One cannot imagine an orderly, stable and democratic society without justice as its foundation. A theory or an idea of justice that a particular group of people or society upholds needs to be transformed into actual practice in order to make it a just and rule bound society. One cannot hope for a better future in a society wherein repeated denial of justice has become normal rather than an exception. Such instances will surely bring in the people into direct confrontation with any form of regime, no matter how ruthless and strong that regime may be. Manipur can be taken as the politico-legal landscape where such a happening occurs. History of the world is replete with ruthless regimes and dictators who reigned with terror and spread fear psychosis among the peoples. They relied upon application of systematic violence and multiple forms of tortures, execution, massacres etc. But at the end of the day, it was the struggling people who successfully overthrew them. Any Government that fails to see this historical trajectory and experiences is bound to rely upon systematic violence to sustain the regime rather than through accepted norms of legitimacy. Legitimacy is not only a legal concept as depicted in the legal-rational model of Max Weber but also moral and ethical because it involves trust, consensus and a sense of justness of the governed. That is why unlike military and dictatorial regimes, ‘democracy’ not only guaranteed people’s rights and liberty but also regards people as foundation for polity and governance.Democracy cannot allow the master-slave kind of relationship between the rulers and ruled as we are experiencing in Manipur today. Human history has traversed a long distance to materialise the idea of justice, equality and liberty in human societies. Liberal conception of democracy, which most of the world’s Parliamentary democracies including India, follow had evolved certain mechanism to prevent authoritarianism as well as protection, preservation and promotion of life, liberty, property, equality and justice. Fundamental elements such as transparency, accountability, rule of law, collective responsibility, separation of powers among three organs of Government to ensure check and balance, a strong Opposition etc, set a democratic Government apart from the military or dictatorial regimes. However, democracy also contains danger of degeneration into Cabinet dictatorship or majoritarian (ruling majority) authoritarianism under certain specific socio-political situations and depending upon the level of political modernisation of the governed.Democracy in ManipurDemocracy in Manipur is more akin to ‘semi-feudal’ and military style with coercive State apparatus having a predominant role in the civil space. There is near absence of democracy in Manipur, except for the periodic elections. The systematic killings of citizens, stage managed fake encounters, repeated denial of people’s voice, the naked aggression upon life and property of citizens, brutal repression of non-violent protesters, beating them and hunting them right upto bedroom and kitchen room, pitting sophisticated gun (AKs) wielding Manipur Police Commando (MPC) against the unarmed civilian protester, even using it against the protesters besides tear gas, rubber bullets, mob bombs, water cannon, indiscriminate lathi charges etc which we have seen in the present mass struggle for justice and ousting of the Chief Minister, are indicative of the degeneration of democracy into a semi-feudal rule. Any form of excessive State (sic government) repression with disproportionate amount of violence under the pretext of maintaining ‘law and order’ and ‘rule of law’ is nothing but rape and murder of democracy as well as justice.Obsession with ‘Rule Of Law’ & ‘Law and Order’In recent times, Government of Manipur has become so obsessive with ‘rule of law’ and ‘law and order’ that it has failed to see the unwanted excesses committed by so called security forces. In many occasions Government had sent out signal that they can be ruthless, brutal, can use terror as systematic mechanism to enforce rule of law and maintain law and order, unfortunately in the very process destroying the very foundation of rule of law. We believe that ‘rule of law’ is anathema to violence and repressive State actions, again rule of law is not meant only for common mass it also equally applies to those in the corridor of powers, security forces, bureaucrats etc. A corollary meaning of rule of law is equality before the law, in India, every individuals including Prime Minister of India are equal before the law and no one is above the law. But in Manipur law seems to be applicable to civil populace only and those exercising power seems to be above the law. It is not wrong to mention that rule of law has become a pretext to camouflage the State excesses that have brought fear psychosis, suffering, miseries, death etc and rule of law has become an effective tool to advance the vested interest of the few powerful elite. Here lies the real issue. Today, people of Manipur are so fear stricken that nobody dares to venture out with some money in their pocket. Unfortunately whom they fear are the State police forces. Suffice it to say that people are not safe in every sense of the term and fear of death looms large in our minds. Time and again, the principles of rule of law are violated ruthlessly by the Manipur Police force with complete immunity under the protective shield of Government. For most of the encounters, stories/version of the police were almost same, it cannot be a coincident. Besides, for most encounters that took place, there were always contested versions of the locals. But for the burden of proof and evidence and ‘police are always right and public always wrong’ attitude of the Government, truth is always the loser.Protest, Demonstration and 23/7 IncidentIt is insane and politically immature to assume that people shall remain quiet, after the exposure of one of the greatest lies enacted and committed at BT Road on 23/7 by Tehelka. For the Government BT Road episode was a finished issue on that very day because the suspected UG, who unleashed indiscriminate firing from his 9 mm pistol, was killed in the encounter. Hence, justice has been done at the spot and there was nothing more to investigate but for the exposure of Tehelka. Had there been no exposure of the photographs by the Tehelka, there could never have been any initiative from the Government. It is because of the people’s protest and demand for justice that Government reluctantly initiated action of suspending six Police Commandos and order for instituting a judicial inquiry. Even after the exposure of blatant lie of fake encounter enacted and committed in broad day light in the busiest place of the State that took the life of a pregnant woman Rabina right in front of her three years old son and Sanjit and sustaining bullet injury to five persons, Chief Minister of Manipur failed to tender unconditional apology to the public for reading out ‘cock and bull’ story of the 23/7 incident in the secret institution of democracy ie State Legislative Assembly that carries people’s mandate, trust, consensus and embodies the values of democracy. What a shame! People’s demand for resignation of incumbent Chief Minister of Manipur must be seen in the context of broad framework of democratic accountability and responsibility, not on personal moral ground. Unlike other offices, elected offices are not a bought or earned one, it is a constituted one based on democratic principles and accountability. Moreover, people expect leaders to posses higher moral and ethical standard as shown by the Jammu and Kashmir, CM Omar Abdullah. Such actions convey message to the public that they are true representative of the people; they came to politics to serve the people not for the accumulation of personal wealth and they represent people’s aspiration not power etc; democracy is safe in the hands of such leaders having democratic essentiality and sensitive to people’s demand for justice.The Message after 23/7The present people’s movement against the Government of Manipur is the result of accumulated frustration, repeated denial of justice to the voices of many whose sons, husbands have become victim of fake encounters and failure on the part of the State Government to recognise the violation of law and excesses committed by the State forces. 23/7 episode is only the sparking point.Message of the movement is ‘loud and clear’:Enough is enough, no more fake encounters, no more killings, just as there is no short cut to justice there is no short cut to solve the vexed problem of Manipur and using systematic killing as a short cut is counter productive in the long run.Manipuris are not too cheap to be traded for money. Our body is not a commodity to exchange for more grant-in-aid, producing thousands of widows and orphans should not be counted as achievement for giving gallantry award. It is time Government and leaders of Manipur have to listen to the pangs of separation for near and dear ones. Listen to the voice of the people. It is time Government of India awakes to the myriad of problems in Manipur and recognise the gravity of situation and give needed attention. It is time Government of India sees that justice should not be nipped in the bud and democracy raped and murdered in the name of law and order.
Posted on The Sangai Express on Monday, August 24, 2009