Mayangs, Flat Noses and Nationalism: Time for Public Diplomacy

By Amar Yumnam
Kanglaonline
September 1, 2010

“Perhaps the immobility of the things around us is imposed on them by our certitude that they are themselves and nothing else, by the immobility of our thinking about them”. This is a wonderful observation from Marcel Proust, and very significant one in the context of necessity for aesthetics in Asian diplomacy today. I make this statement in the context of the recent Indian hyperbole over rejection of visa to an Indian army general by Chinese authorities. In this context, I would like to point out that as late as July 2010 a Chinese Consul General based in India was denied permission by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs to enter Manipur to deliver a lecture at Manipur University. Well China did not react to this unlike the Indian hyperbolic way. This hyperbolism is true both for Indian state and the Indian media.



The Contrast: This difference in reaction to the events brings out the sharp contrast in civic virtues charactering the Indians and the demographic group of South East Asia. The mainland Indians are known as Mayangs in common parlance in Manipur, and I have used this term to sharpen the understanding of the differences and with no communal tone implied.

A few days back, the Chinese economy has beaten the Japanese economy to the second largest economy in the world. The Chinese took this development in its stride, and in fact, right now, the Chinese seem to be setting a new economic record every week. Well, the same is true on the Japanese side as well. No leading Japanese newspaper highlighted the slide below the Chinese in terms of economic size, except of course the possibility that it must be the reason prompting the Japanese prime minister to apologise for the excesses during World War II.

The point I am trying to drive home is that the civic virtues are different between the Mayangs and the South East Asian stock of population. While the former practices noises, shouting and anything short of action, the latter would go more for action than for verbal noises. Performance is the key for the South East Asians while claims and displays are the virtues of the Mayangs. This must be one of the reasons for the significant dominance of Manipur in Indian sports. Here we feel the significance of the recent observation of Mani Shankar Iyer that the Commonwealth Games should have been planned in Manipur. This observation is informed by a deep understanding of the ruling Indian ethos and the cultural traits and civic virtues of the people of Manipur.

The Futility: I strongly feel that the Indian hyperbolism on issues would not serve any productive purpose in long term international political economic purposes in at least her relationships with the South East Asian countries are concerned. Here I am reminded of the focus and the purpose of public diplomacy study programmes in the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. This university, where I had spent quite some time as a visiting scholar recently, took up this programme while the other universities in the United States were focussing on clash of civilisations post September 11. This programme has significance when government to government relationships are bad and difficult to stabilise. In such contexts, the government can think of appreciating and talking to the public of the foreign country instead of allowing all channels of communication go dead. In fact, public diplomacy can serve the purpose of both democracy and peace.

I strongly feel that the present hyperbolic stand of both state and the media in India is a futile exercise. A better approach would be to strongly pursue a programme for appreciating the civic virtues of the population of South East Asia, and devise a way to establish a sustainable medium for fruitful interactions. For the reality remains that while India might continue to be hyperbolic, the South East Asian countries would continue to outperform us; China has already started producing vision documents for 2050. Besides, now India is thinking for a Look East Policy. No Look East Policy would be viable and sustainable without a proper understanding of the civic virtues of the South East Asian countries. So India needs to follow a policy different from the one practised so far.

The Payoff: The new approach would have a wonderfully pleasant payoff for the nation as well. This would enable the Indian state to understand better the North Eastern component of the nation. This definitely would go a long way in evolving a sustainable framework for viable policy solution to the long standing problems of the country. Further, without understanding and working with the civic virtues of the North East, and particularly Manipur, there would never be a successful Look East Policy.

In fine, we must realise and accept in our heart that India consists of much more than the Mayangs and their hyperboles. Let us appreciate the rich heterogeneity of the country and evolve a hybrid set of civic virtues. If we are able to do this, the future is ours.

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