By : Seram Neken
‘Separate Administration with Legislative Powers’ surfaced as the main demand of the United Peoples’ Front (UPF) and Kuki National Organisation (KNO) during the first round of talks with Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) representatives in New Delhi on July 26 last. Kuki militant groups reportedly urged the Centre to withdraw the clause for safeguarding the integrity of Manipur as mentioned in the Suspension of Operation (SoO) agreement, to which the centre nodded. MHA Special Advisor AK Mishra represents Government of India in the ongoing dialogue, the second round of which is slated to be in first week of August.
Chronology of events since May 3 last definitely indicate the existence of a hidden agenda of the Government of India. Clashes sparked off on May 3. Unarmed Meiteis initiated defensive against armed attacks by Kuki militants from day two. Conflict turned political on May 12, when nine Kuki MLAs put up demand for separate administration. Union Home Minister visited conflict-ridden Manipur on May 29 and assured a comeback after 10 days which has never happened. Peace Committee set up by the Government remained non-functional as its members resigned one after another due to either communication gap or inherent structural defect. Apparently, the union government has overtaken powers from the state’s popular government in the form of promulgating Article 355 of the constitution, which still remains contentious. Huge troupes of central security forces fled in to Manipur. At times, Manipur Chief Minister appeared to have been weakened, but on other occasions, he seemed to be stronger. General public seems confused.
Involvement of foreign aggressors in the clashes has been revealed even by the Governor of Manipur. Amidst the prevailing chaos, security agencies officially reported illegal immigrations from across the border. Be it an external aggression on Indian territory, or a communal clash between Meiteis and Kukis, the Government of India has still remained unresponsive. Not only the Prime Minister, but almost all BJP cadres including ruling ministers, MLAs and MPs of Manipur have been keeping mum on the issue.
After prolonged silence of complete 78 days of Manipur mayhem, Prime Minister Narendra Modi abruptly flashed his anger to the media over a controversial viral video on day one of the monsoon session, and since then, he has again resumed his stillness till today. Continued pandemonium has prevailed in parliament since it began its monsoon session on July 20 last. Opposition has been raising Adjournment Motion for a thorough discussion on Manipur issue with a detailed statement by the Prime Minister, while both houses have been sticking to granting only a Short Duration Discussion on the matter.
Around three hundred people of both sides have so far been killed. Hundreds have remained untraceable. Innumerable people including women have been wounded. Thousands have been displaced due to armed attacks and burning of houses. Unarmed people in the valley specially the womenfolk have been on their vigilantes in the streets since the very start of the conflict. Suspicion over the alleged siding of central security forces specially the Assam Rifles with warring Kuki militants has sparked off anger among the Meitei women. In the meantime,
everyone witnessed untoward attitude of central security forces particularly the Rapid Action Force (RAF) towards the general public in the valley.
Valley people are demanding urgent state legislative assembly session for a strong resolve over Manipur integrity, whereas Kuki militants, Kuki CSOs and Kuki politicians are unitedly sticking to a separate administration. Meanwhile, an opportunist Mizoram Chief Minister unduly intervened into the state’s crisis. In his design for electoral opportunism, Zoramthanga has very untimely articulated his dream for a Greater Mizoram, which in turn pulled the Manipur conflict beyond Manipur. Now, the Manipur issue started echoing everywhere – regionally, nationally and internationally.
“As long as a single droplet of blood remains in my body, the reverie for a separate administration would prove farcical” – this is the bold statement given by Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh amid the prevailing unrest in the state. Fury of the so-called ‘People’s Chief Minister’ appears heightened by the unsolicited intervention of Mizoram Chief Minister in the crisis. Moreover, his speech on the occasion of Kargil Vijay Divas on 26 July last inherently targeted political opponents in relation to the controversial viral video of May 4. Though late, there is still hope that the popular government will represent popular sentiment at this crucial hour. However, people will be desperate again if it turns out to be the popular Meitei adage “Bao Sing gi oina leiri”.
Counting from Manipur’s merger to India in 1949, the later has committed series of blunders towards Manipuris. Merger of the erstwhile sovereign nation to Indian union still stands controversial, as the then king of Manipur had no power to concede the entity to Indian union. Even though the king was forced to sign the agreement, due consent was not given by the existing democratically elected government of Manipur and its constitution. So called forcible annexation of Manipur by India in 1949 was a historical blunder committed to the people of Manipur. Reduction of the sovereignty of Manipur to the level of a part ‘C’ state of Indian union was another associated blunder committed by India.
Before granting statehood to Manipur, Indian parliament enacted the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms Act, 1960 solely for the valley areas, which subsequently broadened the British legacy of hill-valley divide in Manipur. The next blunder towards Manipuris was the insertion of Article 371C in the Constitution of India as special provision with respect to the state of Manipur. The proviso has the potential to divide the administration of the state and gave ample room to the centre for intervention to internal affairs of the state. In an apparent attempt to further the hill-valley divide, Indian Parliament established District Councils in Hill Areas of Manipur by enacting the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils Act, 1971.
Promulgation of the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) was also another blunder towards people of Manipur. Series of human rights violations took place in this border state in the name of counter insurgency. After prolonged hue and cry by the people, disturbed area status was lifted from sizable areas of the state.
Another biggest mistake committed by India at the time of extension of ceasefire agreement with NSCN(IM) in 2001 was averted following an enormous revolt by the people of Manipur. Infamous June 18 uprising claimed over eighteen lives, in addition to heavy fatalities.
After series of blunders now, India has again provoked the Kuki-Chin-Mizo conglomerate in the form of signing Suspension of Operation (SoO) agreement apparently to maintain peace in the region. Proper scrutiny of immigrants had not been done before signing the SoO agreement in 2005, as leaders of numerous armed groups under SoO turned out to be foreigners. Another dangerous mistake committed by ruling BJP heavyweights is the alleged garnering of electoral favours from Kuki militant groups. Evidently, the BJP allegedly sought electoral support from Kuki militants under SoO during 2015 District Council elections, 2017 state assembly election, 2019 parliament election, and 2022 legislative assembly election. Amid all these continued blunders, dialogue between Kuki militants and Government of India commenced.
It is high time for the people’s representatives such as MLAs, ministers and MPs, and the ruling party cadres in Manipur to make a strong resolve for unity and integrity of Manipur. All stakeholders of the state need to shout in one collective voice towards retaining integrity of Manipur. At the same time, the Government of India should be cautioned to avoid another Himalayan Blunder on the people of Manipur.
(The writer is Imphal based senior columnist. He is available at firstname.lastname@example.org)