Ideological Bankruptcy


A headline in yesterday’s New York Times screams, ‘The Spreading Rage at ISIS’ (NYT, 6 Feb 2015). The news report mentions: ‘Terrorism has long had a gruesome role in conflicts, often among revolutionary groups so fanatically certain of their ends that they readily justify the most barbaric of means. But it can also turn with a vengeance against those who inflict it, as the Islamic State is learning with its most recently publici(s)ed atrocity—murdering a Jordanian air force pilot by burning him alive.’

The ISIS, short for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ad-Dawlah al-Islāmīyah fī al-‘Irāq wash-Shām, in Arabic—is the latest religion-based group to capture the international attention, thanks to instant news media of the 21st century, which can be read as the powerful media of the West that can be again read as the no-hiding-time-for-the-American-obsession-for-oil news in West Asia. Even a longish essay would do no justice to their onslaught over one year.

More than fundamentalism, here we are concerned about issues related to ideology—its overflow and the lack of it. It is no wonder that an American terrorism expert who dismissed that ‘the group is a run-of-the-mill crime syndicate in which ideology takes a back seat to money making’ (International Herald Tribune, 7 Jan 2015). This makes sense when many people believe ideology has no place in present-day politics as much as economic factors do.

However, the clash of belief and the fight over the barrels of oil in the last two decades shows a different reality otherwise. Oil is as important as ideologies. An Australian National Security brief points out that ‘it (the Islamic State) is an Iraq- and Syria-based Sunni extremist group and a former al‑Qa'ida affiliate that adheres to the global jihadist ideology. It uses a combination of threats, incentives and ideology to recruit new members, including a sophisticated social media campaign in several languages.’ If we look at the big picture, we can also observe the clash between the ideologies of Christianity and Islam as much as between their political and economic systems.

We can safely conclude that ISIS relies heavily on ideologies for the better or worse. This is in no way rationalising its violent means to achieve political ends. Violence sucks, period. To cite another example, it was after the First World War that we saw the mass establishment of nation-states and the spread of nationalism even if it took nearly two and half centuries for the Westphalian System to take a shape. The concept of a republic was redefined and new ideologies based on these thoughts erupted on a widespread scale never seen in the history of humanity. It is totally on another level that theorists are prophesying the death of nation-states. Precisely there is a world behind any ideology, regardless of its effects. For the latter, Slavoj Žižek puts it succinctly: ‘When we are shown scenes of starving children in Africa, with a call for us to do something to help them, the underlying ideological message is something like: “Don’t think, don’t politicise, forget about the true causes of their poverty, just act, contribute money, so that you will not have to think!’

Between history and contemporary and the ‘Ideology’

History shows a bulk of political ideologies are modern, and those are not more than two hundred years old at the most. Even the very term, attributed to Frenchman Antoine Destutt de Tracy, that is a rendition of his ‘idéologie’, and which carries a series of interpretations, was used for the first term just before the French Revolution in late 1800s. It is human nature to ignore the obvious, so is our disregard for ideology, taking for granted, though it is a given that it exists ceaselessly in the background: both in our private and public spaces. It can be generally summed up in two lines: it is a set of ideas that make up our actions and aspirations; and it fashions our worldviews ranging from the local to the global. Politically, an ideology defines how a society maintains its relation to work optimally and how we can pursue the goals for common good. In another word, two factors constitute a political ideology. First, it is the goal on how a society should be organised and second, it is the ways to achieve the ends.

We are focussing on this later type of ideology: of the political. In particular, we will delve into the paucity of ideologies relating to conflict-torn Manipur, where there has been overlapping armed movements for sovereignty as well as statehood and provincial homeland demands for the last five decades and more. And this is most ostensible from the government, the parallel government and the constant variable of general mass.

It is an open secret how individuals prevail over a group when it comes to diurnal politics of the day in Manipur. Any election time shows this phenomenon clearly. A portion of the blame goes to the people who are blinded with the promises of democracy, but the majority of the issues owes to the supposedly elected representatives, who are drunk with power and trapped in its own net of possession and plunder and daylight robbery and gross shamelessness and utter ineptitude. People over the world are working overtime to specify newer thoughts and systems, while we are primitively caught in a time warp. And we are excelling in it, tending to raw terms like the ideology of the primitive human beings.

This would accentuate the Fruedian view that ideologies are the unconscious rationalisations of class interests; nonetheless, we cannot afford to keep up with the status quo. For all the problems bogging us down, we need some solutions. If we believe in nothing, to quote Albert Camus, if nothing has any meaning and if we can affirm no values whatsoever, then everything is possible and nothing has any importance. For all the worst reasons, this has been the case in our lived experience.

For the masters

Sample this news from a few days ago. Many senior dissident Congress MLAs from Manipur are camping in Delhi to have the ‘final show-down’ with the high command on the reshuffle of the ministry headed by Chief Minister Okram Ibobi. Some of them suggested that if their demand is not heeded they might be constrained to take drastic steps. In the present political scenario, this indicates they would resign from the Congress and join the BJP to contest the 2017 Assembly Elections. (The Hindu, 2 Feb 2015) Re-read the last sentence. Opportunists, megalomaniac, leikai-goonda: they have earned themselves so many names as good sense takes a back seat, and ideology, dribbles down the drain.

If we look it from Louis Althusser’s perspective, the State—as a machine of ‘repression’—ignores its ineffectiveness to gladly enjoy in its cocoons of self-satisfaction. For Althusser, the Repressive State Apparatus (RSA), consisting of the State, government, police, courts, prison and army, acts as a demonic whole against the Ideological State Apparatuses (ISA) that comprise school, universities and families and those in the private domains. ISAs are further categorised into those of communication, educational, cultural, political and so on. How true is that we submit ourselves to the law not because of legal reason or violence but our fear of humiliation! He further theorised that: (a) ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence; and (b) ideology has a material existence. 

If there were any ideology in this kind of living, we may as well be deaf, dumb and blind. Considering that we do listen, speak and see, we can tell clearly it is the ideology of destruction, if there is any such term, which has been dictating our lives. If there were any, the State has succeeded reducing it to bare delusional thoughts.

In our contemporary world, it is the ideology of lawlessness that serves as a disguise for their penchant to loot and sustain their parochial mindsets in the name of governance and administration in a conflict area. It is the ideology of being a lion in the home turf and being a mouse in others, read Mainland India and New Delhi that shapes its existence. It is the ideology of denial and blindness. Even after several decades of conflict, it considers the armed movement in the region is merely a law-and-order situation. For their masters, it is an internal domestic issue that can only be tackled by excessive militarisation, regardless of its obsession to flaunt as the largest democracy in the world on one hand. How do you justify a war against its own so-called citizens? On the other hand, for all the freebies in their pockets and un-payable debt to the masters, the local representatives are a dead mouse. Statistics show Manipur relies 90% of its economic and financial requirements on grants and funds from the Union. It is an open question but the ideology driving the governance and administration is that of bondage, while the authority might think it is that of their vested interests.
Of the rebels

It is a relative world. Those who need the most are usually the most deprived. This is even truer when we observe the trend of insurgency over the years. If the antagonistic Marxism–revisionism marked the early modern world, now these are the days of permanent revolution and terrorism; the latter is loosely equated with the ideology of using violence for political goals. In India, this is evident in Kashmir, the Northeast and widespread pro-Maoist areas in mainland region (the last which is believed to active in 160 of the country’s 604 administrative districts).

It is notable that most of the rebel groups in Manipur are influenced by both Marxist and Maoist thoughts. However, their political statements have been reduced to the indispensable press releases on their raising days. It has been long that people has ignored their customary announcement of their existence. Their rhetoric has also been overshadowed by the issues of intolerance that people face from their extortion and interference in domestic/family matters. Propaganda has lost its teeth ever since they have started committing anti-people tasks such as planting bombs in public areas and again, mass extortion. Even the information of alleged involvement of state actor in these activities have helped them so little and so late. Apparently Karl Marx and Mao Zedong cannot always be the guide from faraway foreign nations. They are slipping on every step and it is only getting worse. They were formed on certain ideologies but those have become historical narratives counting little in present-day world.

The oldest rebel group was established in 1964, yet till today, there has been no initiative to break the deadlock. The only animated part in this static condition is the collective fall into the abyss of poverty and sheer degradation of the society. The growth of multiple organisations for the same cause is only putting insult to the injury. Growth for the sake of growth, according to Edward Abbey, is the ideology of the cancer cell. Certainly, social revolution cannot afford to be as rigid as an ideology, but when it is disregarded blatantly, the people are the first stakeholders to bite the bullet.

By the people

Truth be told, there are many people in Manipur who are fed up with India since 1949, when the erstwhile kingdom was merged into the Union by force. Lack of systematic study and the silence of the general public explain how the State has been able to describe such related issues as those of internal domestic affairs. There are also as many people who see no future without the Union. Whenever there are cases of racial discrimination (Check the timeline on racism cases on Epao) and government inaction, which is so rampant in our world, this second group of people is the one who is prone to victimisation. The desperation is apparent in their cries for acceptance while carrying forward the legacy of slavery. As if these are insufficient, we are super-disorganised irrespective of the camp we belong to.

The mastery of facing the chronic decadence is visible in our kneejerk responses and reactive approaches to the ceaseless issues ranging from killing to torture to government apathy to defunct authority. The formation of joint action committees every other day gives a pointer to the overdraft of grievances, complaints and protests. The State is immune to the popular uprisings, knowing well that another issue will overtake the previous one. It is always a wait-and-watch policy. We are also immune to the most barbaric events that are occurring in the name of the people day in and day out. Our pessimism and defeatist mentality are only helping the State to continue its debauchery in broad daylight. Our lack of political stand lends it the ultimate power to further the existential crisis of the people. Ideas can change a world, but as things stand today, our collective life is corroded so hard. We have the alternatives, as evident from the possibilities of grassroots democracy to take an example; yet any idealism has been reduced to a Utopian benchmark. The contention is that the paucity of ideologies has made us mere zombies.

More blunders call for more drastic amendments. It might be hard for us to admit but we are left with no option. As every seedling needs different soil, there is an urgent need for thoughts and values that are suitable to our environments. Again, Marx and Mao are not enough—they should complement with the needs that we have in our indigenous ways of life. This could be an epistemological issue but we can see that Marx used the term ‘ideology’ in a pejorative sense. Quite ironically, Marxism is an ideology that many of the sons of the soil are drowned in.      


The problem is over the power, or rather our inability to think. Our thoughts and mores are simply evaporating into dogmas in the most primitive ways. Perhaps the only face-saver is the phenomenon of rampant violence in other parts of the world—proving that we are not alone in this rut. Comparatively those are, for example the issues of ISIS, are on a global scale that people are taking notice of. The situation is bleak back home. We have seen the deception of the State terming the issues as those of law and order and domestic affairs. In other instances, these are of petty ethnic conflicts. If not, these are just a part of the national phenomenon of regionalism that affects the Indian politics as a whole. On multiple levels, we are losing our tracks.

Ideologies can be inflexible; but we do need some of them to rebuild our today and pave the way for tomorrow. Definitely, these should be entirely different from the existing ones. If not for the solution, we can at least frame the questions to our problems in a logical manner first. On one hand, we are clear about hardliners and fundamentalist groups, as cited in ISIS cases. It is one story how the Muslim hardliners and liberals are at loggerheads. For that matter it is a fact how the war on terror has killed more people than from terrorism. In a study by the Stop the War Coalition on casualties from the war on terror, 94.78% were Iraqi civilians, 4.39% Afghan civilians, 0.55% American casualties and 0.28% in the 9/11 attack (Figures from Stop the War Coalition). It is totally another story how the Manipuri rebels are sleeping with the elected representatives and contractors, as if social transformation is a business.

Economic wellbeing might depend on development policies rather than on ideologies. Action might precede theory in the days of social revolution. Yet ideologies shape how we go about facing these issues. These are what we believe in. To conclude, without a firm foundation, the building is not going to last long. Perhaps, we can start with where we stand on the questions of liberty. Now we are just dragging along the path of our hopeless and uninspiring dark age.


Manipur: Treatise & Documents, by Naorem Sanajaoba
Revolutionary Movements in Manipur, by N Joykumar
Bleeding Manipur, by Phanjoubam Tarapot
The Emergence of Meetei Nationalism: A Study of Two Movements Among the Meeteis, by Rajendra Kshetri
Ethnicity in Manipur: Experiences, Issues, and Perspectives, by Lucy Zehol

Troubled Periphery: The Crisis of India’s North East, by Subir Bhaumik
Violence and Identity in North East India: Naga-Kuki Conflict, by SR Tohring
Autonomy and Armed Separatism in South and Southeast Asia, by Michelle Ann Miller
Social Movements in North East India, by Mahendra Narain Karna



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