The chief minister, Okram Ibobi`™s appeal for coexistence, and by implication denouncing separatism, in his speech at the closing function of the Sangai Festival with none other than the Prime
The chief minister, Okram Ibobi`™s appeal for coexistence, and by implication denouncing separatism, in his speech at the closing function of the Sangai Festival with none other than the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi as the star audience, brings back a thought IFP has often dwelt on in these columns. In a crux, he had said Manipur will not allow dismemberment of its territory even by an inch but will welcome coexistence not just in Manipur but with all in the neighbourhood. Appeals for peaceful coexistence have become commonplace today. That these appeals should at all become necessary is an indication that there are forces pulling the fabric of coexistence apart. There is another often heard appeal today and this has to do with tolerance. However, because of the multiplicity of connotations associated with the latter term, we are a little suspicious of this appeal. Although we are aware of the well intended spirit, there are other meanings, conscious or otherwise, inherent in the appeal itself. For one, tolerance presupposes that the object to be tolerated is offensive in nature. The equation sought hence is never one of equality, but of a superior entity putting up with an inferior counterpart even if this means having to make do with inconveniences, keeping in view longer term self-interests. The question becomes in this way reduced to making a choice for the lesser of two evils. Tolerance has another nasty connotation. It can portray a picture of passivity and inactivity. It can be taken to mean insensitivity and the lack of a natural sense of rights and justice, hence the failure to claim them. Some very often asked questions will illustrate: How can the people of Manipur tolerate corruption or violence the way it has? How can Manipur tolerate non performance by its governments the way it has?
We therefore prefer the word coexistence. The term first of all is value-neutral and there is no implied meaning of inequality buried in it. It suggests an equal partnership, where the different communities exposed to each other by circumstances of geography, economy and politics, live in a free interplay of ideas and customs. In Manipur, as in any other multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religion societies, such a formula will have to be the only route to lasting peace. The foundation for peace must be laid in a salad bowl scenario, where each ingredient remains distinct, but in their totality give themselves a new collective identity and personality. Adjustments, not tolerance, will no doubt become necessary to make sure the vital agenda of governance is given smooth passage. There will have to be, for instance, laws and norms applicable to all, just as all must be deemed to be equals before these same laws. But while an integration process cannot be overt, there will come about unseen, unobtrusive forces that initiate a meltdown of the different ingredients: The compulsions and bonds of economics being the most powerful of these. The salad bowl will then, at its own pace, begin to resemble a stew pot precisely at the marketplace which must have a lingua franca that no one can claim as their exclusive, a common currency, ethos, value system etc. Each ingredient will still retain their individual identities, but each of them would have acquired some of the tastes and smells of the other ingredients in the same stew.
Both these models of integration are beautiful. The individual can be beautiful but it is the collective which can transcend the ordinary and be in the realm of the grand. To push the analogies of the salad bowl and the stew, surely a single ingredient dish can never be as appetising as the multi-ingredient salad or stew. We can say the same of the society too. Isn`™t cosmopolitanism beautiful? Isn`™t the way Imphal is evolving beautiful too? So many different communities, bringing in so many different colours, flavours, skills, religions, cultures… And when they all come to be the ingredients of a composite identity of the place, that`™s when a new beauty, greater than the sum of its parts, will emerge. Of course, this integration must be allowed to happen at a pace the social organism will be able to absorb and internalise without detriment to itself. In this light, the current demand for an immigration regulatory mechanism should not degenerate into xenophobia but remain as an effort to ensure this optimum pace at which cosmopolitanism evolves without causing social tensions.
Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam
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