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EDITORIAL: The Other Side Of Boycott

There is a popular joke doing the round, which has assumed greater currency and legitimacy with each passing year and the icing on the top is, the joke is at the expense of the men in uniform, the police and IRB personnel. And the joke perfectly complements their attitude and behavior which in the Meitei tongue goes something like this, “Makhoine Bu Hairadi Paktum Pak Ee.” So what is the joke about and why recall it now?

The number one reason is the scheduled visit of the President of India Pratibha Patil and the other factors are the annual rituals witnessed on the eve of every Independence Day, August 15 and Republic Day, January 26. Just as the general strike and boycott call sounded by numerous armed groups during the two days, which pop up unfailingly each year, this time too, the umbrella organization of three powerful armed outfits which come under the name Manipur Peoples’ Liberation Front, has not only boycotted the visit of the President but has also imposed a 40 hour general strike with effect from midnight of March 9.

The reason for the boycott and the general strike should be obvious to all. It is a symbolic demonstration against everything that stands for the Government of India and who better than the President, who is the numero uno in the order of protocol as well as the first citizen of the country. It is also a call to show that the visit by any dignitaries from Delhi is nothing but to put up a sham of a performance before the international community that Manipur is indeed a part and parcel of the great Indian Union.

These are the points under which the armed groups have announced their stand and whether one agrees with their ideas or not is a different matter, but none can brush aside the silent grins and guffaws that some street smart kids have come up with after close and minute observations. Before D day, that is one day before any Republic Day or Independence Day, a sure spectacle is the drama staged on the roadside, with the cops scripting, editing, directing and acting in them. One does not need histrionic talent to make a mark, but what one needs is an ugly face made uglier by the distorted facial expression, a loud and rough voice, the louder the better and of course the AKs slung casually over their shoulders and barking orders to everyone to hurry up.

In the beginning, when the boycott and general strikes came into vogue on such days, people rushed back home to beat the deadline set by the militants, but down the years, wittingly or unwittingly, it is the cops who have been enforcing the ‘general strike’ or so it seems. Just take a look around and listen to the words of caution given by the elders of family to their young children not venture out far as the streets and roads are literally swarming with cops! No it is not the boycott call given by the militants that tops the priority list, but the fear and apprehension of the men in uniform and this is where the tragedy as well as the comical side of the situation emerges. The reasons are not far to seek. For the cops, it is a night which they have to spend, braving the chills or heat of the night, not to speak about the mosquitoes and many a time Bacchus is the only one who can provide them some relief and give them the Himmat to last the night.

It is therefore not surprising to see that the cops want the roads to be cleared as soon as possible, so that they can take a swig or two and relax or concentrate on the job at hand. Such a situation has a history and a long one at that. Ever since Manipur became a theatre of war and conflict and was declared a disturbed State, the men in khaki have managed to create an image, which stands out prominently for all the wrong reasons. Haughtiness has become their calling card while many others have been described as nothing better than killing machines, who eliminate not only the armed insurgents but also civilians for the sake of some moolahs.

It is in this climate or the peculiar situation that Manipur is passing through that Pratibha Patil will make her maiden landing at Tulihal airport as President. On the part of the State Government, nothing has been left to chance it seems. Imphal is witnessing a hectic bout of window dressing exercise, dug up roads which have been lying there for ages as well as freshly dug out roads have been filled, which we are told will be dug up again, once the resident of Raisina Hill leaves. This is a situation which is unique to Manipur and while it should be granted that policemen across India have already managed to earn a notorious reputation for them, Manipur presents the same but again very different scenario. This is the uniqueness of policing in Manipur.

We will not be surprised if any of the cops welcome the boycott as well as general strike on the two days we have mentioned as well as when any dignitaries from Delhi come knocking at our doors, for it will mean, no traffic to control, and it gives them the right opportunity to exercise their lung power and show who is in charge! The joke that we mentioned in the opening sentence of this commentary comes nowhere near a comedy with good taste, but more of buffoonery, which reminds one of the crude scenes from some Bollywood flicks. So who has been proven to be the more effective force in enforcing the general strike, the police with their threats and rantings and shoutings or the militant outfits with their press statements justifying their stand and of course laced with a not so subtle hint of caution ? The jury on this is still out there and God knows when the verdict will come!

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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