Abnormal as Normal
Manipur’s myriad problems do not certainly present a straightforward visage, layered as they are in a maze of hierarchical quagmire of problematic propositions, and each of the hierarchy again mired in their own strata of endless problems and sub-problems. A fractured students’ movement with each fragment scrambling to hog limelight; badly splintered militant underground movements with none able ensure a sight of a just peace horizon; an established order that has allowed the vital agenda of governance slip out of its control; government after government bankrupt of ideas and funds beyond easy redemption; and now a contest for the next government between aging old guards and the same aging old guards now in new bottles after defection. Whither Manipur?
It is no consolation that our neighbouring states are faring no better. It is also interesting to note that in the global context, the world is extremely cautious about failed states, as these can become dangerous spawning grounds for mutant thoughts and ideologies. It is in this context that many analysts view the West’s extended honeymoon with Pakistan as a desperate move. It simply cannot afford to let a nuclear armed Pakistan degenerate, for the danger this poses everybody is tremendous. Experience in Afghanistan and the Middle East have taught everybody this lesson.
Those of us in Manipur should not find it difficult to understand this logic. The overall picture of our own problems is awesome and thoughts of a comprehensive solution are extremely prone to despair. The answer is undoubtedly only in a leadership with dogged persistence, creative approaches, and a willingness to last out the severest of political and economic winters. Only such a willingness to withstand the test of fire can hope to deliver. The story of Poland, and the manner it got over its years of hardship and political tumult as the fall of the Iron Curtain was closing in, is inspiring in this regard. Remember Lech Walesa, the “Solidarity Movement” leader of the country in the 1970s and 80s. The Nobel Prize for Peace that he won in 1983, in retrospect, must have been one of the best deserved in the award’s history. He got Poland out of a mess much worse than what we are in today.
A book about Poland of the 1970s, written during the peak of the “Solidarity Movement” called “Passion of Poland” by a journalist, Lawrence Weschler, a staff writer of the respected American magazine “New Yorker”, the magazine on which the now defunct “Illustrated Weekly of India” is supposed to have been modelled, is surprisingly being still reprinted and sold (check amazon.in). The graphic picture of Poland of the time, although much worse than what we are in today, is still strongly reminiscent of our own predicament. Incisive jokes heard in the streets of Warsaw during its years of turmoil, reproduced in the book, recreate the subtle nuances of inter community relationships. They also tell of how divisions and frictions between communities are accentuated by scarcity, the lesson being, plenitude can ease a lot of social problems. It was a time the government was totally bankrupt and even essential commodities began disappearing from the shops. Long queues would form outside ration outlets even at the hint of arrival of new stocks.
In one of the jokes in the book, one such queue forms outside a ration centre even before the shop opened. After two hours of the queue, an official emerges and announces: “Jews step aside and go home, no bread for you today.” After another two hours the official reappears: “non-Communist go home, no bread for you today.” After yet another two hours the official emerges to announce: “Comrades go home no bread today.” One angry Communist in the queue remarks to another: “Why do Jews always get preferential treatment.” True enough, scarcity does make us lose perspective of our problems. In another joke in the book, a woman with a shopping bag walks up to a store and asks: “Any sausages.” The prompt answer was, “No.” Butter? No, Soap? No. Bread? No. Disappointed the woman walks away. Two grocers behind the counter look at each other in amazement. One grocer tells the other: “Whew, what a memory?”
In the decades of turmoil, hardship and uncertainty Manipur has been through, as in the picture portrayed of Poland of the 70s, few actually remembers what normality once was like. Manipur’s current abnormalities and scarcities, its queues outside cooking gas distribution agencies every time arrival of new stock is announced; its even longer the queues outside petrol pumps even at the slightest hints of bandhs and blockades; its daily doses of bloodletting, are today its new normal.