This is a compilation of two write-ups by Amar Yumnam, professor and head of department of economics, Manipur University, which was published by the Imphal Free Press on 24 April and 10 April 2017.

The Football Player Is Interesting: The Fast Dynamism is Good

24 April 2017

The new Chief Minister is an interesting person. The dynamics of his mental frame for taking decisions and the pursuance of the goal he has in his mind are appealing. Football is a Team Sports but it is one where every player has to try to excel. It is also a challenge between two teams where each player has to outwit the opponent in strategy, agility and skills; dynamism is the norm while being static would at best save the match. Shri Biren had a good innings as a Football Player during his youthful days and this aspect is becoming salient in his functioning and decision-making even though his present innings as a Chief Minister has just started.

The unfolding dynamism in Biren as Chief Minister can be seen from some critical aspects of social dynamism which Manipur has been experiencing. There have been many voices in Manipur over the last few decades over colonization and colonialism. The Indian State has been perceived by many as behaving more like a Coloniser than an equal partner in a Federal Structure. Well, the main disturbing and detrimental features of colonialism globally may be conceived as of three consequences:

First, under colonialism the state is disconnected in her functioning from the contextual realities of the social, political, cultural, demographic, geographic and ethnic qualities of the colony.
Second, the government distances itself from the society over and in which it has been ruling.
Third, the usual feature of societal dynamics in colonies has been the elites detaching themselves from the life and livelihoods of the common population. There have been strains, if not completely, of these characteristics in the social and political economic trajectory of Manipur as a Federating Unit of India over the decades.

Further, the empirical evolution of Federalism in India and in so far as the political economic trajectory of Manipur as a Federating Unit is concerned have not been arguably very democratic. Of course, globally democracy and federalism have not conterminously evolved over the centuries. But the empirical experiences of the twentieth century brought landmark transformations in both perceptions and empirics of and between these two. This happened particularly in the backdrop of the political dynamics in parts of Europe, Canada and USA in the later part of the nineteenth century.

During the twentieth century, the issues of structure and design of federalism became so closely interlinked with the prevalence or otherwise of democracy and thus the very nature of the state. William Livingston wrote in his 1956 book on Federalism and Constitutional Change thus:

Federal government is suitable only to those polities that are organised upon a democratic or republican foundation. By this is meant merely that it is incompatible with any form of dictatorship or absolutism. Federal government presupposes a desire and an ability to secure the component units against encroachment by the central government.

If the latter is an authoritarian dictatorship, it is difficult to see how the safeguards of the federal structure can be worth much; the states would continue perhaps to exercise their functions, but only on the sufferance of the central government … far as the scheme itself is concerned it would be at the mercy of the dictator. Logically the two are not incompatible, but practically one would contradict the other.

Manipur happens to be a federating unit where the empirical fusion of lived dynamics and the Constitution has elements of severe contradictions and socio-political tensions as something like Kenneth Wheare put it more than seventy years ago: ”It is not sufficient to look at constitutions only. What matters just as much is the practice of government. A country may have federal constitution, but in practice it may work that constitution in such a way that its government is not federal. Or a country with a non-federal constitution may work it in such a way that it provides an example of federal government…… is obvious that the practice of the constitution is more important almost than the law of the constitution.”

Manipur has faced lived experiences of Federalism and Democracy which contained strong elements of suspicion as a federating unit of India. One way in which Biren is different from the earlier Chief Ministers is that he was already fully aware of these social, demographic, ethnic and political-economic dimensions of these strong elements of suspicion. Let us flag two issues here in order to appreciate Biren as a Chief Minister of Manipur. First Manipur has been needing a robust connection between the government and the people. Second, in order to address the long grudge on the Federalism related issues, people have been expecting something from a Head of the People of Manipur for some courage, assertiveness and direction.

Even though the period is still very short, some features of the Football Player in him have become very salient. Well the new CM is heading a coalition government and ipso facto the route of his manoeuvre is very narrow. Fortunately as a fresh wind to the socio-political fabric of Manipur, Biren has certainly shown robust manifestations of his intentions to connect with the people. Simultaneously and unfortunately in this, decisions did also emerge from him reflecting the continuation of the earlier Federalism grievances in a much more acute form. It has been as if this second layer has been thicker than the first layer of connecting with the contextual land and people and their issues. Here the dogged determination and agility of a football player to alter the scenario of dominance by the other is paramount.

As of now, Biren seems fully conscious of his earlier understanding as well as shared feelings of the people of Manipur on issues having a bearing on federalism and trying in a determined way to recover the loss space on this. He needs support at this point and the outcome would be good for the people of Manipur.


Biren After Ibobi: The Legacy and the Challenges

April 10 2017

The recent Elections have been a Thumps Down for Ibobi for sure. Ibobi has had three terms as the Head of the People of Manipur. He has been both lucky and his political acumen too has been proven. He is lucky for the Anti-Defection Act came in time for him to set a new record in Manipur for stability in government and an opportunity to govern to display sparks of acting on gut-feelings; the outcomes of these acts have also revealed his commitment to the core interests of Manipur.

Unfortunately starting from towards the end of his Second term and throughout the Third term, the people’s distrust of his administration and allegations of scams dominated the societal talks. It was as if corruption, nepotism and what is usually called crony capitalism got the better of Ibobi as expected by the people in the beginning of the First term. Towards the end of his Third term, the credibility of Ibobi was at the rock bottom. Unfortunately the members of his team also assumed for granted his invincibility in the Manipur Elections and indulged in unwarranted excesses. This led to his undoing; the invincible has been defeated out though not completely. The message was very clear and loud that his Third term excesses were not approved by the people.

While disapproving, the rejection of Ibobi was not lock, stock and barrel. The welcoming of a new regime was not total either. It is in this context that Biren became Chief Minister. Biren has two big responsibilities here. First, he has necessarily to prove himself as qualitatively different from Ibobi. Second, while dismantling the negative legacies of Ibobi, he has to put in place a governance inclusive enough while at the same time asserting the core interests of Manipur.

Given these responsibilities, Biren needs to understand the changed circumstances. When Ibobi started his First term, the expectations of the people were not very high; people just went for a wait and watch policy. Further, the people and particularly the youths were not very critical in their socio-political outlooks and engagements. As stated earlier, people became critical only from towards the end of his Second term. But today, the outlook and engagements of the people are very qualitatively altered.

The recent high percentage of voting reflects the arrival of the global trend of assertion by the youths of Generation Y. This generation is very diverse, highly networked and very impatient. This Generation is very critical of lethargy and wants results immediately. The global trend starting from Cairo in 2011 has shown in bold letters that the wishes and demands of this generation can be ignored or sidelined only at huge costs to the political powers that be. Slowly and meaningfully the older members of the world have also set in motion steps converging towards the social designs of this generation.

Whereas Ibobi could take his own time to attend to the societal needs of Manipur or otherwise, Biren does not have this luck; he has to immediately show signs of administrative response and responsiveness to the core societal needs of Manipur and manifest delivery of results sooner than later. This is salient from the critical remarks on Biren’s decisions and actions right from the now; there are expressions of disapprovals of his decisions in the social interactions and meetings of the intelligentsia. In these interactions, many are expressing the opinion that Ibobi is better than him in so far as defending the core interests of Manipur is concerned.

It is visible that Biren is facing a tough time endeavouring to stabilize his coalition and effect a coherent decision framework. It must be the reason why a manifest of his government’s command over administrative mechanism and the adopted paradigm for future is yet to emerge. It is of course true that his occasional statements contain elements of a positive and bright future for Manipur, but the decisions reflecting these are awaited..

In these socio-political circumstances and the generational issues involved at this juncture, the priority of Biren should be to put in place a coherent picture of his administration’s approach to cause change in Manipur. The salient picture of compromise and weakness of assertion should be done away with at the earliest. He has to show to the people of Manipur that he means business and that too by putting the core interests of the land and people of Manipur intact. The Central leadership of his own party should also not try to take advantage of the vulnerable position of Biren. If this is done, as looks like as of now, the larger national interests would be compromised. Biren has to prove regionally as well as nationally. Manipur is watching and Biren’s Manipur is an impatient one unlike Ibobi’s was.