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EDITORIAL: Highway Politics

The comparison may appear out of proportion or even gross, but it is not and this will become clearer once we go into the minute details of the matter at hand. There is nothing more complex and more unpredictable than human nature and in as much as this unique nature of mankind has set it apart from the other living beings on planet Earth, it also stands equally true that it is this unique feature of mankind which has often signaled its catastrophe or brought about human misery which cannot be described in a few lines or a few words. The internal tug of war between the individual and the collective, the seeming clash of interest between what is mine and what is theirs, the need to assert oneself while at the same time conforming to a laid down list of do’s and don’ts are all human characteristics and it is to keep these different inborn features of mankind under a certain degree of check and balance which has necessitated the existence of the authority concerned or a set of people who are entrusted with the task of governance.

The optimum use of one’s resources at hand, the effective harnessing of each man’s ability, the ability to work out a system where justice is not only delivered but also appears to have been delivered, the existence of a system where no one feels being wronged or deprived etc. are all characteristics that collectively go on to define what is governance and just as not everyone is gifted enough to take part in the 100 meters sprint at the Olympics, not everyone has it in them to govern efficiently. This is why human history harks back to the stories of great personalities, who are deemed to be statesmen of the highest order and if Athens is remembered as one of the earliest cities where one could find a system that worked efficiently then it has to do with the efficient statesmanship of its leaders. A ruler therefore had to be not only a conqueror but also an administrator and these basic qualities are what set the leaders apart from the ordinary Joe. This understanding has withstood the test of fire and time and will continue to do so and one important reason why the ability to govern has been hailed and respected since time immemorial is because of the extremely complex and unpredictable nature of mankind. This is precisely one reason why the term Home Maker has increasingly become the politically acceptable term while referring to a woman, who slogs it out within the confines of her home. “The Home Maker is here Bid adieu to the Housewife” could well become the new slogan of the 21st century.

So when the world has come around to the idea of acknowledging the tough task that a woman has to face while bringing up her kids and looking after them as well as multi-tasking by taking on the role of the wife, daughter-in-law etc, it is expected that the universe too has to follow suit and acknowledge the great challenges that lie before every leader. Mr. Okram Ibobi Singh, the first among equals in the SPF Cabinet and the top leader of the people will know this better than the average man on the street, who runs a shop or who is employed as a Clerk in a Government Department. And so it goes that the higher the position a man occupies in the ladder of an organization, the more complex his task would be when compared with those who come lower down the pecking order. The comparison which we have drawn between the job or responsibility that a Home Maker has to bear and a leader of a people may sound hollow or even superficial and odious but this is one of the better way to drive home our argument of how difficult it is to govern, especially when one is referring to a place like Manipur, where there are more problems than solutions in sight. Union Home Minister P Chidambaram is in town and we hope his visit results in something concrete and positive or else the whole exercise of moving all our vehicles parked in front of our office on the airport road, to the congested by lanes would have gone in vain.

Of the numerous contentious issues which Mr. Ibobi and his Council of Ministers have to face, the question of opening up as many land routes connecting Manipur with the outside world is obviously one of the more prominent and pressing questions. Given that Manipur is a land locked State, the need to open as many land routes as possible has never been felt more acutely than now, in the face of the deep divide the rift that has developed over the Lim issue and the frequent shut down of the only lifeline of the State-National Highway 39 by the Lim advocates in the last few years. In 2005 it was the 52 days economic blockade and in 2010 it was the more than 65 days economic blockade, which forced the Government to explore other routes, which can be the second lifeline of the State. National Highway-53 was and is the obvious choice but the manner in which the task of making this route a road fit to be called a National Highway has run into issues, which are the outcome of man’s complex nature and unpredictability has left no one in doubt of the mischievous hand of politics at play. The main concern of the Government and the people should be to ensure the speedy completion of the repair work of this route, which connects Imphal to Jiribam and which will by extension prove to be a boon to many in Tamenglong district.

However recent developments suggest otherwise and the mischievous hands of petty politicking at play here are getting more and more prominent by the day. In 2010, at the height of the marathon economic blockade, we saw how the SPF Government hauled the Border Roads Organization over the burning coal for allegedly not showing the will to improve the condition of this route. The matter was even taken before the Centre as the BRO comes under Delhi and not under Imphal. Now after nearly a year of playing the ‘passing the buck’ game, the SPF Cabinet recently decided to take over the task of maintaining and upgrading this route and hand the responsibility to the State Public Works Department. Given its track record and the reputation earned down the years, quite a number of people had to take the Cabinet decision with a pinch of salt. Giving a new twist to the issue is the announcement by the Zeliangrong Baudi (Assam, Nagaland and Manipur) that it would not accept the decision of the State Government to hand over the task to the State PWD. Accusations of corruption have already been leveled, but this is not the issue here.

The issue is the upgrading of this route to the standard of a National Highway and while we are not engineering experts or have the technical knowhow to comment on whether the BRO or the PWD is more technically efficient to carry out the task, we nevertheless feel the compelling need to question why Mr. Ibobi in particular is demonstrating such eagerness in the completion of the work at hand, while the stoic silence of 2005 continues to ring a bell in our mind. We may also ask, what the BRO has been doing all these years and whether they had highlighted any of the problems lying before them to Imphal or Delhi. The Zeliangrong Baudi too should take care to see that their decision is based entirely on the compelling need to complete the road as soon as possible and are not acting under the instigation of anyone. We have had enough of politics on the National Highways and the first point to keep in mind is that playing politics on the highways is nothing less than playing or fooling around with the stomach of the common people. As we have noted, the exercise of reparking our vehicles with great inconvenience should not be reduced to an exercise in futility and it would be fitting if Mr. PC can look beyond the NIA and the UG outfits and acknowledge the other ailments afflicting Manipur.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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