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Colloquium On Militarism And Future Of Democracy In Manipur

Today violence has become a way of life in Manipur that it influences not only the ‘high politics’ but also the everyday life of the common men and women. It is not merely the presence of armed State forces and armed non-State groups that have to be taken into account while one discusses the issue of violence. It is the culture and the mindset of dealing with any issue in the society through militaristic or violent means that ought to be the point of deliberation. The problem of militarism goes beyond the visibility or invisibility of the armed forces and groups, but it percolates and, in turn, gets reflected in the cultural life of the people.

Quite obviously, the prolonged and continued violence in the region (largely in the State of Manipur) has impacted onto the social, political and everyday life shaping into a cultural form. This is reflected in two visible trends: State impunity to violence, and seeming acceptance of people to violence as way of life. Unfortunately, these trends have limited the practice of democracy both at the institutional and societal levels.

The above-mentioned trends have led to the acceptance of aberration of principles and practices of democracy. Today, exceptions have been maximized to an extent that aberration has become the norm. Hence, there is a strong need to locate the areas where democratic institutions and practices are at seize. Frequent dharna, bandh and cease work by journalists, local bodies, civil groups, Government employees, etc, on the excesses of State forces and non-State armed groups shows a lot as tips of the icebergs.

In order for understanding militarism in the State, one way to begin exploring in this colloquium is to understand the nature of the Indian State as it has emerged as a young nation with a civilizational narrative, with its overarching presence in every nook and corner of the country. This while juxtaposed with Manipur, once a kingdom with a national character, finds mismatches. The narrative of ‘nation’ and ‘sub-nation’ becomes a major point of contention among different political and cultural positionalities. It seemingly suggests that exploration into the ideological and political projects, their complementarities and contradictions, will unfold the Pandora’s Box. To discuss the issue of militarism it is imperative to reiterate the character of the Indian national State vis-à-vis Manipur.

It is also important to understand the dynamics of the Indian State and the discourse it initiates to ensure its sovereignty and territorial integrity. It would be important to discuss the idea of national security that the Indian State routinely propagates as the new mantra to exercise its monopoly over violence. Enactment and enforcing of AFSPA is to insure India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. It is extremely important to unmask the State discourse; its rationale and imperatives, to better comprehend the dynamics of militarism.

As much as the State discourse is built on violence, its counterpart, the non-State armed groups are also built on the same logic. The ‘non-State’ if understood as ‘State in becoming’ highlights interesting trend that is near equivalent to the State discourse of monopolizing violence. But more alarming trend is the ‘non-State’ discourse that no more seems to confine to its ‘classic’ opposition to the State, but more so towards the contending groups and the people. Propaganda warfare, intimidation, extortion, etc have become the hallmark of their operation over the latter. Militarism is largely reflected through these operations.

The tentacles of militarism spreading over democratic spheres tell a lot more about the nature of State violence meted out through counter insurgency strategies. Apart from visible violent strategies like AFSPA, ‘encounters’, kidnapping, arrest, etc, the invisible modes, such as, discourses on development and governance call for serious deliberation. While development discourse ensures to safeguard one of the fundamental human rights, the same needs a closer look while used at those areas driven by armed conflict. It is high time to reiterate that ‘right to development’ is a political discourse, rather than as mere avenues of employment, per capita growth, income generation, and above all, the symbol of progress. Most often, language of development is used to lure the citizens as part of counter insurgency program. It would be important to see if such forms of discourse heighten militarism in a covert way.

The impact of militarism in the functioning of civil societies is equally pronounced. This is keeping in view the distinctiveness of the armed non-State groups from civil society bodies, for the idea of ‘non-State’ in the former is about ‘becoming the State’ by challenging the legitimacy of the existing State. The impact of militarism is deep-rooted—not only the existing civil bodies painted by violence, but new civil bodies emerge out of agenda that are characteristically violent. This is visible in the day-to-day functioning of the civil societies in the State. Thus, it may be important to revisit the State and role of civil society keeping in view that civil society ought to be built on democratic platform, and that representation and functioning of these bodies are through debate rather than intimidation. Then only, perhaps, civil society may be able to generate democratic debate in the State. Most importantly, the colloquium proposes to explore the binary relationship between civil society and militarism with democracy as a principle to be aimed at.

Spread of militarization and violence has percolated to the domain of the media. Constant threat, intimidation and abduction of media person to control the voices of the media both by the non-State armed groups as well as the State forces has reduced the role of media to that of a mouth piece of one or the other party. Restoring the role of media as a vanguard of democracy and its practices has become one of the greatest challenges today.

The challenge is equally deepened when the sphere of representative (electoral) politics is looked into. In a conflict-ridden scenario like Manipur, as witnessed between the Indian State and the armed insurgent groups, the democratically elected representatives seem to be rather invisible. This shows the dilemmas about locating the representative politics into the conflict scenario. A popular perception is that electoral politics has nothing to do with the larger peoples’ concerns in the State. It is quite likely that lack of comprehension of the dynamics make us see the two as unrelated. A deeper intellectual deliberation is called for.

Finally, the colloquium aims towards exploring the contents and methods that may initiate political processes where democracy as principles and practices are respected and adhered to. One such area is to discuss threadbare the idea and norm of self-determination as a democratic discourse. It is high time to see the contour of self-determination beyond the ambit of United Nations’ declaration on secession as has been religiously accepted by concerned parties. Self-determination as an idea that comes out of a peoples’ right to decide their political future need to be discussed as a process of democratic exercise. Only enhancing and consolidating democracy can overcome militarism. Thus, the challenge is about consolidating democracy in the State. The success of the colloquium lies precisely in exploring that possibility.

Sub-themes:

1. India and Manipur: Historical Pedigree and Political Possibilities

2. State Discourse: National Security and Its Rationales

3. Armed Opposition: History, Resistance and Ideology

4. Media, Militarism and Violence

5. Women in Armed Conflict

6. Counter-insurgency and Politics of Development

7. Electoral Politics, Democratic Norms and Practices

8. Democracy, Civil Society and Challenges

9. Right to Self-determination: Polemics and Possibilities

10. Future of Democracy in Manipur.

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(Courtesy: Manipur Research Forum, Imphal-Delhi/The Sangai Express)

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