Manipur is perhaps the only state in the North East that has been resistant to all counter insurgency interventions.
The fact that the State sensitively borders war-torn Myanmar makes it especially important. Indeed, the geo-positioning anoints the “Land of Emeralds” with a special identity vis-a-vis, India’s national security.
But it is important for observers of the security situation in Manipur to understand certain aspects of the historical basis for which insurgency and as a result complete lawlessness has come over Manipur during the last seven months.
An exposition of some of the important waypoints would clarify the backdrop for the current impasse.
There has been a Suspension of Operations between 25 Kuki groups and the Government of India as well as the Government of Manipur way back in the Twenties.
Although it was non-institutionalised and one which the para-military force had anvilled locally with a few Kuki insurgent groups, the “unacceptability” of such an arrangement was raised by this author in an Assam Rifles Annual Commander’s Conference in Shillong where he was the only civilian to be invited to deliver a lecture.
The conference was attended by Shivraj Patil, the then Union Home Minister of India. It is not known whether it was as a result of this author’s direct intervention in the matter, but it was on 22 August 2008, that the “informal” suspension of operations (SoO) agreement became formal.
An agreement was officially sealed by the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India with an aim of starting a political dialogue with the Kuki insurgent groups.
The Kuki organisations, who had earlier demanded the creation of a separate Kuki state, settled for the creation of a “Kukiland Territorial Council”, with financial and administrative authority which would be separate from the Manipur government.
But the fact of the matter is that despite regular “talks” with the Suspension of Operations groups, no concrete steps were taken in the direction of a “Kukiland Territorial Council”.
The well-oiled and successfully tried method of “wearing out” belligerents by either bringing them to the dialogue table or “ceasing hostilities” with such groups were being made to good use in Manipur.
On hindsight, if only New Delhi had granted an autonomous council to the Kuki population on the lines of what was offered to the Bodos of Assam, the bloodshed and the bitterness that are continuing to beleaguer Manipur of the present could have been avoided.
Instead, all that the Government and its agencies did was utilise the Suspension of Operations groups as a foil against the VBIGs, which were primarily from the Meitei community.
The VBIGs had, of course, constituted themselves into a six group Coordination Committee or CorCom.
The CorCom which used to operate out of three neat clusters (Northern, Central and Southern Clusters in Myanmar’s Sagaing Division) comprised of the UNLF (Two Factions), PLA, PREPAK, PREPAK (Progressive )(Manipur), KCP and KYKL These are the groups that have been waging a relentless war against the Indian state.
On a variety of occasions, the CorCom collaborated with other insurgent organisations such as the NSCN (Khaplang), which was then heading the wierd-sounding United National Liberation Front of West South East Asia (UNLFWSEA) and the Manipur Naga People’s Front (MNPF).
The UNLFWSEA also comprised of the ULFA (Independent), NDFB(Songbijit) and KLO.
Presently, with the coming over ground of NDFB(S) and KLO, the UNLFWSEA has run into rough weather. Agencies of the Government of India has succeeded in factionalising the NSCN (Khaplang) and the Assam Police’s Special Branch has all but put a full-stop to the subterfuges of ULFA (Independent).
But to return to Manipur, the ground alliances between the CorCom and such other insurgent groups operating out of Manipur had become rather robust.
Therefore, even as the NSCN (Khaplang) with the aid of the KYKL ambushed and killed 18 jawans of the 6 Dogra Regiment of the Indian army on 4 June 2015 in Chandel, PLA (Manipur) and MNPF assassinated Col. Viplav Tripathi and his family (which included the Colonel’s five year old boy, Abeer!) in Churachandpur on 13 November 2021.
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It must also be understood that post the military takeover of 1 February 2021, the VBIGs of Manipur and ones which are billeted in the aforesaid three clusters in Myanmar’s Sagaing Division have come into an understanding with the Myanmar army.
To that end, in return for safe haven and assurance that the Indian insurgents would not be harmed, the VBIGs are to aid the Myanmar army to quell the civil unrest that has erupted after the junta took over on 1 February 2021.
The hopes of Naypyidaw aiding New Delhi in destroying the Indian insurgent camps (as were the case when Operation Sunrise -1 & 2 were launched) were dashed.
It remains for military-diplomacy and the considered appointment of senior and seasoned former Indian army officers such as Lt Gen Arun Kumar Sahni as India’s envoy to Myanmar that might witness a new relationship firming up between India and its crucial neighbour, Myanmar.
Such a move is important. Naypyidaw understands the military idiom better than old-fangled diplomacy, and an old hand such as Gen.Arun Kumar Sahni (who reportedly enjoys the confidence of both New Delhi and Nagpur), could, if granted plenipotentiary powers, turn the wheel in India’s favour.
New Delhi must comprehend that China is making all out efforts to offset India’s fortunes in Myanmar and it is high time that non-orthodox methodologies are espoused in order to not only ensure that the much touted “Neighbourhood First” policy is back on the rails, but aggressive moves are made to correctly channelise and kick-start the long awaited “Act East”policy.
This author has been advising mandarins in New Delhi that the very first order of duty should be to (a) appoint a former Indian army of Lt Gen.Arun Kumar Sahni’s calibre and disposition as India’s envoy to Myanmar (b) supply Naypyidaw with the arsenal that they require for their battle against the People’s Defence Force and ones which China has not been able to provide and (c) utilise the good offices of Mizoram chief minister, Pu Zoramthanga to lead a delegation to both Myanmar and Manipur with credible names such as G.K.Pillai, Lt Gen. Shokin Chauhan and Subir Bhaumik.
It will be recalled that former prime minister of India, P.V. Narasimha Rao sought and was able to garner the help of then opposition leader, Atal Bihari Vajpayee as the leader to Geneva to put to rest the shenanigans of a sinister Pakistan.
What prevents Modi from soliciting the expertise of Pu Zoramthanga, a former insurgent leader and today a chief minister of an Indian state. Most among many would agree that Pu Zoramthanga, G.K.Pillai, Lt Gen. Shokin Chauhan and Subir Bhaumik possesses not only the best minds in India a la Myanmar and Manipur, but enjoys the confidence of the constituency to (if New Delhi consents) which they would be sent by way of a right-thinking, robust and result oriented “peace mission”.
The mission should be mandated to speak with all the stakeholders including insurgent groups, civil society organisations, government and Myanmar’s National Unity Government.
It is also important to comprehend that if Myanmar has to be wooed and tamed, it is imperative that a modicum of law and order returns to restive Manipur. It would not do merely to have one group (UNLF-Pambei) exhibiting signs of holding talks with the Government.
The most important task at hand is to control, apprehend and disband vigilante groups such as Arombai Tenggol and Meitei Lipun. These two armed “illegal ” organisations have clear G-5 patronage (the new name after the ouster of UNLF (Pambei) from CorCom) and it is alleged from myriad political formations as well.
The first step towards normalcy in Manipur and consequently better ties with Myanmar is to comprehend the issues that are at stake in Manipur. Mere recovery of 4000 odd arms would not witness durable or even workable peace.
The fact that lawlessness has been allowed to continue in the “Land of the Sangai” will prove to be detrimental to the entire North East. It is already being queried whether New Delhi would have allowed the unrest to continue for so long were Manipur to be Kashmir.