For the good or the bad, the revolution in Manipur has slowly but surely entered a new era. The most important marker of the beginning of this transition came about two decade ago, when wide public disenchantment threw up a situation in which a growing section of the population were willing even to arm themselves for protection. The government of the day, as any government which has sworn loyalty to the Indian state would, eagerly tried to cash in on this new public sentiment in its counter insurgency campaign, and as we all remember, thus were born the Special Police Officers, SPO, posts or Village Development Force, VDF, as they came to be known as following a court ban on SPOs in a case relating to the Salwa Judum SPOs in Andhra Pradesh. Today, the controversy over these new statutory militias have somewhat settled down to a new normal and nobody even remembers their possible unlawfulness. Thankfully though, they have not turned out to be the harbinger of a new face of state terrorism, and the recruit were merely looking for a back door entry into government service, even if the jobs on offer were adhoc and not well defined. In a state with over 20 percent unemployment rate, this is nothing to be surprised about.
More than the history of the sorry episode or its outcome, what is amazing is the failure of those at the helm of the revolution to acknowledge the public disenchantment with their ways. Had it not been for this disenchantment, and had the underground groups still commanded genuine respect that they once did, and not fear of the gun as they had come to be known for, such challenges to their authority would not even have been dreamed of amongst the general public. Once upon a time people joined these organisations or donated to them willingly in the belief that they were there to usher in change for everybody’s better future. Today there are riots if anybody is found recruiting young people for these organisations. Yet, there are little or no evidence of any change of mind or outlook. Probably there are many in these organisations who are aware of the new public mood, but there seems to be a gap between how these messages of public mood changes are being understood by top leaderships of many of these organisations and their own executive wings. We do remember reading touching, introspective and self-critical appeals from the former, calling for self-reformation amongst the underground activists, but these seem to have had no effect on the organisations’ executive decision makers.
At the time of the Heirok crisis for instance, there were popular jokes that incisively retold these same messages. One of them jested that real estate in Heirok where the SPO movement was born, was sky rocketing as people from all over wanted to buy land there and settle in the belief this will guarantee them security. However, the hubris that had taken over these organisations prevented these messages to be read as a harsh but constructive signal that it was time for them to change their ways and outlook. Compounding the matter further were the perpetual splinter wars amongst militants that frequently spilled over into everyday lives of ordinary people, causing for instance the periodic closure of newspapers and cable TV offices, or protest demonstrations by different sections of the society against atrocities they suffered. Students of literature will need no further convincing that hubris leads to tragedy. Macbeth demonstrated this like no other. In Manipuri there is a nice saying that encapsulates this same thought: “When pride blinds the bamboo that it is the tallest, the lowly crows will sit on it and make it bend”.
As people whose profession it is to perpetually be on the search for writings on the walls, we are constrained to say that the message now is for the revolution to reinvent itself or perish. It ideological blueprint needs redrafting. Its strategies call for urgent and radical overhauling. The debates in our society must have to begin focusing on these matters, and these new debates must be paid heed to, for ultimately, they will be the redemption and purge of the hubris that has afflicted all. Otherwise, the continuing spiral into the abyss will sooner than later reach a critical point, and beyond anybody’s control. That would be apocalyptic for Manipur. Let the revolution, and with it, Manipur, turn a new chapter. At the moment, the vision of this new chapter is far from promising, and full of dark portends of bloodshed. But it is never too late to rework the colour scheme of this vision. If it is not the colour of the olive branch as yet, at least it does not have to be that of blood, gore and the graveyard.
Editor, Imphal Review of Arts and Politics and author