Views & Reviews
A Naga Step in Manipur
There is no more governance in Manipur now. People representatives are subdued by radicalised groups in the state. Elected representatives are manhandled and beaten by armed groups. They are made to swear allegiance to communal militias as on 24th January 2024 at Kangla, Imphal. Ten members of legislative assembly, (including two cabinet ministers) are on the run. Manipur is in shambles; a failed state. The Meitei/Meeteis and the Zo- Kukis are doing what they think is the right thing to do. As a Naga I want to ask this question to fellow Nagas in Manipur: what should we do at this juncture? Are we to sit on the fence and wait for normalcy to return in the state? Is that the right thing to do as a struggling people with an aspiration? To my mind, there is an urgency to revisit our position of maintaining passive neutrality in the present crisis. The situation demands an offensive strategy rather than a defensive policy of maintaining the status quo.
The Nagas are sandwiched between two battling communities; the Meiteis and the Zo-Kukis. Both the communities are trying to garner the support of the Nagas. The Zo-Kukis wants us to join the bandwagon of “separate administration” demand while on the other hand, the Meiteis beckon us to play the “yelhaomee” or indigenous card with them and protect the territorial integrity of Manipur. Apparently there is a fear of polarisation within the Naga family should they choose to side any one of the two. Those who have interest in the valley and the continuance of the current dispensation may incline towards the Meiteis and those who visualise autonomy for the Hill Areas of Manipur or integration of Naga areas see a brighter future with their fellow tribals in Manipur. It could be for this reason that the Nagas under the aegis of the United Naga Council (UNC ) and the Naga legislatures of Manipur reiterated the Framework Agreement (FA) signed between the GoI and the NSCN ( IM) in 2015 to strike a balance. It also goes to demonstrate the undying support of the people to the NSCN leadership who are hard pressed to deliver after 26 years of rigorous negotiation with the government of India.
However this seemingly neutral position can prove disastrous in the near future because someway or other the present political crisis and its dynamics can pull the Nagas apart if we do not make a relevant decision now. The taunting and important question for the Nagas therefore is, will the government of India (GoI ) concede to the demand of a separate flag and constitution at this jucture? If at all, will the Modi government do it at the back drop of the Lok Sabha election early next year? The Union Home Minister, Amit Shah has made it clear in parliament their intention of Ek Pradhan, Ek Nishan, Ek Samvidhan (one head, one flag, one constitution) is indubitable. And as it turns out that the FA hinges on the success of a separate flag and constitution, the present position of UNC and Naga MLAs may fail to attract popular support and create confusion among the people .The Naga public will become susceptible to their nearest interests which can trigger chaos. We need to show the people empirical steps for their active co-operation. This situation in Manipur is not permanent and will certainly evolve. We need to make a timely decision to bridge the ever accentuating disconnect between our politics and the reality on the ground. It is time we consider gradualism (going step by step) seriously as a strategy. While being firm on our principle we can have different policies and should necessarily change strategies according to our need. After all, man also live by bread though not by bread alone.
What would be our response if GoI tries to solve the present crisis in Manipur by giving more power to the local bodies in the Hill Areas which is most likely? Are we to naively say GoI should not touch Naga’s territory in trying to solve the present political crisis in the state? Will the public who are highly mobilised by varied electoral interest remain silent in such an event? The ink for creating new districts and delimitation of newly created ADC constituencies have not tried. We have seen the reaction of the public. Could the CSOs stop them?
At this critical juncture, let us be reminded of our long pending demand of an Alternative Arrangement (AA) and Naga integration. It is not about supporting either the Meiteis or the Zo- Kukis in so much as deciding to take our own course of action at the given situation. So instead of swallowing whatever is thrust down our throat, we can instead take steps in tune with our aspiration of living together “under one political umbrella.” To do this, the Naga civil bodies in Manipur can rally around the concept of AA which was a popular demand under the aegis of the All Naga Students’ Association, Manipur (ANSAM) in 2005 and latter championed by the United Naga Council ( UNC) since 2010. The AA demand was not without criticism for want of articulation under the constitution of India.
For better understanding of AA we need to retrospect the event which led to such a demand. During their talk in Bangkok, the NSCN and the GoI agreed to extend the Cease Fire (CF) “without territorial limits” on 14th June 2001. The Meiteis reacted very strongly against the term of the truce. 18 Meitei civilians were killed during the violent protest on 18th June 2001 which is now popularly known as “the great June uprising day” by the Meiteis. The GoI was forced to roll back the amended agreement and delete the words without territorial limits. It was not a day for the Nagas to celebrate because it inferred that the truce was not officially extended to the state of Manipur. Rubbing salt to the wound, the Meitei centric GoM declared 18th June as a state holiday in 2005. The Nagas under the banner of the ANSAM protested by launching series of democratic agitations including imposition of economic blockade on National Highways. Nagas felt that peace is a universal desire and thus should be welcome in Manipur too. There were loss of lives and properties during the agitation. The fall out created an administrative vacuum in the Naga dominated areas in Manipur. The Nagas demanded an AA since the Government of Manipur (GoM) had failed to safeguard the welfare and interest of the Nagas in the prevailing dispensation or arrangement called Manipur state. The state general holiday was changed into a restricted holiday.
Naga chief negotiator, Th. Muivah was stopped from entering Manipur by GoM in 2010. The then Union Home Minister, P. Chidambaram had given permission to the Ato Kilonser ( Prime Minister ) of Government of the People’s Republic of Nagalim ( GPRN) to visit his home in Somdal village, Ukhrul ; Manipur. But GoM defied the initiative of the centre saying law and order is a state subject. Many Nagas were beaten and two precious lives were lost in the struggle. The UNC intensified its severance of political ties with the GoM and a full scale demand of an AA was put into place. The apex Naga civil body engaged the centre and the state governments in a tripartite talk with much progress. On the advice of the Naga peace negotiators the tempo was slowed down.
The Nagas in Manipur must have deliberately insisted on AA to down play the paradox of two integrations ( Naga integration and territorial integrity of Manipur )while pressurising the GoI to expedite the snail’s pace peace process. If the demand was made for autonomy within Manipur while Indo- Naga political talk was underway, Nagas in Manipur had reasons to fear backlash from Nagas in other states and jeopardise Naga integration which is considered Sine Qua Non to any future Naga political settlement. While on the other hand, the Nagas did not find it necessary to pre-empt Naga integration issue because negotiation of such substantive issues was going on and will only aggravate the Meiteis’ territorial anxiety and goes to disturb the already fragile peace process. So it is understandable that in a situation where the Nagas were constantly provoked and exploited, demand for an AA was made like a double edged sword which could cut both ways. Demand for AA served all these purposes even though it was basically a need based demand for an administrative autonomy.
More than a decade has passed since that movement. The situation is coming back full circle again where Nagas in Manipur are juxtaposed between two fighting communities in the state. Can the Nagas escape the engulfing turmoil in Manipur now? It is a matter of time. We can either lead the people to take a tangible step and give direction or lose them by chanting rhetoric where we are left to except whatever is thrown to us.
Considering these facts and circumstances, Naga integration could be a logical step. However the Nagas in the present state of Nagaland need to reciprocate to such a move. Unfortunately the political climate there does not look so promising at the moment. We may even demand a separate state but that may not be a serious demand except as a bargaining chip given our geographical areas, population, etc. Our preparation should be for a more realistic proposition. A viable demand for the Nagas in Manipur right now therefore, would be a Union Territory (UT ) where our development is the responsibility of the centre government. More so because it will be easier for the Nagas to later converge into a single administrative unit if reorganisation is effected in Manipur today.