Monday, January 17, 2011

Citizen’s Concern, Civil Society & the Middle Class Sensibility

Holding of a seminar at the Centenary Hall, Manipur University, on civic-military relationship, jointly organised by the Red Shield Division and Manipur University provoked not only curiosity but also a sense of amazement from the reading general public. Curiosity in the sense that when appeals are being made to demilitarize the academic centre, how come intellectuals and scholars have consented to take part in an academic seminar organised by the military. Amazement emanates from the fact that the Indian State has succeeded in pushing one of its agency, the military, which does not have any business with democracy, to talk about democracy. Finally people were overwhelmed, not at the fact that ideas, which does not have any real binding on the lives of the common people but of academic interests, were exchanged on the floor of the Centenary Hall but because the sanctity of an already tarnished and militarized University was soiled by the very orchestrated act of the army and participants should have been conscious about this tangible sensibility.
That Manipur runs on middle class sensibility is an undeniable fact. Citizen’s concerns are de facto voice of the middle class, of those who occupy positions of power, the academia and various non-governmental organizations, and so on. Class location objectively determines people’s economic and political interests and influences, not their subjectivity, political consciousness, beliefs, behavior, and so forth. But classes, as Max Weber observed, are not communities; they are not groups whose members share a sense of belonging and a set of objectives. Perhaps, this was the case of the middle class intellectuals who participated at the seminar. One can even go to the length of saying that middle class seeks mobility (sic. promotion), self aggrandizement and recognition more than any other classes.
Governmental Technology & the Middle Class Phenomenon
In the contemporary world, governmental technologies have succeeded in enlarging the space as well as legitimacy of the State. This is true not only for India but also for many of the countries, which declare themselves as liberal and democratic. Let’s take the case of India. From time to time, on a yearly basis, might of the Indian State is displayed through pompous shows on the 26th of January. In addition to the display of varied cultures in the name of unity in diversity, the show is incomplete without the display of its arms and armaments. In the words of Clifford Geertz such act can be interpreted as cultural signification or stage show.
At a larger context, a sense of participation has been created amongst its people by constituting a political society through the craft of introducing a liberal albeit electoral democracy. In such a political society, everyone is induced to imagine themselves as equal in the sense that each adult is given a single and non-transferable franchise. Moreover, as is embedded in the very nature of the State by virtue of having declared itself as one following liberal political ethos, benevolent face of the “liberal” State is projected through various schemes. Today, MGNREGS (formerly NREGS), mid-day meal programmes, free and compulsory education for children below the age of 14 years, introduction of BPL cards for public distribution schemes, etc. can be read as governmental technology at least to pacify the disgruntled working class and peasant, so as to avoid a revolution of massive scale. So there is interplay of electoral promises and art of governmentality.
It is common knowledge that agencies of the State are used invariably in order to maintain its “liberal” and benevolent face. But what is even more surprising is the use of certain sections of the society (in addition to the agencies of the State) as a part of its governmental technology. This is akin to Gramscian understanding of hegemony, wherein every existing opportunity and institutions are exploited to maintain the State’s status quo as well as hegemony.
The Indian State survives by creating needs of different dimensions to different sections of the society. In such acts, one infallible truth projected by such projects is that existence of the State is deemed to be compulsory; only when the State exists then only the needs would be fulfilled. For example, if the downtrodden and the working class have been promised food or education through various government schemes, the middle class are promised upward mobility in terms of perks and entitlement. And finally, the rich are promised endless accumulation of wealth. Capitalism is spelled out as the most efficient economic system where any hopes can be fulfilled. This is the mantra used by the State as its governmental technology.
This brings us to the larger issue of middle class sensibility, citizen’s concern and the state of civil society in Manipur. The truth is while a semblance of equality have been showcased amongst the citizenries at least in the domain of the political society, the civil society remains a realm solely belonging to the middle class. Moreover, middle class as in any epoch of history remains to be harbinger of ideas, the most revolutionary at least in the domain of ideas, educated, profit seeking and restless. Appropriation of this class as well appeasing their appetite is a must for the modern State. Obviously, their needs and tastes are different from the common mass. Take for example, citizen’s concern on regular supply of electricity. Every person in Manipur wants to get regular supply of electricity. Deliberations that took place at Imphal Hotel on the same issue, demanding a white paper from the Government and seeking help from concerned citizens such as legal action and so on failed to address the likely consequences on the common mass. For example, is the concerned civil society ready to fight for people who would be selling their land in order to pay off the electricity bills (dues)? Very true, as we are in a capitalist relationship of production as well as dictated by the culture of consumerism, one has to pick the consumer culture. However, the point is that how come civil society misses out on the issue of waiving off dues by the Government. There has to be a beginning, perhaps at unequal lines as marked by John Rawls when we talk about justice. Middle class obsession and narcissism have to be given up for the larger good or at least when issue of public good is involved. Manipur can do without such sensibility.
Lessons from the Seminar on Civil-military Relationship
To say that civilian organizers of the seminar were partners, if not agents, used by agent of the State (sic. the army) is not saying too much. Or perhaps, they were the motivated ones who aim for upward mobility in their salaried positions. Such issues are left to the readers to have their own guesses. Few questions need to be addressed:
¡ Was the seminar a larger design to showcase the benevolent face of the army and harden their stand on persistence of AFSPA in Manipur? For example, Major General Hooda declared that AFSPA is needed to combat insurgents in Manipur. Here, Irom Chanu Sharmila’s fast to remove AFSPA has been reduced to oblivion. Moreover, this is contrary to the citizen’s concern on human rights violations.
¡ Can the mere act of organizing a seminar in a University give the army the onus of proving that they have a good relation with the civilians? Facts say otherwise.
For the larger interest of Manipur, perhaps Major General Hooda should have demanded removal of the Assam Rifles camp from the University campus. At least, this gesture could have made them more popular with the civilians. We believe civil-military relations cannot be made or unmade by intellectual exchange of ideas at seminars or workshops. Whatever rapport built up on the premises of such seminars would remain confined to the participating intellectual class and higher echelons of the military. One thing, we are sure, the seminar gave a perfect platform to the military to justify imposition of the draconian AFSPA against which the people of Manipur have been fighting for the last 30 years, epitomised by the self-immolation of Chittaranjan and the unsurpassed crusade of Irom Sharmila who has already dwarfed Mahatma Gandhi’s Satyagraha.

This article was posted on The Sangai Express on Sunday, January 16, 2011

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