The COVID pandemic now seems to be receding from Manipur as is also the trend in the rest of India. The new infection rate now is far below the three-figure mark and hovers in the vicinity of 50 a day, on occasions even dropping below 20. The decrease in fatality however has not match the infection dip, suggesting this may be on account of less people reporting occurrences of symptoms and turning up at the hospitals only when the patients are on their last legs. Even if this were so, there is nothing to overtly suggest things are still as grim as it used to be just a few months ago. Life on the streets of Imphal and other townships are virtually back to normal, with the usual doses of daily traffic jams, crowded roadside marketplaces etc. There are however certain familiar and nostalgic attributes of life in the state still missing. The still empty Khwairamband Keithels are some of these. For reasons that are confounding at best, the government still continues to prohibit commerce at these iconic vendors spaces on the pretext of COVID control, though the adjacent streets are teeming and bustling with the usual crowds of shoppers again. Also still shut down are the state’s schools and colleges, much to the worry of parents as well as students, especially those in the higher classes who are set to appear in open competitive examinations and not just inhouse promotional examinations. Put in extreme difficulties are the teachers and staffs of private schools, for unlike their government counterparts, their salaries are not protected and insured against such lockdowns.
It also confounding why the government is not treating this matter with the degree of urgency it requires. Parents who are able to afford admitting their wards in schools and colleges away from the state know very well how intently and regularly classes are being conducted online elsewhere. The state should have made arrangements to make this possible here as well. Our students cannot be made to lose a year, especially because it is unlikely an all-India zero academic year will be declared. As for our government colleges, even when there was no pandemic emergency, most of them were holding little or no classes, and so fixing them is a little different matter. Though late, it is still not too late for the government to leave aside politicking for a while, and think of streamlining these matters at the soonest, so that whatever can be rescued from the damages caused on this front by the pandemic are rescued. Precautions must however not be thrown into the winds by any means for we now know the virus is capable of mutating and one of its new avatars has returned to devastate Britain and some other European countries. In this globalised world, the new strain can easily reach even those of us in backwater regions like the Northeast. Since the virus can mutate, there also can be nothing that says new strains cannot emerge locally either, so all the more reason to remain alert. All this notwithstanding, restrictions need to be calibrated and reassessed periodically to have realistic estimates of the shifting level of danger the virus poses, so that there are no unnecessary or unwarranted hardships heaped on the population, especially the economically weaker section.
It is today almost a cliché to say 2020 was a catastrophe, but it cannot be disputed that the cliché portrays a stark and ugly reality. The entire year passed by with the entire world battling COVID, and for a long time it had seemed a losing battle. At the end of the year, the toll worldwide was close to nine crore infected and 20 lakhs dead, and is still counting. India alone suffered more than a crore infected and a lakh and half dead. Manipur suffered nearly 28,000 infected and 364 dead. No exact estimate is available, but outside of those unfortunate to have suffered losses of loved ones, it is anybody’s guess that crores more would have lost their jobs and livelihoods. Even if the disease disappears altogether now, it is not going to be easy for the world economy to recover, or damaged and destroyed businesses to return to health. On the smaller canvas of Manipur, the scenario is not much different. There are so many who have been put on the backfoot in the battle for a living, and many more are left staring at the spectre of hunger. This is why, amidst the changing dynamics of the devastation by the disease, the government should keep pace with the reality in its response so that the hardships are minimized to the extent they are unavoidable only. However, this may prove too much to expect from the current administration. For entire the same period the pandemic hit the state, our politicians were busy playing frenzied political musical chair, with the minority BJP government using its clout to woo MLAs from its rival Congress even awarding cabinet berths to non-MLAs under investigation for drug smuggling. The costs of all these irresponsible political conducts may not be immediately visible, but make no mistake that it will be dear in the long run, for what has taken a dent in the process is the credibility of politics in the state in the eyes of the public. In fact, in Manipur’s absurd political theatre today, people have ceased to be the ultimate sovereigns that democracy envisages them to be, and are instead commodities to be purchased at elections. Government formation too is no longer a measure of the people’s mandate, but an auction of MLAs on the altar of the Assembly with the Governor as kingmaker interlocutor.
Under these circumstances, if we were to make a New Year wish at the onset of 2021, the first of course would be for the COVID crisis to be completely sized up and placed under control. In this regard, we hope the vaccines now on the verge of being made available would be the final answer to this pandemic. We also wish for those most badly hit by the economic meltdown caused by the pandemic to find strength and means to be back on their feet at the soonest and put their lives on the track of growth and hope again. We also hope our politicians will leave their selfishness for once and try to be the statesmen they are expected to be so that the people may regain some of their lost faith in the goodness politics can do towards promoting the greater common good. The most vital initiative towards such an end would have to first and foremost be about making our government schools and colleges functional. Our youth have been deprived of the true enlightenment of education for much too long and the consequence of this we are already witnessing in the numerous dysfunctions in our society, most prominently in the mounting youth unemployment, drugs menace, juvenile delinquency, growing inequality in our society etc. Let quality education level out the playing fields, but more importantly enable our younger generation to be fit in meeting the challenges of the new century ahead. Prosperity, peace, social justice etc, are not dropped like manna from heaven. They are to be achieved through imaginative government policies which can nudge and prop creative entrepreneurial spirit amongst its people. So even as a year ends and another begins, we entreat upon the government, to leave aside their politicking and strive to evolve policies, in particular streamline its education system, to create the conditions capable of unbinding Manipur’s own Prometheus.
Editor, Imphal Review of Arts and Politics and author