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The Manipur Crisis And The Road Ahead

The recent turmoil that has engulfed the state of Manipur is, to say the least, unfortunate. In such time of crisis, the casualty is usually the voice of sanity and rational analysis.

In the considered opinion of many, the present crisis is the creation of the Ibobi Singh-led Secular Progressive Front (SPF) government in Manipur, to actualize what its purported intention in banning the entry of Muivah into Manipur sought to prevent. It has been implied in many accounts and opinions that what Muivah might not have achieved, Ibobi Singh has; that Naga sentiment has been hurt, and all the major Naga organizations have jumped into the fray to not only express solidarity with their southern brethren but also to take up the lead in confronting the Manipur government. Had the Manipur government allowed Muivah to visit his native village, Somdal, with full security escort and strict guidelines that political campaign would not be tolerated, the visit of Muivah would have passed with little fuss. On the face of it, this assessment seems right.

But consider it further, and that assessment seems facile. As an editorial of an Imphal-based daily (IFP) pointed out, there exists in Manipur an ‘extremely divergent and antagonistic ethnic politics’, each of the two camps representing two distinct and opposing ideas ‘“ one representing the idea of Manipur and the other representing Naga integration ‘“ and the success of one depends on the destruction of the other. In such a theatre of confrontational antagonism, it is fair to say that Muivah and the people supporting the goal of Naga integration wanting to tear apart Manipur is as justified as the Manipur government and those who stand by the idea of Manipur doing everything and anything they can to thwart such attempts. This, one with no hand in the pie would be constrained to believe, is the correct reading of the situation in Manipur. But it is also doubtful whether such a fence-sitting will help the situation as it encourages the confrontation to escalate.

Rather, a rational dialogue is definitely much more desirable. There are also calls for reconciliation, but this is easier said than done and there are valid grounds why this is so. At this juncture in the history of Manipur, in order to begin a rational dialogue what is needed is a courageous attempt to acknowledge what has become too obvious and inevitable by accepting which a degree of understanding can be achieved. Going by the pattern of antagonistic interests getting arrayed in the past two decades and more, it is too obvious that Manipur as a multi-ethnic state is an idea past its prime and that there is considerable frustration in persisting with the idea. For a long time, the obvious has been denied to give it a semblance of normalcy. As long as the parties involved remain in this denial mode, any attempt at resolution of the crisis will fail, reconciliatory measures will be based on half-truths and the entity called Manipur will be weighed down by its own complexity and its own moral bankruptcy the aftermath of which is going to be bitter than an outcome of a process that the affected parties might hammer out at this point in time.

To qualify this last sentence, a little elaboration may be necessary. First, the denial argument. Now, anybody who has a decent degree of knowledge and awareness of the state of affairs in Manipur will not fail to remember the chain of major events that have shaped up things in recent times to this day. The protest against the extension of Indo-Naga Ceasefire territorial limits to Manipur and the gunning down of 18 protestors on 18 June 2001, the announcement by the government of Manipur of June 18 as ‘Manipur Integrity Day’ four years later, the prolonged agitation against the step taken by the Manipur government, the non-cooperation and civil disobedience movements launched by the United Naga Council (UNC), the movement to withdraw all private schools in the Naga areas from the Board of Secondary Education, Manipur (BSEM) and the burning of textbooks of the BSEM, the ‘No Tax Campaign’ and the handing over of house tax of 94,894 Naga households for the year 2006 to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) by the UNC, were all connected to the idea of Naga integration. The whole chain of events was connected to a grid of events that extended beyond the borders of Manipur. In recent memory, the most notable event was the formation of the Naga Hoho which took up the lead in bringing out a White Paper on Naga integration. Since its formation, the Naga Hoho has always taken the lead, and the various campaigns and mass movements that were launched by the UNC had the support of the Naga Hoho.

At this point, it would also be in order to recall how Manipur-based organizations and the Manipur government have often accused outsiders of involvement in its ‘internal affairs‘. For instance, consider the vehement opposition of the United Committee, Manipur (UCM), formed during the agitation against the extension of Indo-Naga Ceasefire territorial limits to Manipur, of the involvement of ‘Nagaland-based NGOs‘, meaning the Naga Hoho, the Naga Students’ Federation (NSF), etc., in the ‘internal affairs’ of Manipur during the 2005 agitation. The same echo is heard from various quarters time and again and now heard from the statements of the spokesman of the Manipur government that leaders in the Nagaland government are meddling in the ‘internal affairs’ of Manipur.

In a quick response, one may point out that the Naga Hoho, the NSF and certain others are not just ‘Nagaland-based NGOs’ but organizations constituted of representatives from almost all known Naga tribes. In this basic context, the real question is: How ‘˜internal’ is the issue of Naga integration to Manipuri organizations and the Manipur government? Is it not bizarre that after facing one socio-political crisis over another on the issue of Naga integration which is openly espoused by all the major Naga organizations cutting across borders, the Manipur government along with some organizations continue to call it an ‘internal affairs’ of Manipur? Is it not an issue that, apart from the two communities, the two governments should be acknowledging as an issue between them? Is it not equally ironical for a government which fears large-scale social unrest over the issue of Naga integration due to the proposed visit of Muivah to Manipur, to call the latter a non-entity? It gets really sinister when street protestors in the Imphal valley and certain functionaries in the Manipur government publicly gave out statements that there are no Nagas in Manipur despite their official status as Nagas recorded in government registers. There can be no rationale to explain this than to call it as systemic denial. It hurts and harms not only the Nagas but also all others who are caught in this spiral of denial. Such a regime of denial is closely related to the idea propagated by major political players, even certain scholars, in Manipur that Manipur’s history is 2000 years old. Within the same argument, what is implied, or sometimes claimed, is also the idea that Manipur with all its present territorial extent existed since this long. Nothing can be as absurd as this, and the very assertion reeks of colonial chauvinism. Manipur, as a state, with clear-cut demarcation of boundaries is as recent as the British advent in this part of the world. Leave it at that in this discussion.

Secondly, within the discourse on group relations, there are also saner voices and pleas for peace and reconciliation, though muffled in times of high drama of confrontation. Reconciliation, in its true sense, is an idea that allows the offender to repent without being humiliated and a catharsis for the injured to free his emotions from the object of his anger. Is it possible in the present scenario? At best, a truce may be possible at this point in time. Reconciliation efforts will meet with the challenge of suppressing hurt memories that are far too many and the challenge to create conviction in a shared future that seems too unattractive. For far too long in Manipur, the cosmopolitan idea of shared future and shared heritage has been used to serve parochial ends. Too many times, token gestures of goodwill and reconciliation have been used in cajoling minority communities into submission, only to rouse their resentment again the next time they have been taken for a ride. In the context of the Nagas today, one of the fundamental bases on which the climate of negotiation, and from there on reconciliation, can be made possible, can be no less than an acknowledgement by anybody or any government that there is a genuine desire of the Nagas in Manipur to be politically integrated with other Nagas.

Thirdly, does the Manipuri opposition to the goal of Naga integration serves its interests in the unfolding scenario of open confrontation? Does anybody hope that this movement will blow over soon? Had it not been for the strong emotional, as distinguished from rational, attachment that the Meiteis have for the idea of Manipur, would they tolerate a regime which thrives on gross corruption and open repression? Would Ibobi Singh survive in power if not for the penchant of a section of the Meiteis for his rhetoric and theatrics on the issue of Manipur’s territorial integrity? Not everybody seems to be affirmative in their answers. It is encouraging that the other day; the Manipur Students’ Association Delhi (MSAD) came out with a vehement denouncement of the Ibobi Singh’s government and the terror tactics it uses to run its writ despite popular dissent. Among other things, the MSAD noted that people who stood up for democratic political cause, in opposition to the government, should not be treated as criminals, and they have every right to visit their people and their homeland. On this note, it asserted that Muivah should be allowed to live and freely roam in his own homeland.

Such a statement has been the first of a kind from any Manipuri organization in a long time. It is a welcome change amidst the din of voices that are almost inseparable from those of the major players on both sides of the confrontation, some of which border on competitive jingoism. Within the overarching denouncement of imperialist policy and the use of brute force to maintain territory, the MSAD’s assertion that it does not subscribe to the idea of forced union will hopefully open up a whole new vision of inter-community relations and a new vista for democratic dialogue. As it noted, a political union should be a voluntary union of equal stakeholders in whose interest the union exists. Outside of this principle, there cannot be any lasting union.

At this juncture, the idea of Manipur as noted above has passed its prime, and the group most vocal in its opposition to this idea doesn’t seem to be in the mood to relent. Despite the effort of the Manipur government to hold together the state through whatever means, including the use of brute military force, discerning observers must have noticed that the idea within has withered considerably. It is this reality that many people still fails to see. Perhaps, like in any situation, two choices may be open: to revive the idea in a whole new spirit of togetherness and shared future or to bury the idea and move on with new ideas which are already in the contest. I believe the first may be harder to achieve than the second.

*The opinion is written by Ephrii Piku

(Courtesy: Eastern Mirror)

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