INDIAN DEMOCRACY, ELECTORAL PROCESS AND MANIPUR: IS THERE ANY CONNECTION?

BY AMAR YUMNAM
This article was originally published by the Imphal Free Press on 21 April 2014

The ongoing elections for the Indian Parliament have just been completed, except for the counting and announcement of results thereof, in so far as Manipur is concerned. It has been almost like a province-wide randomised experiment to observe and test the connectivity of the Indian democratic process with the behaviour of the populace of the land. It gave us an opportunity to see the identification of the people of Manipur with the Indian polity. It is an event for testing the connectivity, similarities and differentiations with the larger Indian perception of the event. It is also an event for observing the sensitivity of people of the province as to the level of significance they attach to the parliamentary elections as an important component of Indian democracy. Further, it is an event for assessing the engagement degree of the provincial population with the issues supposedly important for the life and livelihood of the population.

Examining all these issues has been possible because of the isolation of the parliamentary elections from the ones for the provincial Assembly in the current round. In cases where the two elections are simultaneously held, there is a mixture of issues and feelings, and as such the examinations of these issues are blurred. Besides, unlike the previous elections to the Indian parliament, the present one has acquired the characteristics of a path breaking one. Even the elections in 1977 after the Emergency and in which the Congress under Indira Gandhi suffered a huge defeat were not as significant as the present one; it was simply a referendum for path dependence or otherwise. One biggest issue, which has remained unaddressed in India even after seven decades after the colonizers left the country, is the issue of social reforms for social advancement. The prevalence of the Nehruvian modernisation approach (read Westernization) over the Gandhian approach (recall the point-based programme of Gandhi) for putting institutional reforms at the core of policy concern at the initial stage made India lose the opportunity for breaking from the approach of the colonists. The continuation of this approach has made both formal and informal social and political institutions worsen over time. One criticality is the rise in social tolerance of nonsense (like corruption of both grand and petty forms) consequent upon the non-attempt for institutional reforms. The ongoing elections have assumed the potential for ushering in social and institutional reforms as evident from the debates in the country and around the world. Further the future as against living in the past has emerged as an important agendum in the current elections; Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze have termed India’s contemporary situation as “Uncertain Glory”. Has it been like these in the case of Manipur?

Without mincing words and without wasting time and words in articulation, we can say that the elections in Manipur have not acquired any of these features. None of the involvements of the general populace as usually seen in elections to the provincial Assembly was visible in the just completed elections for the Manipur part. It is almost as if the elections to the Indian parliament have no connection with the sensibility and issues of the people of Manipur; the people of Manipur care a hoot with what might happen to the composition of the Indian parliament. The moot question is why such a scenario prevails in Manipur and in sharp contrast to what is happening in the rest of India. A clear understanding of this and the interventions needed would have lots of implications for the future trajectory and social reforms of Manipur.

Now my take on why such a scenario rules in Manipur. Why is it that the people of Manipur have developed an incorrigible tolerance for all the nonsense of governance and the failures on all aspects of livelihood to such an extent that the parliamentary elections are taken as unimportant? The cause for this is to be found at two levels. First, the governance at the country level has never been meaningfully connected with the life and livelihood of the people of Manipur. The sore and core issues of the provincial population have so far not been made part of the national agenda. The governance at the country level has all along been preoccupied with the militaristic solutions to any problem that arises. Here even the perception of the problems has been purely from the angle of the governance at the Centre and never has the sensibilities of the provincial population been given cognisance. Second, the political elite in the province has all along taken advantage of this political economic lapse at the country level. While any failure would be projected as consequent upon the attitude of the government at the Centre, no attempt has ever been made to go for institutional reforms at the provincial level. This gives a very facilitating atmosphere for the provincial governance to indulge in any form of nonsense for aggravation of personal benefits. The resultant outcome of these two failures at both the levels of governance in this country has been that the provincial population perceive elections in any form and at any level as having meanings only when there is scope for potential personal gains, immediate or in the near future; elections have no social significance by any means. Well, this is the connection or rather the disconnection between the provincial population and the democratic process in this country. It remains to be seen how the new government in the Centre might think of addressing this terrible lapse in nation-building.


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