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Big Mouth, Attention Diversion, Display Small As Big And Public Statement As Public Policy In Manipur: Is It Governance?

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The opening of the eastern side of the Kangla as the Nongpok Thong Hangba would have been meaningful if there were openings of Consulate Offices of South-East and East Asia countries simultaneously. But the gate opening event was presented to the public as if the future of the socio-economic fate of Manipur was experiencing a new Launch for good, which it simply was not, says Amar Yumnam.

By Amar Yumnam

Thinking about Manipur (I think I do indulge in this all the time) and reflecting at the revelations of implied meanings of two recent occasions do remind me of what Dan Morse (2007) wrote: “Genuine democracies are rare. One reason they are so rare is that they involve the letting happen of unique situations. They require taking people on their own terms in a way that respects their differences from us – and yet this is not something we typically do. The most common thing, the habitual thing, is to rely on a conventionalized grasp of another and to let this grasp determine how we treat them. Rather than let people in their differences freely interact with us and co-shape our experience, we fall back on a mechanical and diminished understanding of them and democratic interaction is stifled. If this is correct, and democratic societies are threatened by routine and conventionalized consciousness, it would seem to follow that to educate for such societies, one thing we would sorely need is to instill habits of criticism. Habits of criticism would seem to be needed to continuously challenge and overcome routine consciousness and to open up a space that allows for each unique situation to stand forth as what it is and be regarded on its own terms.”

Three recent happenings are quite striking as bearing on the public policy values of governance actions. The other day a state police team was caught transporting with contraband drugs by another police team on duty on the highways. What this has unfolded has significant implications about the nature and quality of governance in Manipur. The second event I have in mind is the opening of the eastern gate of the Kangla. The third one is the announcement to use drones for spraying herbicides.

The arrest of a police team carrying contraband drugs when the leader of the government has been harping so much on the War on Drugs means the War on Drugs has a core weakness as a policy. There is a fundamental need to identify the roots of this weakness. Here we may recall what Jenny Stewart has emphasised so wonderfully in the book on Public Policy Values (2009): “a values perspective helps us understand more fully what public policy does and the way it does it. Interests can (and do) push and pull governments in different directions, but once the decision is made – the dam is built, the road goes through, the troops are despatched to war – a choice between values has also been made. This is the key point to observe. Whatever forces go into the production of public policy, the result is always a compromise between different value positions.” Though the leader of the provincial government has been big mouthing on the War on Drugs day in and day out, yet this incident establishes beyond doubt that the normative value necessary for the success of any public policy has neither been established and ipso facto not generalised in the administration of the War on Drugs.

Now the next question is: Why is it that a normative value for the drug control policy has not emerged? The democratic form of government necessarily demands that cause and causality of a public policy should necessarily be generalised and founded on shared collective preference. In the case of the War on Drugs, the cause and foundation have been the preference and consequent choice solely of the leader of the government. The leader on his part has neither endeavoured to evolve it into a shared public policy founded on rational choice and accompanied by the needed related (sub-)policies. The elements for less than required and probable performance are already in-built in policies with such nature.

In another event, the Eastern Door of the Kangla was recently opened in the name of the socially valued, culturally cherished and economically potential term Nongpok Thong Hangba (Opening the Eastern Gate). Given the inherited historical and cultural values, the public’s generalised perception of Opening the Eastern Gate has always meant reestablishment of the linkages with the societies in the South-East and East Asia. In this context, the legitimacy and the communicative value of the use of the term has been used in the case of opening up of a new gate in place of another in the western side in as of now the valued enclosure, The Kangla.

Coming back to the War on Drugs, let us be very clear that contemporary scenario and given particularly the socio-politico-economic reality of Manipur, no policy today can be created and implemented as stand-alone policy. Governance studies and policy-evaluation literature have stablished that any social sector policy would have multi-dimensional interrelationships with other components of the social fabric. This being the case, it is paramount that there has to be in place the other needed policy accompaniments as well to ensure success of a policy.

The opening of the eastern side of the Kangla as the Nongpok Thong Hangba would have been meaningful in the true sense if there were openings, for instance, of Consulate Offices of some the South-East and East Asia countries simultaneously. If this were so, there would have been immediate and positive convergence with the moral values of the public; it would have been wonderful. But the gate opening event was presented to the public as a huge public occasion with as if the future of the socio-economic fate of Manipur was experiencing a new Launch for good, which it simply was not.

The nature and character of the present governance of Manipur can now be claimed as fairly established and revealed. There does not seem to be any inclination to evolve any policy founded on the values of the public such that it delivers. The sole preoccupation of the government seems to attend solely to the whims of the leader of the government. It is exactly here that two revealing features emerge: A. Do not bother to understand and establish a policy to genuinely attend to the needs of the public.  B. The sole engagement should be agenda management and not public policy formulation and implementation. The latest example of this is the feeding of the public with news of Testing the Efficacy of Drones in the campus of the residence of the leader of the government. The public would appreciate a higher level engagement of the leader of the people than Testing Drones.

The adoption of Agenda Management as the guiding principle of governance has put the statements of the leader of the government less and less credible. Let us also recall here how Prime Minister Narasimha Rao left the Economic Policy responsibility in the hands of Dr. Manmohan Singh; in the process Rao took the credit for initiating reforms. Dr. Manmohan Singh had the understanding of economic issues founded on his robust academic qualifications, and Naramsimha Rao never pretended to be as qualified. The opposite behaviour is now in full manifest in Manipur in the public statements of the leader of government. Big mouthing, propaganda and agenda management are the ruling norms of functioning of the prevailing administration.

In the ancient city of Athens, the Councillors had to swear by this oath while taking charge: “We will strive increasingly to quicken the public sense of public duty; that thus . . . we will transmit this city not only not less, but greater, better, and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us.” Good governance demands Ethics to constitute a core principle for functioning in which the Leader provides directions in a Deliberative Consultation framework. Manipur is awaiting for this with no time certainty.

(Amar Yumnam is Visiting Professor, CESS, Hyderabad.)

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