Tragedy of Conflict

The Imphal Free Press
May 4 2010

The commotion and anxiety over the proposed visit of the NSCN(IM) general secretary, Thuingaleng Muivah to his home village as well as a tour of three other Naga dominated districts, verge on the tragic. It tells of the extremely divergent and antagonistic ethnic politics which have been allowed to grow, and in fact often nurtured in the decades that have gone by. It is today merely a matter of wishful thinking to imagine a situation in which it was possible for a chief minister of Manipur to invite men like Muivah for discussion and advice on the common welfare of the common people of the state and the immediate region, rather than oppose his proposal for a tour of his home. But this can only happen if there is some convergence of visions and goals, and it sad to say that at this moment the visions and goals are mutually exclusive. That is to say the realisation of the NSCN(IM) goal would mean a defeat for Manipur and the success of Manipur would mean a defeat of the NSCN(IM). This being the case, from a neutral standpoint, as in love and war where everything done to achieve set goals is considered fair, Muivah and his party wanting to tear apart Manipur is as justified as the Manipur government and those who stand by the idea of Manipur doing everything and anything they can to thwart such attempts.

No conflict fault line can be more distinct than in such an antagonistic opposition of beliefs and ideals, for the success of one depends on the destruction of the other. It is also a hard fact demonstrated in more than half a century history that neither can be destroyed easily, if at all, thus making it seem conflict in this theatre is as unavoidable as destiny. The challenge before peace workers in this difficult situation is hence to ask themselves the question as to whether the equation have to be the way it is posed or postured. Fortunately, although the dramatis personae would be different, this conflict situation is not unique to this theatre and there have been others who have with varying measures of success evolved answers to the question. One of these is most interesting and it says that as a thumb rule when a question does not seem to have an answer, it would be prudent to consider if the fault is not with the question itself. In other words, instead of persisting on the futile search for an answer to who should perish so that the other can prosper, change the question instead.

Indeed, a complete paradigm shift is what is called for in defining, and more importantly, looking for a resolution to the binary we have all been up against for decades now. This must be made into a game in which nobody has to lose, and instead everybody can emerge winner. It should be clear to everybody, including the standard bearers in the conflict, that this conflict region is bound together securely by a common destiny. None can separate from it without detriment to the whole organism as well as to the seceding part. The new question hence must be defined and enriched by notions of reconciliation, discovery of commonness, acceptance and embrace of differences, federal relations etc. Its vision must be fixed on the future alone. If at all the past is recalled, it must be so as to learn lessons so that mistakes are not repeat. These are only ideas. Populating them with definite structures and institutions will be the beginning of another arduous journey, but although difficult, this journey will be fired and energized by new hopes.

In this changed paradigm, there would also invariably have to be the introduction of more key players. The reconciliation process probably can profitably begin at the track two and track three levels first. That is to say, instead of thinking of pitting those who are in the forefront of the conflict directly across the table to sort out their problems, or expecting to have any of them agree to negotiate with the government directly and immediately, ground work would have to be done at the civil society levels through NGOs, media and other non formal stake holders in peace. The first option can end before it has begun in deadlocks, if not fisticuffs, putting back the reconciliation clock by another 10 years. The second option would be more time consuming but the bondages and understandings they manage to foster will be more permanent, secure and organic. The little doses of achievements they make should ultimately percolate to the entire system, softening the core of the conflict and crumbling seemingly impregnable walls of segregated thinkings.

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