Monday, September 5, 2011

Oligarchy and Corruption Conundrum

When anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare was undertaking a 13-day fast, Manipur was under a looting spree on account of the economic blockade pertaining to the Sardar Hills District demand. The looting spree continues. While the euphoric fast could attract thousands and captured the imagination of middle class Indians, the opposite happened (s) in the case of Manipur. Corruption, in fact, has become a way of life in our State. Such a way of life is not only accepted but also respected and well entrenched in our culture. What else can explain the rot in every sphere of life in our State? Thus, the phenomenon of Anna’s crusade rings an empty bell to our ears. However, this does not mean to say that there were no attempts to eradicate corruption in our State. The 1980s was a turbulent time for Manipur. Armed opposition movements gained momentum. At the same time, educated youths of the State formed voluntary networks, followed the Maoist tactics of wall posters and slogans such as ‘Say no to corruption’, ‘Stop Corruption’, etc appeared on walls in every nook and corner of the valley. Nowadays, anti-HIV/AIDS slogans have replaced such efforts. Certainly, times are changing.

One cannot trace the origin of corruption with certainty in our society. The task is all the more strenuous given the fact that different sets of value systems operated in our society of the past, thus, the very understanding of the term corruption. However, one can surely point fingers to the Manipur of the mid 1960s when modern form of corruption started taking roots. By modern form of corruption, we refer to the structural nexus that exists between the bureaucrats and the politicians in siphoning off public fund. The nurtured relationship could survive precisely on account of the tacit understanding extended by the media to these parasitic elites. And entry to the elite league was impossible without paying a fee, or otherwise, the parasitic elites could survive only through the circulation of their own.

The 1960s was a period, when people have started feeling the reality of joining with the Indian Union. As the number of educated youths increased, the job market was on the down side. Manipur could not receive any investment from the Central Government to start any employment creating enterprises. Moreover, this was a time, when the logic of capitalism started sizing up the general populace, making them profit seekers and self aggrandizers. Over and above, this was also a period when the second batch of educated Manipuri officials retired from their respective official positions, and change of guard took place. Unlike the first and second generation of educated elites, who were swayed by euphoria of being in a new nation-state, and thus, dedicated to work for progress and prosperity of the new found nation, the latter generation was hard-pressed by the circumstances of the time. Any public venture had to have a pay-off, any vacant post had to be filled up by the semi-literate wives, children and relatives, few remaining post had to be made open, yes, to those who could pay the bribe.

Over the years, the practice has become all the more entrenched and respectable, making it a part of the Manipuri culture. And time goes by, so thus the nature and character of the nexus between different kinds of elites to foster corruption. Today, the form of governance or rule in Manipur is characterised by oligarchy, wherein elites of different backgrounds comprising politicians, bureaucrats, defence personnel, media, police personnel and contractors, etc decide the fate of the people. The inclusion of media as a part of ruling oligarch is indeed unfortunate; however, what else can explain its insensitivity during a time of crisis like today? Take for example, why did the media fail to question the meaning of ‘open’ sale of petrol, when few days back, a joker announced that there would be open sale of petrol. Or why do the media fail to report about the exact amount of stock of petrol or diesel in a petrol pump that would go for sales? Or why does not it report about the frequent disturbances by the State police which deprive the share of the common men? In short, has any of the media houses, initiated a debate on the issue of reorganisation of new districts in Manipur or about the humanitarian crisis in Manipur. Everyday we read reports about decision of the agitators and their stands, but there is no coverage on the existential crisis of the time.

The oligarchs of Manipur do not want to end the present impasse as it benefits them and their extended followers. The oligarchs of Manipur remind us of certain characters from the novel Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. Monsieur Thénardier and Madame Thenardier are couple of corrupt innkeepers. The couple is associated with an infamous gang called ‘the Patron-Minette’. They steal from people including the dead who have died in the war field. It has become common place for the civilians to “buy” from the police and military personnel during such crisis. The bureaucrats have not come out from the cocoon of red-tapism. Both politicians and bureaucrats are well-fed by the contractors. This brings us to the issue, if at all, the oligarchs have a conscience. Indeed they do have as we have mentioned earlier. They are loving parents and good relatives, they think only about themselves and the welfare of their dear and near ones. But as we said earlier, they are callous and vengeful. Callous nature of the politicians is well exhibited by the Chief Minister himself. Take this glaring example of the foreign visit by Shrijukta Okram Ibobi Singh in search of prospective investors to the State. And he takes along his family members for the visit. Yet, just look at the timing. Who is going to bring about an end to the present impasse in his absence? Is the SPF spokesperson or for that matter the Cabinet minus the CM in a position to solve the problem? Our concern is, did any of the media houses in Manipur question about the timing of the CM’s visit? The reply to the above queries will be a BIG NO. This opens up several possible inferences:
* The oligarchs are in favour of chaos
* The oligarchs do not want to end the crisis
* The oligarchs are for corruption
* The oligarchs are the untouchables
* None gives a damn about the common people
* The people of Manipur are living mummies

But can we remain as mere spectators? Even if Manipur cannot produce another Anna Hazare (let’s forget for a moment whether he visits Manipur or not as desired by Binalakshmi Nepram, the award winner), it is time to rise up against the very foundation of governance that has made us immobile. Or should we surrender totally as dead mummies to the system? Here the role of civil society bodies is important. We are glad that the United Committee Manipur had a public deliberation on the ongoing problem. However, UCM also needs to look beyond the political or be more political and address the suffering of the common people. Very true, the final decision has to be taken by the Government; nevertheless, UCM can start initiating confidence building measures with the agitating parties, say for example, UCM can create a platform for dialogue and invite the aggrieved parties. This can, in the long run, project a more humanitarian face of the Committee as well as exert pressure to the Government. The Government has to solve the problem and this is feasible only if the civil society bodies work in tandem and exert pressure. Let’s remmeber the onus lies on our head. A thousand Anna Hazare would not be able to save our soceity from the festering rot until and unless we, the living dead, wake up and muster the guts to fight colletively against the blood-sucking oligarchs. It's time to disentangle ourselves from the all pervading conundrum of corruption. Muster the guts or perish in the gutter. This is the call of the hour.

This article was published in The Sangai Express on Sunday, September 4, 2011

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