The Manipur Mangle: Politics of Militancy

The Nagas and Meiteis are perhaps the most peace loving people in India, however they jealously guard their unique identity and any attempt to encroach the same invites anger as the Union Government in New Delhi realized last week. A part of the larger bargain of negotiations with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland IM faction seems to have been a visit by the General Secretary of that organization Mr. Muivah to his native village Somdal. Little did the Government realize that this otherwise innocuous move could lead to possibilities of ethnic strife in the hills and has already cut off the State of Manipur from rest of the country blockaded by the Nagas.

Mr. T Muivah possibly projected the visit to his native village Somdal in Manipur as a ‘pilgrimage’ of sorts after being away for almost four decades, the political overtones that it took with supposed plans by the NSCN IM leadership for Muivah to address public meetings enroute raised the hackles of the government in Manipur. It appears that the Central government led by the Finance Minister Mr. Pranab Mukherjee along with the Home and the Defence Minister attempted to reason the decision with Chief Minister Mr. Ibobi Singh.

The beleaguered state satrap was in a cleft stick; with strong local opposition to Muivah visit in Manipur supported by not just the Meitei’s but other groups as the Kukis as well. Ibobi Singh also saw in this as an opportunity to revive his failing political popularity in the wake of a spate of allegations of rights violations by security forces, strikes by government employees in the state, opposition to elections to the hills district councils to be held shortly and finally a blockade with supply of essential items running out.

The unexpected support of the people gave the Chief Minister courage to weather the storm and he has appealed to the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Congress leader Mr. Sonia Gandhi against the visit. This in turn has led to some review by the Home Ministry and Mr. Muivah will have to shelve his plans for now.

The danger of the situation getting out of hand remains for Naga and Meitei sentiments have been enraged by this incident, the background to which remains the demand by the NSCN IM for a Greater Nagaland or Nagolim. The Nagas wanted to reinforce the demand through the visit which should have been a private one but which was politicized, thus the Manipuri resistance to carving out the hill districts from the State led to people’s support of the Chief Minister and the whole situation has now been blown out of proportion.

Thus within the personal aspirations of Mr. Muivah are larger ambitions of the Naga separatist movement for Greater Nagaland and the resistance by the Meiteis to the same, being used by political leaders on both sides of the divide to revive their fortunes with a failing support to the NSCN IM cause in Nagaland and declining popularity of Mr. Ibobi Singh both seem to have a got a boost.

On the ground zero at his village in Somdal, reporters who visited the place indicated that it was an emotional issue, one of people wanting to meet their long lost citizen who has not returned for the past four decades. However away from Somdal there is a distinction with the Ukhrul area particularly boiling and Naga youth even talking of a mass revolt in case the leader is not allowed to visit his village.

The Manipuris on the other hand indicate that they are may allow Mr. Muivah to visit as far as he does not make any speeches and thus there is a scope for a quiet visit without political overtones which can happen and hopefully the civil society on both sides should be working towards the same.

Till then the supplies to Manipur have been cut off and the political fall out has led to a tiff between the ruling Congress Party with the opposition Bhartiya Janata Party at the Centre with Home Minister Mr. P Chidambaram accusing the BJP representative Mr. Prakash Jawadekar of misrepresenting talks that he had with him. Thus the complexity may just increase as national politics is mixed with centre-state, intra state and internal state affairs thereby muddying the water further.

Sadly it is seen in the North East that there is lack of empowerment of local leaders who can bring about a change in the state. At the national level no leader from the region is occupying any significant position and one who can act as a lodestar to the people there, how far can articulation be done from New Delhi for the people through former civil service and police officers who have served in these areas remains to be seen.

Local political empowerment remains the answer currently that space is with leaders of militant groups or those who lack credibility with the community occupying official political space both categories will only extend the antipathy due to their own vested interests rather than bringing the communities together. Time New Delhi sees alternative channels and avoids impositions such as accepting Muivah's visit to Ukhrul without thinking through the same.


More by :  Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle

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