Illustration: Hindustan Times

Text: Imphal Free Press editorial, 2 Feb 2017

If only the ways of the government were above board, questions such as moral legitimacy of governance would not have been so very complicated or controversial. Had the officialdom kept to the limits of laid-down norms and propriety, the condemnation of misdeeds big and small, and their perpetrators could and would have been an unqualified. It is such an irony that today even murders however foul, especially if the killers belong to an underground organization, and if the victim is a government official, have come to gain some legitimacy in the eyes of the public. Even if this is by default on account of the government’s own reputation of misdeeds, this is nothing short of tragic. In such a misplaced sense of legitimacy, the presumption often also is, abhorrent as the violence may be, the victims deserving recipient of poetic justice at work. This is the nature of the moral vacuum created by the guardians of the government. This is also why the campaign to bring about a comprehensive resolution to the multidimensional conflict that the state is immersed in has to begin within this space first.

The government must endeavour to legitimately fill up this moral vacuum if it is serious about resolving the increasingly chaotic state of affairs in this beleaguered land. No doubt about it that although government accountability before the eyes of the public is an absolutely essential condition in resolving the conflict situation, this quality alone may by no means be the sufficient prescription in itself. There certainly will be more to accomplish, before light at the end of the tunnel appears. For whatever monstrous visage the many insurgencies may have taken in the present times, the initial seeds that sowed it is powerful enough to germinate again and again even if the present crop has abandon all ideologies and ultimately doomed itself to self-destruction and annihilation.

That is to say, beyond corruption, incompetence and moral degeneration of the government establishment, there are other deeper historical and identity issues that fuel the engine sustaining insurgency. The fact also is, while everybody would join in to condemn corruption that has contaminated the soul of the government so thoroughly, and an equal number would also in their hearts bitterly curse the mutants that insurgencies have become in recent times, many of them would still fall within the mental constituency sharing the same identity insecurities and a sense of historical incongruence they suffer as part of the larger Indian nationhood as it is generally understood.

Hence, beyond the immediate challenge of bringing the law and order within the grip of the establishment, for any judicious roadmap to lasting peace, there is also the absolute need to address and engage these deeper concerns meaningfully and with empathy. Most unfortunately, the failure of the government in meeting either of these expectations is stark.

The Okram Ibobi government has been around for 15 years now, having completed successfully three full Assembly terms. Fifteen years is long enough time for any government to have shown results in the regard. Without doubts, there have been some progress in some fields, and on the eve of the elections, these are being flaunted liberally. The establishment of the JNIMS and broadening of Imphal streets (although for those who lost land in the process it must have been painful), probably are the least controversial. On the other end of the scale is the creation of seven new districts. Whether this too will prove to be for the benefit or detriment of the people will only be known in the years ahead. These however will hardly make a difference to the moral degeneration and corrosion of legitimacy this government did not bother to address seriously in all these years. It cannot rid itself of the scar of have left Manipur as a savage and amoral political jungle, where official corruption continues to be a norm rather than exception. But politics being the amoral game of power and rhetoric it is, political fortunes often is determined more by knowing how to play with the anxieties and insecurities of the people.

Under the circumstance, given the polarized nature of voters in the state currently, it is quite likely the ruling party may not be dislodged. Even if it were to be, it unlikely just as yet that the party which replaces it will be any different. Politics in the state is thus still condemned to be about managing and distributing government contract jobs for a cut in the profits. Corruption is only a predictable consequence, and moral legitimacy of the establishment the price paid.

The moral vacuum in which violent insurrections seek their own legitimacy will thus only be perpetuated. We can only hope a change in this culture is possible, even if the old wine in the same old bottle, or this same wine in a new bottle, assumes power.

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