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Communal Politics: Whose Interest Does It Serve?

Communal virus has come to vitiate the collective well-being and capacity of the people to rationally address their real life challenges in Manipur for some time. The cacophony around the issues of ‘˜Naga Integration’ and ‘˜Territorial Integrity’ in Manipur are testimonies of that fact. To counter this communal virus, we must know its nature.

Having paid, and continuing to pay the price of communal politics, it might be instructive to begin with the understandings on communalism amongst the Indian scholars and observers. If we go by renowned historian Bipan Chandra’s opinion, communalism is the belief that different religious (or ethnic) entities have dissimilar and divergent ‘˜social, economic, cultural and political interests’. And it breeds and pursues, he further notes, an antagonistic politics amongst different communities based on a zero-sum-game (that is, ‘˜the loss of one group is the gain of another group and vice versa’).

Communalism: Hate politics and anti-thesis of co-existence

Similarly, communalism in Manipur is marked by the belief, and politics thereof, that those different (religious and ‘˜ethnic’) communities in Manipur cannot have common or similar social, economic, cultural and political interests. And the loss of one community is the gain of another community. Simply puts it, it is a belief that if the Nagas become more educated, Kukis will be less educated or the Meiteis become better off, the ‘˜tribals’ will be less better off and vice versa.

There is no gainsaying that these are ridiculous ideas. But communalism is an ideology that not only thrives on such ridiculous ideas but also breeds and justifies practices of an antagonistic politics that invites conflict, bloodshed and mistrust amongst the people.

Given communalists’ belief that different communities have dissimilar and divergent social, economic, cultural and political interests (that is, communities cannot have common interests), communalism is anti-thesis to those values and practices associated with the ideas of ‘˜co-existence’ and ‘˜inter-dependence’ amongst different communities. Indeed, terms such as ‘˜co-existence’ and ‘˜common interests’ are not valued expressions in the communalists’ lexicon.

However, this does not mean that communalists do not utter these expressions (e.g., ‘˜co-existence’, ‘˜love for the neighbor’ etc). They do; but given the aforesaid character of communalism, their utterance can only be a sham at best and at worst, a diabolical tactic to mislead ordinary folks. Indeed, as a tactic, it is a lie, a part of the misinformation campaign that communalists often deploy. In that, many have pointed out the similarities between communalism and fascism. After all, Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propagandist, once reportedly said: ‘˜A lie repeated thousands of times become a truth’.

Thus, if Manipur is characterized by communalism, we must know those who preach communalism and practice its politics in the State. Those who believe in, and pursue, common interests and destiny for the people of Manipur, irrespective of the ethnic or religious backgrounds, are not definitely amongst those communalists.

Communalism: Shielding the oppressive structures of a political economy

DL Sheth, my former colleague and a well known political sociologist wrote, ‘˜every community’¦is a highly differentiated entity from within: socially, economically, educationally and even culturally (and) denying recognition of such differences has been at the core of all communal politics’.

Communalists therefore try to present each community as homogeneous in terms of their social, economic, or political conditions/orientations. In the process, they deny the fact that there are poor people within each community or that people are being discriminated against both within each community (e.g., affluent against the poor members of the community) and between communities (e.g., larger community against smaller community, including amongst the ‘˜tribals’ communities). And, more importantly, they also deny that there are more reasons than one for such discriminations.

Thus, communalists deny that there are poor people in every community or that the elites amongst the community (‘˜tribal’ or ‘˜non-tribal’) look down upon poor members of the same community or that a larger or better-off community (including amongst the ‘˜tribals’) discriminates against smaller or less well-off community. Rather than looking at the objective factors that have produced or sustained deprivation and discriminations in society or variation in the development or differential socio-economic and political statuses/participation of the different communities, communal propagandists reduce everything to community membership as ‘˜the’ reason for all the ills.

In short, they ‘˜communalize’ all discourses on issues of public concerns.

Consequently, they do not talk about the issues of (poor) governance, lack of vision, faulty planning, corruption, and the elitist-feudal-imperial ethos of the dependent political culture of Manipur as factors that have critically shaped the differential development patterns or political participations amongst different communities or regions. Indeed, the communalists deliberately hide the fact that a state-driven economy, largely sustained by the grant-in-aid from New Delhi, has not only produced a twisted political culture and economy in Manipur but also groomed elites from different communities who rule the state like their fiefdom at the expense of the ordinary citizens belonging to different communities.

Not only in Manipur, in other states with similar (dependent) political-economy in the Northeast and elsewhere, there are similar variations amongst different sections of the population in terms of development indexes or differential participation in the political and economic life of the respective states.

Take for instance, our neighboring state of Nagaland. There are gaps in development or variations in different parts of that state or amongst its different ‘˜tribes’. The variation can be as stark as the gap in literacy rate (a crucial development index) between the Ao ‘˜tribe’ (85.9%) and the Konyaks (40.2%) (Census, 2001). Incidentally, literacy rate of the Scheduled Tribe population in a ‘˜tribal’ state like Nagaland stands at 66% as compared to 65.9% amongst the Scheduled Tribe population in Manipur. Besides, there are still ‘˜tribal’ communities in Nagaland (with much larger population size or percentage than many ‘˜tribal’ communities in Manipur) which are yet to produce significant numbers of political leaders or officials (e.g., Chief Ministers or Cabinet Ministers or top bureaucrats) in that state.

But fortunately, far from reducing the issues of such variation and differential participation in the political process/structure to communal issues, the neighboring people in Nagaland acknowledge the structural issues implicated in such matters. For instance, the Angami Public Organization (APO), in a statement dated 20/12/1997 remarks, ‘˜What we call ‘˜Naga Economy’ is mainly cash transferred from Delhi to Kohima. And what we call ‘Naga politics’ is now largely a ruthless scramble by all of us, ‘overground’ and ‘underground’ to lay our hands on the cash for which we have not sweated’.

Needless to say, a communal propaganda will only deny a similar assessment of a similar situation of another Northeastern State like Manipur. In abandoning such an assessment, communalists are shielding those forces and structures/processes that have produced and sustained the exploitative nature of a political economy that affects the people in the state, irrespective of their community membership. Thus, the communal forces, far from helping the disadvantaged sections of our society, enhance not only the structural factors in question but also the hands of the elites who become richer and powerful at the expense of the ordinary citizenry in the state.

Like many other places in India, including the Northeast, there are stereotypes and prejudices, particularly in the socio-cultural domain, amongst different communities in Manipur.

Unfortunately, rather than evolving or grooming a politics based on objective assessment to counter the obsolete and repugnant socio-cultural ethos in society and structural ills that mark the degeneration in almost all aspects of life in Manipur today, communal forces seek to distract people’s attention from the real issues to their dangerous communal agendas that invite conflict, bloodshed and mistrust amongst the victims, the ordinary citizenry in the state.

The dangerous prospect of such a communal politics should not be lost to us. Partition of the Indian sub-continent in 1947, driven, as it were, by communalism and its divisive politics resulted in millions losing their lives in mindless violence, and uprooting millions of people from their homestead of hundreds of years. Besides, that division amongst people and land on communal lines had left behind a deep rooted mistrust and animosity amongst communities to haunt the people till date. Given the topographical and demographic character, and the historicity of the political, economic and cultural linkages amongst different communities in this tiny state, the consequences of a similar ideology of communalism and its politics will be, to say the least, disastrous. And needless to say, the ripple effects of those consequences are bound to strain the inter-community relationships and geo-political fate of the people beyond Manipur, particularly in the Northeast.

History need not repeat itself; for we have the freedom of choice. And, we must choose to stand together and ward off communalism and defeat its politics in order to shape a common destiny based on inter-dependence and mutual respect amongst different communities in Manipur.

*The article was written by By  Bimol Akoijam

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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