Manipur: A time for Positive Bargaining and Abandoning the Zero Sum Game


By R Kelson

Manipur is a failed state riddled with insurgency, under-development, glaring ethnic divide and gargantuan corruption. From the point of the hill tribes the Government of Manipur has always been valley centric, much like the map of the state, and the hills subsist in oblivion. When the Naga-Kuki clashes rocked the hills in the 90s, the Government of Manipur remained indifferent, and Imphal felt like a different state altogether, unfettered by the chaos in the hills. The scene remained the same during the kuki-paite clashes in the later part of the 90s.  Developments remain concentrated in the valley, the gem of the state that garners all attention when the state promotes itself to the outside world. The only times when the hills receive some attention is when there are bandhs and blockades that leads to inconveniences in the valley.

Since November 2016 the state is again plunged into social unrest with deep ethnic divide, the Naga tribes went up in arms against the move of the Government of Manipur (GoM) to create Sadar Hills District and Jiribam district over the fear that many Naga villages will be included in the new districts, taking away their ancestral land and rendering them minorities in the new districts dominated by kukis and meiteis respectively. This came about despite numerous MoUs signed between Naga Organizations and GoM to consult the Nagas on the matter of district creation affecting them. When the United Naga Council (UNC) launched economic blockade (EB) after the GoM failed to give assurance that the MoUs will not be disregarded, the centre tried to intervene initiating a tripartite talk (centre, GoM and UNC) the Manipur government promptly ignored the call, and with an eye on the upcoming assembly election announced the creation of seven new districts which involved bifurcation of all four existing Naga dominated districts besides three others, the UNC in response intensified its protest which was met with the arrest of UNC president Mr. Gaidon Kamei and Publicity Secretary Mr. S. Shankhui and counter-blockade by valley based Civil Societies on movement of goods to Naga Districts. On 18th December in what seemed like pre-planned coordinated attacks, commuters travelling to Naga districts from Imphal were also targeted resulting in the burning down of vehicles and properties belonging to Nagas on the Imphal-Ukhrul Road. It is noteworthy here that while the EB launched by the UNC makes no discrimination and affected Non-nagas and Nagas alike, the counter-blockades and public agitation that turn violent in the valley were specifically directed against the Nagas, giving communal hue to the otherwise political crisis. While there is no solution in sight and the turmoil aggravates, the Centre outrightly rejected the  possibility of imposing President’s Rule in the state as that could harm its political prospect given the backdrop of assembly election to be held somewhere in March. In January the GoM requested the centre to initiated tri-partite talk with the UNC which so far neither the Centre nor the UNC has responded to, but given the magnanimity of the crisis it must be considered an taken up at the earliest, as the Manipur political crisis is quickly turning into a humanitarian crisis.

Manipur is home to various ethnic groups, prominently the meiteis inhabiting the valley and the Nagas and kuki-zomi group in the hills. The Naga-insurgency has since the beginning affected the Naga Districts of Manipur, so the naga insurgency issue is as much a problem for Manipur as it is for Nagaland given that the contagious naga ancestral areas comprises a large area of the state. When the Naga Ceasefire was extended without territorial limits in 2001 the GoM lodged strong protest and the valley of Manipur erupted in flame leading to destruction of public property and burning down of the Manipur Assembly and lose of 19 lives, this reaction came as a surprise to the Nagas of Manipur who otherwise garner little attention in the state, as it was seen an act of sabotaging the hard earned peace process as a direct insult to the sentiments of the Nagas in Manipur who has long suffered the brunt of insurgency and thus yearned for the return of peace and normalcy. The ground of objection from GoM and valley based organization was that the territorial integrity of the state must not be disturbed as corollary to the Naga peace process, interestingly while keeping this stance the GoM made no attempt whatsoever to reach out to the nagas of Manipur and explore alternatives thereby alienating the nagas completely in the state. Like in many other spheres of governance the GoM has failed miserably in dealing with the Naga issue which has now plunged the state into total chaos, not surprisingly this social unrest is seen as profitable on electoral grounds and politician creates public hysteria and harvest votes playing on the emotion of the mass divided on ethnic lines.

Given this backdrop the time has come for the people of Manipur and all parties concern to find a resolution to the current disequilibrium. Despite the complexity of Manipur’s problem, by virtue of the versatility of the Indian Constitution there is still promising mechanism to yank the state out of its current situation. With basis on the Sixth Schedule of the Indian constitution some suitable arrangement can be made that can satisfy the basal demands of the conflicting groups in Manipur while keeping the territory of the state intact. For this elusive solution to come about each of the stakeholders must review its position and take definitive stances.

The Nagas in Manipur has suffered long enough and direly needs alleviation from the current state of instability and uncertain future, Integration with Nagaland may sound ideal to some but that option is riddled with uncertainty on how smooth the transition will be, it may also exacerbate clan animosity within the naga sub-tribes. So the best bet for the Nagas of Manipur is to seek an alternative arrangement which can be provided for by the sixth schedule (or a derivation thereof) in the form of Naga Hills Territorial Council Area within the state of Manipur. This arrangement should ideally be extended to the kuki-zomi group who too share similar aspirations. Both the Naga and kuki-zomi group must also seek delimitation of assembly constituencies to provide for fair representation in the state assembly. Such an arrangement is also beneficial for non-tribal communities of the state as it makes possible their representation in the hill council through nomination and reservation. For a long time now the Nagas of Manipur has been depending on CSO’s for leadership, but as such organizations tends to work in sporadic fashions which entails reaction to some issue or the other, and as it has no administrative role the society has lacked behind in every sphere of development when compared to any other community in the North-East, thus there has to be some urgency and reasonable compromise as it needs to pull itself out of this quagmire.
For the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN), engaged in negotiation with the Government of India for almost two decades now and having signed the framework agreement it would be damaging to belie the hope of the Naga people for a peaceful conclusion to the talks. Thus for it to bring about something tangible it must seek something tenable. Possibilities in this regard includes the much speculated creation of a Pan-Naga Hoho (assembly) as a constitutional or statutory body which shall have functions of promoting Naga culture, safeguarding its identity, guardianship of land and natural resource concomitantly with the Government of India and state government, and the creation of a paramilitary force (border police) to man the international borders in Naga areas in auxiliary role.

On the part of the GoM it must impress upon the centre that the state is willing and able to accommodate the aspirations of ethnic groups within its territory and seek special provisions for itself in the light of the aforementioned possibilities.

In the interest of the younger generation, the future and the people of the state as a whole Manipur must urgently explore all possibilities to trace its way back to normalcy and start the stride towards development, stability, security and dignity.

Source: Imphal Times


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