The National Interest
On the pragmatism of the artists, activists and the ‘national’ question in Manipur
Every miserable fool who has nothing at all of which he can be proud, adopts as a last resource pride in the nation to which he belongs; he is ready and happy to defend all its faults and follies tooth and nail, thus reimbursing himself for his own inferiority.”
― Arthur Schopenhauer
Many of those who are in the Manipuri film industry must be on cloud nine. One of the documentaries, Ima Sabitri directed by Bobo Khuraijam had opened the Indian Panorama in the non-feature section of the prestigious 47th International Film Festival of India (IFFI) the other day (on 22 Nov 2016).
So far, so good however it has demonstrated an exposure that is purely political albeit it might be far from the lens of technicalities or aesthetics of a good film.
While I’m conscious of the fact that those individuals who prefer pragmatics to ideology will find it hard to digest this argument, still I can show how such a kind of achievement and its underlying currents show the evidences of our condemned collective life in the faux-paradise called Manipur.
If we refer to the Manipuri film industry again, one of its greatest challenges has been the highly limited market—so the logic goes that everything is fair in love, war and films as long as filmmakers in the province are getting any kind of exposure. It is even better if a film like Mr Khuraijam’s can ‘open’ a prominent film festival. But that’s just the trailer of our collective B-grade melodrama.
The personal, the political and anti-politics
India carries both the image of democracy and military very well. Though we might say its nation-building process has always been overdue despite seven decades of sovereignty, the Pragmatics and Co in our midst has a tendency to rely everything on the Union. In such a case, it is hard to ignore their well-focussed artistic endeavours and aspirations because it touches the political realities that provide a source of our own pathetic conditions that we are in today.
On the personal level, they should be going beyond the ‘national’. That could be unmistakably an achievement. I wish someday Mr Khuraijam would make films of global standard but today things are entirely out of places and it’s a pity that such a feat has to be underestimated.
Somehow, his film might be apolitical as much as his kind of representation and all’s well. However, if we take a couple of steps back right in his field of work, there are acclaimed stars who would make films on issues like the AFSPA and received their awards from the president of India, who is also the ringmaster of the Indian military establishment. Besides, a majority of them depends just on national recognition and never see the big picture because their political consciousness or stand or whatsoever is completely out of focus, and that’s one tiny part of the issue that we have today. Or maybe it’s got to do with the talent though it is debatable because there are many national award winners.
Besides these artists, we have a group of chicken-hearted activists. Check, for instance, the case of the scheduled tribe demand committee that consists of people who swear by the name of the nation, though unconsciously they are aware of our unholy relationship with the union of India. It is amazing how a group of old men who did nothing in their working years have become so active. But all for the wrong reasons. Today, we have an ever increasing number of national award winners and acclaimed activists, but this strength is inversely proportional to our collective aspiration to live a life of dignity in a self-sufficient society.
Perhaps, there are one hundred reasons to prove that it’s all pragmatics that counts. Yet, in essence, it’s rather a textbook example of servile mentality showing the symptoms of structural subjugation and further self-victimisation in the hand of an oppressor, read the so-called nation-state.
The tragedy of drowned rats
Mere good intentions can never bring peace or progress. In fact, it can be counterproductive as we can see from the demands for constitutional categorisation as endorsed by the ST demand committee—just for the short-term benefits—and how such a categorisation can be lethal to our political self. For the sake of argument, if we place the film community and the civil society on one end of the spectrum, on the other end will be the government.
The reliance of the Manipur government on the Union is the ultimate example, for obvious reasons, but what lies underneath their connection is something sinister. The representatives are nonchalantly cheerful as long as they are getting a share of the loot from the state exchequer. Unsurprisingly, they are not only dependent on New Delhi but have also become intolerably slavish and timid with no capacity at all to speak, leave alone act, on public issues.
As far as timidity is concerned, the local feudal lord—who is also known as the chief minister in the Indian political system—literally ran for his life when some armed rebels intimidated him (Refer to Okram Ibobi’s ‘attempt’ to visit Ukhrul on 24 October 2016).
Presently, the state is reeling under the recent demonetisation policy of the Union government and a chronic economic blockade that has resulted in artificial shortage of supplies, thanks to another civil society organisation’s political means to torture an ‘other’ civil society consisting of different ethnicities.
Another significant aspect of this whole issue is the legitimisation of all the conflicts that have torn apart our society. The honey-tongued social activists, in their pursuits of award-winning missions to save the universe, are giving the license to kill by the state agencies. For them, the only weapon against the oppressor is their very sincere cry of self-victimisation. Politics, for them, is merely good riddance of their adversaries.
Which side of the fence are you in?
Manipur never had a military conflict with India—till now this has been also the opinion of those who believe in the establishment, who are also of the view that armed movement is a consequence of bad law and order condition or unemployment.
Looking back into history, from day one in 1949 when Manipur was annexed to India, it was every bit of political narratives. And now in the mess, all we have are artists, firebrands, politicians, sidekicks and some old people who could not realise their aspirations before superannuation. They are not only delaying the process of us becoming self-reliant but also making a mockery of the need for taking a political stand.
Those who are on the side of the establishment should rather help in fomenting the Indian nationalism. Probably it might cure our chronic illness of suffering from unrest and protests. But it is quite visible; none has the gut to do it. Perhaps, silence is pragmatic in a land where there are multiple power-brokers, inside and outside the legal system, to tell us what to eat and what to dress, and where to go and where to fuck. If we say it aloud, just see how absurd it sounds, regardless of which side of the fence you are in.
If there are individuals who want to stay on the safe side of the establishment, then they have no right to complain about the existing condition. They can go on and some of them have even entered electoral politics, which is the only sign of having democracy in this part of the world. Still there are people who don’t want to, and who are affected by this kind of conformity and the conviction is that the chronic disease cannot be chronic forever. More significantly, if there is an issue of life and death, you have to take a stand: either live or die; there’s no third option.
Albeit in real sense, an invisible third option has been the most widespread phenomenon if we take into account of the fence-sitters: or in common language, those who are so against India when there are cases of racism or sporadically when someone, who they trust, tells them how the merger with India was a political disaster and how its consequences are still borne by the present generation.
Otherwise they are so much into the mainland that they cannot even differentiate between Manipuri cinema and those of Bollywood. It is helpless but tonight, the Manipuri film industry is getting not one single carrot but all the possible quantity of sticks.
It’s better to grab any opportunity than to be foolhardy on the ground of futile political ideologies, isn’t it? It is also sheer realistic but being so is entirely different from the desire to build a peaceful and a just society—with individuals who have political consciousness for the larger good; and those who endorse long-term goals for one and all.
For the artists who believe in art for art’s sake and for those who consider recognition of any sort is the highest virtue, for those activists who think political reform is affirmative and for those proud apolitical people, it is a belief that the status quo can be changed, for example, just by making the town a tourist-friendly place. However, all it takes is a conviction: whether an individual is sitting on the right side of the ‘sambal’ or on the left side. This remark is considering the fact that all of us are aware of how we have been nose-diving into the abyss of profound nothingness in Manipur.
To conclude it might be pragmatic to reach out and get a space for expression in our areas of interest across the existing nation. Still it will be both pragmatic and laudable to go beyond the contentious national boundaries. This will be even more desirable if we take a stand, which is possible only when we have a political commitment.
Let a hundred art forms blossom and a thousand forms of subversion bring some flowers and fragrances.