their rights well, and not only rectitude, and ensure that these are preserved intact under the supervision of the government. It also calls upon them to be participants in the enterprise of shaping public policies. Manipur’s democracy has indeed seen strong attributes of radical citizen participation, although often untamed and un-moderated by reason or by consideration of consensual and larger interests. The bandhs, blockades, strikes, JACs etc, are just some examples. They demonstrate how in certain circumstances the citizenry is not a passive recipient of whatever the government gives them but at the same time, these also are evidences of an acute myopia that makes a large section of the citizenry see only their own objectives as non-negotiable, while those of others can be compromised to suit their ends. While these protests have become a constant and dull drone in the backdrop of life in the state, numerous other explosive and violent agitations have indeed swung public policies of vital importance to the future of the state and its people dramatically on many occasions. These were, to extend the radical democracy argument a little more, extreme and even a pathological understanding of democracy, whereby the state as well as those standing up against its mores, have mutated into monstrosities.

Surprisingly amidst all these, so many other vital issues of democracy, as well as those of the wellbeing of a citizenry, such as the depressing dust cloud over Imphal, are unable to evoke deep enough concerns of the people to make them refer back to their radical and participatory understanding of democracy. Nobody seems outraged enough to say this state of affairs cannot go on forever and press the government into action. They are not ready to pitch in their own effort at the community and individual levels to make things change either. Instead, they too would readily add to the mess by littering and dumping their own kitchen wastes wherever it pleases them.

Source: Imphal Free Press


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