Interview by Bhoopesh, Associate Editor, the Tehelka Weekly, New Delhi.
Respondent: Dr. Malem Ningthouja, the Campaign for Peace & Democracy (Manipur).
10th June 2015
1 After more than 60 years, there seems to be a feeling of alienation for the North East? What do you think the reason for this? How the Indian mainland’s attitude has contributed to this?
(a) Experts say that the Indian neo-liberal political economy system functions through perpetuation of caste, tribe, communal and racial differences, consciousness and corresponding sectarian assertions at various levels. In this scenario, certain sections of the ‘mongoloids’ in the Northeast, for various historical reasons, identified themselves with differently imagined ‘nations’. They perceive that their respective ‘nation’ have been racially discriminated, subjugated and oppressed by the Indians whom they depicted as a homogenous entity and identified with a different nation. Many ‘mainland’ Indians too perceive and treated the ‘Northeast’ with racial otherness and doubt the latter’s loyalty to India. But the so called ‘mainland’ is a metaphor; it is not a homogenous ‘nation’ freed from sets of complexities, constraints, rebellions and unrests within itself. Therefore, the alienation of the Northeast vis-à-vis India, if there is, is a reflection of the structural constraints of the Indian political economy.
2 Now different groups have come together under the umbrella of united liberation front of western south East Asia. How far do you think this association be able to represent the different social sections of the society of the North Eastern region? Will this sign a new phase in the insurgency?
(a) Recently, a common platform called the United National Liberation Front of Western South East Asia (UNLFW) was formed by some rebel parties in the Indo-Myanmar border regions. I don’t know exactly the terms and conditions agreed upon among the member organisations. To me, it seems to be a mere casual defensive tactics vis-à-vis counter-rebellion and for propaganda purpose. On the one hand, I am not sure, if the parties have any common revolutionary perception and strategy. Over the decades we have seen sporadic protracted armed guerrilla assaults in different times in spaces. But I have not seen, other than sectarian and mutually exclusive patriotic campaigns, any effective revolutionary programme across communities. There is comparative absence of consistent and collective mass democratic movement for a revolutionary change. On the other hand, I believe, the societies or communities or nations that these parties claimed to represent, in the ground reality are perplexed with political confusions, mistrust, complexities, and exclusive assertions. When the peoples are not being organised on common revolutionary goal; I am not sure how effective the UNLFW will be in either striking defeats to the Indian army or overthrowing their ‘enemy’ regimes. I am equally uncertain about how long the mechanically anchored tactical collusion will last.
(b) The past substantiates my doubt. What had happened to the tactical alliances that were formed from time to time: (i) the Revolutionary Joint Committee (1990) formed by the Revolutionary People’s Front, the People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak and the Kangleipak Communist Party; (ii) the Indo-Burma Revolutionary Front (1991) formed by the United National Liberation Front, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang) and the United Liberation Front of Assam; (iii) the United Liberation Front of Seven Sisters (1993) and the Self-Defence United Front of South-East Himalayan Region (1994) formed under the leadership of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (IM); the Manipur People’s Liberation Front (1999) formed by the United National Liberation Front, the Peoples’ Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak and the Revolutionary People’s Front; (iv) the Joint Coordination Committee (2009) of the United National Liberation Front and the Kanglei Yaol Kanna Lup; (v) the Coordination Committee (2011) formed by the Kangleipak Communist Party, the Kanglei Yaol Kanna Lup, the People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak, the People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (Progressive), the Revolutionary People’s Front, the United National Liberation Front, and the United People’s Party of Kangleipak. Why were they formed, what they did and how they ended?
3 The Indian state seems to have viewed problem of North Eastern people as a law and order problem? Do you think the negotiations that the government had with different groups can be started again? And how the laws like AFSPA has contributed to the worsening of the situation?
(a) Various problems exist in the Northeast. Among these, the government views the armed rebellion and democratic assertions against the ongoing neo liberal ‘projects’ by the affected peoples as law and order problems. Arbitrarily superimposed projects are being protected by military and paramilitary forces. Democratic protests are being ruthlessly suppressed by the police. In the past, even the demand for Manipur Statehood within the constitutional framework was viewed as law and order problem. Anything that is deemed obstruction to the immediate interest of the rulers is termed a threat to the nation and law and order problem.
(b) For some years the Government have been successful in entering into peace negotiation with some rebel groups in the Northeast – separate ceasefire agreement, memorandum of understanding and suspension of operation have been signed with different rebel groups. This has reduced armed conflict and casualty amongst them. I want to term it tactical peace. However, I am not sure, if the tactical peace have reduced the structural constraints of the political economy, which is largely responsible for various forms of grievances and unrests. On the contrary the tactical peace have not reduced the onus of subjection and terror on the people. My point is, I am more concern about the peace, security and development of the people. If the tactical peace do not address the legitimate issues of the people, I don’t care at all about either extension or abrogation of the tactical peace.
(c) AFSPA, created State terror and supress many in the name of counter rebellion. The blame of State terror is on the Indian army or any forces for violation of human rights with impunity under the provisions of AFSPA. However, AFSPA is an effective political instrument of killing and torture to supress in order to ensure that there is no resistance against the constraints created by the system. AFSPA is a mere legal surrogate to fulfil the objectives of rule of law, which is founded on the basis of the ideological framework of certain relation of production. The ‘rule of law’ has been comparatively fulfilled by AFSPA, but there continues the constraints of the political economy. AFSPA deals with syndrome and became a syndrome of the system; but it is not an appropriate means to root out the material foundation of unrests and armed rebellions. My understanding is that if the Indian nation exists at all, AFPSA is a threat to the peoples that constitute the ‘nation’. In that sense AFSPA is anti-national. Relatively, those who intentionally hold on AFSPA are anti-nationals. Those who blindly hold on AFSPA are misguided peoples. The fight against AFSPA, therefore, in reality, is a fight against the anti-nationals who use legal camouflages and propaganda tools to cover up the crimes they committed in the name of ‘national security.’
4 What do you think should be the democratic way to solve the problems of the North Eastern people?
(a) The big stakeholders of the neo-liberal regimes have exposed India to the global finance capital. They are reluctant to make India stand by its own economic feet in the global economic order. They discourage ‘national’ industrialisation as this will take time, require lots of efforts and could be at the cost of their quick profit. When India is on sale by a few powerful, leading to the inequality and underdevelopment of the productive forces; the question is – are the rulers really concern about the development, equality and welfare of the peoples ruled by them? Aren’t they using communal and divisive tactics to divert the attention of the people, so that they retain control over the politics and economy? In this scenario, if there is a democratic model that can solve the problems faced by the peasants, workers and minorities in North India; I think, that same model can be effectively applied in the Northeast as well. When the problems of those who are ‘loyal’ to India have not been democratically addressed, how will the problems of the ‘disloyal’ will be democratically addressed? The rulers know the problems and the democratic solutions as well. The problem is: they are in power, they enjoy it and they know how to govern undemocratically in the existing manner. Are they ready for a democratic solution? When democratic voices are ruthlessly suppressed the desperate sections will automatically look for other modes of rebellion. This is what is exactly happening in India. My puzzle is whether there will be a magical divine intervention, to change the mind-set of the rulers, so that they voluntarily uphold a democratic solution or should they be forced upon to do it. History will tell.
The sender can be reached at email@example.com