Centre should contain Naga insurgency to end the Manipur imbroglio

The Northeast is in flames. In Manipur, there have been serious acts of violence leading to polarisation between the major ethnic communities inhabiting the state.

Published: 01st January 2017 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 01st January 2017 07:55 AM   |  A+A-

The Act East policy would not make much headway unless the law and order situation in Manipur improves substantially

The Northeast is in flames. In Manipur, there have been serious acts of violence leading to polarisation between the major ethnic communities inhabiting the state.

The latest round of trouble started with the United Naga Council (UNC) enforcing an economic blockade on the Imphal Valley on  November 1, 2016, to express its opposition to the state government’s plan to create two new districts—Jiribam (out of Imphal East) and Kangpokpi (out of Senapati). The state government, however, went ahead with its plan and, on December 8, announced the creation of seven new districts.

Manipur had a total of nine districts. Of these, four are in the Valley, namely Imphal East, Imphal West, Thoubal and Bishenpur. The other five districts—Ukhrul, Senapati, Tamenglong, Chandel, Churachandpur—are all hill districts. The bifurcation involved all the five hill districts and, in addition, two plains districts, Imphal East and Thoubal. The hill districts are inhabited by the tribals, mostly Nagas, and Kukis and Zomis in Churachandpur. The Nagas took the bifurcation as an assault on their identity. The official stand is that the districts were created to fulfil long-standing demands of local people and for reasons of administrative convenience.

The UNC, which is believed to be a front organisation of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Issac-Muivah), is however not convinced. It alleged that the Naga villages had been “appropriated” to form the new districts in an attempt to divide the Naga people and, besides, the government did not consult the Hill Area Committees before taking the decision. The UNC accused the state government of being anti-Naga and communal. The state government reacted by arresting the Council’s President Gaidon Kamei and its Information and Publicity Secretary Stephen Lamkang. This infuriated the UNC and its mentor, the NSCN (IM). 

The blockade caused severe hardship to the locals. Prices of essential commodities shot up. A litre of petrol was sold for more than `300 and an LPG cylinder cost as much as `3,000. There were acts of violence also. On December 14, when the chief minister was to inaugurate the new Tengnoupal district, three commandos were killed and 11 injured in two ambushes. This was followed by an attack on a police post in Tamenglong district on December 17.

In the past, the Meiteis had suffered these blockades without any violent reaction. This time, however, they ran out of patience. On December 18, a convoy of three buses and 18 vans, carrying the residents of Ukhrul home for Christmas, was attacked in Khurai area by a mob which the vehicles ablaze. Blockade was met by counter-blockade. A Meitei mob also attacked the Manipur Baptist Church, one of the largest churches in Imphal.

The Central government prevaricated initially. It was not keen to support the Congress government in the state and it was hesitant to take any action which would antagonise the NSCN (IM). However, a stage came when it could no longer be a mute spectator to people of the state being held to ransom by an intransigent tribal group. Minister of State for Home Affairs  Kiren Rijiju was sent to Imphal to douse the flames. The Centre also rushed paramilitary forces to assist the state government in lifting the blockades. 

The crisis will blow over in course of time, leaving behind a trail of bitterness. The tragedy is that all the concerned groups are playing politics unmindful of the suffering they inflict on the common man. Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh is making desperate moves to win support from all possible quarters on the eve of election. The creation of new districts had political overtones. The BJP is happy at the discomfiture of the Congress government, but unfortunately is not able to see the long-term consequences of its immediate political gains. The NSCN (IM) and UNC are playing a clever game to fracture the territorial integrity of Manipur. It has been rightly said that while they are pursuing grand themes of ‘shared sovereignty’ with the Government of India (GoI), they are averse to the idea of a shared homeland with tribes and communities inhabiting the same territories.

Taking an overall view, Manipur has never got a fair deal from the Centre. Meiteis nurse the grievance that GoI is more concerned about the demands of Naga rebels, howsoever unreasonable those might be, just because they have been openly challenging the authority of the federal government. It is indeed tragic that the situation in Manipur is gradually getting from bad to worse and the state is at times referred to as a ‘failed state’. Our short-sighted policies are squarely to be blamed for this. The Act East policy would not make much headway unless the law and order situation in Manipur improves substantially.

Meanwhile, the situation in Nagaland is also a matter of serious concern. The NDA government signed a framework agreement on August 3, 2015, with the NSCN (IM) group. PM Narendra Modi termed the agreement as “historic” and expressed his optimism that it would pave the way to permanent peace and prosperity in the state. Details of the agreement were not made public, but an impression was given that NSCN (IM) had given up its demand for Greater Nagaland and that GoI had agreed to give greater autonomy to Nagaland. Rijiju said that the exact terms of agreement would be finalised in about three months. Nearly 18 months have passed, the final agreement is nowhere in sight. What is disturbing is that NSCN (IM) continues to violate the terms of the suspension of operations agreement with impunity. They even made an abortive attempt on the life of Ibobi Singh on October 24, 2016, when his helicopter landed at Ukhrul district headquarters. What is worse, Thuingaleng Muivah, NSCN (IM) general secretary, keeps harping on ‘Naga sovereignty’.

The insurgency in Nagaland holds the key to peace in the Northeast. Naga rebels are a formidable group and they have been fuelling other insurgent movements in the Northeast. GoI should focus on tackling the Naga insurgency. It may involve taking hard decisions. Once the Naga insurgent outfits are contained, the other insurgencies of the Northeast would just wither away.

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