Of all the challenges that the new BJP-led government will have to face is the need to infuse health back into Manipur’s economy. It will help no one for it to simply shift the blame to the previous government, just as it did not help that government in their turn when they inherited power from those that preceded them. While the previous government, which was in power for three terms can be blamed for not having done enough, given the relative stability it enjoyed for all of 15 years, even a cursory study of what the Marxist economists refer to as “base and superstructure” of the state’s economy will convince anyone that there are certain vicious cycles that governments after governments in the state have been trapped in, regardless of party affiliations. To absolutely simplify the matter and explain it in one line, the ailment is one of the economy’s “superstructure” outgrowing its “base”. It should be no consolation that this is a mismatch generally associated with all sponsored economies. The result is a perpetuation of a cyclic and unsustainable economic condition which predetermines expenditures is always in excess of income. This cycle can be broken only by tough but imaginative decisions, and the courage to take such decisions which risk short term unpopularity in the interest of big long term gains can also only be the attribute of a government ensured of stability and endowed with creative vision. Very sadly, such leadership has been scarce in the state.
Once upon a time, it was a feudal economy in the valley where the base of the economy was formed by agriculture with some surplus, and the management of this surplus was the seed that germinated into the feudal bureaucracy, collecting taxes in cash and kind, in return for services commensurate with the state of the economy. In the hills where the economy was still rudimentary, the superstructure in the shape of an organized bureaucracy, with jurisdiction beyond individual villages was absent. In other words, the superstructure of an economy is directly related to its base and in fact, this superstructure is consequent upon the base. The superstructure is also supposed to exist for servicing the base. To cut the story short, when modern economy arrived in Manipur after its merger with India in 1949, the state’s economic reality was still agrarian and feudal. Missing almost altogether was also the secondary industrial sector. Yet, in the inevitable standardization of modern planning process, the tertiary sector of its economy began growing artificially and quite out of proportion of the actual state of economy. To the extent this tertiary sector stood on a tangible base, such as the agriculture sector, this service sector was meaningful and relevant, but there were also a good part of it that exist only for its own sake, just because a modern economy must have it. As for instance to have a full-fledged industry department where there are no industries can at best have an anticipatory role. That is, the department’s mission cannot be about servicing and monitoring the needs of industries as it normally should be, but of being the incubator and nursery of industries. Unfortunately, the state has seen no leader gifted or committed enough to see this mismatch. In time this growing service sector cannot but acquire the quality of the Kafkaesque Castle, where the bureaucracy attains a life and reality of its own, with itself as its own cause and reason, quite absolutely abstracted from the reality of life and economy outside the Castle.
There are many more such mismatches of base and superstructure. Although not in any approximation of the meaning Marxists give such mismatches, there is a nice satirical humour in verses of the “Sumang Lila” kind in Manipuri which goes “Pat-ta kumaga singg chanba, / Chingda karaga long khonba” (Go to the lake to fetch firewood, / Climb the hills to catch fish). Undoing this mismatch could be where putting Manipur’s economy back on track can begin. For the moment, Manipur’s government service sector continues to grow, and as in Kafka’s Castle, this service sector is engaged predominantly in servicing itself. The status of finance of the state that the finance department presented to the press yesterday corroborates this. The state’s revenue expenditure has been growing to serve this ever expanding service sector, and in a state of poor resources, this expenditure has been eating into funds earmarked for plan expenditures. This is an economic condition which can only ensure each year that many more in this sector will be able to afford cars, but there will be little or no money left to build roads on which these cars can drive on. This state of the economy is already quite loudly visible.