Can chaos be described any better way than what we have witnessing in Manipur for decades now? Everybody is a law unto himself, beginning from those who commit daylight murders to those who protest these atrocities. Why only in terms of violence, the chaos is marked also by an absolute lack of coordination between various government departments. The most visible of these are the familiar drama on the streets on a routine basis. One day the works department would painstakingly black top a road, and a few weeks later, another department would be out with the pickaxe to dig right across the same road to lay a municipality water pipeline. It may not even be government departments that take such liberty but individual consumers as well. Nobody anymore bothers to take official permission to tamper with public properties in this manner. They simply go ahead tapping electricity from the overhead electricity department power lines, perforating the municipal water pipelines for home connections and more. Local clubs and even individual households have no obligation to seek permission for putting up speed-breakers ahead of their homes and most of these bear no cautionary markings to make them prominently visible to commuters. All these happen right under the very nose of the government, with the latter not even trying to assert its authority, or make its presence felt. Worse still, the public at large have come to internalise this chaos so much so that they now believe this chaos is normal.
Chaos has become a “state of mind”, and this being so, it would have to be an awesome task for anybody or any government to address this problem effectively. For indeed the issue has somewhat transitioned from the realm of the tangible to the intangible because of prolonged exposure to lawlessness in which people are left to fend for themselves. Electricity situation had improved after the introduction of pre-paid metering system which minimised power theft, but the power situation currently seems again to be going back to where it was. Power theft is again on the rise in the absence of adequate vigilance, and now if anybody wants uninterrupted power supply in their homes and offices, they would have to buy power generators. Likewise, if they want adequate water, they either have to buy it from private water tanker operators or dig their own ponds etc.
Come to think of it, the spiral of barely controlled violence and the proliferation of ethnic militia have had a lot to do with this state of lawlessness. This combined with what can only be described as a carnival of official corruption bent on siphoning off public money into pockets of those in power and their cronies have made this “state of mind” even more lethal. Of official corruption, there is little more to be said to convince anybody or to point fingers at anybody, for practically all in the government hierarchy is party to this organised crime. Every clerical table, to every officer’s table is a barrier for any official executive file to move unless those who need the contents of the file to pass across all these tables to become an order, is willing to pay bribe. Like it or not, this is Manipur’s chaos, and this chaos is its reality as of today.
On the idea of violence derailing any sense of order in the minds of the ordinary citizen, it will be recalled how a deadly spiral of ethnic conflict was set off in the 1990s, first by the outbreak of extended Kuki-Naga murderous conflict. The Kukis, who found themselves at a disadvantage because they were not armed then, began raising their own militias. When the Kukis armed themselves, neighbouring communities, like the Paites also felt insecure and militias began sprouting amongst them as well. A similar spiral worked amongst the valley communities after the 1993 communal mayhem between Meiteis and Meitei Pangals, in which the latter took the worse blows, and this also provoked the proliferation of Muslim militias, though today this wave has ebbed. Today, even tiny communities, such as the Koms, have been sucked into this deadly spiral. Had the government been able to instil a sense of security amongst the different communities, things could not have been as bad as they are now. Tackling insurgency would have been much more straightforward and uncomplicated. Instead, the approach has been largely marked by one of a zero sum game which sought to play off one against the other in the hope of neutralising all the players, an approach which has misfired so terribly, crystallising further existing ethnic fault-lines dangerously. Accentuated in the process is also Manipur’s other endemic malaise – the hill-valley divide.
But things cannot be allowed to carry on in this manner forever. There has to be a beginning to the process of unwinding this great mess. True the mission must involve both the government and the people, but it is the government which must take the initiative. First and foremost, a way must be found to end once and for all the entrenched culture of official corruption. For this spiral to reverse, the unwinding will have to begin from the very top. The truth in the dictum that if leaders are not corrupt, their followers will not dare to be corrupt, must be acknowledged. The government must stop forwarding insurgency as the excuse for this chaos. It must treat insurgency as a related issues but nonetheless a separate agenda to be tackled independently. This done, it must begin setting its own house in order.
Let there first and foremost be a tangible and visible sense of managerial will exercised by the government in handling everyday public affairs. It can for instance begin by setting its eyes on correcting course in some very visible symptom of this lawless chaos by streamlining the Imphal traffic or the public distribution system. Ensure power theft is controlled but alongside it, that power is available. It will take many small initiatives like this before the public “state of mind” with regards to the chaos around begins defogging. Let election manifestos not be reduced to clichéd rhetoric meant only to dupe and win people’s vote.
Editor, Imphal Review of Arts and Politics and author