The Imphal Free Press
Feb 16 2010
When the Senior Citizens’ Society, Manipur recently announced they would be attempting to broker a negotiated settlement of the insurgency issue in the state, many observers quite by instinct presumed that the organization had already done the necessary legwork, in particular, made initial contacts with various underground organizations operating in the state, and that it was coming open because they were given the indication by these organizations that there can be a way forward. This however proved not to be, and on the very next day of their press conference announcing their decision, the Revolutionary People’s Front, RPF, in a press release, unceremoniously and rudely shot down their proposal warning them to back off. With this we suppose the proposed peace initiative by the SCS and the optimism with which the people were watching the move has seen a premature obituary.
The SCS having to eat its words in humiliating terms, and this too immediately after it made such a mark in facilitating a negotiation between the government and the Apunba Lup on the issue of the agitation for justice in the July 23 Khwairamband killing, is bad enough. So is the fact that a peace initiative has bombed before even taking off. However, what is worse is, by making the blunder of going public in such a manner and in such haste, any other prospects of negotiated peace would have suffered a setback of at least a few years, if not more. Hence, the loss is not just about one initiative defeated, but a lot more putative initiatives reduced to non-starters. What the elders ought to have done is to first make in depth studies of peace initiatives in other conflict situations elsewhere everywhere on the globe which did bear result, and take the cue from them. They should have begun with track two and track three initiatives through feelers etc to get a feel of the terms which are acceptable and unacceptable to the various underground organizations, and then if the situation so warrants, go to the next step of making public their intents. If not, they could have simply bowed out inconspicuously leaving the mission open-ended. This would have ensure that it is just one initiative which has failed, instead of burning the bridge on which future settlements could be attempted, if and when the situation permits. Today, the clock has probably been wound back, but we hope not for too long.
All wars have to come to an end. In fact all wars are fought with an end in mind from their very inception – the achievement of a goal. If this weren’t so, wars would be mindless, meaningless, and reduced to extremely cynical violence. This being the case, it is legitimate for all who holds a stake in the war to want an early resolution. It is also legitimate for everybody to look for every possible means to achieve the goal with the least compromises made. Since in any conflict there are more than one interest involved, there can however be little other way than for each party to be ready to make at least some concessions. Such a formula is what must be strived for. The RPF rebuff of the elders’ initiative however did not leave all doors shut, for its statement also said the party is also eager to have peace, provided return of Manipur’s sovereignty is on the agenda of any settlement model. It also said the people’s wishes are its own too. This stand is familiar, for other underground organizations, including the United National Liberation Front, UNLF, had said very much the same thing when it called for a UN supervised plebiscite to decide the fate of Manipur’s sovereignty issue. Perhaps it is time to consider this option of deciding once and for all where the wishes of the people actually are. As of now, everybody, the government as well as the underground organizations, as indeed also a plethora of civil society organizations, claim to be fighting on behalf of the people. For these claims to be authenticated, what is long overdue is a renewal of the people’s mandate both the sides in the conflict enjoys. As a matter of fact, this mandate ought to be refreshed periodically in the true tradition of democracy, and in the spirit of what Ernest Renan in “What is a Nation?” described democracy – a daily plebiscite.