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The Lake On Fire: Manipur Burns, Delhi Bungles

Loktak is the largest freshwater lake in the northeast of India. The 500 sq kilometer lake has been encroached upon during last 60 years and only 236.21 kilometer remains as the core and peripheral area of the lake with 14 hills of different height protruding from it. This unique water body gave a distinct identity to the state of Manipur, the Jewel of the East. Located at the southern end of the 7000 sq miles Manipur valley Loktak has been a part of economic activities and cultural heritage of the valley dwelling Meitei people. However, placidity of the lake is not reflected in the moods of the people and the violent courses of action some valley Meiteis adopted to realize their so-called political goal-independence.

Manipur had emerged as an independent state under the king after British paramountcy lapsed. However, it is alleged by Meiteis that that Maharaja was forced to visit Shillong, then capital of Assam and sign a treaty of accession on September 21, 1949. Maharaja Bodh Chandra signed on behalf of the state of Manipur and V. P. Menon on behalf of the Governor General of India and witnessed by the Governor of Assam Sri Prakash. The vital document consist of 9 clauses and clause number I reads- ‘Article I. His Highness the Maharajah of Manipur hereby cedes to the Dominion Government full and exclusive authority, jurisdiction and powers for and in relation to the governance of the State and agrees to transfer the administration of the State to the Dominion Government on the fifteenth day of October 1949 (there in after referred to as ‘the said day’). As from the said day the Dominion Government will be competent to exercise the said powers, authority and jurisdiction in such manner and through such agency as it may think fit.’

The treaty that merged Manipur with India was not universally acclaimed by all Meiteis. From the beginning sections of royalists and traditionalists held the view that Manipur was under titular suzerainty of the British and after they quit the paramountcy reverted back to the Maharajah. Some of them also raised another bogey that Pundit Nehru had formalized the cession of Kabaw Valley which once formed the part of Manipur to the Burmese government. This is a red herring allegation. The transfer of Kabaw Valley was done under British supervision and the boundary of Manipur and Burma was settled well by 1935. The government of India only ratified a new border agreement with Burma.

What led to the growth of separatism amongst sections of the Meiteis? The seed of separatism was sown by communist leader H. Irabot Singh. He had planned an armed struggle for liberating Manipur and establishing a pro-Moscow regime. He followed the ideology of the Communist Party of India. The left wing dissent continued to ignite imagination of the youth. They were encouraged by people of royal descent and people who harbored the thin dream of restoring the monarchy. The psyche of Meitei nationalist ideology was strengthened by agitation for replacement of Bengali script by ancient Meitei script. Recognition of Meitei language in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution, restoration of the fort of Kangla on a patch of land occupied by the Assam Rifles and conferment of statehood on Manipur.

In the meantime, Delhi’s direct administration through the Chief Commissioner offered group C union territory status to Manipur and was dominated by the officers deputed from other parts of India-the IAS, IPS, engineers, doctors etc. Arbitrary rule by the Chief Commissioners as per policies laid down by Delhi had created a separate class of rulers of outside origin, called mayangs by the Meiteis. The government of India had taken over all administrative responsibilities of the King but in reality there was maladministration or no administration. Corruption right from the Chief Commissioner to the lowest rung of bureaucracy introduced Indian culture of plundering public money by the rulers.

Between 1950 and 1960 Manipur did not see any tangible economic development, medium and small scale industry and agro-based industries. Cultivation of silk remained a household commercial venture and spinning of thread and weaving also was dominated by the womenfolk. The government made very negligible investment. Educationally also Manipur had to look forward to Assam or West Bengal. Very few could send their children to Delhi and other places. While the Hill Tribals were treated as Scheduled tribes the Valley Meiteis were treated as upper caste Hindus. With poor educational facilities only a handful youth could compete in all India Services. Outside Manipur the Meiteis were treated as foreign strangers. The Manipuris and the rest of Indians did not mix up well. The outsiders were treated as mayangs and the Meiteis were treated as sub-humans, despite their fabulously rich cultural heritage.

Besides paddy cultivation (mostly one crop) the populace had no other venue for employment. Gradually some youths joined lower ranks of government services, police, Manipur Rifles and other armed police forces. On the other hand a good number of youths were trained by the SSB in armed combat as a reserve force to work behind the enemy lines during any war. To get a government job one had to shell out huge bribe money.

In the midst of insurgency in the Naga Hills of Manipur and Mizo and allied Kuki rebellion the Meitei youth also smarted under the impression that without taking up arms they would not get concession from Delhi. Some of the SSB trained youths looked forward to Arambam Somorendra Singh, an ideologue and RK Meghen and RK Ronen two sons of the Manipur SSB chief RK Madhurjit Singh.

In the meantime Nagaland was given full state status in 1963. Along with it started the demand for Greater Nagaland with portions of Naga inhabited areas of Manipur and Assam. The Naga demand on the one hand and the Mizo demand for merger of Thanlon etc areas with proposed Mizoram created a fear psychosis in Meitei minds. Their demand for statehood intensified. By I964 United National Liberation Front (UNLF) was floated by Arambam Somorendra Singh and his group of firebrand youths. That was the beginning of insurgency in the valley. Anti-India sentiment pervaded through the younger generation, but the government of India did not do much to understand the agonies of the Meiteis. The senior echelon of the civil and police administration neglected the emerging wrath of the people. The Chief Commissioner was contemptuous about the indigenous people and always promoted the outsiders. His personal corruption also encouraged the lower formations to plunder public assets freely. Taking advantage of the boiling cauldron of anger some youths formed the Revolutionary Government of Manipur (RGM) in the style of an underground government in Nagaland. Oinam Sudhir and Namrekpam Bisheswar led a contingent of youth to Pakistan (east) for training and weapons.

The RGM indulged in bank robbery, extortion and mass mobilization. About 150 Meitei youths of Manipur were arrested while they were returning from Pakistan after defeat of the Pakistan army in Bangladesh‘s freedom struggle. Bisheshwar and other tried to establish contact with China. They were intercepted while trying to cross over Nepal-China border.

In the meantime the agitation for statehood of Manipur intensified and the agitators even attacked the meeting venue of Indira Gandhi at Imphal in September 1969. Around the same time the Naga and Mizo insurgents also intensified their armed struggle. Taking advantage of the popular upsurge the UNLF intensified mass campaign and finalized preparations for armed struggle.

As stated earlier The United National Liberation Front (UNLF), the oldest Meitei insurgent group in the State was formed under the leadership of Arambam Somorendra Singh on November 24, 1964 to achieve independence and a socialist society. A pan-Manipuri Youth League was formed in December 1968, which functioned as an over ground body for the UNLF. The PMYL actively built up mass agitation in support of statehood demand. Later, differences within the outfit surfaced over the issue of strategies to be adopted. While Somorendra Singh sought to spread ideological consciousness before launching an armed struggle, the more radical leader Oinam Sudhir Kumar and N. Bisheshwar Singh established a Revolutionary Government of Manipur (RGM). Somorendra Singh was killed by unidentified terrorists in Imphal on June 10, 2001. In the seventies and eighties, the UNLF concentrated mainly on mobilization and recruitment. In 1990, it decided to launch an armed struggle for the ‘˜liberation’ of Manipur from India. In the same year, it formed an armed wing called Manipur People’s Army (MPA).

The UNLF aims to establish an independent socialist Manipur. Rajkumar Meghen alias Sana Yaima, son of RK Madhurjit of SSB and a former air force officer is the current Chairman of UNLF. Other important leaders include ‘˜General Secretary’ Th Sanachou; ‘˜Secretary of Defense’ A. Wangpa; ‘˜Secretary of Organization’ M. Nongyai; and ‘˜Secretary of Publicity’ N. Thabal. The Women’s wing Chief is Nganbi Devi; Deputy Women’s wing Chief: Banti Devi. The then UNLF Chairman, Namuizum Okendra was arrested on May 19, 1993.

The outfit’s armed wing is called the MPA (Manipur People’s Army). It also maintains a communication and publicity cell. The outfit operates in the Jiribam valley and Cachar district of Assam. It has strong presence in Imphal valley as well.

Soon after its formation, the UNLF leaders established political relationship with the authorities of the then East Pakistan, and underwent military training in that country in 1969. They also supported the Pakistani army during the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war. Later, the group also developed relationship with China even while continuing its relations with Pakistan. On June 14, 1975, UNLF leader N. Bisheshwar Singh and 16 other Meitei rebels proceeded to Lhasa to seek Chinese assistance. As stated earlier this group was intercepted. The group has links with Naga rebel outfits as well. On May 22, 1990, the UNLF, along with other insurgent groups operating in the Northeast ‘“ the National Socialist Council of Nagaland ‘“ Khaplang (NSCN-K), the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), and the Kuki National Army (KNA) ‘“ floated a pan-Mongoloid coalition called the Indo-Burma Revolutionary Front (IBRF) to wage a united struggle for the independence of Indo-Burma region. The UNLF has training camps in Myanmar and Bangladesh, mostly in Manipuri inhabited areas of Sylhet.

There are about two dozen armed terrorist groups in Manipur. The prominent ones are: Kangleipak Communist party (KCP); Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL); Manipur People’s Liberation Front; People’s Liberation Army; People’s Liberation Party of Kangleipak and United Liberation Front (all proscribed and banned.)

Other groups active in the hill district are:

Hmar People’s Convention-Democracy (HPC-D); Kuki Liberation Army (KLA); Kuki National Army (KNA); Kuki National Front (KNF); Kuki Revolutionary Army (KRA); National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM); United Kuki Liberation Front (UKLF) and Zomi Revolutionary army (ZRA).

Organizational details of all these outfits are too complicated. The Kuki outfits are divided as they are organized according to their clan affiliation. However the NSCN operates in Manipur Naga areas with impunity and runs a parallel government.

In the valley two important terrorist groups are:

The Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP) was formed on April 13, 1980, under the leadership of Y. Ibohanbi. Although the group is ostensibly Communist, named after the historical name of Manipur, i.e. Kangleipak, the KCP is more concerned with the preservation of Meitei culture and demands secession of Manipur from India. Founder of the KCP, Y. Ibohanbi, was killed during a security force operation in 1995. Subsequently, the KCP split into several factions such as the ones headed by City Meitei (KCP- City Meitei), Prithvi (KCP-P), Mangang (KCP-M) and Noyon (KCP-N). On May 30, 2005, four front-ranking KCP cadres, including Moirangthem Boicha alias Prithvi, chief of the KCP-P, and his wife Ibemcha Devi were killed during an encounter with the security forces (SFs) at Nongada Makha Leikai in Imphal East district. However, following a decision taken during a five-day central committee meeting held during May 4-8, 2006, the KCP factions are reported to have merged together.

The main objective of KCP is to restore the independence of the erstwhile Manipur kingdom and to bring about an egalitarian society, which is to be achieved by uniting all ethnic-Mongoloid groups belonging to South-East of Himalayan region, liberating Manipur from the Indian rule, building up the strength of the working class and reviving the indigenous culture.

The KCP has, in the past, passed decrees with an objective of widening its level of social acceptability. In February 2005, it banned Government doctors in Manipur from working in private clinics. In April 2005, the KCP pressed for the introduction of the Manipuri script, Meitei Mayek, in educational institutions in the State. In September 2005, the outfit banned shooting and exhibition of digital movies and music albums for a year. The KCP held its ‘˜second national convention’ on October 20-23, 2006, at an undisclosed location in Manipur and reconstituted the Party Central Committee. The party hierarchy consists of:

President ‘“ Senggoi Meetei

Vice President ‘“ K. K. Mangang

General Secretary ‘“ K. K. Nganba

Information and Publicity ‘“ H. Poirei

Organization Secretary ‘“ Sh. Pakhangba

The KCP started with a small number of cadres. However, its strength has grown over the years and presently, it is known to have about 300 active participants. Half of its active cadres are known to possess an array of weapons ranging from AK series rifles, US carbine, Chinese made grenades and mortars. The KCP is mostly active in the valley areas of Manipur, though it has also been found to be engaged in extortion and other activities in the hill districts, such as Churchandpur. Like most other insurgent groups in the northeast, the KCP funds its activities through extortion of local villagers and businessmen.

The KCP has a close working relationship with most of the outfits operating in the valley districts of Manipur. Even though, the UNLF had imposed a ban on the City Meitei faction of the KCP in the beginning of 2006, the ban was reportedly revoked to pave way for the unification of various factions. In October 2005, the KYKL too had banned the KCP-P. In the past, the KCP maintained operational linkages with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K) and the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA).

Besides the KCP the KYKL is an active terrorist group in the valley:

Kanglei Yawol Kanba Lup, Organization to Save the Revolutionary Movement in Manipur was formed in January 1994. It is basically funded through extortion. The Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL) is an ethnic Meitei group based in Manipur, India. The group is well known for its violent vigilantism and decrees aimed at rebuilding Manipuri society by cleansing it of immoral activities. The name of the group means Organization to Save the Revolutionary Movement in Manipur.

Although known for its ethnic diversity, Manipur is also famous for its diversity of violent insurgent groups. Some of these groups are protection outfits for certain tribes or ethnic groups, while others are somewhat more nationalist in their aims. The KYKL, although chiefly made up of ethnic Meiteis, is focused almost solely on social reform, despite the fact that the group espouses the nationalist goal of a unified ‘˜Seven Sisters’ region of India.

Although KYKL occasionally participates in attacks on other rival terrorist groups in Manipur and against Indian security forces in the region, the group is mostly focused on social vigilantism. Since its foundation the group has mounted numerous attacks against people and institutions it deems immoral. Along with allegedly corrupt politicians, drug dealers and prostitutes, the KYKL has attacked teachers, journalists, and HIV-positive innocents in an effort to supposedly cleanse Manipur of unwanted elements. The group has issued decrees banning Hindi films, women wearing pants, and newspapers using Hindi script. The group maintains links with many of the other insurgent groups in the region, including the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak Muivah (NSCN-IM) and the Zomi Revolutionary Army. Like most Manipuri outfits, the KYKL is funded through extortion.

Despite being one of the smaller groups in Manipur, the KYKL continues to intimidate, threaten, and attack its perceived enemies. While the KYKL may not see its goal of a unified Seven Sisters in remote future, the group can be considered highly active and a threat to the safety and security of the region.

The scenario is grim. While India fights jihadists in Kashmir, in Manipur it has not been able to contain the discontentment of the populace though there is an elected government of some kind. The political government is under the mercy of the terrorist groups and some of the politicians are known to be in cahoots with terrorist. Some of them shelter the terrorists. They silence them by paying hefty amounts. In Manipur everyone has to pay to the armed groups-government servants, teachers, doctors, contractors and all other professionals including the business community. One the one hand they pay to the terrorists and on the other they plunder the exchequer. Merely 15-20% of government expenditure is utilized in developmental activities.

Educational institutions are in a big mess. The All Manipur Student’s Union and other militant groups realize protection money from the teaching staff. The terrorists like the Talibans, issue dictates about dress code, close down institutions on the slightest pretext and often physically assault teachers coming from other parts of India. The main DM College campus and the Manipur University campus are run basically by the terrorists. They are the deciding factors in most administrative matters.

What has caused such a calamitous situation in Manipur? Nearly two Divisions of army and paramilitary forces are deployed in the valley and the hills. There are more daily clashes and attacks in Manipur than in Kashmir. The populace, on the slightest pretext takes to the streets and paralyzes normal administration. Right from the Chief Minister to the lowest government employee has to pay minimum 10% of their income to different terrorist groups. The terrorists freely move in the business centers and raise weekly contribution. On the any youth seeking government employment has to pay anything between 3-5 lacs as gratis. Though some financially capably youth seek study courses in Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore and other cities, the others have to depend on existing educational institutions in Manipur. Quality of education is not good enough to enable the youth to compete with other candidates in superior services in India. However, the Meiteis have been finally recognized as OBC.

Industrially Manipur is almost bankrupt. The government sponsored Manipur Cycle Corporation; Manipur Cement Ltd; Manipur Spinning Mills Corporation Ltd; Manipur Pulp & Allied Projects Ltd; Manipur Food Industries Ltd and Manipur Drugs and Pharmaceuticals Ltd are bankrupt and sick and are in the process of winding up. There are about 30 Small Scale Industries which are basically agro-based and some are related to handicrafts. Thread spinning is a lucrative biasness in Manipur. But the job is now partly done by women at home and bulk of the threads is imported from outside markets by the Marwari traders. It is easier to get a Sholapuri shawl in Imphal than original Chador of the Meiteis and the national Chadors of different tribes; which are really rich in color and texture. The Ima (mother) market now suffers from shortage of raw materials and the fabulous Manipuri silk clothes are rare to come by.

The valley has immense potential for pisciculture. Officially some loans are granted. But the avid fish eater Meiteis now have to depend on fish supply from other parts of India. Lack of railway connectivity renders supply of perishable good uncertain as most of the time two highways are blockaded by the Meitei or Naga-Kuki agitators. Thus, prices of perishable consumables are very high compared to markets in Assam.

Manipur has to depend on rice, pulses, cooking oils etc imported from other parts of India though way back in 1970s the state was self sufficient in rice production. The Hills produce some quantity of rice and other grains but the Jhoom cultivation is still in vogue. In neighboring Nagaland and parts of Mizoram terrace cultivation has become popular. Lack of government initiative and traditional tribal practices still encourage the people to denude forests for cultivation.

Manipur has the unique potential of tea, coffee and rubber cultivation besides the traditional practice of silk cultivation. The plains in Jiribam and lower hills in Tamenglong, Churachandpur, Senapati and Ukhrul are ideal for investment in tea plantation. In same kind of terrain in Barak Valley and N.C. Hills in Assam and certain areas of Nagaland have been brought under tea plantation. Certain mid-rise hill ranges have similar climatic condition like Kerala. In these areas some individuals have taken up Coffee and Rubber cultivation. Large scale production of Coffee and Rubber is feasible provided the government of Manipur and the North-East Development Council prepare plans and invite investment from entrepreneurs. No such tangible efforts have been made in last 60 years. Manipur Hills produce good quantity of pineapple, orange and some apple. No effort has been made to introduce orchard cultivation of fruits, ginger and cardamom in commercial quantity. These cash crops can earn huge revenue for Manipur. However, plundering of government fund being the main objective, no political leader has so far bothered to import expertise from Assam, Sikkim, Himachal and other states.

In addition to chaos in day to day administration, interference in developmental activities and in the sphere of education Manipur has become a fertile ground for hate-India sentiments. Outsider labor forces are discouraged or killed en masse to drive in fear. Several such incidents have almost choked migration of labor in Manipur. Almost every month the militants close down the highways connecting the state through Nagaland and through Barak Valley. This results in economic crisis and even shortage of essential commodities. Each truck operator has to pay handsome ransom money to Kuki, Naga and Meitei rebels. The situation presents a picture of horror and anachronism.

Besides, agitation for withdrawal of the Army Special Power Act has become a contentious bone. A lady is reportedly fasting for last four years. There are occasional hartals and closures. The terrorist take shelter in the houses of ministers and legislators and live and operate comfortably from within the villages. Politics in Manipur has become synonymous with tickling and tackling the terrorists by paying huge amounts and often arranging state protection for them. The most affected districts are Imphal East and West, Thoubal, Kakching, Sugnu, Chapkikarong, Moirang and Bishnupur. The terrorists have set up camps in neighboring Myanmar and often they manage to buy weapons from Myanmar rebels and even from NSCN (I-M) and Bangladesh. It is estimated that in the valley alone there are 4000 active armed terrorists in addition to nearly 1500 NSCN (I-M) cadres operating in Naga Hills and nearly 2000 armed Kuki rebels in Kuki dominated areas of Senapati, Churachandpur etc areas.

It is high time that the government of India wakes up and takes stock of the deteriorating situation in the state and takes note of the very high waves of frustration, disillusionment and separate nationalist demand of the Meitei people. The sword of demand for Greater Nagaland after separating Naga areas of Manipur are adding to the anger and frustration of the valley people. The government has to squarely make it clear to the Naga interlocutors that at no point of time it would agree for dismemberment of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh to please the festering sores called Th. Muivah and Isaac Swu. Early clear stand on Naga demands may mollify Meitei sentiments considerably. The latest development of Th. Muivah trying to visit his home village Somdal in Ukhrul with government of India approval has raised a serious conflict situation between the Naga and Meitei inhabitants. Muivah tried to enter Manipur through Mao Gate bordering Nagaland. Manipur police resisted the local Nagas numbering 500 from welcoming the separatist leader of NSCN (I-M). Police had to use force resulting in death of one Naga and kidnapping of two police constables by the Naga ultras.

The basic question is: how can the government of India agree to Muivah’s proposal in spite of warning of serious consequences in Manipur? This is a blazoned blunder by the blind political bandicoots of India. Muivah in Manipur would automatically set wild fire of unrest in Manipur which is already burning. The Meitei’s would not allow dismemberment of their state at any cost. By pampering the Nagas the government is alienating the Manipuris. It is already a Kashmir like cauldron. Has the GOI any plan to contain the wild fire of clashes between the Nagas, Kuki tribes and the Meiteis? Obviously the blundering bandicoots have not learnt anything from the treacherous games being played by NSCN and the so-called NGOs supporting it.

Has India not reached the last opportunity to plan and invest in comprehensive economic development in the state? It is probably the last chance for the Congress Party to depend more on the people than on the armed forces, a suicidal policy being pursued since the late sixties. Otherwise, Manipur may become another festering Kashmir in the east. Manipur requires a balanced approach for removing the dirt of stinking corruption, unconcern about welfare of the people and for building new economic infrastructures. Most Meiteis have started asserting own nationalist psyche and gradually cutting off the moorings with Hindu cultural and religious umbilical. They do no more like to use Hindu surnames-Singh and Sharma. A Moirangthem Anouba Singh is now stylized as Anouba Moirangthem. Hopefully Delhi’s intelligence and political bums have taken note of these significant social changes. This is a dangerous trend. Hindu Vaishnavism can no longer keep the Meitei society tied to the cultural apron of India.

A titular Governor imprisoned in his castle has no means to suggest better economic and political situation, as most of them are former policemen rewarded for loyalty. It is not in the capability of a retired policeman to plan wholesome economic development. Can an economist of wider experience be posted in Manipur for preparing a new blueprint in collaboration of the Planning Commission? Wider vision and unorthodox forward approach can alone deliver goods in next 50 years. Can Congress Party restrain its politicians from bleeding the state by thieving and plundering? It is time to act. Fifteen year hence the situation may degenerate beyond political control.

*The article is written by Maloy Krishna Dhar.

*The article was originally published in Frontier India, May 9, 2010.

* You may visit Frontier India at www.frontierindia.net for further readings.

(Picture Courtesy: http://northeastonline.blogspot.com)

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