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EDITORIAL: When Silenced Guns Talk!

It is a given that the full military might of India will never be able to wipe out a group of rebels, fighting for a cause (Read sovereignty) they believe in and it is also equally true that far from realizing their ultimate objective, no armed group, especially those operating in the North East region has been able to ‘liberate’ a single village. Some may differ with this view point, in the context of the time when Sajik Tampak was literally turned into a haven for rebel groups of all hue and color so much so that it came to be unofficially recognized as a ‘liberated zone.’ After the security forces drew up a major strategy under Operation All Clear sometime in 2004-5, Sajik Tampak gradually fell into the hands of the Government forces, but then again, the United National Liberation Front, moved base and came to literally control the areas beyond Hengshi village in Chandel district upto New Samtal across the Khengjoi hill range. Till 2006, the last Army or Assam Rifles post was at Hengshi and beyond that the areas were virtually under the control of the said outfit.

However the Khengjoi honeymoon did not last long and by 2008-09, the rebels were pushed back and the last bastion was overrun by the Assam Rifles, spearheaded by the 26 Sector, based at Pallel. The liberation of this part of the State meant different things to different people, but one constant is the fact that no armed movement in the North East region has been able to liberate a single village, to refer to the Chairman of ULFA Arabinda Rajkhowa, while on the other hand, the mighty Indian Army has not been able to completely wipe out any rebel group, ever since the guns started booming from the areas lying to the East of the great Brahmaputra. In such a scenario, the only way out is a political dialogue with each party putting their cards on the table and making their points clear. The Government of India appears to have recognized the fact that no solution would be possible without a dialogue and this by itself is an admission that what is plaguing the North East, particularly Manipur, is a political issue and not a law and order problem.

This is where the chinks in the armor of the “Door is opened to any group to come to the negotiating table,” begin to emerge for while everyone, including Delhi, accepts that peace talk or whatever term one may use, is the only solution, on the other hand, it continues to treat the situation as some law and order problem. It is this failure to read the reality at the ground level coupled  by the arrogance and ignorance of the dhoti clad species in Delhi, which are responsible for the continued imposition of an Act which should find no place in a democracy, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. The late Rajiv Gandhi is remembered for the number of accords he signed, notably the Assam Accord, the Punjab Accord, the Mizoram Accord and others, but there lies a valuable lesson in the fact that except for Mizoram, all the other Accords fell apart in no time. The question that begs an answer is why did the other Accords fail and more importantly, has the present political leadership ever cared to conduct an in-depth study of the circumstances and nature of the political wind that was blowing in Punjab and Assam at that point of time?

The NSCN (IM) has been engaged in a peace talk with the Government of India since August 1, 1997. The peace parley is now approaching the 14 year mark but given the veil of secrecy that surrounds the substantive part of the dialogue, it would be foolish to hazard a guess. At best, it may amount to nothing much more than shooting in the dark and we all know the potential danger of such an act. However what we can say with a certain degree of confidence is that the ceasefire has not meant silencing their guns, for many times, we have heard the silenced guns booming across the hills of Manipur and Nagaland and now in Arunachal Pradesh. In Assam, the ULFA under Rajkhowa has taken its first step towards thrashing out a solution to the decades old armed movement though there is still Paresh Baruah, the Commander-in-Chief of the outfit, showing no signs of waving the white flag. In Manipur, the Centre, the State Government and a number of Kuki armed groups divided into two groups, the KNO and the UPF, have inked the Suspension of Operations pact and this has been in force for the last three/four years. How SoO has impacted on the lives of the people who are/were directly affected by the activities of these groups, will differ from one man to another. This is not an elaborate attempt to chart out a course of peace map in the region, but a reminder of how things have developed in the last few years.

Seen against this background, the demand raised by the proscribed UNLF to hold a plebiscite is indeed interesting and it goes back to 2004-’05. Now making it more interesting and which demands due acknowledgement is the view of the outfit’s chief RK Meghen, that the plebiscite his outfit has mooted is not the objective, but a means to come to a logical conclusion to the ongoing Indo-Manipur conflict. The plebiscite idea or model floated by the UNLF may not be acceptable to Delhi, but its objective is clear and has an appeal of its own. Given the fact that the armed movement against Delhi has been here for decades, no one can do a Houdini, and make things appear differently. The first point for Delhi then is to acknowledge that there indeed is a political issue that needs to be addressed to immediately.  Brushing off the proposal from the UNLF should not be reduced to an act of smothering a mosquito. If Delhi is sincere about settling the conflict situation in Manipur then it should have the moral conviction of not only opening the door for a political dialogue but also extending a hand out of the open door. The first step it may take is to either reject the plebiscite proposal, backed by logical explanations or take up the cudgels. This is the opportunity which Delhi can and should capitalize on, or else it is bound to reinforce the growing skepticism that Manipur does not figure in its scheme of things.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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