TRUCE IN MANIPUR: POPULAR PERCEPTIONS


8 October 2005
Oken Jeet Sandham
Editor, North East Press Service

Manipur is undoubtedly the only State in India besieged by nearly 30 militant organizations. The power of the State administration does not run beyond a few kilometers from the capital. The situation in Manipur has become one of the most serious threats to national security today.


Over 58 years of Indian Independence, nobody in India realized that the country's integrity was so threatened until a dozen Manipuri women shed their clothes in front of an Army garrison in the heart of the Imphal and taunted the soldiers to rape them. Only then the nation woke up and asked itself what was wrong in Manipur and why these otherwise conservative Manipuri ladies had taken such a desperate and extreme step.

Unfortunately, the country is not in a position to find an answer and, nobody---be it from the Center or State---is bothered about the threat. The Center is not prepared to understand the realities on the ground. One can see how the Center has messed up the already charged and highly sensitive situation during a month-long agitation following the Manorama-rape-and-murder case.

The Ministry of Home Affairs sent an inexperienced and junior Minister, Prakash Jaiswal, to Imphal to study the situation without being properly briefed. When asked about Chief Minister O Ibobi Singh's desire to lift the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) from the State by August 15 (last year) in the wake of the violent Manorama rape and murder agitation, the Minister replied that it was up to the State Government to lift or not to lift the Act. This was confirmed by a top army official. But the junior Minister was pulled up on his return to Delhi for speaking out of turn. A series of contradictory statements followed after Home Minister Shivraj Patil announced that the Act could not be lifted, but the Assam Rifles could be withdrawn from the State. The Defence Minister, Pranab Mukherji swiftly reacted saying there was no question of withdrawing the Assam Rifles from Manipur. Shivraj Patil nearly lost his job for his inability to handle the Manipur crisis. These are the realities and mentalities of the leadership in the country. There is no proper coordination between the Center and the State in handling militancy in the State, giving political opportunists and insurgents the chance to exploit the situation to their advantage.

Although the media pays considerable attention to the Army's role in tackling militancy in the State, the Government of India's casual handling of the situation created a flutter. The revelation made by Union Defense Minister, Pranab Mukherji, during his recent visit to a Leimakhong Army base, near Imphal, that the Center had already signed ceasefire agreements with eight militant organizations, mostly Kuki militant outfits, in Manipur, has clearly proved that it wants to play safe while the State remains in a chaotic condition. State Chief Minister, O Ibobi Singh has denied that truce arrangements, which became effective on 1st August, 2005, were done with his knowledge. This shows that the State was in the dark for nearly two months about these covert truce deals with the militant groups.

The people of Manipur will be extremely happy if the ceasefire between the Security Forces and State militant groups takes effect because of the hardships due to the prolonged armed conflict. Roping eight militant organizations into the ceasefire fold can be described as a major breakthrough on the part of the Government of India. But the question remains how sane such deals are when the State Chief Minister---who is himself the Chairman of the Unified Command Structure, comprising of the Army, State Forces, CRPF and Assam Rifles---is being kept in the dark.

How will he allow the State forces to chase the underground while the Central forces, including the Indian Army, suspend operations against them. This is absolutely irrational. Therefore, in order to make the ceasefire more meaningful, the State Government should be a party and the ground rules of the ceasefire should be framed not only in the interest of the parties concerned, but also the people in general. Let the people of Manipur appreciate what the ceasefire means to them after 58 years of Indian Independence.

The time has come for the Central leadership to understand the ground realities and work for the interest of the citizens of India. Let us not expect contradictions that unnecessarily hamper any solution.

Originally published by The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) at http://www.ipcs.org/article/india/truce-in-manipur-popular-perceptions-1857.html  

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