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Neither Foolish Nor Wise

Either the people of Manipur are fools, or so rich that they are sleeping on mattresses stuffed with one thousand rupee notes instead of cotton, or they are just a laid back people, who have their priorities screwed up, or else they are a large hearted people, who don’t mind shelling out a few extra rupees to make the middlemen or the pot bellied traders a little more richer. The fact however is, neither are the people of Manipur fools, filthy rich, or large hearted enough to indulge in any sort of philanthropic activities.

Far from it, just take a look at the lanes of every Leikais and see how it has been encroached upon by the residents and the gradual diminishing in the sizes of the khongbans and far from being a laid back group of people this shows the greed of a people, and moreover it cannot be expected from a laid back people to respond to any bandh call or blockade with so much enthusiasm or there would not have been so many organizations which are dedicated to the ‘˜interest of the public’ and think nothing wrong in going for a donation drive with the amount decided by them earlier, at their own fancy and whims.

It is this contrasting characters which define the typical native of Manipur, which has flummoxed many, especially those from outside the North East region and maybe a research work aided by Sociological tools and models, may give us some insight into the factors that have gone in to create a situation where the two contrasting characteristics co-exist in a state of perfect harmony. Or do we need more assistance from other the social sciences such as social psychology? These questions are important and should have been raised a long, long time back, but for reasons, that we cannot fathom, they appear to develop cold feet when to raise their voice at the right time. And so it goes on.

The mobile telephony service was introduced in Manipur sometime in 2004 with BSNL leading the pack. Soon the private players followed, first Aircel, Airtel, Reliance, Tata Indicom, Vodafone coming here to tap the market, however small it may be. The coming of these private players is fine and should be encouraged, but what makes no sense is the absence of any coherent, organized voice of complaints, when any of these service providers go out of order for days. Imphal is no exception and hill capitals, such as Ukhrul have had to suffer numerous connection failure, with the subscribers often greeted with the words or phrases, ‘Unreachable, does not exist, or the number you are dialing cannot be reached or that irritating words in Hindi, Upa Bhukta….’

This is not all. On quite a number of occasions, dealers of top up cards are unable to send the Easy Recharge or E-Top due to some technical glitches, for which no reasons are furnished. Apart from the huge monetary losses, it is the indifference of such service providers as well as the lackadaisical attitude of the subscribers that we find extremely irritating. Would the service providers have remained indifferent to such cases, in cities like Delhi or Mumbai? Or is the  ‘˜We care a damn’ attitude a natural extension of the indifference or laid back attitude or the mixture of opposite that is synonymous with the people of Manipur ?

So while the whole of the country is crying hoarse against the rising prices of Onion, giving sleepless nights to the Prime Minister and Mrs. Gandhi as well as other top leaders of the UPA Government, Manipur trudges on as if everything is fine. There has been no words from the Government on what it plans to do to regulate prices of essential commodities and the anchor story we ran on the January 16 issue of this paper tells a telling story and the caption of the news story, ‘Imphal Traders’ whim decides food process’ sums it all up. It is not only Onion that we are talking about, but about the escalating cost of everything, starting from the staple diet, rice to lentils, edible oil to almost everything, including seasonal vegetables. A kilogram of apple can set you back by anything between Rs 130 and Rs 200, depending on the variety of the fruit.

Economists may give different interpretations for inflation or sudden hike in prices of essential commodities, but no one will be able to understand or explain, how a Government can remain so aloof, so indifferent to the situation when prices of all commodities are escalating. Why are there no mechanisms in place to check the prices of goods sold in the market, or should the decision of fattening their bank balance and sucking the life out of the common people, be taken by the traders and the middlemen? Or is there a conspiracy at the high level, where each scratches the back of the others?

Consider some few facts. Ever since trade relations between India and Myanmar opened up, via Moreh, quite a large number of people have been depending on goods brought in from Moreh. These goods range from the ordinary to the ‘extra-ordinary.’ Onions, garlics, dry chillies, pengbas, inner wear, jackets, shoes, candles you name it and it is there on sale. The question now is why should the Onions and Garlics brought in from Moreh suddenly see a quantum jump in their prices? The Onion crisis, as we see it, is mainly an Indian affair with Myanmar not anywhere in the picture. And more importantly why are the people keeping quiet. Take out your pot and pans, kettles, rice pot, the ladle and spoons and then walk right up to the Chief Minister’s bungalow and give him these items as New Year’s gift!

The traders and middlemen, especially those who ply their trade along the Imphal-Moreh route, may be voted as the best entrepreneurs of the State, for fattening not only their tummy but also their bank balance while the rest suffer and see their hard earned money able to buy only a few strands of vegetables. A complete reverse of the trend recorded during the Great Depression. Maybe we can christen this period as the Great Year of Govt Indifference, People’s Silence, and Fattening ones Belly As Well As Bank Balance.’ The Sensex may zoom and while a few millionaires will emerge and get to dine at the finest restaurants, there will be thousands more who will have to add more water to their dal.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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