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Nihilism Is Not and Cannot Be the Principle of Governance: Manipur Tragedy

Sanaleibak Editor Hemantakumar Ningomba (Left) during the live discussion

The police has taken over the jurisprudence as well and thus could violate the sanctity of the home of senior journalist and Editor Hemantakumar Ningombam on the basis of what they had felt. Given the comments made by the Editor in the cable television channel and the consequent violation of his home and personal purity imply the tacit adoption of this principle of nihilism in the governance mechanism.

By Amar Yumnam

The Public have been feeling for quite some time if the current provincial government of Manipur functions on the principle of nihilism. What has just happened with Hemantakumar Ningomba, the Editor of a Manipuri daily, has only strengthened the veracity of this suspicion; he expressed or conveyed in the public domain what has been the unexpressed public knowledge relating to drugs in Manipur. Now the so-called clarification by the head of the Imphal East District police administration, presumably consequent upon the widespread public criticism, that Ningomba had made certain statements which were not to their liking. Now this statement from the District Police confirms the presence of nihilism as the basis for functioning. The police has taken over the jurisprudence as well and thus could violate the sanctity of the home of Ningomba on the basis of what they had felt. Given the comments made by Ningomba in the television channel and the consequent violation of his home and personal purity imply the tacit adoption of this principle of nihilism in the governance mechanism.

As Sheldon Wolin (1961) put:”The designation of certain activities and arrangements as political, the characteristic way we think about them, and the concepts we employ to communicate our observations and reactions—none of these are written into the nature of things but are the legacy accruing from the historical activity of political philosophers.” After attaining the nature of the polity, it is imperative that a continuous process is put in place such that the attained nature of the polity is sustained. In other words, the work does not end with the attainment of democracy, but it has to be forever accompanied by a process of democratisation. This is why so much emphasis is put on the proper understanding of deliberative democracy.

The significance of this deliberative process was long emphasised as early as the fifth century BC as the foundation for transparent decisions based on high quality deliberations; this is what we called public opinion. In an eulogy for  Athens and the Athenians, Pericles talked in a funeral oration in the middle of fifth century BC: “Here each individual is interested not only in his own affairs but in the affairs of the state as well: even those who are mostly occupied with their own business are extremely well-informed on general politics – this is a peculiarity of ours: we do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say that he has no business here at all. We Athenians, in our own persons, take our decisions on policy or submit them to proper discussions: for we do not think that there is an incompatibility between words and deeds; the worst thing is to rush into action before the consequences have been properly debated.”

The significance and sustenance of the respect for public opinion to sustain democracy necessarily imply the assurance of core freedoms to the public (Rostboll, 2008). First: “Democracy as popular sovereignty: The only way in which we can be free in society is to be authors of the laws to which we are subject. Democracy aims at converting an inevitable dependence into freedom (Rousseau).” Second: “Democracy as instrumental to negative freedom: Democracy is required in order to protect a form of freedom that in itself is prepolitical or outside political activity. Democracy aims at protecting an already understood and demarcated freedom.” Third: “Democracy as instrumental to personal autonomy: Participation in democratic politics creates citizens with autonomous characters. Democracy aims to transform individuals into autonomous persons.” Fourth: “Democracy as intrinsic to freedom as praxis: Participation in democratic politics is a form of freedom. Democracy aims at creating a new experience of being free.” These freedoms would ensure continuous participation in deliberations and sustain the continuous process of democratisation.

Respecting and sustaining this democratic process enables a healthy maintenance of the bridge between politics and policy. Now this bridge has to be founded on certain values. The functional quality of this bridge would be displayed in the various areas of government action. While every government would promise for doing good for the public, it is the manifestation of the underpinning values which would enable the public to assess whether a particular policy is good or bad. Till about the turn of the century, the common perception was that “If politics is about who gets what when and how, and public policy is the delivery mechanism, there would seem to be little to be gained by worrying about a values dimension in public policy.” But various pretentious programmes have caused not only caused loss of lives but the demise of democracy as well.  Thus, examination of the foundational values of any policy is now highly emphasised. While I would come back with more on the issue of policy values later, let me agree with Jenney Stewart that values may be the Motivators for working for a policy and values may be the basis for the choices made.

In fine, the ways things are happening in the relationship between the government and the governed in Manipur’s democracy, I am afraid (a la Stenner: 1998) if we have a governance led by “one who cannot treat with natural ease or generosity those who are not his own kindred or kind, who is inclined to believe only “right-thinking” people should be free to air their opinions, and who tends to see others’ moral choices as everybody’s business – indeed, the business of the state. It is about the kind of people who – by virtue of deep-seated predispositions neither they nor we have much capacity to alter – will always be imperfect democratic citizens, and only discouraged from infringing others’ rights and liberties by responsible leadership, the force of law, fortuitous societal conditions, and near-constant reassurance.”

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

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