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Manipur Highway Blockade: The Choke hold by Invisible Hands?

Raj Singh

It is unbelievable that the United Naga Council (UNC) sends both the state and the central government helter-skelter about opening the highway which is the lifeline for nearly 3 million people in Manipur? The organization is dictating terms for the negotiation and the two governments continue blaming each other for their inabilities to handle UNC. This sounds comical and at the same time it leads us to investigate if there are hidden agendas of all the parties involved in this imbroglio.

The three past presidents of the UNC recently blamed the Manipur Chief Minister Ibobi for the blockade and they want the people of Manipur to reason with him for the blockade. Before reasoning with Ibobi for creation of seven new districts under his constitutional authority UNC needs to justify the legitimacy of their objections to the creation of the new districts. Again, UNC needs to explain why economic blockade which has been adjudicated as illegal by the court is the only means of protest for them.

For all administrative fairness and functionality, it is impractical and illogical to create districts along ethnic lines. UNC’s objections to creation of districts largely advocate ethnic considerations and that makes their demand untenable. Article 371C makes some provision for tribal autonomy in India. But that does not mean the tribal inhabitants of the land are the exclusive authority over land and the administration thereof. Nagas cannot seek the Kukis deprived of their land rights so long as they are citizens of India. UNC can seek application of Article 371C in the matter of boundary delineation of the new districts so that it goes fair to all ethnic groups not only the Nagas.

The three months old illegal economic blockade has held the entire population to ransom. It drove affected communities to the brink of communal clashes with the Nagas. Resorting to an illegal method of protest makes the UNC and its supporters criminals in the eyes of law. Again, UNC’s apathy to the public appeals to end their blockade related sufferings makes its attitudes selfish and inconsiderate. Sometimes some Nagas justify blockade as the only effective means as they cannot organize protests in Imphal for logistical reasons. But, they go to Jantar-Mantar in New Delhi for protests. A road blockade in New Delhi will certainly be more disruptive and visible. They do not do this because they know the consequences of an illegal activity. A Jantar-Mantar-like protest in Imphal can always draw public sympathy for a just cause.

Why does the UNC seek to be in the stalemate even when its protest is proven illegal and anti-people? What compels UNC to ignore the illegitimacy of its demands, illegality of the protest methods and the widespread public grievance its actions have caused? What stops its supporters from honouring government’s invitation to negotiation table?

It is increasingly becoming clear that UNC’s objection to new district creations harps on the fear that it adversely affects the process of Naga integration, the groundwork in progress for the NSCN-IM demand of Greater Nagaland (Nagalim). That was the very reason that forced the Naga people to reverse their decision after accepting the new districts. This motive puts all discussions within the ambit of the state administrative authority off the table. While this motive is crucial to Naga integration, UNC will not be putting it at the negotiation table. So, it boils down to the probability that the blockade is not the handiwork of UNC but somebody behind it.

Our discussions should now be shifted to the legitimacy of the demands of Nagalim and the sanity of India’s handling of the issue. If the registration record of Nagalim at UNPO (Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization) is of any reference, NSCN-IM is asking for an area of 120000 (one lakh twenty thousand) sq. km. of land instead of the present area of Nagaland which is less than 17 thousand sq. km. Nagas are asking for another one lakh sq. km of area from Myanmar. By claiming such a ludicrously vast land in recognized possession of many governments Nagas are bound to fight two nations (India and Myanmar) and three Indian states (Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur). The wisdom of such a fight is questionable.

Before the Nagas suffer defeats from fights with these state powers, they might suffer many more defeats at academic and legal platforms when they start questioning the legitimacy of the territorial rights of all these state entities which are much older than that of the Nagas. Nagas are a recent collection of culturally and linguistically diverse tribal groups some of which still resist to be called Naga. In the UNPO registration, the tribes listed as inhabitants of Nagalim do not cover any of the so-called Naga tribes of Manipur. Therefore, Naga territorial claims outside the present state of Nagaland remains ambiguous. Nagas have to win the academic fights before other fights for sanity.

There are 370 million indigenous people put under 5000 ethnic groups in over 70 countries in the world today each having the same kind of uniqueness as Nagas claim. They live in various socio-political settings of which many require adjustments or protection. Unless it is for a real geopolitical advantage, intervention by a foreign power to free an indigenous group from an existing rule is very unlikely. India is a world power and as such no country will dare an intervention more than some feeble diplomacy. Meddling with the situation with the intention of destabilizing or weakening the holding country could happen but not much beyond. Inviting meddling at whose cost is a question we need to answer.

Article 3 of Indian constitution appeals very much to the Nagalim aspirants. This empowers the central government to change state boundaries. Nagas expect India to apply the same article and carve out an area of 120000 sq. km from neighbouring states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur. A constitutional provision may not warrant any government to concede a territorial claim especially when it challenges historical legacy of the state. Nagalim claim does not qualify this test.

Hence, it may be futile to take advantage of a constitutional provision to advance our interest without a realistic interpretation of the textual contents of the Acts and rules in the light of prudence and ethics so that we respect the tenets of justice. Constitutional construction embodies the spirit as visualized by the drafters and those who ratify it whereas constitutional interpretation goes prudential and situational. Nagas may need to introspect and try making their aspirations realistic. Continued delusion harms all the ethnic groups that co-exist inseparably in the region.

Despite India’s sympathy to the Nagas during the past two decades of peace negotiation, conceding Nagalim is very unlikely. India has a population of 70 million indigenous people in varying degrees of peace with India in terms of their satisfaction with other advanced ethnic groups they live with. Nagalim will become a precedence for these indigenous tribes to emulate and this could open a Pandora’s box to endlessly trouble India. Therefore, India will think many times before signing such an agreement with the Nagas.

Coming back to the blockade, both the Nagas and the Kukis claim that the state government in a bizarre way signed multiple agreements for and against the creation of the SADAR Hills district during the same span of time. In that case, we have no means of coming out of the imbroglio except by ignoring the non-sense agreements. If one group is pleased the other will object. Both Nagas and Kukis can sue the state government for this incongruity. Continued claim with a false promissory note gets you no money. After a bickering, a small step back, soul searching and compassion always help to find the new enlightened solution.

The highway blockade is illegal and it should not continue. It is highly disruptive and it can cause communal tensions between the Nagas and other ethnic groups in Manipur. Protests should draw public sympathy not the wrath. UNC needs to fight for a cause for which it can reason itself for a progressive life of the Nagas in harmony with other ethnic groups. Continued blockade will not punish the government at its fag end nor will it bolster Naga demands as such. It can doom the people of the state only to serve the interest of whosoever has an invisible hand in it. Let wisdom prevails!



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