Dialogue  October-December 2008 , Volume 10 No. 2

Political Culture in India : A Case of Manipur 

M. Suresh Kumar*



Culture is regarded as a complex phenomenon which includes knowledge, art, belief, morals, law, custom and other capabilities acquired by man as a member of society. Culture may be said to have composed of two parts, i.e.,  material culture and non-material culture. Material culture includes all the material and tangible equipments and objects which are made and produced by human beings. On the other hand, non-material equipment and capabilities made and acquired  by man in group life are included in non-material culture.

      The people of a society share a common human nature like emotional drives, intellectual capacities and moral perspectives. The common human nature expresses itself in the form of certain values, belief and emotional attitudes which are transmitted from one generation to another, though with greater or lesser modifications, and they constitute the general culture of that society. Social relationships are subject to an endless process of transformation, of growth and decay of fusion and separation. Since they are all expressions of human nature, the social relationships of the present are found in germ at least in the past and those of the past survive, if only as relics in the present.

      Culture, is therefore, a profound possession that ramifies throughout human life. No matter what aspect or part of society is considered, the presence of a cultural mode of transmission is of  paramount importance. Politics is one of the unavoidable circumstances/facts of human existence/relations. Everyone is involved in some fashion at some time in some kind of political system. Each political system is embedded in a sociological and psychological environment- the set of values, beliefs, orientation and attitudes of the people toward politics, i.e., the political culture. The political culture of a society defines  the situation in which political action takes place. It provides the subjective orientation to politics. The political culture  is of course but one aspect of politics.

    However, the political culture encompasses both the political ideals and the operating norms of a polity. Political culture includes not only the attitudes to the politics, political values, ideologies, national character and cultural ethos,  but also the style, manner and substantive form of politics. The political culture of a people gives them an orientation towards their polity and its processes. One way to learn about  political beliefs is to observe the ways in which political structure operates. These beliefs affect and are affected  by the way in which the structures operate and there is a close circle of relationship between culture and structure. Political culture is thus the manifestation in aggregate form of the psychological and subjective dimensions of politics. A political culture is the product of both the collective history of a political system and the life histories of the members of that system. In brief, political culture is to the political system what  culture is to the social system.

   The term political culture was first used by Gabriel Almond in “Comparative Political System” which appeared in the Journal of Political System Vol. 18, 1956. Several others like Samuel Beer, Adam Ulams, Sidney Verba, Lucian Pye, Dennis Kavangh, etc., have been responsible for popularising it. Gradually, this term became popular and now it has come to stand as a very important touchstone for a morphological study of the political system.

      In the words of Almond and Powell “Political culture is the pattern of individual attitudes and orientations towards politics among the members of a political system”.

       Lucian Pye writes that “political culture is the set of attitudes, beliefs and sentiments of that give orders and meaning to a political process and that provide the underlaying assumptions and rules that govern behaviour in the political system. It encompasses both the political ideals and the operating norms of a polity. Political culture is thus the manifestation in aggregate form of the psychological and subjective dimensions of politics.”

       According to Sidney Verba “Political culture is the subjective orientation to politics or the system of empirical beliefs expressive symbols, and values which define the situation in which political action takes place”.

      Robert A. Dahl have singled out political culture as a factor explaining different patterns of political opposition whose salient elements are :

       i)    Orientations of problem solving.

      ii)    Orientations to collective action.

      iii)   Orientations to the political system and

      iv)   Orientations  to other people.

      A political culture is a product of many inter-related factors, traditional as well as modern elements. Changes in political culture come under the influence of these factors.  A study of these factors is essential for an understanding of the political culture.

     History  plays an important role in the making and evolution of political culture. Historical events always influence  the shaping of political culture in a big way. In the case of British political culture, the signing of Magna Carta, 1215, Petition of Rights, 1628, and the 17th century struggle between the King and the Parliament over the issue of sovereignty, the Glorious Revolution of 1688 etc. have all played a deterministic role. Likewise, the American Declaration of Independence, the war of Independence and  the civil war of mid 19th century exercised a big influence upon the American political culture. Indian political culture bears the influence of events of the freedom struggle and the contact with western civilisation and culture. As such the political culture of each  society is greatly influenced by the historical events.

      Beside historical development, geography is another important factor in fashioning a political culture. Favourable location has helped British to meet successfully foreign invasions. The vast size and diversities have helped the Americans to accept the values of equality  and freedom for all.

     The nature of political culture is always determined by the existence of ethnic differences and ethnic conflicts among  several ethnic  groups or  minorities which live in the society. Ethnic differences have recently began to affect attitudes in Great Britain. Yet the United States, with a more polyglot population has succeeded in assimilating the vast number of immigrants, at least the voluntary ones, so that different ethnic  groups think of themselves primarily as Americans. Ethnic differences give rise to the emergence of sub-political cultures within the  national political culture.

     The concept of political culture refers orientations -cognitive, affective and evaluative, towards, political objects and actions. Indian political culture bears the impact of the ideology of democratic socialism. Sometimes, the difference of ideological interpretations may lead to internal discontent and disaffection and eventually destroy rather than enhance the unity of the collectivity.                                                                       The socio-economic factors always play a deterministic role in laying down the foundation of the political culture. A  predominantly  urban, industrialised society is a more complex society. Putting a premium on rapid communication, limits of poverty, employment, urbanisation, literacy etc, play a leading role in shaping the political culture of the society. A predominantly urban, industrialised society is a more complex society, putting a premium on rapid communication. 

   Industrialisation is an important factor in changing values and attitudes. Rapid influx of immigrants, war, revolution all may provoke changes in political values and beliefs with subsequent strains on the Political System. A political culture is not static but will respond to new ideas generated from within the political system or imparted or imposed from outside.

      The political culture provides guides for political behaviour, and for the society as a whole it constitutes a structure of values and norms which helps ensure coherence in the operation of institutions and organisations. The stability of a political system is underlined by the relative success or failure of the assimilation of new attitudes into the existing value structure and for this there is the need to examine the means of effective transmission of the political culture from generation to generation. The political culture is the product of the history of both the political system and the individual members of the system, and thus is rooted in public events and private experience. In this sense, the development of the concept of political culture is an attempt to bridge the gap between micro and macro sociological analysis.

    A.W. Burke has pointed out, “ Modern Japan has inherited a remarkably integrated ethos, which despite rapid changes, has always provided a source of stability. Industrialisation, rapid  influxes of immigrants, war, and especially defeat in a major war, revolution etc. all may provoke changes in political values and beliefs, with subsequent  strains on the political system  and in this way there is continuous development in political  culture.

        In ancient India, monarchy  prevailed and people were not politically aware and the political culture  was parochial in nature. However, with the coming of the British the different Kingdoms in India were consolidated in the hands of a single political power, i.e., the British. The discontaintment of the people during the British period made the people aware of their rights and duties. The political culture in India showed a marked change. Earlier, politics was confined to a certain few of the population but now politics became broadened and caste factor begun to influence the Indian polity. The national movement made the people politically aware. When the British left India in 1947, India embraced the parliamentary form of government, the idea of which was borrowed form the British. The first general elections were held in India in 1952. The constitution of India permit every adult reaching 18 years of age to cast their votes without any restriction. The people are now increasing their political participation and the political culture exhibits the “participant type of political culture”.

       Political culture is undoubtedly connected with the study of politics. The study of political culture is related to the study of political defection, political corruption, political stratification, political socialisation, pressure group, political behaviours, voting behaviours etc. The political system of a country having standard political culture can easily face grave dangers. In the frequent changing of the political system, the political culture of Manipur is being studied here. The nature or the system of administration of the state is also studied to have some knowledge about  the smooth functioning of the state politics. And, in order to have a better idea of Manipur politics, it would be ideal if we have a  brief idea of the nature of political culture and socialisation in Manipur.

       For a long time Manipur enjoyed a rich and long historical tradition with a different cultural and separate political identity of her own. There was  no separation of powers and the three functions of the government were combined in the hands of one person. But there was division of labour. From the modern point of view, the government was neither representative nor responsible. The king was the head of the state and he was assisted in the administration by his ministers and sixty four phamdous (members of the royal court). The king himself took no direct part in the administration except on formal occasions when he presided over the Darbar.

     In ancient days the people were thus completely ignorant of their political and civil rights due to lack of education and poor communication. Politics was  confined to a very restricted circle, covering the king, his nobles and a few ambitious men. The political background during the time of monarchy was not conducive to a vigorous political monument. Besides, the economic standard of the people being very low, they could not think of their own political status, as they were deeply engaged in the hard struggle for existence. Due to communication gap between the people and government, the political consciousness of the people was considerably low.  Due to the lack of education the people remained completely ignorant and loyal to the ruler. As a consequence, the nature of politics was very limited.  As the level of economic development of the people was very low they could not think of their own political status. There was little scope for the people to get themselves involved in politics.

      The war between the English and the Burmese ended with the signing of the treaty of Yandaboo in 1826. By this treaty the Burmese occupation of Manipur ended. Under the terms of this treaty the Burmese recognised Gambhir Singh as the Raja of Manipur. This was the beginning of the end of the sovereignty of  monarchy in Manipur as the region was incorporated into British rule after 1826. In  1935 an office of the British Political Agency was established in Manipur in order to preserve friendly relations between Manipur and Britain.

     In 1890, the outbreak of palace revolt in Manipur gave a very good opportunity to the British to interfere in the domestic affairs of Manipur. A fierce fighting took place between the British  forces and Manipuri troops. And finally on April 27, 1891 Manipur lost her sovereignty to the British and it became a colonial dependency of the British. The British authorities brought several changes in the administrative system of the State which in fact greatly effected the traditional practices in the state.

      There was a wide spread agitation against the system of Pothang - a form of forced labour towards the end of 1913. Those labourers were forced to carry bags or baggages of the officers/members of the royal families but they were never paid their wages. The Maharaja  forced  upon the people a number of formalities, e.g., the undoing of the umbrella and tucking up the flowing portion of the dhoti before the Maharaja and the British administrator. In most cases, the British government supported the administrative policy of the King. The Britishers wanted to follow the containment policy so that the Manipuris might not rise against them. Another interesting role of the government was the interference in the private life of the  common people. It is recorded that if there was a divorce case between husband and wife, then they had to pay a sum of Rs. 1 as fine to the authority. But the value of one rupee of that time was very big. Majority of the common people was not in a position to give this amount of money to the government. The common people did not have  enough courage to fight various heinous social evils in the state against the King. This shows that the orientation of political culture of that time was exhibited in the form of what came to be known as subject political culture. The citizens  were not able to change the political system due to their lack of political consciousness.

     There were two different types of tribal movements during the colonial period which greatly helped in raising the political consciousness of the people. These movements were the Kuki Rebellion of 1917-1919 and the Zeliangrong movement of 1930-1932. The basic objectives of the movements were against the feudal system and colonial policy of the imperialists and to try to bring a change in the system.

     There were personalities like H. Irabot Singh, H. Angou Singh, etc., who very much resented the religious exploitation and social persecution carried out by the Brahmins and the Maharaja on the common people and wanted to form a socio-religious organization for the upliftment and promotion of the social and religious life of the people. So, a socio religious organisation  known as the Nikhil Hindu Manipuri Mahasabha was formed in 1934 under the Presidentship of the then Maharaja. The formation of the Nikhil Hindu Manipuri Mahasabha marked a turning point in the political history of Manipur because the agitation for constitutional reforms emanated from the same platform. The Mahasabha extended its network among the people and tried to impress upon them the long standing necessity of democratization of political process and state machinery. The Mahasabha opened its branches in all the important centers of the state. The Nikhil Hindu Manipuri Mahasabha later on, became the first political party in the year 1938 under the name of Nikhil Manipuri Mahasabha.

     However the Nikhil Manipuri Mahasabha involved its first political movement during the women’s agitation of 1939. Consequently, the party started demanding the introduction of full responsible government in the state. In the meantime, different political parties were also formed in the state. The aims of these different political parties were the abolition of feudal and colonial administrative system and establishment of a popular government in the state. But the policies and programmes had to be modified to suit to the local conditions of Manipur. These political parties also gave strong emphasis on the establishment of a responsible government in Manipur. The birth or existence of these political parties in Manipur offered a certain degree of political consciousness to the people of Manipur and also gave a strong impetus to the political movement and finally brought a sweeping change in the political system of Manipur.

     As the movement grew stronger, day by day the Maharaja under people’s pressure announced his desire to introduce a fully democratic and constitutional form of government in Manipur. As such, a constitution drafting committee was formed in December 1946. Even after the constitution making committee was formed the demand for responsible government continued to take greater and greater momentum. Accordingly, the Manipur State Constitution Act, 1947 and the Manipur Hill Regulation Act 1947 were passed and demoractic elections were held in Manipur for the first time in 1948. As no party got majority a coalition was formed. Under the provision of the constitution the people enjoyed certain political rights and liberties. The legislative assembly constituted by the elected representatives of the people on the basis of democratic principle, was a great landmark in the political history of Manipur. It fulfilled a long standing desire of the people for a fully responsible government.

     After the formation of the government, Manipur was merged into the Indian Union on October 15,1949. Under part ‘C’ State Act, Manipur was declared as a part ‘C’ state with effect from 1952 till it became a Union Territory in 1957. It is generally believed that the political status of Manipur was very much lowered when Manipur became a part of the Indian Union. The sovereign independent status and full democratic rights of the Manipur which had regained when British left India in 1947 had been  taken away by the Indian Government after signing the Merger Agreement by the Maharaja on 21st September 1949. The agreement came into force on 15th October, 1949. On that day, the legislature was dissolved. The ministry also ceased to function from that day and the entire administration was taken over by the Chief Commissioner.

      Under the Constitution of India, the first general elections were held in January, 1952 on the basis of adult franchise. The people of Manipur who had popular government, whose members were elected in 1948 based on adult franchise for the first time in the whole of India, could not remain satisfied with the rule of the bureaucrats. And they remained discontent and started agitation to restore the responsible government which they once enjoyed. The formation of State Reorganization Commission created apprehension in the minds of the local politicians and intelligentsia regarding the fate of Manipur. Under the Territorial Council Act, 1956 provisions were made for a territorial council for Manipur.

   Before 1950 almost all the caste communities have their separate movements and they were localized. But they joined together and took active part for statehood movement. The form of government that was brought into existence after the merger into the Indian Union was not up to the hopes and aspirations of the people of Manipur.

     The government of India imposed Armed Forces Special Powers Act. 1958 as a means of controlling and containing the relentless problems of insurgency. The imposition of this Act is tantamount to the negation of the democratic rights and values of the people of the state. Preservation of ethnic identity increasing rampant corruption, problems of insurgency and ineffective implementation of land reforms, etc., were the basic problems confronting  this state which are neglected by the Government of India.

       The political atmosphere in Manipur continued to be tense reaching the climax gradually. When Prime Minister Indira Gandhi paid a short visit to Imphal, various demonstrations in support of the demand for a full-fledged statehood for Manipur were taken out. In a series of clashes between the police and the demonstrators many people were killed and injured. The agitation for full statehood continued in full vigour. Ultimately, on January 21, 1972 Manipur emerged in the political map of India as a full-fledged state headed by a Governor, The political aspiration of the people of Manipur for more than twenty years have at last been fulfilled. The people in Manipur have developed aspirations towards democratic processes and practices with the attainment of statehood. Since, 1972, we find changes in the pattern of political culture of people of Manipur as it advances itself from the status of a Union Territory to that of a state.

    Due to continuous political socialization among the people of Manipur, the political orientation of the people also changed from time to time. The political stratification and political alliances are complex issues in the state. In Manipur, the power is in the hands of the political elite whether they may be from the urban, rural or hill areas. But the party system in Manipur is not based on region, caste, religion, etc. The political culture of the people had changed after Manipur attained its statehood. The regional parties played an important role in the politics of Manipur. In the early 1970’s the regional political parties were very active, strong and popular. The political ideologies of the regional political parties influenced the people’s choice of chandidates and their political orientations. The people’s political orientations was changed, as one could see from the election results of 1980 and 1984.

     In Manipur politics, as in any state politics, the opposition parties label charge that the government is running through corruption, nepotism and favouritism. There was no peace in the hills and valley. The Government is taking more interest in matters of transfer and posting  for government servants. They care for big landlords, black marketeers, profiteers and capitalists as alleged by the opposition parties. The people of Manipur are unconcerned about what the Government is doing. Various pressure or interest groups such as the business groups, chamber of commerce show the loyalty to the party in power in the state. And various other organizations always act according to the tune of the political party which is in power. In Manipur the people are not against the operation of pressure groups as it is also the essential feature of democracy.

     In Manipur, as the political socialization continued, people’s orientation towards political understanding also underwent a change from time to time. The kind of political culture that exists now-a-days in the state may be characterised as  participant political culture. People have become more aware of their rights and duties. They are now actively involved in the process of democratic political functioning.



Dialogue A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati

Astha Bharati