Manipur: The importance of lighting fires...

... and the deafening silence of the 'fire-fighters' in a state riddled with uncertainty, chaos and fear for the 53rd day since violence erupted on 3 May

Protestors from Manipur's tribal communities at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, 24 June 2023, calling out PM Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah for neglect of the NE state, with only 2 seats in Parliament (photo: Vipin/National Herald)
Protestors from Manipur's tribal communities at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, 24 June 2023, calling out PM Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah for neglect of the NE state, with only 2 seats in Parliament (photo: Vipin/National Herald)

Avay Shukla

Lighting or fanning a fire is a good way to consolidate power.

Nero did it by blaming the Christians for the burning of Rome and persecuting them to to tighten his hold on the Roman empire.

Hitler did it by arresting all communists, Jews and "enemies of the state" after the fire in the Reichstag.

The BJP government in Delhi follows this same beaten track by its proven incompetence, if not worse, with regard to the fires burning in Manipur, now in their sixth week.

Of course, there is no proof that those who benefitted by these fires lit them, or at the least, failed to douse them. But this is where the 'sniff test' comes into play, and my flared nostrils tell me that something here just does not smell right. And your olfactory sensory neurons, dear reader, should be telling you the same thing, if Covid or 'bhakti' has not destroyed your sense of smell completely.

The BJP, as a party, suffers from pyromania on a psychopathic scale: it loves nothing better than to constantly light "big and small fires" (a phrase used by the RJD MP Manoj Jha in a recent open letter to the prime minister), and then dance around them like a dervish, counting its votes.

Currently, there are four big fires burning in this country — in Jammu and Kashmir, in Kolhapur, in Uttarakhand and of course in Manipur.

There are also innumerable small fires lighting up our darkening democratic twilight — the protests by the wrestlers in Delhi, the renaming of the Jawaharlal Nehru Museum and Library, the award of the Gandhi Peace Prize to an organisation which did not see eye-to-eye with Gandhi, the largesse shown to wilful defaulters of public funds, a resurgent demand for a Uniform Civil Code, the rewriting of history textbooks... These are as yet fires in a metaphorical sense only; but they can, and will, be fanned into flames at any moment by our elected pyromaniacs.

Pyrotechnics I can understand; what I can't wrap my ears around is the deafening silence of those who should be speaking out, if not shouting from the rooftops, about the attempted ethnic cleansing in Manipur.

Every constitutional authority who should have spoken out has been silent.

The Prime Minister's silence is understandable, for he finds his (forked) tongue only at election rallies and Mann ki Baat recordings. But should the Supreme Court of India not have said something, even though it is on vacation? Will the court speak only when Mohammad comes to the mountain, when a petitioner approaches it with a specific plaint, and not otherwise, even though every law in the book is being splintered in Manipur?

But wait a moment — there was a petition filed in the Supreme Court to send in the army to that ravaged state; that was the moment for our judges to have given the Deadly Duo a nudge, if not a shove. Not only did the court fail to do so, it also refused to order the army in, showing touching faith in the police which, by many press accounts, handed over 4,000 automatic guns to the Meiteis. 

And our revered President, should she not have spoken, not publicly of course, but in private to the prime minister or the home minister, or sent a note on that embossed letterhead? There are no reports that she did either.

Did she not owe this to the people of Manipur, at least to the 150-odd killed and the 50,000 displaced? Her conservative apologists will argue that she can only act on the advice of the council of ministers (read: prime minister), and that the Constitution prevents her from playing a more active role. I'm confused by this argument.

She has sworn to protect the Constitution of India, right? She needs no advice from anyone to do so, right? So when she sees the same Constitution being torn to shreds, the "union of states" being put in danger, an elected state government appearing to be involved in the violence, a complete failure of the rule of law, the Centre standing by as a mute spectator... is she not obliged to give some advice to the Union government in turn?

I find farcical the suggestion that a constitutional authority can be constrained by that same Constitution in performing her constitutional duty! Now, that is a non-sequitur, if ever there was one. It is also a paraprosdokian that should not take too much time to figure out.

Finally, of course, there is the silence of our prime minister, lately performing yogasanas in Washington while a near-civil war has broken out in one of his border states.

I personally never expected him to say anything: a person who said nothing when millions died in a pandemic is not likely to be impressed with the small change of a mere 150 deaths. But it does make me wonder — is he always silent as a matter of strategy, or is it because he is completely lacking in compassion? What kind of heartless strategy is it anyway if it prevents a leader from reaching out to his people, the same poor sods who voted for him?

Manipur has once again exhibited the two intrinsic characteristics of this government — administrative incompetence and inhumanity bordering on cruelty.

This unusual twinning of traits has been very well explained by the Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker, in a speech he delivered at a convocation of North-Western University in the context of the Trump presidency.

According to his theory, our humanoid ancestors were naturally suspicious of people who did not act, sound, live or look like them. This reaction was something rooted in fear or judgement, and was a natural survival response in an unsafe world. They survived as a species by being suspicious of things they were not familiar with. That was part of evolution.

But evolution did not stop there. Man evolved further, learnt to shut down that animal instinct in order to be kind, tolerant of others, accommodative of differences. Empathy and compassion are evolved states of being, where the primeval urges are suppressed by an improved mental capacity.

However, some sections of society appear not to have followed this evolution pathway and have 'weaponised cruelty' as a means to rule; they consider empathy and kindness as a weakness. They have not progressed beyond the primal animal instincts, and therefore lack imagination and creativity in problem solving — in effect, they have failed "the first test of an advanced society". Governor Pritzker's conclusion? Look for the kindest person in the room — he is usually the smartest too.

I find this a fascinating thesis. It explains a lot about our present government, its leaders and their blind acolytes.

It explains the regressive nature of the BJP's ideology, its constant fixation with the past, the distrust of scientific and rational thought, its hostility to progressive liberalism, the tribal instinct for cronyism, and the utter lack of compassion for the most vulnerable. It's a party which is not evolving but is retrogressing.

Sadly, it is taking the nation down the same slope.

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