Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

Electors and elected are the two sides of the same coin.

Ethical Public is a Must Before Imagining the Idea of an Ideal Government

There is a famous statement in the mythological epic Ramayana which says that “the character of a king determines the condition of a people”. It is told that when demonic Ravana ruled his kingdom, his character manifested amongst his people. Everyone in his kingdom is said to have displayed the character kin to his, and his subjects developed a brutish characters, rude and inconsiderate as himself and became harsh to each other.

We also find a character by the name Vibhishan who was a younger brother of Ravana. He is said to possess virtuous qualities. Once Hanuman, a devotee of Rama enquires Vibhishan that how can a righteous person like him dare to live in an unrighteous kingdom like Lanka. To this, Vibhishan replied that “I live here in the manner of a tongue between sharp teeth”. It is said that when Vibhishan ruled Lanka after the eclipse of Ravana, his subjects began to manifest a character resembling his own and become as truthful and compassionate like he was.

German philosopher Hegel argued that the “Geist” or “spirit” exists in the form of consciousness in mind expressing itself in the form of an idea. And when the “spirit” is projected outwards and the ideas act upon the matter then the external reality comes into existence. Therefore, the reality out there is the consequence of the outward projection of the “spirit”.

Hence, it can be argued that the political class of people that we elect or vote are the stone that we throw against the water and the ripples and waves that bubbles up as a consequence of choosing those candidatures are the political cultures that we ourselves had consciously or unconsciously manufactured. It seems to act like an unconscious projection which we ourselves have manifested as if it were a replica of our self-image in the form of those politicians reflecting implicitly our own mental disposition. Therefore, the individual that we choose as a representative seems to mirror our unconscious mind as power ultimately resides in the hands of the people. And, it is people or the “master” who ultimately choose their representative or “servant”. Hence, the primacy of people or citizens to become more responsible and truthful seems to be a pre-eminent necessity and a voluntary imperative before imagining the idea of an ideal government.

The present political culture is unlikely to die down soon as there seems to be many who benefit from the system directly or indirectly. And considering the characterless political class of people that we have who are devoid of shame and a sense of ethics, it is unlikely that the change will initiate from themselves.

It appears that politicians have become something of “its own kind” in the eye of the public as if it were a “sacred standing” with special prestige but not as a carrier of public responsibility that will give a lease of hope for growth and development.

There is a perception of social relationship among “things” also dubbed as “commodity fetishism” coined by Marx to give a critique of capitalist economy. Fetishism is a belief where objects are considered to possess certain natural intrinsic power. And it is for this power for which they are worshiped. Marx combined these two terms to coined the phrase “commodity fetishism”. Marx argued that in a capitalist economy, although material objects which are produced have certain characteristics conferred on them by virtue of prevailing social relation but over time it is regarded as if such characteristics belong to those objects by their very nature.

Logically, it seems that the political status acquired by politicians is not seen as a contribution of the people but over time it seems to be regarded as something the politicians possess by themselves inherently. Therefore it naturally becomes like a fetish, value or worship for its own sake because it supposed to possess certain extraordinary virtues or qualities or simply put, power.

A genuine leader inspires and mould others to become independent and enrich themselves. But an unworthy leader will always be insecure and fearful of losing his or her authority and hence does not let other people grow. The political representatives seem to have skewed down their compassion only to the network of certain individuals, probably their close knit clique and collaborators who can filled their “war chest” and  help finance the election.

Hence those who benefits from the existing condition may perhaps want the present status quo to be maintained. This self-fulfilling narrow interest that suits their personal agenda seems to be more weighty than state or public interest and hence overall development seems to be a distant dream.

The common masses who are numerically strong and played a major role to win their “intending candidates” seem to get stuck in the lower rung of the social ladder perpetually without significant upward social mobility.

Many youths and middle-aged unemployed individuals are left with a dead-end job and the activities that arise occasionally for local clubs and local spaces. The occasional visit to the residence of the politicians to seek an offer for a small monetary amount for local activities and remaining content with it that will call a day fulfilling their base needs of alcohol and intoxicants seems to become a normal cultural pattern. And it seems to be a conscious strategy for politicians to bind them for their vote bank but still not let them to grow from where they are now without them being conscious of the fact.

The situation of destitution and poverty among people seems to turn out as an advantage for deceptive politicians to manipulate and shape the desire of people. As people have not achieved any substantial growth during the tenure of their elected representative, they therefore are in a perpetual state of need and despair and the same old ruts seem to go on where people in need do not care to sacrifice their rights for small amounts of monetary gains. People need to transcend from the physiological and safety needs, otherwise social action will always be motivated by instinct and the advance toward a higher plane of reason and judgement will get obstructed.

For instance, in one media report covered by Impact TV on 30 December 2020 on the rise of female sex worker in Manipur, one female sex worker had told the media that it was not her voluntary choice to come into the profession but was compelled by her financial situation as she could not afford a livelihood for her and her children after marriage. The woman shed tears and reported that while she and others in the profession were working in the field, at times some organization and police person arrest them and the latter take away all the money that was earned for the day leaving her worried about her children at home.

The women also admitted that till date, no one has come forward to help them. She further added that if any one comes forward to extend help to them and give them alternative means of livelihood, they can discontinue their jobs and switch to other professions.

Therefore the government needs to raise the living standard of people that would enhance emotional, physical and economic wellbeing of people. The political representative of a constituency needs to plan out and provide a means for livelihood for the poor and not a sympathy reciprocated in the form of a small amount of money that will not last a day.

For instance, some of the experiment conducted on universal basic income revealed that by alleviating financial hardship, the guaranteed income created “new opportunities for self-determination, choice, goal setting and risk taking”. ( Stockton’s economic empowerment demonstration,

It is surprising to see how a political party can celebrate a self-professed claim for development while many are suffering in silence unheard and unnoticed by anyone. It would also be better for those so-called social worker and contractor aspiring to turn politicians to approach and help them rather than masquerade as philanthropists in TV studios discussions.

One aspects of electoral culture and particular the belief system of people which I would like to address is the false perception and superstition associated among many voters. According to sociologist Talcott Parson, all social life exists within a cultural setting. Every individual actor has some values and norms they follow based on their culture and accordingly they hold certain beliefs and use various symbols to communicate. And this culture is the basis for interpreting meaning in the situation.

For instance, suppose that a man went out from his home for a job interview and when he was about to reach the destination suddenly a cat jumped out on the road and crossed his path. And if the man believes that a cat crossing the road is a bad omen then he may consider the day was unlucky for him. Or even he may avoid the interview. Therefore this small phenomenon of cat crossing the road carries special meaning to the individual. If a dog or a human crosses the road then possibly he won’t mind it. Or a person belonging to another culture may not attach the same meaning. Therefore this is how based on our culture we attach meaning and interpret the social situation.

Similarly, we come across many “voters” who attach a certain meaning when an intending candidate offers “cash” to vote for them. And certain workers make the voters “swear” to reaffirm their commitment. And I have come across people who say that “ eidi peisa lourure, wasak thokure aduna nungaitre”.  Therefore if such is the case among many/some voters out there then we need to break free from such illusion and superstition. If we are fearful of someone’s debt and incurring sin for not returning the debt then we must also be equally fearful of incurring sin for misleading our conscience and electing people based on sinful conduct. And if the intending candidate is charitable enough to offer cash to the voters then let it be for the cash/wealth may not necessarily be his or her own but rightfully delivered to the real owner.

Another aspect of electoral discussion often talked about is the benchmark or criteria to judges the “intending candidature” and one among other is the educational degree as a mark of credibility. Once our teacher in Manipur Public School used to advise us that “you people should be more understanding and empathetic towards others as you all pursue arts stream”. But experience has taught that this is an ideal statement and a mistake to generalise. There is a concrete visible difference in temperament or mental disposition manifested among people experiencing the same knowledge or reality.

Until today, there seems to be no scientific or psychological research done on the subject. But in one conversation I came across between Jordan Peterson and Australia’s John Anderson, Jordan Peterson opined that “there is no substitute for character” while discussing the historical evil in the past. And they also discuss that Germany was probably one of the most educated societies of the world when Nazi rose in power and the Nazi party could not have risen to power  without the active support of powerful German officer class and million of citizens who voted for the party.

During my postgraduate course I came across a statement while listening to the mythological epic Ramayana which I personally find very convincing. When Rama was in exile, he used to approach various sages to acquire knowledge. One sage taught that “Just as rain falls equally on trees and shrubs… But one has red flowers and another, yellow leaves… Thus too the same knowledge affects different beings differently, depending on their innate culture”.

It seems that education can produce the most vile, cunning or perhaps the evilest individual on earth and the same education seems to have the potential to produce a saintly character depending on the innate disposition and tendencies.

A person may be a fool and an illiterate but there are many whose heart are true and mind clear. And a learned one can perhaps be an evil where the mind harbours deceit and manipulation. But it would be a mistake to arrive at a one-sided conclusion. It is not unusual to see some academicians who portray and dress up a neutral character in TV studio discussion but seems to have hidden exclusive interest and at time opined as if they are the spokesperson of some political party.

German sociologist Karl Mannheim argues in his book “Ideology and Utopia” that all ideological systems distort reality because they all present a partial and self-interested view of social reality. He had said that only an ideological neutral intellectual can uncover the objective truth. And in a state like Manipur where there is diverse ethnic and religious sentiment, we need political representative or intellectuals who are genuinely ethical and are inherently honest and have a natural inclination towards truth.

Fox and Miller conducted a study in 12 industrialized countries. And they identified the simultaneous existence of five conditions in those countries where the social and political determinant of growth and development were observed in terms of movement or shift from blue collar occupation to white collar occupation which carries higher rewards.

They found out that with “higher economic growth” there was not only an increase in income but also occupational opportunities at the higher end of the hierarchy also expanded. That is, there are more jobs which carry higher rewards.

But high economic growth alone will not automatically lead to a high degree of mobility unless there is significant improvement in “education”. People cannot get access to jobs with higher rewards unless there is significant improvement in education.

For instance in India, after economic reforms were introduced, the economic growth increased but at the same time many critics had pointed out what they called as a “jobless growth”. The benefits of growth were accrued only up to the middle class but were not percolated down at the bottom. Therefore they found that there was also an increase in school enrolment.

They also found that there was a “high achievement motivation” among people which is a social psychological variable, that is only those people gain mobility who have a strong motivation for achievement. Even if opportunities increase, those who are not motivated enough, they may not succeed in gaining mobility.

“Urbanization” was also one contributing factor in achieving social mobility. The expansion of occupational opportunities particularly those in the “services sectors” take place with urbanization. And service sector jobs tend to carry higher rewards and therefore they provide a high degree of mobility into white collar jobs.

And lastly Fox and Miller identified “political stability” that contributed to social and political determinants for growth. The empirical studies suggest that if these five factors are simultaneously present in a particular society then that society will witness a high degree of mobility from blue collar to white collar jobs

Cell phones have probably become a ubiquitous modern technology where most people have access to. One great feature the mobile communication provides is the development of highly innovative bite size software programmed called mobile software application also known as “app”. Mobile apps have also become a means to deliver information among people. Therefore if the government of Manipur is sincere and responsible enough then they can develop a local “app economy” that would provide information of fund allocation particularly the “local area development” funds for each constituency reflecting the purpose and utilization certificate for each work. Such a digital distribution system would naturally enhance transparency and challenge the monopoly of the “wall garden” through which politicians manipulate the funds. Or the civil society can push forward such a demand and the hesitation among those politicians will naturally reveal the devil disguised as an angel.

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