We Are Missing Something Terribly: The state

The Imphal Free Press
April 3 2011
By Amar Yumnam

We have been very critical of the nature of the state as it manifests in Manipur. This critical attitude had at times shown to have been a prevailing view among the masses as well. But very unfortunately for all of us, from both temporal and posterity perspectives, the quality of the state not only continues to speedily decline, but the people of the land have as well started performing the functions which would otherwise be the only domain of the state. We can no longer afford to wait and watch for the reforms and changes to occur, but have to exercise our mind collectively in order to stop the deceleration. We have to stop this deceleration not only for the collective interests but also for the benefits of individual safety and welfare.

A Recall and The Issues: In order to meaningfully discuss the issues as prevailing in Manipur, we can briefly recall as to what we mean by state. In this the definition of Yoram Barzel, a contemporary theorist from the Washington University, is of absolute quantitative relevance. He defines the state thus: “The state consists of (1) a set of individuals who are subject to a single ultimate third party who uses violence for enforcement and (2) a territory where these individuals reside, demarcated by the reach of the enforcer's power.” The beauty of this definition is its avoidance of jargons and adoption of yardsticks easily understandable by a commoner while at the same time incorporating the attributes emphasised by all the political economists.

By this definition, all those residing within the territorial boundaries of the province called Manipur are to be considered subjects of the state of Manipur. Now the fundamental power of state to use violence is to be exercised solely and effectively by the government administering the land on behalf of the state. The problem before us is that the prevailing situation is in absolute contrast to what it should be. We now have more than our share of violence in every sphere of social existence and community interactions. We have a nobleman’s son shooting to death a non-nobleman’s son. We have umpteen number of instances where someone or a group would just do to death anyone not in agreement on something. We would also have a group of people coming out in full retaliation and finishing the lives of a couple. Dismantling and burning down of houses are a dime a dozen.

Causal and Facilitating Factors: As said above, the adoption of violence for enforcement has to be the option exercised only by the state. Here we may ask as to why force should be used at all. The fundamental purpose of having a state is in order to establish justice. Now this justice should be there as an outcome as well as a quality characterising the endeavours to establish justice. Here it would be worth quoting extensively from the Leviathan of Thomas Hobbes: “….men have no pleasure, (but on the contrary a great deal of griefe) in keeping company, where there is no power able to over-awe them all. For every man looketh that his companion should value him, at the same rate he sets upon hemselfe. And upon all signes of contempt, or undervaluing, naturally endeavours, as far as he dares (which amongst them that have no common power to keep them in quiet, is far enough to make them destroy each other,) to extort a greater value from his contemners, by dommage; and from others, by the example.

So that in the nature of man, we find three principal causes of quarrell. First, Competetion; Secondly, Diffidence; Thirdly Glory.

The first maketh men invade for Gain; the second. For Safety; and the third, for Reputation. The first use Violence, to make themselves Masters of other mens persons, wives, children and carttell; the second, to defend them; the third, for trifles, as a word, a smile, a different opinion, and any other signe of undervalue, either direct in their Persons, or by reflexion in their Kindred, their Friends, their Nation, their Profession, or their Name.

Hereby it is manifest, that during the time men live without a common Power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called Warre; and such a warre, as is of every man, against every man”.

Rereading these paragraphs from Hobbes, I am sure, everyone would feel as an apt description of Manipur today. But the question to be asked is why such a situation has arisen.

While attempting to answer the million lives question, I would certainly blame the existing state as well as the forces challenging this for a new one. The powers that be in the existing state have increasingly converted their legitimate powers into indiscriminate powers. Just a look at their street behaviour is enough to experience this. The culmination of this is the recent case of a nobleman’s son shooting to death a non-nobleman’s son. Such an incident would not have happened in an environment where legitimate powers are exercised only as such and never as indiscriminate powers. We should be recalling here the dangers of such scenario explained by Rousseau long back.

Further, as stated above, the fundamental purpose of state is to establish justice. But the state as manifested in Manipur has with rising frequency and terrifying intensity failed on this score. The individuals as subjects as well as groups have simply stopped expecting delivery of justice from the machineries of the state. This is the reason why people as individuals and groups have started taking law into their hands and deliver instant justice. The latest example is the death of a husband and his wife in the hands of an angry mob.

At this point, we are reminded of the fast qualitative deterioration and decline in positive hold of the organisations fighting against the existing state promising another state with greater self-respect. All these organisations have failed the deterioration in terms of individuals executing self-indulgence in their name and claiming lives in the process. This has left the public devoid of any agency, the state or the anti-state, from which to expect justice. The resultant outcome for the people and land of Manipur has become one where delivery of justice has been let loose. What a frightening and painful scenario it is!!

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