Whither Goes Meitei Insurgency?


By: Dr Irengbam Mohendra Singh

For whom the bell tolls? It tolls for the. For whom the Meitei insurgents are fighting? They are fighting for us. Or, are they?

Since the Vietnam War ended insurgencies have evolved all over the world and become more sophisticated and hard to defeat.

In Manipur, Meitei insurgencies have erupted for a noble cause: to fight “the illegal occupation” by India and to restore Manipur’s independence.

The late Sardar Patel who responded to Governor Prakasa of Assam and his adviser Rustomji: “Isn’t a Brigadier in Shillong?” meaning to put the knife in Manipur, will eat his heart out to find so many Brigadiers, Major Generals and Lieutenant generals in and out of Manipur.

When the Meitei insurgents first began their lese-majesty they warmed the cockles Meitei hearts. Where are they now? Having entrusted them with the stewardship of the nation have they lost their ways in the mist of political time, almost defying belief?

After opening Pandora’s Box they seem to have taken the line of least resistance. Might it be that a raging sixty three year-old obsession with the “Indian occupation” and the factional clutter of the many insurgent groups have blinded revolutionary strategists to the old verities?

Have these revolutionaries who have begun the insurgency following Chairman Mao’s ideology, got no more shots in the locker?

Rather than intimidating New Delhi (GOI) are they pointlessly stirring Indian occupation to life in Manipur with 50,000 Indian solders protected by AFSPA, shooting or arresting various cadres day in and day out?

It is not my intention in this paper to catalogue all the anti-social activities of the various insurgent groups in Manipur by injecting a little political hand-wringing in my writing repertoire.

In the scales of history, the Meitei revolutionary activities would appear to be there to stay until Manipur becomes a sovereign state, as it is the avowed aim of some major Meitei insurgent groups. They may appear to have subjugated all personal desires to the dictates of a cause or ideology.

However, in the sanguinary Meitei liberation movement, judging from the precedents in the short history of Independent India, measured across time and space, the freedom day if there comes a day at all, is over the hills and far away.

The existence of so many insurgent groups is baffling for Joe Public as he/she cannot grasp which one of them will form the government of ‘free’ Manipur and judging from Meitei factionalism, would they end up fighting it out among themselves, for, ‘the winner takes all’?

The scenario can be mimicked from a scientifically studied two-headed snake found in Spain not so long ago (2002). Often the two heads will fight over which head will swallow the prey. They have a good deal of difficulty deciding which direction to go and are highly vulnerable to predators.

The Meitei revolution with low level protracted violence with its ‘ideological’ and ‘commercial’ agenda though an enduring security problem, is becoming vegetated. The various Meitei insurgent groups are now locked into a stalemate with the overwhelming Indian security forces. A revolution especially by a congeries of small armed groups cannot go on forever.

From the tumultuous initial hurly-burly there is hardly any revolutionary activity now except promulgating curfew around school perimeter during examination times with warning to school children of befitting punishment for cheating and to invigilators for conniving. I won’t have thought it to be top priority in a revolution.

The universal thesis of a revolution is that nation-building cannot start until the national security is established by a successful revolution. Mao Zedong began social organisation only in 1949 after he came to power.

The only visible signs of revolution for the grassroots are extortion notes followed by signature tunes of Chinese made hand grenades thrown in unexploded as a warning.

On the ‘constitutional’ side of some Meitei insurgencies there is the plebiscite option for mechanisms of self determination for an independent Manipur. There have recently been a few inchoate whines following RK Meghan’s call for plebiscite on February 7 2011.

The application for a plebiscite is to ascertain under which authority the “Manipuri nation” wishes to live – India or Manipur. But is there a Manipuri nation? A nation is a group of people who have decided to live together. In Manipur there are many ‘ethnic nations’.

A plebiscite in Manipur must necessarily include the majority Meiteis and all the tribes in Manipur as all the tribal people have equal rights and opportunities as the Meiteis.

As Oscar Wilde wrote in ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’, we should treat all the trivial things of life seriously, and all the serious and studied things of life with sincere and studied triviality.

For a wide range of reasons the Meitei revolutionary march remains a mere fragmentary because of the peculiar concatenation of circumstances. One aspect is Meitei disunity, which is the badge of our tribe. The other is the ‘commercial’ clubs of the sons of anarchy – a hateful and licentious lawlessness.

While pondering how we can architect our way out of the mess, the nonchalant GOI leave us at our own devices as our affliction does not impact on them. In evolutionary terms they cannot feel our angst in their brain, which they would have done if it had happened in Allahabad or Bangalore.

The GOI strategy is straightforward: to tire the insurgents out, sow discord in their ranks, raise public discontent and force them to the negotiating table for a political settlement within the framework of the Indian Constitution.

To put it bluntly, the unwritten message reads: ‘give up violence, give up arms, give up any claim for sovereignty, we are willing to hold talks’. It means in lay man’s words – ‘either you toe the line or you can get lost’.

This is where not only the Meiteis but all the Manipuris want an answer from the Meitei insurgents. Whither goes Meitei insurgency?

There are many imponderables. Though the anatomy of revolution can be deceptive, if it does not go forward, it can go backwards. Every revolution is conditioned by where it starts and
where it is moving.

Equally, what needs to be factored is that the surgical intervention by the Indian security forces is awakening up a veritable reality among the villagers. They are making a massive groundswell of public opinion against the insurgents in these areas, by their social activities.

Indian Army is just following the Article 43 of the 1907 Hague Regulations, which was developed by the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, respected by the US and the UK during their recent occupation of Iraq. It says that an occupying power must restore and maintain public order and civil life, including public welfare, in an occupied territory.

Meanwhile, all the peace loving Manipuris especially the Meiteis are in a state of disquietude and apprehension about future uncertainties, threats and risks.

While the ‘Machiavellian’ leaders of Meitei insurgency, with a mix of cynicism and idealism are lying low, dreaming how to get on the road to power and retain power, Indian Army’s sophistry in controlling insurgency is visible all over Manipur.

In the history of revolutionary warfare, insurgents normally capitalise on societal problems, often called “gaps” inciting sea of discontent of the population they wish to control, against the ruling administration. In Manipur the insurgents themselves are causing the gaps, ignoring Mao Zedong’s aphorism: the guerrilla must swim in the people as the fish swims in water.

Unlike the revolutions experienced by other countries, the Meitei revolt against the GOI was never pulled into an organized assault. In the long run, the lack of centralized leadership will cause the revolution to create more problems for Manipur than there had been under the Delhi administration.

It is however, unfair to blame the insurgents wholly for the political, social and economic chaos in Manipur. Many of them are genuine revolutionary people who have shunned the comforts of life and family. They get killed and leave young widows and children. Where there is a revolution, the people have to share some casualties.

If we tackle the whole raft of past events in the light of modern sensibilities, it is the political leadership in New Delhi, which has forced the revolution in Manipur. They have for over half a century, ignored the Manipuris with no effort for their genuine constitutional integration with their hearts and souls until the explosion of Meitei insurgencies.

In the stand off between GOI and Meitei insurgents my concern is the spontaneous course the ‘revolution’ is taking. It has parallels with the failed Mexican Revolution of 1910, led by Villa and Zapata – a disorganized reform movement that encompassed over 10 years of history.

I can only surmise how historians eventually label Meitei insurgencies will be the entire stock of abysses, maelstroms, meltdowns and apocalypses to describe the horror of the last half of the 20th century in Manipur.

The writer is based in the UK
Email: imsingh@ometel.com
Website: www.drimsingh.co.uk


  1. “While pondering how we can architect our way out of the mess, the nonchalant GOI leave us at our own devices as our affliction does not impact on them. In evolutionary terms they cannot feel our angst in their brain, which they would have done if it had happened in Allahabad or Bangalore.” truth!Pure and its happening quite well and everyday as malignant as it could be!


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