Terming "Ibobi’s tenure as the darkest of all time" by a senior political leader sounds almost fitting given the present situation of Manipur. According to a recent report, in the last seven months more than a thousand people have been killed. The irony of this killing spree is that it marks no credible scope for trial and many instances of these killings invoked extreme public outcry for having been staged- popularly known as Fake Encounters. It can be said that incessant killings indicate only to the imminence of public outcry as killings have been allegedly carried out either in a cold blooded manner or staged. The disturbing trend that emerged more prominently during the incumbent SPF Government has been excessive utilisation of state military apparatus against its own citizens. Prohibition or breaking public meetings, mass rallies and protest demonstrations using police force have become the hallmark of the state. Another defining characteristics of the Government that evolved in the last 4/5 years is declaration of a virtual state of emergency in the form of curfew in regular intervals. Under the incumbent Government, militarisation of civil space appears to be attaining its zenith. The so called democracy in Manipur seems to tend more and more towards authoritarianism. On the other hand, universal practices acceptable in a democracy like dialogue, debate and non-violent protest movements are slowly losing their space in the (un)democratic set-up of Manipur.
To recall modern political history of state, it was rooted in a ‘social consensus’ as a result of which the rulers cease to treat individuals as mere subjects thereby evolving the idea of citizenship. These tenets are largely contributions of liberal democratic movements in Europe. The way state unfolds today is reflexive of a reverse in the basic characteristics of the modern political tenets. The state as we experience today is of extreme ambivalence and predicament. Therefore, the obvious question is the state, despite being a consented institution, nothing more than a virtual and corrupted despot? If such is the case, accountability, sensitivity and common welfare would only remain a mirage in a gory desert.
To be precise, the way we experience state today reminds what classical liberal theorist Thomas Hobbes had said. According to him "the state cannot be understood as relation, (between people and the ruler), or a constitution, or a purpose; it is a person, and it acts’. The present state of Manipur is a fitting to testimony to what we commonly called as Hobbesian state in which people would be nothing more than a mere subject devoid of rights to have a re-take on the state. The state, therefore, is let loose against its own citizens because absolute authorities enact itself as a Monarch and starts to harp on alleged unsocial inclinations as grounds for unlimited hammering of the public. Going by the historical experiences, monarchs usually did not always terrorise their subjects. They usually unleashed their absolute power against their own subjects when felt threatened or insecure about their position as absolute authority. In such situations monarchs became tyrants and they often acted as agents of pogroms targeting certain or multiple sections of their own subjects.
It is difficult to draw an analogy with the present situation here for the present state is not under any serious threat though challenged by some insurgent groups. Yes, the state is in conflict with various insurgent groups since the last three/four decades. But this cannot be any rational justification for the killing spree. By doing so the state is only inviting people’s wrath or civil uprising as is being witnessed today in the aftermath of the killing of a pregnant woman and a retired PLA cadre in cold blood on July 23.
Reports of killings in encounters as published in media often read as ‘...suspected militants or suspected UG cadres...’ implying that all those killed in the so called encounters were not confirmed insurgents. This was testified by numerous JACs constituted against the killing of ‘suspected militants’ which contended that the ‘suspected militants’ were innocent civilians. But the frightening fact is that, JACs or no JACs, there has been no respite from the ‘killings of suspected militants in encounters’ and the state never spared any room for contestations or contentions contradictory to police claims. From such attitude of the state, one can read the connotation that the state security apparatus and mechanisms are not aimed at selective targeting of insurgents. Rather the state seems to be unleashing a pogrom targeting all insurgents as well as ‘suspects’. Here Yenning would like to reiterate popular questions like, "Do suspects, leaving apart insurgents, deserve such summary execution or death in encounters or fake encounters"? "Does the constitution of the world’s largest democracy sanction such swift extra-judicial execution"? Or "Is Manipur an authoritarian state within democratic India"?
The state of Manipur today is typical of this Hobbessian cycle of emerging absolute authority. The logic of the present excess and turmoil in the state is not something which is inexplicable because absolute authority breeds absolute impunity over the rights of the people and killings. This spree of the state apparatuses lies in the too much emphasis that state of India has given to invoking militarization of civil spaces. Critics have often blamed that this spree has not even spared economy, environment and development projects in the state which Yenning has already dealt with in the previous issues.
Of late, the brutal face of the state has been unveiled through fortification of villages. The setting up of special police officers (SPOs) in Heirok, followed by Village Defence Force (VDF) can be mentioned in this regard. The Heirok experience indicates to the fact that much anticipated counter-insurgency drive did not find a good beginning. Although, pitching villagers against the insurgents in Heirok has caused deeper damage as it potentially poise the locals against each other. This is what Yenning calls internalization of conflict. The political and civil environment, today, in Manipur is highly contested as against each killing and excesses of the state, there is a local level Joint Action Committee (JAC) to take up the cause of the victims. Nevertheless, due to the circumstantial limitations and heavy handedness of the state JACs mainly fail to ensure its cry for justice. Majority of the JACs are converted into platforms for temporal compensatory demands representing the victims. In this process, the alleged security forces generally evade the possibility of being punished and accountable.
Another important trajectory is that some JACs have been distinctively challenging the state for it sticks to demand for justice largely rejecting the government’s ‘give first aid, derail justice’ attitude by giving compensation in terms of cash, jobs etc. Such JACs with determination to stick on to justice have been more successful in fixing the state, if not total delivery of justice. To cite some recent cases, JACs against the killings of Rabina, Sanjit, Krishnadas and Satish have been relatively successful in mounting pressure on the government. However, despite this mounting pressure, the question of justice delivery appears to remain a long overdue in India’s Manipur, most likely due to the Government of India’s treatment of Manipur as a frontier and absolutism enjoyed by the state.
The wholesome impact is that one can see an atrocious penetration of the state in our daily existence. This interpretation does have strong resonance in the case of a society like Manipur while citizens are exposed to extreme governmental surveillance. Examples are rampant, Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958, arming villagers and wholesome impunity in the deliverance of the states. Put simply, what can be said is that the absolute regimes are analogous to complete anarchy as the basic fabric of a civilized norm is utterly uprooted. The evolution of a monarch to a tyrant and a ruler to despot is not necessarily compelled by prevailing circumstances or turn of events but it has more to do with the psychological disposition of the particular head of state and his/her inner coterie. Yenning does not think, the people of Manipur, surrounded by democratic states in all her neighbourhood would easily fall victim to such an evolution, if the people’s relentless movement for their rights is any indication.
What the situation demands and the form of evolution needed by the people of Manipur at this critical juncture are:
1 There should be a new rung political leadership.
2 India will have to explore political alternatives that can respond to region’s (northeast) political complexities.
3 There should be a concrete approach to region’s political questions put forth by armed outfits.
4 The current strength of people’s movement indicates to the fact that the head of the state will have to go along deliverance of justice.
Finally, the question is about Justice and guaranteeing that excesses of the state are not repeated.
Being a part of India, the Government of India should be responsible for all the negative developments in Manipur resulting from excessive and extensive militarisation just as much as the state government should be accountable to its citizens. Else they may be constrained to sniff air of a civil revolution in not so distant future.
Posted on The Sangai Express on Sunday, August 9, 2009