Understanding Collective Action, Violence and Post Colonial Democracy, The Manipur Experience


By Professor Gangmumei KameiThe three propositions of Collective Action, Violence and Post Colonial democracy are interrelated in the functioning of the Indian state.  True, democracy means rule of law, absence of violence and consent of the people. Yet democracy implies the bianal relation between the ruler and the ruled. What collective action would be taken by the people in a democracy? In what way, the collective action will be violent or non violent? These factors are prevalent in the working of several phases of post-colonial democracy in Manipur. Some historical phenomenon need to be restated in the context of Manipur.
1. The post colonial Manipur had undergone the three historical phases of democracy.At the time of India’s independence, the Maharaja of Manipur signed the Instrument of Accession and accordingly acceded to India. Yet she retained her political autonomy. The Maharaja promulgated the Manipur State Constitution Act, 1947. The Constitution provided a constitutional monarchy and 53-member elected Legislative Assembly with an appointed cabinet known as the Manipur State Council. The first election was held in June, 1948; a Government was constituted. It was the period of experiment in constitutional monarchy. And it was put to an abrupt end when the State was integrated with the Indian Dominion on 15 October, 1949 when the controversial “Merger Agreement” between the Maharaja of Manipur and the Governor of Assam was signed.
2. After the Merger, Manipur was made a Part “C” state under a Chief Commissioner. The phase of a central bureaucratic rule was carried out from 1949 to 1972. The Central administration had three so-called democratic set up: the Advisory Council (1949-1957); the Union Territorial Council (1957-63); Union Territorial Assembly (1963-1971) and the full statehood in 1972 onwards.
The Advisory Council of the Chief Commissioner was nominated body only. There was Electoral College of 30 members nominated to elect the one Rajya Sabha member to the Indian Parliament. Since the Republic of India was declared, Manipur conducted election of two MPs for the Lok Sabha.
For the centrally administered Manipur, election was held for the 30 member Union Territorial Council (like the District Board) and the Union Territorial Assembly with paraphernalia of a Cabinet form of government.3. Only in 1972, the full statehood was granted by the Government of India. Manipur had seen forty years of full statehood of the Indian republic. The understanding of the political development since 1947 was necessary to have a grasp of post colonial democracy. Manipur experienced democracy for two years, central bureaucratic rule for 23 years and full democracy since 1972.
Collective ActionDemocracy implies the existence of different political groups. Manipur was under a limited democratic rule in the form of constitutional monarchy. During this pre merger period (1947-49), Manipur encountered two kinds of Collective Action against the state. There was a non-violent collective action in the form of the Manipur State Congress movement for the abolition of monarchy in the state and integration with the India Union. The Congress party resorted to the movement after the party failed to get a majority in the Election of 1948. Their movement was peaceful. Merger with India was their primary demand. When the merger agreement was signed they found sidelined by the Chief Commissioner. Another peaceful movement was launched by the Mizo Union to integrate the Kuki-Mizo areas of Manipur into Lushai hills. Another action based on violent means was taken up by the Communist Revolt led by Irawat Singh, the political reformer and revolutionary of Manipur. Communist insurgency was seriously taken by the Government of India. It is presumed that Deputy Prime Minister, Sardar Vallabhai Patel was influenced by the Communist insurgency in the signing of the merger agreement changing the course of history of the small stae. Another violent agitation was taken up by the Naga People’s League for joining the Naga national agitation for independence.  These two violent movements were suppressed by the Government of India in early 1950.
Non-Violent MovementIn the second phase of post-colonial democracy, Manipur was overshadowed by two types of Collective Action, Violent and Non violent Movements. The violent insurgency, as demonstrated by the Communist revolt was suppressed. There was no real democracy. The Government of India introduced the Union Territorial Council Act in 1957. Earlier in 1954, the States Reorganisation Commission recommended the integration of Manipur state as a district of the province of Assam. The people were greatly disappointed; both those who wanted to join India and those who did not support the merger. There were several political parties operating: one was the Congress and the other was the Socialists. They were influenced by the Indian leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. The other opposition leaders belonged to the Socialist groups. Both were influenced by Gandhiji’s peaceful method. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru rejected the recommendation of SRC and maintained the political entity of Manipur. While they started the movement for the return of “Assembly” for Manipur, the Socialists resorted to peaceful means.  The greatest non-violent collective action in form of ‘Andolan’ was the statehood movement of 1960 which failed. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru responded in form of political autonomy for Manipur. Union Territorial Council was abolished and the Manipur Union Territorial Assembly was introduced in 1963. There was further movement for Assembly by the all-party movement led by the Manipur Congress. The full statehood was granted in 1972. Apparently democracy was granted to Manipur that democratic structure functioned in the state of Manipur sine then.           Violent MovementsManipur is a multiethnic state. Monarchy was abolished and the long suppressed urges of the ethnic communities surfaced in the politics of Manipur. It was the greatest challenge to democracy in Manipur. It was in 1960’s that Manipur witnessed several insurgent groups which adopted violence. The first group was the Naga National Council which extended their activities in Manipur’s Naga inhabited areas for secession from India. The Nagas boycotted the Indian Election of 1962 and used force against the Government and other parties. They attacked the Minuthong Bridge within the capital of Imphal in 1966. However, the India-Naga ceasefire of 1964 covered the Naga inhabited areas of Manipur and there was comparatively peace for several years. The talk between India and the Nagas failed. And it was followed by the Shillong Accord of 1975 which created schism among the Naga insurgents. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland was created as military outfit against the Naga National Council in 1980. This outfit operated in all over Naga areas including the Nagas of Manipur. The Indo-Naga Ceasefire was agreed on 1st August 1997. It still operates (2011) indefinitely. With the split of NSCN in to two, the two factions both NSCN (IM) and NSCN (Khaplang) operate in Manipur Naga areas.  There were clashes between the two outfits, and between the Naga insurgents and Indian Security Forces and Manipur Police including the Indian Reserve Battalion. Violence erupted frequently in Manipur’s Naga districts. The Naga insurgents infiltrated the Manipur hill administration and seriously posed a challenge to the authority of the state in Manipur.
The first insurgent group in the valley of Manipur was the Meitei State Committee. The largest group is the United National Liberation Front (UNLF). This group consistently uses the term “Manipur”, and did not use word “Meitei”. The Revolutionary Government of Manipur (RGM) was the first group of Manipur known internationally. Then came the Lhasa trained and Chinese indoctrinated the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
The UNLF is committed to the restoration of sovereignty of ancient kingdom of Manipur which was conquered by the British in 1891 and the native state was merged with Indian Dominion in 1949. They resorted to violent means and formed the Revolutionary People’s Front, the political wing and the Manipur People’s Liberation Army (MPLA). The UNLF was split with the formation of a more extremist group, the Kanglei Yaon Kanna Lup (KYKL). The other outfits are the People’s Republic of Kangleipak (PREPAK), the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP). Ideologically the UNLF, KYKL and PREPAK appeared to be inspired by Meitei or Manipur Nationalism. The PLA and KCP are influenced by Marxism.
The Mizo National Front (MNF) which operated in Manipur ceased to operate with the signing of the Rajiv-Lal Denga Mizo Accord. However, a number of Kuki outfits like the Kuki National Army (KNA), Kuki National Organisation (KNO), United Kuki Liberation Front (UKLF) and others continue to operate. They had recently signed an agreement known as Suspension of Operation with the Indian Army (SOO Agreement). They are quartered in camps and maintained by the state.
The violence against the state by the non-state action group known by the names of different military and political outfits was resorted to. Defence of the Indian state, maintenance of the territorial integrity of the country are the supreme duties of the Army. The clashes between the Army and the armed groups created a sense of insecurity among the people. The armed forces acted against the non-state actors led to the commitment of excess against the common people. The activists raised the issue of the violation of human rights by the Army. Indian Government introduced a draconian law known as the Armed Forces Special Power Act, 1958 in Manipur. There was strong resistance against the violation of human rights carried out by several human right group and NGOs. More than ten years old fast of Irom Sharmila against the Act (AFSPA) is widely known.
The non state actors resorted to all forms of violence, clash with the armed forces, police, demand for payment of taxes and extortions on the people and government employees created a great panic and insecurity among the people. The problem exists. Amidst the violence of all categories, the Indian state, the central government and Manipur government responded by the use of forces, the police, para military forces, CRPF, BSF, Assam Rifles and the Indian Army. They are empowered by the ill famed AFSPA to suppress the violent movements. They try to justify the dreaded Act. The Army however, attempted to be citizen friendly, took up development activities, civic action and social and health welfare activities. They tried to show the human face of the Army.
Post-Colonial DemocracyAmidst the violence and counter violence, we have in Manipur the working of the parliamentary democracy of the Indian Constitution; holding of election, formation of the cabinet government, passing of laws and budgets by the Assembly for development works. In the post colonial democracy of the state, the paraphernalia of a democracy are all working. We see the use of violence to counter violence. In the name of keeping law and order force is used by the state.
Politics in post colonial democracy has raised its ugly head. Politics has become an art of capture of power by any man, foul or fair, use and misuse of power to keep the ruler in power and continue to be in the power.
The electoral process in democratic Manipur is fraught with danger: use of money, violence by the candidates, mostly by the ruling part candidates. And MLAs who have come to legislature by the use of money and muscle will not hesitate to use this power to be in power.
Role of Women in the present conflictThe Manipuri women historically played an active role when the state was engulfed in military or economic catastrophe. In the post colonial period the democratic practices gave an opportunity to the women to play their active social role. In the present conflict between the security forces and unarmed youths and civilians, women played the role of the protectors of human rights. Women initially were involved in prohibition movement banning their man folk and their children from drinking. When the counter insurgency operations were started by the security forces, there occurred many cases of violation of human rights, illegal arrests and torture. The women folk constituted themselves into groups of torch barrier (Meira Paibi). In night time, both in the urban localities and rural areas torch bearing women folk guarded their localities from the military operations. Thousands of young men were rescued from the clashes of the security forces by the Meira Paibis.  The Meira Paibis extended their activities for acting as moral cops in their locality wherever occured clashes with police or armed forces. They formed into Joint Action Committee (JAC) to lead the agitation against the authorities till their demands are made. JAC has become an instrument of popular agitation in Manipur. However, presence of JACs, while creating a circumstance to solve solution of specific violent cases, their presence does not reduce the feeling of insecurity among the people. However, women folk as a whole are for the maintenance of peace and are against violence. Yet militarism has increased in the state.
Inter-ethnic violenceApart from the insurgency and counter insurgency we see clearly the effects of Inter-ethnic violence affecting the vitals of the state. The ethnic clash was a rarity on the pre-colonial period. The clash between the Kuki and Nagas and Meitei and Pangal (Muslim) conflict, the Kuki-Paite conflict and Naga-Meitei tension exists. These clashes and the perpetual confrontation between the state forces and the insurgents have created a sense of militarism in the societal relations.
But India is a democracy, we have to enforce the constitution and make democracy work. The nature of the conflict should be investigated and resolved. In the national attempt for resolution of conflicts, we find Mizo Accord of Rajiv Gandhi-Lal Denga quite successful. We hope the present Naga-India Ceasefire and peace talk would succeed. There is also the SOO agreement between the government and Kuki insurgents.
One should admit that Manipur is in a critical situation in which the forces of Indian democracy, nationalism and internal colonial economy are at variance with the Meitei, Naga and Kuki ethno nationalist aspirations. Manipur is faced with the challenges of the conflicts arising out of the encounter between these forces. Some analysts have gone to the extent of giving an uncharitable epithet as a failed state to Manipur. It is not necessarily true on the ground. Perhaps it is a case of a state unable to “internally pacify her territories”. This has been further complicated with social fragmentation and economic deprivation. Manipur has to resolve the present challenges to her polity and society if she is to survive as a state.
{Submitted to the National Workshop on the same subject by Calcutta Research Group (CRG) and Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla held at New Delhi on 19-20th March, 2011}


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