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Face of a bandh (File Photo)

Manipur has many dubious distinctions to its credit and if not for anything else, at least this land will be known to the international community as a weird place inhabited by a weirder group of people. This is the land which has become notorious for the frequent bandhs and economic blockades and yet this is also the same place where people have learnt to take everything in their stride, without so much of a whimper. A stray dog or a cattle head getting knocked down by a speeding bus on the highway is enough for some people to come together and form a Joint Action Committee and go ahead with a bandh or two while on the other hand, this same group of people will not even move their limbs, forget about raising a voice of protest, when the water tap in the locality has been running dry for weeks.

The humble Onion, described as a vegetable consisting of a bulb with a strong taste and smell, has earned a name for itself in the political circles of the country, for it has not only led to the defeat of a political party, but has again reared its head again. It is not the vegetable per se which is responsible for its importance in the politics of elections, but the price tag that comes along with it. This is the general understanding amongst the general public, but it would do wise to carefully read and try to understand the impact as well as the backlash of the voters, when no efforts are made to check the escalating prices of any food stuff, which badly hits the budget of the middle class families in the part of the country that lies to the west of the Brahmaputra. No Government may have been dethroned or shown the door at the hustings, but there is something intrinsically meaningful and forceful, when women take to the street with their empty sauce pan, pin roller and other kitchen items, whenever the Government of the day fails to do anything or remain indifferent to the escalating prices of food grains, especially staple food such as rice, wheat and lentils.

There is a novelty in such types of protests and though it may not kick up a political storm, the message is conveyed tactfully and forcefully. This is what is meant by utilizing the mechanisms of democracy or venting the rights of the people in the acceptable manner in a democracy. A slight comparison between the mindset of those settled in what is known as mainland India and North East India, will surprise anyone and everyone. No we do not complain or think of approaching the Court of Law when any service provider, such as the mobile telephony companies play truant and come under the impression that they do not need to explain anything to its customers, in the event of something going wrong. However at the other extreme end, this same set of people settled in Manipur do not hesitate a second in calling a bandh or an economic blockade at the drop of the hat and herein lies the paradox and the tragedy that is Manipur, for in many ways it is nothing short of a reflection of the people failing to prioritize issues. Is it sheer indifference or plain ignorance or is it a demonstration of how resilient the people can be. However it would not openly be foolish but also self defeating, if we confuse resilience with tolerating the incompetency of the Government and its agencies.

January 6, 2011, was just like another day, with the people gradually and slowly coming to terms with the second decade of the two millennium, but to a motley group of people, say around 50, it was a significant day, for they had assembled to discuss a particular point, which has affected many but has seen no one come forward to tackle it or at least raise some meaningful questions. The motley group, which we have referred to, consisted of university Professors, an official from the State Electricity Department, journalists, human rights activists, members from the Consumers Club etc. The venue was the mini-auditorium (We have taken the liberty of calling it mini-auditorium, though we are not sure if there is a bigger and more spacious hall) at Hotel Imphal and the point of discussion was the Acute Shortage of Power Supply in Manipur.  No doubt, the topic sounded mundane and not very interesting, but the harsh reality tells a story that would arouse the interest of anyone.

Manipur is perhaps the only State in the whole of the country, where 6 hours of uninterrupted power supply is deemed a luxury. Add to this the fact that no organized voice of protest has been raised for the last ten of fifteen years and compare it with the number of bandhs and blockades and one will get a fair idea of why we have used the terms weird and weirder to describe the land and its people. The technical explanation went over our heads, but one point that stood out prominently was the observation that Manipur has no business to be in such a situation. Forget about the metros or the megapolis, as the moderator of the discussion, Dr Bimol Akoijam put it, just compare Imphal with Silchar or Kohima or Agartala and one will get a good understanding of how power starved we are.

And the surprising this is, a people, who do not think twice about blocking a stretch of road over one issue or the other, have so far not deemed it fit to add muscle to their lung power in raising a voice of protest against the acute power supply. As we had mentioned many times earlier in this column, power supply is not only about lighting one’s house after Sun set, but it is also the means of livelihood to thousands of people. The youth running the neighborhood photostat machine, the mechanic specializing in mending punctured tires, the blue collar worker who has to open his computer often to check the e-mail and other developments and of course keep oneself updated courtesy the 24/7 news channels, are all dependent on power supply. As Amar Yumnam, Professor of Economics in Manipur University put it, the Electricity Department need to understand or be educated on what premises the concept of demand and supply rests. Demand for electricity will increase but is the supply chain doing enough? This says something very significant.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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