The 3-day B-20 conference held in Manipur as part of the G-20 series of inter-governmental meets of member nations and invitees went by without a hitch as it should. The Imphal meet was part of a series to be held in India through this year. This is very well and good and the organisers need a round of applause for it. Memories of the event however are already receding away from public consciousness on their way into oblivion, to become just another one of those events marked on the calendar and little beyond. While much has already been said of the Manipur chapter of these conferences by those who were part of the show, the question that remains is, was the show anywhere close to the game changing event that was meant to put Manipur on the world map of happening places it was hyped to be? Was it such a profoundly important marker event in the march of Manipur history that there will now be a pre-B20 history of Manipur and a post-B-20 period in the history of Manipur, just as for instance the 1826 Treaty of Yandaboo which divided the pre-colonial from the colonial period of its history. Even as we say this, and as the dusts from all the fanfare and publicity settle, everybody would have probably realised that this is hardly so. Instead and quite ironically too, the number of welcome gates erected all along the main avenues of Imphal where the international delegates were expected to pass by, are today no more than traffic harangues, akin to the dull headaches and nausea of hangover from a binging party the night before.
This is not to say the event was bad. It was indeed a good fortune that Manipur had the opportunity to expose itself to a reasonably high-level international delegation, and while it lasted, showcase itself and its diverse cultures. Manipur however needs to shed its inclination to lose all perspectives at the drop of a hat and make mountains out of molehills, as the saying goes. Perhaps this stems from an inferiority complex and therefore the excessive unnatural thirst for outside attention, and then to make tall claims that it has always been and will always remain a precious flower on lofty heights waiting to be discovered. This is also a psychology so much prone to treat courtesy salutations and even flattery as complements. For instance, a guest in a parting speech made the light-hearted but well-meaning hyperbolic remark that Manipur should be made the capital of India, and there were people actually flaunting this as a serious actionable suggestion. Well, from all appearances this particular guest, and probably all or most of the rest, were definitely warmed and impressed by the hospitality shown, and went ahead to reciprocated it with affection. That was probably all there was about it.
Let us then put things in perspective. The G-20 is a forum for an elite group of nations founded in 1999 in the wake of several financial crises around the world. It has 19 member nations and the European Union, bringing up the total membership to 20. Understandably, the group’s stated objectives relates to addressing major issues related to the global economy, such as international financial stability, climate change mitigation, and sustainable development. Its presidium is held by the different member states in a yearly rotation. India currently holds this presidency, and next year it will pass on to Brazil and the year after that to South Africa, just as Indonesia and before that China held the presidency before India. In other words, this is a global forum meant to tackle global problems. Regardless of where they hold their meetings, the agenda will remain the same. Hence, even if one of its meetings was held in Manipur, the central agenda obviously could not, and would not have been Manipur. The state just happened to be a venue for one of this group’s many meetings to be held in India throughout the year, including three more in the Northeast. There is plenty to be happy that Manipur was given the privilege to be one of the venues of these prestigious meetings, but nothing to be overexcited and think that Manipur has been chosen to be a major focal point of global business. If this happens at all, it will have to be because of the state’s preparedness alone and nothing else.
What would constitute preparedness then? We have said this many times before and the answer remains the same in this effort to capture attention of global business. In material terms, the state does have resources, but these resources do not have the scale to meet the demands of the world market. Our handloom products for instance can only remain as niche commodities. If tomorrow some buyers in Europe, America or Australia were to demand for a shipload of fine handloom shawls, (inaphi) every six months, it is hardly likely all the available looms together in the state would be able to keep such a supply chain perennial. The same goes for any other product from the state.
If in material terms the availability of our resources has a low ceiling, there is one resources which can become inexhaustible – human resource. For several generations now, there has been an acute shortcoming in the way we empower our younger generations with appropriate, global competition ready knowledge and skills. It is late, but not too late to start. If our youth were thus empowered, the winds of the global market can begin blowing our way. No tradable knowledge or skill of any level go waste. It is in this sense encouraging that in this year’s state budget, presented on February 21, there are signs that the annual plan vision of the government is beginning to put a premium on education. We do hope this outlook also begins to bear the fruits the state so much needs and longs for.
Editor, Imphal Review of Arts and Politics and author