PATHOS OF SELF ESTRANGEMENT


By Angomcha Bimol Akoijam
This article was originally published by the Imphal Free Press on 27 June 2012


It seems, times have truly changed for the mandarins in New Delhi. Delivering a lecture at a well-known institute in Delhi, former Union Home Secretary G.K. Pillai remarks that Manipur is suffering from a ‘collective depression’. And a ‘way forward’ for Manipur would require one to acknowledge this ‘depression’ and address what he terms as the “core issues” rooted in the history of the state. He went on to describe the issues such as the manner in which the Merger of Manipur was effected and the delay in granting “statehood” or recognition to Manipuri language under the Constitution as aspects of those issues. He even went on to suggest that the way forward must begin with an admission that ‘we have made mistakes” in the past and an ‘apology’ led by the Prime Minister to the people of the state.


Unthinkable public admission from one of India’s top officials, albeit retired now, one would say. Incidentally, some years back, a former high ranking official of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) who had a crucial stint in the state during the tumultuous late 1960s and early 1970s made a similar admission. Thus, Mr. Maloy Krishna Dhar, former Joint Director of IB wrote in his autobiography, “Manipur is a unique example of Indian expertise in allowing the simple democratic aspirations of the people for better political dispensation, economic advancement and cultural assimilation to degenerate into a cult of violence…the post-Independence Indian political and bureaucratic rulers had succeeded in enshrining the cult of violence as a semi-statutory means of grievance redressal. They allowed the genuine aspirations of the people to be trampled and ignored and subsequently handling the violent venting of the accumulated frustration as a law and order problem…they blindly followed the British attitude in dealing with the post-independence Indians who had assumedly given themselves an elaborate constitution and several layers of legal guarantees.”

Debilitating Suspicions

If a Manipuri were to express similar views, in all likelihood s/he will be put under the scanner of a suspicious nationalist perspective. This is understandable. After all, Sadar Patel’s word to Nehru about the people in the region as those who do not have firm ‘loyalty’ and ‘devotion’ to India has been an inherent suspicion of the political paranoia of the post-colonial Indian state vis-à-vis its ‘Northeast’. In fact, it’s not a non-tangible suspicion; the legal coding of ‘suspicion’ in the notorious Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which forms the basis for the power to kill or arrest or detain ‘suspects’, has been a reified manifestation of the same.

Such is the power of this political culture and its reified manifestations that the ‘(subjects-cum-) citizens’ of the Indian state in the region have internalized this ethos of suspicion as a part of their selfhood. Thus, a desire to show or prove loyalty to the nation has often manifested in their apologia of putting their views on their state of affairs with ‘I am an Indian” or ‘We are Indians’ as a suffix or prefix to their articulation. Worst, it has also given them an estrangement of selfhood often manifested in their inability to come to terms with their historical moorings and capacity to engage in objective analysis of their situation or partake meaningfully in affairs beyond their homestead.

To take an example, some years back I had delivered a public lecture in Imphal in which I was looking at the continuity between ‘colonial’ and ‘post-colonial’ politics. But these terms, which are familiar amongst scholars and commentators across the country and the rest of the world, seemed to have acquired a ‘suspicious’ meaning to a well known public figure in the state who reacted with distain, and out of context, by saying that there is no ‘colonialism’ in independent India!

This is one amongst many examples that one can think of. Scholars in the rest of the country can afford to critically analyse the ‘idea of India’ and question its underlying assumptions and processes rooted in the past as well as the present. However, if a Manipuri or a northeasterner were to do the same, I suspect, it might invite ‘suspicions’, including from the people in the region itself. Indeed, strange as it seems, people often talked of the ‘naharols’ (rebels) and the ‘politicians’ with disdain and yet, if someone talks of public issues, especially those which have historical and political dimensions, s/he is often termed as someone who must have some ‘connection’ with insurgents or seeking to fight election!

Such ethos constitutes a crucial symptom of the self estrangement that Manipur suffers from, including the ‘collective depression’ that Mr. Pillai referred to in his lecture.

Pathos of an Estranged Self

Incidentally, in Kashmir, a state with similar historical moorings as Manipur vis-à-vis the formation of the postcolonial Indian State, even the mainstream political party like the National Conference can talk of the ‘pre-1953’ status as a way to solve the political dispute concerning Jammu and Kashmir. Even the Government of India takes steps to address the issues by constituting committees. In contrast, with regard to Manipur, it has been guided by the kind of expertise that Mr. Dhar has talked about in his autobiography. Such an expertise has been well complimented by the people of the state who have internalized certain pathos of a political subversion, something that I have hinted in the last edition of this column .

It is a subversion which critically involves cultivating a selfhood which denies its own historical moorings. In fact, a former MP and prominent politician of the state, Y. Yaima narrated an incident in his autobiography wherein the Home Ministry in new Delhi had asked the then Govt. of Manipur not to officially celebrate 13th August as “Patriots Day” as they suspected that such commemoration would help the insurgents! To think of it, post-independent generations of Manipuris were not taught History of the state. Interestingly, my generation had History of India written by R.C Mazumdar as a textbook which mentioned Manipur in a paragraph or so as “Expedition to Manipur” (referring to the 1891 confrontation).

Thus, guided by suspicions and denials of selfhood, the people of the state have not been able to deal with the challenges they face. In fact, the pathos of the self estrangement has only made them experts in (back door) intrigues that smack of seeking loyalty and sycophancy, back biting, character assassination, crab-in the bucket mentality and incapacity to have independent and coherent dialogues and actions amongst themselves to redeem from their dismal state of affairs.

Indeed, if one were to define as to what constitutes a fundamental crisis, inability to come to terms with oneself shall certainly be one aspect. What one is, including one’s being in time, and the ability to sense what and wherefores of the strengths and weaknesses of one’s being shall remain critical elements that determine how one conducts at a given point in time as well as one’s future prospects. This is equally true for a collective as well. In that, the people of the state need to have critical self-introspection and a capacity to admit its mistakes to come to terms with one’s own collective being in time. Only then, a livable life beyond the fragmented and estranged self of the present, a life with dignity and well being can be envisaged and pursued.

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