In the melee that has been dogging the Manipur impasse, it is wondered as to what has become of New Delhi’s avant-garde and forward engineering posture vis-a-vis the dialogue with the NSCN (IM) and even the ULFA (Pro-Talk). Of course, the manner in which it views the ULFA (Independent) led by the enigmatic Paresh Baruah despite the fact that the Assam Police has been able to indubitably rein in the belligerent faction has also been a subject of some speculation?
In any event, observers are of the opinion that even as incredible “fire-fighting” exercise continues apace in the “Land of Emeralds”, other aspects that needs equal attention have been, albeit momentarily put on the backburner—gratefully this time the Shakespearean maxim about “when sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions” has not yet come visiting!
But the fact of the matter (and to be fair to New Delhi), it is Manipur that merits the undivided attention of the Indian state at this time. Besides, the primary pointsman for such business, A.K. Mishra’s hands at this point in time, it is reckoned, would be full and his current brief would be to try and salvage an opening and muster the aggrieved parties in Manipur to come together and cull some breathing space for even an “uneasy rapprochement” to commence.
A gambit, as has been proffered above, would necessitate some sort of agreement with the Kuki populace. It might even conclude with N. Biren Singh stepping down, which under the circumstances should not be visualised as a loss of face. In the opinion of this author, it would actually showcase both magnanimity and statesmanship.
One is reminded of the time when Lal Thanhawla stepped down from his office in 1986 to make way for Laldenga, the leader of Mizo National Front, so that the latter can become the chief minister of Mizoram. Peace returned to the restive state as a result and today Mizoram is one of the most peaceful provinces in the country.
This was part of the negotiation and settlement of the Mizo Peace Accord, but the act of Lal Thanhawla “stepping down” in the interest of peace required imagination and vision and it was ordained by the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and his advisers which included Hiteswar Saikia who became the Governor of Mizoram.
This author clearly recalls that there was no hesitation whatsoever for the ruling party of the day to pave way to a grouping which until a few months ago was warring the Indian security forces. Leadership is always hailed because of the sacrifices that a statesman makes so that one’s parish may survive, thrive and co-exist.
But, this article began with the NSCN (IM) and the ULFA. It can be assured that both groups—especially the NSCN (IM)—are closely watching the unfolding scenario (perhaps even with mirth) and would seek to make the most of it. It must also not be forgotten that there is no love lost between the Nagas and the Kukis. But the fact remains that even the Nagas covet the Hills of Manipur which the Meiteis are loath to part with.
The gridlock, therefore, will continue until there is—at least for the time being—an equitable share of power. Power, incidentally, is not tantamount to just parting of land, although it is primarily land that constitutes the primal cause of conflict and power! At this juncture, this author is merely referring to sharing of political power as the first act of “detente”.
The allusion to Mizoram’s history and how transfer of power ushered in durable peace should be a pointer to the present dispensation in New Delhi. The problem with New Delhi—especially in the last few years—is that its institutional memory—if indeed there is such an animal in its repository—is confined to a strange intellectual arrogance.
There is absolutely no effort to either read history or even cull from the recollection of personages that have access to such storehouse.
In any event, it must also be understood that Manipur poses a curious picture with ethnicities criss-crossing and overlapping.
There is puzzlement even within Manipur about the social affiliation of say an “Anal”. Is she a Kuki? Or is she a Naga?
An academician of substance, Prof. Gangumei Kamei (Kabui) has interestingly termed the “Anal” in his work “Anal: A Transborder Tribe” as “culturally Kuki and politically Naga”.
Such a classification only furthers the confusion. There is also the problem pertaining to “Old Kuki” and “New Kuki”. But notwithstanding the ethnic bewilderments, the fact of the matter is that, as this author continues to hold onto, is his view and what he clearly stated in the Global Order Webinar titled “Rebuilding Trust in the Indo-Naga Peace Process” on 14 March 2022.
It was to “rework the Manipur (Hill Areas) Autonomous District Bill 2021 with provisions that would be acceptable to all of Manipur.
In the Webinar he was of the opinion that a revised version of the aforesaid bill could redress the long standing inequalities in land purchase rights and present itself as an opportunity to equitably distribute power and lay the foundation for an “Autonomy Plus” deal with the Nagas even as it assuages the concerns of the Valley people. The Webinar can be viewed by going to https://www.globalorder.live/post/rebuilding-trust-in-the-indo-naga-peace-process.
It is certain that the powers that be in New Delhi watched the programme in which former Union Home Secretary, G.K. Pillai, Lt Gen (Retd) K. Himalay Singh, Dr. Alex Waterman and this author participated, but there has, unfortunately, been no visible movement on the ground as a result of the efforts that went into erecting the Webinar.
There is also another very important aspect that must be brought to light. A complete mockery was made of the entire Suspension of Operations mechanism that exists in Manipur.
Indeed, way back in mid-twenties, this author (invited as the sole civilian to attend and address the Assam Rifles Annual Commanders’ Conference in Shillong) had pointed out that the adhoc and unofficial “agreement” with the Kuki groups with the Assam Rifles/Indian Army in Manipur does not augur well.
This author pointed this aspect during his presentation—Shivraj Patil, then Union Home Minister, was present in the conference. It was perhaps only afterwards (this author is not taking credit for the intervention) that the Ministry of Home Affairs “coincidently” formalised the “arrangement” with the Kuki groups.
But it is also true that there has been not only exodus from Myanmar and thereabouts of the Kukis into Manipur, but the social formation has utilised land in the state and across for poppy cultivation. But it has to be said that drugs are not the sole preserve of the Kukis, and if reports are to be believed there are “drug-lords”, however smaller in number, among the Meitei community as well.
But the present comes across that it is time for the proverbial pipe to be smoked. Bygones should be bygones. A solidarity march by ATSUM sparked off an unprecedented crisis, the news of which has reached even the United Nations. It is sad.
But once again, this author harks back to the non-existent institutional memory replete with saga of triumph that has been conveniently forgotten. It is true that a “solidarity” march led to violence which careened out of control. Of course, there has always been an undercurrent of animosity and mistrust beneath the surface cutting across all social formations in Manipur and beyond.
The upsurge that is being witnessed in the tiny state is a manifestation of that bitterness. The trouble this time around is that the resentment was allowed to amplify, even fostered, and one suspects for narrow electoral gains and engineering a religious and ethnic divide that would benefit a few among many.
The conflict and upheaval has a genesis and some would go so far to say that both the warring clusters had reasonable reasons for the “call to arms”. But wars have witnessed armistice. A nation, a people and even mother nature comprehends such an imperative.
But why have our people, especially our leaders (with ill-gotten colour and agenda) forgotten that there have been times when leaders have realised that conflict has a grammar that—if necessary—can be altered to array the way of pacifism. Did not Gandhi stir up an entire nation in order to oust the British? Did he also not once halt a nation-wide movement when he realised that his followers were not treading the “Indian Way”, but was surging ahead with hatred? Now, that was divine leadership with a vision about how a nation has to be nurtured with both affection and firmness.
Unfortunately, present day India (or at least a section of India) no longer listens to the soft cadence of a Mahatma who called off an entire movement in order to “atone” for a Chauri-Chaura.
The most tragic mistake that was made in Manipur was the manner in which P. Doungel, the Kuki DGP was removed. It is particularly sad because it has not only sent a very wrong message to the people among whom IPS officers have to work, but have negated past triumphs such as the ones which continues to be lauded when Lt Gen (Retd) M.A. Zaki was made the Security Adviser to the Governor of Jammu & Kashmir, a calling which he ably rose to despite the fact that he is a Muslim. Gen. Zaki was fighting terrorists and not the Muslim population of the Valley. It is wondered as to how the “removal” of P. Doungel and handing it over to an officer would go down in the annals of India’s national security management.
But at this time, the immediate aspect that should occupy New Delhi’s mind (especially as there is a faith deficit for the governance in Imphal!) is to ensure that the humanitarian needs of the victims are met without any let and hindrance. Disturbing news that even rations are being pilfered by nefarious in-between parties and are not reaching the starving victims must be addressed without delay.
There must also be no attempt to malign a noble force such as the Indian army and the Assam Rifles for “taking sides”. Allegations that have been making the rounds that the Indian army and the Assam Rifles are being partisan are completely without basis.
If nothing else the country should recall the manner in which innumerable Indian army and Assam Rifles personnel have laid down their lives for Bharat that is India—in icy heights, dry deserts and inhospitable marshes of resentment—fighting the nations enemies, foreign and domestic.
This is not the time for witch-hunting. It can wait, when the present darkness has been dispelled. The accent should now be to read the entrails and act with a sense of judiciousness. The people of India live in its villages, with the barest of the bare. Every five years they queue up expectation in scorching heat or sub-zero temperature to elect representatives with a hope that such “higher mortals” would ensure them at least a roof, two square meals and perhaps a life without fear. When such hope is belied they break down in anguish.
In this hour of predicament prudence, atonement and acting selflessly should drive human character, especially as there are countless in Manipur who have lost everything that they came into this world for. They just wanted to survive, perhaps in squalor. Even this has been denied to them! Let there be tears for the child who has lost everything, even his dream!
But such a mantra should come “Top-Down”! It cannot be comprehended by the weary multitude who in the blood soaked streets of Imphal and thereabouts cannot even think. Indeed, it is not his job to think. He had hand over that responsibility to his representatives. Accountability lies with the leaders in New Delhi. Raisina Road can no longer abdicate responsibility for what came over the bejewelled land.
Let sanity, therefore, return. Let the Sangai once again prance in the “Phundis” (floating grasslands of the Loktak) in gay abandon.
Most of all, it has to be ascertained that (once again as Shakespeare had foretold) “madness in great ones must not (be permitted to) unwatched go.”
(Jaideep Saikia is an Internationally Acclaimed Conflict Theorist and Bestselling Author)