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Manipur Crisis: Confusions Abound on Social, State, Federalism and Governance

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Manipur Crisis: Confusions Abound on Social, State, Federalism and Governance

By – Amar Yumnam
Imphal, July 1:

While discussing the present crisis in Manipur, each day is now important as the problems have been continuing for more than a year. The most painful part and very discouraging from the democratic federalism perspective at that is the revelation of confusion on the part of the government at both the Union and the federating unit levels.
The last more than a year has revealed two related weaknesses by government at both the levels of the Indian Union and the Manipur State. The governments have not displayed any sign of application of mind to understand the crisis and evolve policy to bring back normalcy from a situation of death and homelessness. What I am emphasising is that the present crisis demands a contextualised knowledgeable understanding of the crisis. As I had emphasised in my previous input in this column, the foundation of Indian history is civilisational whereas it is evolutionary in the context of Manipur; it is this evolutionary context that puts the Nagas and the Meeteis in a unique relationship of coherent social existence.  The evolutionary experience of Manipur has proven the absence of inter-ethnic conflicts involving the Meeteis. Of course, a few years back there was a conflict between the Nagas and the Kukis. But this has been resolved sooner than later and in which the Meeteis had played a positive role.
It is in this context that the month of May of 2023 becomes a non-positive break from the historical trends. The events in the beginning of this month proved in clear terms the emergence of ethnicity along lines different from the traditional understanding. As Nathan Glazer and Daniel Moynihan put: “One of the striking characteristics of the present situation is indeed the extent to which we find the ethnic group defined in terms of interest, as an interest group. Thus, whereas in the past a religious conflict, such as that which is tearing Northern Ireland apart, was based on such issues as the free and public practice of a religion, today it is based on the issue of which group shall gain benefits or hold power of a wholly secular sort.” The demands for an administrative unit and a separate administrative authority emerged in Manipur. This interest-driven ethnicity is a new thing for Manipur. The Union Government cares a hoot of the consequences brought about by this emergence of interest-driven ethnicity was already proven by the non-recognition of loss of lives and displacement of people in Manipur as problems needing attention; the Head of the People of India – in a democracy, this position is most significant – has till today refused to recognise the killings and displacements as national problems. Now this refusal to recognise Manipur Crisis as a National (Indian) Issue is further confirmed by the Non-Mentioning by the President of India in her address to the opening of the Parliament Sessions after a new government has been constituted. This definitely reminds us of what Ivo Duchacek commented more than forty years back as Federalism had become “one of those good echo words that evoke a positive response but that may mean all things to all men, like democracy, socialism, progress, constitution, justice, or peace.”  We may add ‘And What Not.’
While there has been no sign of application of mind and adoption of a policy to address the crisis, we now have the head of the people at the federating unit, Manipur, making a statement that the crisis would be resolved, after more than a year of non-action, within two months. We do not know how he would do it. In the same press interview, he also tried to rationalize the non-action of more than a year as the problem was one of “unidentified enemy.” This reveals an absence of understanding the underlying feature of the crisis. First, it is a social crisis where inter-ethnic killings have emerged. Second, being a social crisis, the mode for addressing it is not just one of arresting one and jailing him. Third, there is an absolute absence of the knowledge of evolutionary social process of Manipur. Fourth, the diversity of the Manipur social has also not been appreciated.
As there has been no knowledgeable understanding of the social crisis facing Manipur at the level of the provincial government, it is not surprising being coupled by the poverty of knowledge at the Union Government level. It is as if the state has been absent. Let me quote Anthony de Jasay on the significance of the state in his book The State: “Braving the risks of confusing institutions with persons and the difficulties of passing from the prince to his government, it chooses to treat the state as if it were a real entity, as if it had a will and were capable of reasoned decisions about means to its ends. Hence it tries to explain tile state’s conduct towards us in terms of what it could be expected to do, in successive historical situations, if it rationally pursued ends that it can plausibly be supposed to have. ……….The habit-forming effects of the state, the dependence of people’s values and tastes on the very political arrangements ….which they are supposed to bring about, is a basic motif ….”
As there has been no understanding of the roles of the state and the federal structure in addressing the issues Manipur has been facing for more than a year, it has naturally been like the absence of governance. Naturally we do not have any healthy perception of the moral persuasion of the governments and idea of justice. We have talked about the governance issues in Manipur in multiples. Today let me just quote Oliver Williamson on a principle of governance: “Intuition tells us that simple governance structures should mediate simple transactions and that complex governance structures should be reserved for complex transactions. Using a complex structure to govern a simple transaction incurs unneeded costs, and using a simple structure to govern a complex transaction invites.”
The main argument I am driving at is that Manipur demands a knowledgeable understanding of the crisis being faced today and evolve policies on the basis of that for long term transition towards development. For this, we need to constitute an Expert Committee to identify the International Political Economic, Federal, Social and State issues involved in the crisis and the Moral Persuasion to guide the solution. This Committee should be constituted without delay.

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Imphal Times is a daily English newspaper published in Imphal and is registered with Registrar of the Newspapers for India with Regd. No MANENG/2013/51092


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