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Public Policy Disaster in Manipur: How and Why

Imphal City

The inefficiency of the government and inability to frame a policy by following the principles of policy formulation have been critically exposed. A kind of Social Pessimism has been generated in a context of rising unemployment and price increases.

By Amar Yumnam

While it has been a trend for some time, but particularly consequent upon the Government’s decision to lift Prohibition, Manipur is right now in a situation of public policy disaster. Under this, the government has failed to convince the people about rationale of the decision; in fact, it has utterly failed to articulate one. There is mass resentment, mass protest and mass anguish. On the other hand, the inefficiency of the government and inability to frame a policy by following the principles of policy formulation have been critically exposed. A kind of Social Pessimism has been generated in a context of rising unemployment and price increases.

First, it has been established beyond doubt that the decision to lift Prohibition is not a product of deliberated and shared discussions within the government. The Draft Liquor Policy is a sure testimony of this lack of shared deliberation and articulation to mature a will of the government.

Second, the decision is not founded on discussions with Experts has been established beyond doubt despite the colossal claims of the government. There is no sign in either the initial announcement of the decision or the Draft Policy document of the government having consulted any “independent, non–interest-based, non-profit organizations that produce and principally rely on expertise and ideas to obtain support and to influence the policymaking process.” If any such consultation had taken place, there definitely would have been reflections of the values and morality behind the decision at least in the draft policy document coming as it does as a response to the public outcry against the decision and the heightened social pessimism spirit on the government.

Now it is fairly established that the decision to lift prohibition was neither a product of the application of mind by the government as a holistic machinery nor an outcome of consultation with a think-tank. In this background, I recall an interesting book titled Special Interest Politics by two leading contemporary Economists, Grossman and Helpman (MIT, 2001). They define Special Interest Group as: “An interest group may be considered ‘‘special’’ if its members covet policies that would not be considered desirable by the average citizen. Thus, any
minority group of citizens that shares identifiable characteristics and similar concerns on some set of issues might be termed a SIG. . …… We ask, From what features of the political landscape do special interest groups derive their power and influence? What determines the extent to which they are able to affect policy outcomes?” It is a group in society which try “to gain favourable treatment from the government based only on their voting behaviour.” This is “any identifiable group of voters with similar preferences on a subset of policy issues.”

In the absence of any sign of shared government commitment and consultations with Expert groups, there is every fear if the recent decision has been the outcome of pressure by some Special Interest Groups. Special Interest Groups are present in every polity, but the issue is why it has gone wrong in the recent case in Manipur.

We all are aware of the Social Struggle of the 1970s and 1980s to have Prohibition in Manipur. The movement was founded on Real World Experiences of the Households and Community in terms of Lost Individual Peace and Social tranquillity. After the prohibition, the shared progression in terms of globally proven capability of our boys and girls has been sound and loud. Further, the recent worsening of poverty and inequality and rising unemployment of youths have been real. Even further, the public do feel internally the uneasiness caused by the lack of a final picture of the social contract prevailing in Manipur.

In these circumstances, any decision on lifting prohibition must be founded on Morality, Shared Social Values, Appropriate Understanding of the Community Culture and clear enunciation of the subsequent mechanism. Lifting prohibition in Manipur is not something like the establishment of a school in an area previously lacking education facilities. Further, lifting prohibition necessarily implies introduction of a new facet of the market mechanism. This new facet is very different from the normal dimensions of the market, and has huge cultural and demographic implications. The decision is not being taken in a Post-Industrialisation Society like the case of Mumbai, but in a context of a society struggling for smooth modernisation. Manipur has been very unfortunate on this last aspect.

Now the decision on prohibition can never be healthily founded on the pressure of the Special Interest Groups whatever their influence could have been in the voting process. The Interest Groups too on their part should be alive to the Cultural, Social and Demographic realities of Manipur. Let us recall what the Constitution of India strikes right in the beginning: “WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a [SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC] and to secure to all its citizens: JUSTICE, social, economic and political; LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all.” From the part four of the Constitution, the Directive Principles of State Policy define what should be the nature of engagement and functioning of the government. In other words, India follows the principles of a Welfare State wherein none “permits natural or social contingencies fully to determine the life chances of its members. All have programmes whose explicit purpose is to protect adults and children from the degradation and insecurity of ignorance, illness, disability, unemployment and poverty.”

Being a polity following the principles of a Welfare State and given the prevailing socio-eco-cultural realities of Manipur, the lifting of Prohibition in the way it is being envisaged is an undefendable step.

(Amar Yumnam is Visiting Professor at CESS: Hyderabad)


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