Big Data and Manipur Governance: The Sangai Festival Now
By Amar Yumnam
Earlier we use to talk of data as only numbers. Now that perception is undergoing change fast for good. With this the powerful emergence of social media as significant communication and social perception tools has also dawned on the world; the question of Who Owns the Future is now real.
Earlier we would have taken the number of women, men and children and their ages as only data and nothing else would have mattered while analysing a village for instance. But today if we see groups of people interacting, boys and girls discussing seriously, etc are all relevant social data. The more qualitative data supplementing the quantitative data is considered the better for appreciating the socio-economic scenario of any social context; the larger the data variety the better. With the emergence of qualitative analyses as equally powerful, if not more meaningful, as quantitative analyses and the increasing emphasis for interpreting quantitative data within qualitative aspects, social analyses today are altogether a new engagement as compared to only a decade back.
It is with this understanding that the world has been talking of evidence-based policymaking (mark the emphasis on this and the orientation towards this by governments around the world and the World Bank since the time Kaushik Basu was the Chief Economist there). Further, unlike earlier, the scholars have now started emphasising the data as product of and as labour itself as well. This is significant for the contextual access to technology for data generation is now such that repeated lies can be made look like truths (post-truth phenomenon).
Here I remember a scholar speaking at a seminar at Oxford University about a decade back that technology can be good or can be bad, and it is not neutral; something like the term ‘general purpose technologies’ used for information technology while analysing the relationship with social transformation in the 1980s.
For the last six months the Manipur University has experienced a kind of conflict between certain ethos and accompanying attempts to make the University and the society of Manipur subservient to certain dogma and the endeavours by the University Community with widespread social support to counter these designs. As of now the commitment of the University Community to uphold the core values of an institute for higher leaning for higher good seems scoring over the evil designs supported by the powers that be.
Referring back to a scholar talking at a seminar at Oxford University about a decade back that technology is not neutral, I would like to recall the still very fresh behaviour of the governance at both provincial and central levels and their accompanying agents at the political party-level while dealing with the Manipur University crises. Despite the unusual bluffs while dealing with a university community, three qualitative aspects have been salient. First, the government and their agents have not shown any restraint in resorting to violence while attempting to sustain their designs to promote certain dogma and make the university (and society of Manipur) subservient to it. Second, in this effort, the government had no qualms in using the fully armed law enforcing agencies attacking not only the sanctity of a university campus but also invading the homes of University Professors in the heart of night. This was coupled by hand-cuffing of a University Professor while taking for medical check-up. Third, the political party in power, with the full support from the powers that be, put in place a team for constantly attacking over social media with abusive and uncivilised languages the members of the Manipur University Community. All these displayed the poverty of ideas of the powers that be and the contempt with which knowledge and ideas are held by these. All these are now data for socio-political analysis of contemporary Manipur.
Contrasted with these, the behaviour of the University Community reminds, healthily at that, of contemporary appreciation of the Enlightenment history and experiences of the Eighteenth Century. Let me quote from A Revolution of the Mind: Radical Enlightenment and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Democracy of Jonathan Israel (2010): “Radical Enlightenment is now widely seen as the current of thought (and eventually political action) that played the primary role in grounding the egalitarian and democratic core values and ideals of the modern world…….. Radical Enlightenment is a set of basic principles that can be summed up as concisely as: democracy, racial, sexual equality; individual liberty of lifestyle; full freedom of thought, expression, and the press; eradication of religious authority from the legislative process and education…”
It is in this background that we expect a lot from the powers that be on how they are going to make the forthcoming Sangai Festival different from the previous editions by applying their mind to positive purposes unlike in the case of the recent Manipur University imbroglio. Any exhibition anywhere in the world today is interplay of Mind, Technology and Social Purpose under the Innovative Governance of the Government of the Day. The Sangai Festival is much more than what happens in a small stretch of land at the Konung Lampak and whatever is done in this connection should manifest application of mind for a greater good. Further whatever is being done in this regard is a datum for socio-political analysis. One datum which is immediately visible is definitely un-encouraging. I am talking of the Sangai Festival Gate being constructed on the Imphal-Churachandpur Road and meaning particularly for the people coming out of the Tulihal Airport. The size of the gate is definitely based on the width of the Highway before the widening of the Malom-Keishampat section. This shows how “fast” the governance mind evolves such that it does not realise the new size needed by the widened Highway. It is like one wing of the government telling the other that “I am not from here”. Anyway for us, it is datum for analysis.
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