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Manipur Missing The Most Critical Input: Policy

Imphal City

It is imperative that policies are seriously thought over and put in place with clear mid- and longer–term perspectives. But it rather looks like that the present Manipur government does not look at things from the angle of policies but rather from the angle of immediate reactions and responses


By Amar Yumnam

My better half asked me a point-blanked question: Is it that you are preoccupied with issues of policy all the time? This certainly gave me one more opportunity to explore myself. In the process, I could recall the whole experience since the very childhood. My father had four siblings. The eldest, Yumnam Megha (popularly known as Malom Megha), was an Elected Member of the 30 Seats of the Territorial Council. This legacy and the very convenient location of our home, just on the side of the highway, gave me the fortune of having received the expression of loving care and the opportunity to listen to what the political leaders of those years were talking of. Though I could by no means understand the political meaning and implications of what they were talking and discussing, I can emphatically assert that the political players of those years – 1950s and 1960s – were very committed to the social cause they intended to serve. Even the schooling we had was a social happening and social process; it was not an exclusionary engagement in activities. It must be this background of personal familiarity with the social commitment of the political leaders of Manipur and the spontaneous imitative internalisation of the commitment must somehow have played a role in my continuous interest on social issues and problems. Even my research work at the Bombay University was mostly related to the policy issues confronting the development experience of the North East. I can never forget one experience of meeting Shri Yangmaso Shaiza of Manipur. While I was just initiating my research work in 1979, I just met Shri Shaiza at the Imphal Airport; since I was a kid sitting beside him, I was asked of what I was doing. I took the proud opportunity to intimate him that I was undertaking Doctoral research work at the Bombay University. I did not take vacation from the Bombay University for almost two years, and fortunate was that, when I came on leave after almost two years, Shri Shaiza saw me at the Imphal Airport and enquired about my progress. The concerned and sharp memory humbled me to the core, but my admiration for the person got rooted.

Now looking back and prepondering on what is happening today, I really feel sorry for the casualness and lack of robust commitment to the social cause by the contemporary political leaders. While the personal training and engagement enable me to more easily ascertain the commitment or rather lack of commitment and shallowness in understanding policy issues of the political powers that be, the pretentiousness getting displayed is socially painful.

While a government can run her governance in her own way based on the daily whims from time to time, it would be rather folly from at least the perspectives of time-frame and the contextual realities of the place where she rules. While short-term policies might be of some relevance on issues like the rise in prices, policies are generally thought of from a longer term perspective. Further, for a place like Manipur, which have not yet established some relatively sure arena of socio-economic strength, it is imperative that policies are seriously thought over and put in place with clear mid- and longer–term perspectives. But it rather looks like that the present government does not look at things from the angle of policies but rather from the angle of immediate reactions and responses.

In this background, I feel that Manipur needs to re-discover the understanding of what a policy is about. As the French Political Scientist, Jean Blondel, put it: “Parties are the central institutions of modern liberal democratic countries. Whatever may be said and has repeatedly been said about their shortcomings, parties are crucial to the functioning of these societies as they are the only organizational structures to have been discovered (so far) through which the views, attitudes, and sentiments of the people can be conveyed to the top decision makers and through which potential leaders can be nominated and subsequently appointed. Indeed, as key agents of the democratic process, parties fulfil three main functions: they provide a permanent link between citizens and government; they set out policies which are proposed to electors and implemented by governments; and they are the means by which politicians are selected for office.”

Further, it should also be clear that immediate responses and reactions to an event are not policies; the responses can be constituents of a policy, but should be founded on clear articulation. After the World War II and till about the mid-1980s, policies were thought rather in terms of stand-alone area of intervention and single agendum. But today, the approaches are very different. Before framing any policy, the issues, for which policies are being evolved, would first be fully analysed from two dimensions – a problem can be analysed purely from the perspective of the problem only, but nowadays the superior rationality of appreciating the larger socio-eco-cultural framework would also be taken into the analysis. This is why, contemporary policy interventions are much more comprehensive and do have wider socio-political implications. But any such policy-related endeavour is not coming forth from the powers that be of Manipur.

The significance of implementing any intervention from the perspective of a policy lies in (a) the potential challenges to the policy can be understood and precautionary measures incorporated; (b) when something does not seem to be happening, the causes of the lapses can be easily established; and (c) the impacts, both positive and negative, of the policy implementation can be worked out, and efforts redirected to enhance the positive ones.

Three events have made the imperative for policy evolution rather paramount. First, the COVID 19 restrictions did cause huge upheavals in the social dynamics of Manipur. In this, the relative burden have been greater for the people in the lower strata of society. Manipur needed a policy to address such and related issues from the angle of justice.  But this has not happened. Second, the physical action against poppy has been there for quite some time. But this too has not gone beyond action and evolve a policy for longer term socially purposeful behavioural reforms. Third, Manipur is facing right now a crisis of shortages of water. While the immediate response could be only in terms of certain actions, there is fundamentality to evolve a policy now such that such experiences are not repeated. The present is to be utilised for applying the mind to the causality of the problem, and evolve the interventions needed for a long term solution within a policy framework. These have not happened.

But the latest case which put the capability of the government to think and articulate in policy terms under strong suspicion comes out while viewing a recent video of a proceeding in the Legislative Assembly. An honourable representative from the opposition raised a very significant issue as to how the roads are selected for improvement with implications for explaining the policy framework. The response to this query by the concerned Minister was very short and specified that the portion mentioned by the Representative would also be covered by extension. It is good that the coverage has been extended but it also has been proven that decisions are based on very casual and personal grounds and not on policy.

(Amar Yumnam is Fellow/Visiting Professor at the Centre for Economic and Social Studies (CESS), Nizamiah Observatory Campus, Begumpet, Hyderabad, Telengana and former Vice Chancellor (I/C), Manipur University)
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