The Development Delusion

Ideas from the demand for the inclusion of Meiteis in the ST category

We know we are underdeveloped and we also know we want to be developed but we do not know how to be developed—this is what we can grasp from the farcical demand for the scheduled tribe status for the Meiteis in Manipur.

Consider a view, a familiar one, when you are in Manipur. Any stretch of dilapidated road—that greets us in each leikai with such brazenness and thanks to our unique civic sense—offers us enough cues about where we stand today in this millennium. Optimists would still say all is not lost and others would, who knows, take the name of Narendra Modi and Nongthombam Biren, to say we are on the right path of development after the fall of the Congress.
However, we can leave any kind of considering or imagining; in fact we have very little to do it, when we are talking about the demand for ST status for the Meiteis in Manipur. The reason is obvious: here we are in a land where the nonsensical and contradictory stand of people rules the roost and privy to such an argument that a constitutional provision such as that of SC or ST will unify the fractioned ethnic groups. For their sake of their argument, howsoever superficial and ridiculous those are, let’s say we will ‘listen’ to their reason.    

The benefits in the books

For the pro-ST people, we just need to go back home and ‘sleep’ if ever the Government grants us the status. And the possibility does exist, because it is one hell of an issue, with its high sentimental quotient, that can help foment the ongoing nation-building project of the Indian State. That’s just an idea. Besides, on a larger scale there are dedicated government bodies dealing with these issues.

The National Commission for Scheduled Tribe (NCST) has the authority to look after the welfare of the scheduled tribes in the union of India. How much the State is sincere is clear from the very existence of such a national commission. Briefly, it is heartily fair and objective.

The politics of SC and ST started during the British imperial rule—then, these people were categorised under the Depressed Classes, or the tribal in simple terms. Considering the much needed space for these people to improve their living conditions in general, a rule of the land offers a path for improvement, continuing the legacy of the old masters. There is no doubt how much it was ‘brooded’, considering the clauses and sub-clauses in the official documents that supposedly facilitate the social engineering processes.
[Text from a post on this blog: The Scheduled Tribe Plan of the Meitei: Rewatching the Theatre of the Absurd]

Back again, to listen to the self-proclaimed evangelists of social development, when we wake up tomorrow—boom!—we will be developed, if we get the ST status, and we will become a progressive tribe, or in their words, we will get to drink the proverbial milk and become a ‘strong’ people. From their perspectives, when the day breaks after we get the constitutional label of ST:

(i)    Unity will prevail as the communities in the province will become one kind in contrast to the existing division in which the dominant Meiteis are in the general category, while the other ethnic groups are mostly STs.
(ii)    The Meiteis will do away with the self-inflicted injustice out of this categorisation. In plain words, the Meiteis will start receiving freebies and privileges just like the other ethnic groups which enjoy these entitlements by virtue of their ST-ness.
(iii)    The Meiteis will be placed rightfully where they belong to: amongst the groups of downtrodden people of India but with the added benefits of getting age relaxation and reservation in education and government jobs.
(iv)    The Meiteis will remove the veil of elitism, which is as fake as Fair and Tony creams that are available in alleys around the Khwairamband Keithel.
(v)    Tribalisation will become the trademark of development while it will bridge the hill-valley divide and further promote social growth (ironically without any competition in this age of globalisation)          
Delusion and development

All their arguments are riddled with a delusion of free benefits and development. To take one example, the pro-ST people are in a make-believe world, considering as if this administrative categorisation is the reason behind why the Meiteis have a certain sense of superiority. In their greed for free privileges, they have completely ignored the historical and political evolutions of the ‘peoples’ and adding more nonsense to their absurd stand, they are asserting these same privileges are going to obliterate the divisions.

It takes political consciousness and mobilisation to break down the walls but apparently these terms do not exist in their dictionaries. Of course, a level playing field will bring the people closer. That’s natural. However, the condition that will be provided by ST status is too artificial and fallible even to be given a thought. Alternatively, we desperately need growth and development, yet on a ground marked with long-term objectives and not through some freebies in this highly competitive world. And this requires planning. A lot.

Some ST experts love to believe that those who are opposing their demands are pro-Indian Hindus. They would go to the extent of citing the examples of honour killing in North India to make their points against those who see little idea in social change through policies meant for uplifting backward classes of people. But they have completely failed to see the deep Indian-ness within their campaign.

First of all, they are demanding for privileges from a Brahmin-Bania-oriented Nation-state. Their campaigns are more on the line of those Jats and Patels in North and West India respectively, who have been demanding for reservations in similar areas where our small-eye experts are also directing their intelligent eyes on. It is funny at times how they have failed to see theirs is tribal identity politics which by another name would be caste politics in the mainland. Let’s not even talk about their ridiculous contention that the people opposing the demands are suffering from an inability to accept reality. In real, they are the one suffering from alethephobia.

While we are talking about India, we might as well reflect on the call for removing the reservation system. This is the reason why we are not developed—when other people are moving forward with progressive ideas we are going in the opposite direction. We can declare again that it’s NOT the lack of or the need for constitutional privileges that makes us backward. But our sick mentality does. Rather one of the important factors is timely intervention. As Charles de Gaulle, the French statesman, said: ‘Politics is too serious a matter to be left to the politicians.’     

In certain contexts, the chronic mental ailment has impaired our ability of comprehension too. With reference to the National Commission of the STs, one of its functions includes taking up ‘measures to safeguard rights of the tribal communities over mineral resources, water resources etc. as per law’, but why are there so many protests all over the so-called nation from the people against capitalist-oriented development projects? The answers are glaring back at us from the question itself.

With regards to the Meitei-tribal divide, the problem is more about the hegemony of the Meiteis by virtue of population just like we face in the hands of mainland Indians. Simple as that.

Related articles on this blog:
•    The Scheduled Tribe Plan of the Meitei: Rewatching the Theatre of the Absurd
•    An Open Letter to the Coordinating Body of Scheduled Tribe Demand Committee Manipur
•    The Politics of Special Category
•    In Defiance to the Demand for ST Status
•    The Tragedy of a Beneficiary Group

Truth and senses

Truth be told, we are well passed the era of government ‘thabak’, which the pro-ST people are so interested in. The same logic applies to those who believe that an ST status will benefit those underprivileged Meiteis. In this regard it is funny that they are accusing the people who are against the ST demand are elites who do not know the Manipuri reality. They are unaware of the elitist position they are taking when they are claiming to speak for underprivileged Meiteis.

Instead of toying with the misinformed, misplaced ideas of social change, the pro-ST people should rather develop, say, an entrepreneurial movement. With their professional expertise, as evident from the personal information of some of the exponents, this is quite possible.  

In seeking to delegitimise those who do not toe their line, the pro-ST people are oblivious of their apolitical stand when the issues are deeply political. They simply do not understand how a constitutional privilege would broker a peace deal or a half-a-century old armed movement for the right to self-determination. Some of them, as expected, would even claim that these are unrelated to their demand; indirectly unrelated, yes, because their objective is just the noble social change and development regardless of ‘dirty’ politics. A lot of stake, for their information, is in solving the armed crisis. Above this, we can recall the phenomenon of aforementioned tribal identity politics that is marked by sharp antagonism on ethnic lines in a place like Manipur.

If there is any way for all-inclusive growth, it is got to be proper planning and reasonable, pragmatic approach in addressing the issues in the first place. Subsequently, management is the key; getting freebies is not. 

If there is one thing so apparent about this whole farce of ST demand, it is the Meitei’s sick covetous eyes, which is more of a collective bipolar disorder created by decades of oppression made worse by illogical aspirations. We know we are underdeveloped, we also know we want to be developed but we do not know how to be developed—this is what we can grasp from the demand for the scheduled tribe status for the Meiteis in Manipur.

As it shows, what we have always needed are senses—the more the better—and clear-cut ways of sorting out the inequalities and backwardness though policy-making processes and judicious intervention from stakeholders, but never the short-term Government-sanctioned benefits from a highly questionable system.




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