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Now The Tripartite

The question of threat to the spirit of Manipur came in the minds of the public around 1980s especially after the NSCN(IM) under the leadership of Thuingaleng Muivah started pushing for his top agenda—the Nagalim; though it was during the NNC period that the move made a beginning.

The call of AZ Phizo, the legendary figure of the Nagas was responded from the different groups inhabiting in the Naga hill district of Assam, NEFA and also from some neighboring areas of Manipur. However, the NNC were not as invective or violent as the protagonists of the NSCN (IM) against other communities.  And the issue of Greater Nagaland was contained within the ambit of the Governmental mechanism till Muivah’s Nagalim came up. However, Nagalim spilled over into the public domain when Muivah became more and more aggressive and indulged in violent activities against other communities. The most condemnable act of Muivah was his mad policy of Kuki cleansing in the early 1990s, albeit under a different garb—the Nagalim Guard or Limguard. Then came the hard earned reconciliation between his men and the Kuki group in 1995-96 after the loss of a thousand innocent souls.

Around the time backroom parleys were taking place between NSCN (IM) and the home ministry; Muivah talked to Rajesh Pilot for a possible breakthrough. However it was after the United Front Government came to power that the move to bring the NSCN (IM) to the negotiating table was crystallized. If I remember correctly Muivah called on Prime Minister Deva Gowda at Zurich and it was probably after that meeting that he finally decided to go for the negotiating table.

The ceasefire agreement between the NSCN (IM) and Government of India was signed on August 1, 1997 when IK Gujral was PM. Eventually on August 4, 1997 a peaceful rally, organized by AMUCO was taken out in Imphal which according to a report of the SIB, was attended by 4 to 5 lakhs people. Indeed the rally had turned Imphal into a sea of humanity. The message of the rally—the spirit of unity and integrity of Manipur—was loud and clear.

Sensing of the public mood the Government of India reassured the territorial integrity of Manipur. However the game was on; the peace-talk went on with the NSCN (IM) demanding a Greater Nagaland.

However, despite assurances by the Government of India, information received from various sources indicated that steps were being taken to extend the ceasefire which is detrimental to the spirit of Manipur.

AMUCO from the beginning had always maintained that the ceasefire should not be extended to Manipur because it is bound to have serious social and political ramifications. The apprehension became serious in May-June, 2001. Accordingly, it had requested the Government of India not to take such a step by sending representations and reminders to the Prime Minister.

On June 13, 2001, AMUCO met the Defense Minister, George Fernandes, who was on a visit to Imphal, and apprised him of the apprehension and he was also reminded the call of the people : “No extension of ceasefire to Manipur” and another representation was also submitted to the Prime Minister through him on that day.

That day, the Defense Minister told that in his knowledge, there was no discussion in the Cabinet and he expressed his opinion that such a step must not be taken. However, he could not assure anything; but sensing seriousness of the matter he tried to make a point by talking to the Prime Minister. However, he could not get the line to the Prime Minister who was in a Bombay hospital for a surgery.

Next day, June 14, 2001 around noon came the news from Bangkok that the ceasefire would be “without territorial limits”. On June 15, a meet of some 60-odd civil society organizations led by AMUCO and AMSU together called for a 3-day—June 16, 17, 18—general strike in Manipur. And the rest was history.

During the meeting between the Prime Minister and the UCM—formed a few days after June 18—to resolve the crisis, the Home Minister, who was believed to have given the go-ahead for the extension said “We were only” and then he stopped himself. It seemed what he wanted to say was that the Government of India did not mean to violate the territorial integrity of Manipur but that the Government was only trying to make a move, although he never thought of the ramifications or of the fallout. There was no discussion or argument in the meeting. The Prime Minister and his colleagues only listened to what the two spokespersons of UCM spoke as to why the territorial integrity of Manipur should be honored. During the meeting UCM had fervently appealed to the Prime Minister to withdraw the ceasefire as it had seriously undermined the very spirit of Manipur.

Finally, the Prime Minister gave his word that he would “call a meeting of the political parties on (cannot be remembered, but it could be the day the Government of India had announced that it would remove the clause “without territorial limits”) and take a decision”. And the crisis was resolved.

Then came the phase of intense competition among the people over the issue of integrity. The 52 days-economic blockade imposed by ANSAM in 2005 to protest Government’s declaration of June 18 as “Integrity Day” gave the much needed boost to Nagalim. However, what had brought the people on both sides of the divide at loggerheads was the ban on Muivah’s visit.

Indeed that incident had precipitated into an open confrontational posture on both sides, which was never seen before—the most unfortunate development ever in Manipur.

One may remember even during the June 18 upheaval, communication channels with the Naga bodies, especially the Naga Hoho—the apex body did not snap altogether ; and what little remained of it helped find ways little remained of it helped find ways when the Manipur Government machinery remained a mute spectator of the happenings in those critical days.

In the last episode, following the ban on Muivah, the civil societies on both sides were in today’s disarray; and there was no communication between the two sides. In fact, after the Ibobi Government had made our Naga brothers the enemy, by hurting their sentiments to serve his political end—to tide him over his Rubina-Sanjit murder image to the Integrity image; it was the CRPF and Assam Rifles that had played Good Samaritan to the people. In the process what T Muivah could not do in decades O Ibobi could in few years—communication of society—by his unimaginative and unlettered rule.

And Chief Minister who can look at Manipur with a little bit of understanding would not have created such a crisis. Now that it has come up to the Tripartite table—India Government-Manipur Government-Naga body; it was set a precedent and O Ibobi cannot erase it by creating another crisis, *as his wont.

Problems are bound to crop up; but a leader must tackle it meaningfully with foresight; Mr. O Ibobi with his near decade’s experience of being the Chief Minister, Home Minister and Finance Minister, all rolled into one must understand it better than anybody.

Honestly, looking at the near decade old rule of the SPF Government, one is afraid; Manipur is not safe in the leadership of O Ibobi Singh.

One wonders, where this Ibobi Government would be taking us!

*The article is written by Heigrujam Nabashyam.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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