by Sanatomba Kangujam
The Sangai Express
September 19 2011

Located at the margin of the Indian State, Manipur has emerged as a conflict zone with the elites of the three struggling communities competing and contesting to carve out their exclusive political space through ethnic mobilization. Ethnicity as an ideological instrument has become central to the political mobilization initiated by the contesting elites to realize their political space defined in terms of Nagalim, Zalengam and Manipur, respectively. Such diametrically opposing pattern of political mobilizations has produced a conflict situation, or to be more precise, an “Ethnic Triangle” amongst the Nagas, the Kukis and the Meiteis.

The prevailing conflict is rooted in the overlapping of political space imagined by the elites of the respective struggling communities. When the elites compete and contest to transform their imagined political space into concrete political structures by resorting to ethnic mobilization, a situation of ethnic cold war or an ethnic conflict emerged. The Meiteis, the Nagas and the Kukis are identified as the struggling communities in a sense that they have been struggling against feudal oppression, colonial subjugation and class exploitation in one way or the other. But the absence of a sustained effort to resolve the basic contradictions between different communities through mutually acceptable political process has gradually transformed the struggling communities into conflicting communities.

Insurgent organizations are set up by the contesting elites as a political technology to be deployed for realizing their imagined political space. The establishment of insurgent machineries and infrastructures led to intensification of the conflict. It needs to be clarified that conflict was already in existence much prior to the establishment of insurgent machineries. Insurgency emerged only when attempts to resolve the basic incompatibility underlying the conflict met with a failure. Here, the term insurgency is used to denote both the structures and practices of insurgent organizations. But insurgency cannot operate in the absence of an ideology since insurgency as a form of power needs to be sustained with a particular form of knowledge. This necessity led to invention of ideologies. The contesting elites of the three struggling communities have systematically worked out their own ideologies to suit their political mobilizations.

The contesting elites invoke history, identity, religion, ethnicity, nationalism, human rights, International Law, the principle of Right to Self-determination, the concept of time, the notion of territoriality etc in order to justify their respective political mobilization. Such politically relevant raw materials are used as ideological inputs in the production of ethnic identities and nationalist discourse. Any sort of political mobilization of the masses is made possible only through the construction of identities. Ethnic nationalism is employed as the most dominant ideology by the contesting elites to mobilize the ethnic masses. This is the origin of identity politics. Identity politics is, thus, simply a manifestation of elite conflict. Here, history is employed as the most powerful weapon by the elites to construct ethnic identities and ethnic nationalism. In the process, history itself becomes a site of contestation and a site of conflict. That is primarily the reason why different communities in Manipur have different histories of their own.

In this way, insurgency as a form of power and ethnic nationalism as a form of knowledge are linked to a specific material operation around elite formation and elite competition. Source: Author’s own

Forms of Elite Articulations

The interests of the contesting elites, which can be defined in terms of securing their imagined political space, finds articulations in three different forms of political movements:

(1) The Naga Political Movement
(2) The Kuki Political Movement
(3) The Meitei Political Movement

The political movements spearheaded by the contesting elites of the three struggling communities are manifested in two different ways depending on certain political dispositions. First, the contesting elites may strive to realize their imagined political space outside the Indian Union if they are of the view that the Constitution of India would not be able to satisfy their political interests. Second, they may seek to achieve the same within the India Union if they believe that the Constitution of India can fulfill their political aspirations. Thus, the political movements of the three struggling/conflicting communities find expression in two different but inter-related patterns of political movements as stated below:

Movements outside the Indian Constitution:

(1) Movement for Sovereign Nagalim
(2) Movement for Sovereign Zalengam
(3) Movement for Sovereign Manipur

Movements within the Indian Constitution:

(1) Movement for Naga Integration
 (2) Movement for Kuki State
(3) Movement for Manipur’s Territorial Integrity

The political movements seeking to realize the imagined political space of the elites outside the Indian Constitution resulted in the emergence of the vertical conflict. Similarly, the political movements seeking to realize the imagined political space of the elites within the Indian Constitution led to the emergence of the horizontal conflict or the “Ethnic Triangle” in Manipur. It may also be pointed out that movements for the establishment of sovereign states outside the Indian Constitution are pursued by the insurgent groups while the civil society organizations are engaged in the movements that fall within the purview of the Indian Constitution.Based on the above forms of political articulations of the elite interests, there emerge three different forms of political discourses with each contesting the validity of the other:

(1) The Naga Political Discourse
(2) The Kuki Political Discourse and
(3) The Meitei Political Discourse.

Typology of Conflict

As pointed out above, the conflict prevailing in Manipur may be classified into two types depending on the nature and pattern of the conflict; (1) Vertical Conflict and (2) Horizontal Conflict. The vertical conflict is the type of conflict that prevails between the Government of India and the struggling communities of Manipur as represented by the insurgent groups, on the one hand. On the other hand, the horizontal conflict refers to the conflict between the struggling communities of Manipur or between different insurgent groups.

Of the two types of conflict, vertical conflict stands out as the principal conflict while the horizontal conflict remains as the secondary conflict. The vertical conflict is considered as the principal conflict on account of the fact that all other forms of conflicts are its by-products and that its resolution is central to the resolution of other forms of conflict or crises prevailing in Manipur. On the contrary, the horizontal conflict is considered secondary in the sense that it is largely engendered by the vertical conflict and that its resolution is strictly contingent upon the resolution of the vertical conflict. Until and unless the vertical conflict is satisfactorily resolved or transformed, the horizontal conflict, being the by-product of the former, can never be resolved.

Before Manipur’s controversial integration into the Indian Union, there was no (ethnic) conflict in the state. Both the Hills and the Valley had participated in the first democratic election held in 1948, when Manipur was an independent sovereign state. A partially democratic government was subsequently installed on the basis of that election. The elected representatives from the Hills were part of the government. Major R Khathing was a Cabinet Minister and TC Tiankham, the speaker of the independent Manipur State Assembly (read Parliament). Except for Daiho’s resistance, there was fair representation and participation of the Hill people in the democratic process that had taken place during the brief spell of Manipur’s independence. Even the agitation launched by A. Daiho did not result in any kind of ethnic or communal tension between the Nagas and the Meiteis.

The problem started only when the maharaja of Manipur had signed the controversial Merger Agreement on September 21, 1949 as a consequence of which Manipur was formally integrated into the Indian Union on October 15, 1949. The Hill leaders were not in favour of the merger. It is said that R Suisa, an elected MLA from Tolloi Constituency had lost his consciousness for three hours at the house of A. Daiho when he learned about the merger. Even A Daiho who had once boycotted the election of 1948 in Mao-Maram areas vehemently protested against the merger. One boy was said to have been killed by the state forces in the course of the agitation. It is the irony of history that a Naga boy had shed his blood in the protest demanding the revocation of the Merger Agreement at a time when the Meiteis were engulfed in the euphoria generated by the merger. The dominant elites of the Meiteis of that period were in favour of the merger of Manipur with India and so there was no immediate reaction from the Meiteis against the said Agreement.

One specific outcome of the merger was the shrinkage of political space of the Hill elites. Consequently, they started imagining an alternative political space for themselves. In the meantime, they forged an alliance with the elites of the Naga Hills with the logic to countervail any hegemonic incursion attempted by the Meitei and the Assemese elites. Since then, the Naga elites of Manipur became part of the Naga political movement. However, Prof. Gangmumei holds a slightly different view. According to him, the merger had created a political vacuum in the Hills of Manipur as the central rule did not have any democratic base in the Hills. This vacuum was gradually filled in by the Naga National Council (NNC). The Nagas of Manipur were compelled by the historical circumstances to embrace the nationalist movement of A.Z. Phizo. So, whatever might be the case, the merger was largely responsible for setting off the Meiteis and the Nagas towards divergent historical trajectories.

Secondly, the adoption of the Indian Constitution led to institutionalization of ethnic differences. The Hill tribes were subjected to blanket categorization under two nomenclatures, viz. Naga and Kuki. Political recruitment and allocation of economic resources are all carried out on the criteria of ethnicity. The introduction of electoral politics further produced cataclysmic ruptures in the ethnic landscape of the Hills. Thus, the post merger period witnessed ethnicization of politics and politicization of ethnicity.

In other words, the so called ethnic conflict/tension is only a post merger phenomenon arising out of the forcible merger of Manipur with India. True, traditional rivalries had existed between the Tangkhuls and the Khongsais or between the Thadous and other tribes that have now come within the fold of the Naga during the British period. But the tribal rivalries had never assumed the form of Naga-Kuki conflict (Naga versus Kuki). Far from it, the Tangkhul villages, for instance, were fiercely engaged in head hunting warfare even among themselves. The awareness associated with the terms like Naga and Kuki was virtually absent in the mindset or consciousness of the tribal people. Moreover, the tribal rivalries were not centred on the issue of land. The raids carried by the Kukis against many Naga villages were not guided by any objective to acquire land. Land and identity were not the issues of the tribal conflict in the British period or the pre-British period. The conflict between the Kuki tribes and the Naga tribes had merely remained as tribal conflict and not as ethnic conflict. Ethnic politics and ethnic conflict emerged only with the emergence of elites in the post-British period.

It is, therefore, logical to identify the conflict between Manipur and India as the principal conflict and the conflict among different communities as the secondary or marginal conflict. As a matter of fact, the vertical conflict and the horizontal conflict are structurally interlinked. At least four propositions may be framed for further analysis and discussion:

1. De-intensification of the vertical conflict correspondingly leads to intensification of the horizontal conflict. For example, the Ceasefire and Peace Talks between the NSCN (IM) and the Government of India had led to intensification of ethnic cold war between the Nagas and the Meiteis in Manipur.

2. Intensification of the horizontal conflict correspondingly leads to de-intensification of the vertical conflict. For example, the Naga-Kuki clash and the Kuki-Paite clash had eventually led to ceasefire between the Naga insurgent groups and the Government of India on the one hand and Suspension of Operation (SoO) between the Kuki-Zomi militant groups and the Government on the other.

3. Intensification of the vertical conflict may lead to de-intensification of the horizontal conflict. For example, when the Naga and the Meitei (Manipuri) insurgent groups were engaged in intense guerrilla war against the Indian military forces in the 1980s, cordial relationship had existed between the insurgent groups (of the Nagas and the Meiteis) and the kind of communal tension that can be witnessed today was not visible at that point of time. However, partial intensification of the vertical conflict between the Government of India and the insurgent group(s) of only one of the struggling communities may not lead to de-intensification of the horizontal conflict.

For example, protracted military confrontation between the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) and the Indian Army in Chandel District for area domination (in the wake of “Operation All Clear” in 2004-07) did not result in normalization of relationship between the insurgent groups of different communities. Conversely, it led to increased hostility between the UNLF and the KNA (Kuki National Army) and communal tension between the Kukis and the Meiteis (The Moreh Incident of 2007).

4. De-intensification of the horizontal conflict may or may not have any bearing correspondingly upon the vertical conflict (yet to be substantiated).

Recent trend indicates the transformation of the vertical conflict between the Government of India and the insurgent groups into horizontal conflict between the struggling communities of Manipur or the region. The Government of India has reincarnated itself (from being a party to the conflict) to a new avatar of a mediator or an arbitrator. I had the assumption that vertical conflict was antagonistic whereas the horizontal conflict was non-antagonistic in nature and character. However, the unfolding dynamics reveals that the horizontal conflict has become increasingly antagonistic while the vertical conflict has gradually transformed into non-antagonistic conflict. For example, the insurgent groups of different communities can sit and talk with the Government of India but not among themselves. It is not the Government of India that questions the uniqueness of the histories of the Nagas, the Kukis or the Meiteis (Manipuris). Rather, it is the struggling communities who are cross checkmating among themselves.

Levels of Elite Conflict

The prevailing conflict among the elites of the three conflicting communities is crystallized at two different levels viz. (1) Insurgent Group Level and (2) Civil Society Organization Level. But there is no conflict at people to people level as the conflict is basically an elite phenomenon. The ethnic clashes that had occurred in the Hills of Manipur were the machinations of few Hill elites and politicians. The so-called Naga-Kuki ethnic clash and the Kuki-Paite ethnic clash were engineered by the Hill elites to consolidate their own position and ensure their political survival. Ethnic clash serves dual purposes. First, it redirects the discontent and frustration of the people from their own leaders to other communities. Second, it strengthens the hold of the elites over their respective ethnic groups. That is primarily the reason why the so-called ethnic clashes have been reduced to the clashes between the armed groups (and also between the so-called civil society organizations who claim to represent specific communities) while there has been steady normalization of relationship between the people of the apparently belligerent ethnic communities.

It is pertinent to point out that the common people were directly involved in the act of unleashing violence against the belligerent community. However, the common people did not commit the act of violence on their own will, but under strict compulsion. One who does not comply with the directive from above would invite the wrath of the power wielders. The common people are sermonized that they would be attacked by the (perceived) enemies unless they attack first. The other community is projected as stern enemy; a thorn in the flesh, that deserves to be exterminated. Hatred and fear are instilled in the mind of the common people by invoking selected social memories. Dehumanization and demonization are practiced by the contesting elites to orchestrate ethnic violence. Systematic indoctrination coupled with intimidation resulted into internalization of the conflict. The people of two friendly neighbouring villages (belonging to two different ethnic groups) became arch enemies overnight.

Thus, ethnic conflict is a top down phenomenon engineered by the contesting elites of the concerned ethnic groups. Therefore, the conflict which is seemingly ethnic in character is, in fact, an elite conflict and the “Ethnic Triangle” is nothing more than “Elite Triangle”. There is no ethnic conflict in Manipur or for that matter, in the entire Northeast. Ethnic conflict is a myth projected by the opportunist elites to achieve their political ends.

Nature of Elites

Elite may be defined as an operational “collectivity” comprising a network of organised relationship that seeks to take control of “political space” by constituting and reconstituting it through production and reproduction of a particular form of knowledge. Here, in my formulation, elite is not an individual or a group of individuals; rather it is a collectivity that emerged out of the interaction of a network of relationship.

The elites may be classified as competing elites and contesting elites depending on the sites of their operation. The elites who compete to take hold of power within a particular ethnic community may be conceptualized as competing elites. Whereas, the elites of different ethnic communities whose interests happen to be diametrically opposed and incompatible that often presents various points of intersection may be termed as contesting elites.

Further, elites in every community may be classified into at least two types, which I would like to term as the opportunistic elites and the progressive elites.

Opportunistic elites are those who strive to enhance their interests by engaging in exclusivist politics that often play up ethnic card or any other narrow “ism” solely on the basis of political expediency. Progressive elites, on the other hand, are those who try to build an inclusive politics on the basis of harmonious co-existence and equitable development by transcending exclusivist politics. On the basis of this understanding, we may identify which political movement or mobilisation is exclusivist and which is inclusivist.

The Naga political mobilisation is inclusive in so far as it encompasses different ethnic groups who hitherto had remained outside the Naga fold. The steady increase in the number of the constituent tribes of the Nagas bears testimony to the fact that the Naga identity formation is relatively inclusive although it can also be branded as expansionist at the same time. But the fact is that all forms of political mobilisation based on ethnicity are exclusivists. From the other end, the Naga political mobilisation can be termed as exclusivist in a sense that it left out many other fraternal ethnic groups who also belong to the mongoloid race. The Naga elites have already drawn an exclusive cultural map of Nagalim. They are now simply struggling to transform this cultural boundary into a political boundary.

In their effort to carve out an exclusive political space for themselves, the Naga elites have committed a serious historical blunder for abandoning the path of collective struggle. At one point of time, the armed opposition groups of the region looked towards the undivided NSCN for leadership. But the moment the Naga insurgent groups decided to seek an exclusive solution to the Naga political issue, many struggling communities of the Northeast were left in the lurch. Without a major community like the Nagas and without a lofty personality like Uncle Muivah, it became increasingly difficult for many groups to sustain the liberation struggle. In this context, many nationalist leaders began to ask; “Can we stage ‘Hamlet: the prince of Denmark’ without Hamlet?”

As a result, many resistance groups who were disillusioned with the liberation struggle became the camp followers of the NSCN-IM by entering into ceasefire pact with the GoI. Very few continue to wage the struggle. Incidentally, the post 1997 period witnessed ruptures in the operational pattern of various insurgent groups that incites various points of polarisation at different levels. The ceasefire between the GoI and the NSCN-IM has produced an immense effect that often presents splitting of groups as anti-talk and pro-talk factions. The emergence of factionalism and splits has only increased the number of political stakeholders that renders it highly complicated to work out political consensus among the insurgent groups as well as between the Government and the insurgents. Besides, the politics of ceasefire and peace talk has only led to intensification of ethnic cold war amongst various struggling communities of the Northeast. In this way, the political sojourn undertaken by the Naga elites in 1997 has turned out to be “a march against history”.

As far as the Kuki-Zomi identity formation is concerned, it is inclusive as well as exclusive at the same time. It is inclusive in a sense that both the Kuki and Zomi identity formations encompass many smaller ethnic groups or sub-groups. It even includes some of the ethnic groups who have already affiliated to and identified themselves as the Nagas. There are also no basic differences between the Kuki identity formation and the Zomi identity formation except on the issue of nomenclature. Otherwise, both are inclusive of each other. The only major hitch is the struggle for power and domination between the Thadou elites and the Paite elites. But in spite of its inclusive pattern of political mobilisation, the Kuki-Zomi identity formation is also equally exclusive on account of the fact that it excludes all those communities which lie outside the fold of the Chin-Kuki-Zomi group.

The Manipuri identity formation both at the socio-cultural level and the geo-political level has both the elements of inclusiveness and exclusiveness. It is inclusive in that it seeks to encompass all the 38 or so indigenous communities including all the Nagas and Kukis/Zomis living in Manipur. Another point of inclusive-ness is that the Manipuri insurgent groups though dominated by the Meiteis have launched the armed struggle not exclusively for the Meiteis but for the people of Manipur as a whole. Nevertheless, the political mobilisation and nation building process initiated by the Meiteis are not free from exclusivist elements.

Revisiting the Manipuri Nation Building Project

The Meitei elites are progressive in so far as they strive to construct a composite Manipuri identity by promoting civic nationalism amongst all the communities living in Manipur. The Meitei elites imagined a united and sovereign Manipur in which all the communities shall peacefully co-exist and develop; in which no particular community shall have the political leverage to dominate others; in which there shall be autonomy at all levels. They envisioned an egalitarian society free from feudal oppression, colonial subjugation and class exploitation. That far, the Meitei elites are progressive and inclusive.

But the political project of Manipuri nation building is a complete failure. The existence of the political demands for the integration of the claimed Naga areas of Manipur into the Nagaland State (or demand for creation of South Nagalim State in the form of Alternative Arrangement) and the demand for the formation of a Kuki State within the territorial space of Manipur are clear indicators of the failure of the Manipuri nation building project. The Nagas and the Kukis (or Zomis) of Manipur are not willing to identify themselves as Manipuris. For them, the Manipuris are the Meiteis and the Meiteis are the Manipuris. The element of reciprocity is absent in the act of imagining a monolithic Manipuri nationhood. Such realities strongly question how inclusive is the process of Manipuri nation building process.

Another exclusivist character of the Manipuri nation building process is the limitation set by the idea of Manipur itself. The idea of Manipur arbitrarily excludes many kindred tribes of the Nagas and the Kukis which exist beyond the present boundary of Manipur. That is why the notion of Manipur which is only about 22327 sq. km. is highly problematic. Why can’t we imagine a Manipur or a Greater Manipur which encompasses all the tribes of the Nagas and the Kukis/Zomis? After all, the idea of Manipur is a colonial construct. Before the advent of the British, the idea of Manipur was yet to take proper shape. It was only with the conclusion of the Treaty of Yandaboo in 1826 that Manipur as we understand today had taken firm roots.

Almost all the civil society organizations (CSOs) who claim to represent Manipur are dominated by the Meiteis. Few tribals may be holding key positions in these organizations. But their involvement with the valley based CSOs are in their own individual capacity and, therefore, do not carry the mandate of the tribe or the community they belong to. Their representation remains a case of mere tokenism. The same logic applies to the insurgent organizations of Manipur as well. In spite of the claim to represent all the communities of Manipur, insurgency movement largely led by the Meiteis run short of a wholesome representation of all the communities. This arises from the fact that the leaders and cadres of the valley based insurgent groups are pre-dominantly drawn from the Meitei community. Despite the miniscule presence of tribal elements in these armed organizations, they still are yet to acquire a pan Manipuri character.

One of the major factors largely responsible for the failure of Manipuri nation building project is the operation of feudal consciousness in our society that crystallised in the attempt by few dominant groups to make Meitei identity as the defining criterion of Manipuri identity. Imposition of Meitei identity upon the Hill Manipuris has been strongly resisted. Under the circumstances, any effort to transform Meitei identity into Manipuri identity is doomed to be a failure. Meitei chauvinism will not contribute even an inch forward towards the realisation of a composite Manipur. Manipuri identity must evolve naturally as a result of interaction between different groups living in Manipur in due course of time. Meiteilon or Manipuri has evolved into the lingua franca of all the people living in Manipur not due to any conscious design but due to necessity generated by social conditions. Social engineering is necessary but should not be carried out in such a manner as to tear apart the delicate fabrics of the age-old relationship between the Hills and the Valley.

Locating the Sadar Hills Issue

The Kuki political movement is a direct fallout of the movement for independent Greater Mizoram spearheaded by Laldenga. Based in the Lushai Hills, Laldenga had gradually extended his political mobilisation to the Chin-Kuki areas of Manipur with a view to expand his operational base for launching guerrilla movement against the Indian State. But when the Government of India and the Mizo National Front (MNF) finally worked out the political arrangement to resolve the conflict in Lushai Hills, Laldenga did nothing to safeguard the interest of the Kukis of Manipur. In spite of the support which the Kukis of Manipur had wholeheartedly extended to the cause of independent Greater Mizoram, they were left out from the purview of the Mizo Accord. The exclusive political space imagined by the Lushai elites was secured with the formation of Mizoram as a full-fledged State within the Indian Union in 1986. However, the Kukis of Manipur felt betrayed. Confronted with such dilemma, the Kuki elites from Manipur and Burma started imagining an alternative political space to secure their interests as well as the larger interests of the Kuki people.

The imagined political space of the Kuki elites is articulated in the concept of Zalengam which comprises all the Kuki inhabited areas of India, Burma and Bangladesh. The concept of Zalengam signifies the sovereign existence of the Kuki nation in an independent Kuki homeland. Here, the term Kuki embraces all the tribes who belong to the Chin-Kuki-Zomi family. Although the Kuki elites imagine a unified and independent Kuki homeland, they have realised the impracticability of accomplishing such a grand political project in the present circumstances. Therefore, the Kuki elites have scaled down their political demand to Statehood or Union Territory. But even the granting of Autonomous Statehood or Union Territory to the Kukis within the territorial space of Manipur is something which is not feasible from any point of view. Realising the stark political realities confronting them, the Kuki elites have effected a strategic shift in their priority from Statehood to autonomy. It is the strategy of the Kuki elites to secure maximum political autonomy wherever they are; be it in India, Burma or Bangladesh pending final unification of their nation/homeland.

With this point in view, the Kuki-Zomi militant groups have entered into Suspension of Operation (SoO) with the Indian Security Forces and have started to engage in political dialogue with the Government to negotiate the best possible political arrangement for them within Manipur. Another factor that induced the Kuki militant groups to enter into SoO with the Government is their relatively weak fire power and weak organisational strength in comparison with the Naga and the Meitei insurgent groups. Political expediency demands that they should align with the Government in order to resist the onslaught of the stronger powers.

But the maximum political concession which the Kuki elites can extract from the Government in any conceivable situation is the granting of full-fledged districthood to Sadar Hills and Tengnoupal Sub-division. Churachandpur District has already remained as an exclusive domain of the Kuki-Zomi group. But it still may also need further bifurcation in order to form a separate district for the Hmars in the Tipaimuk Sub-division. Therefore, the renewed demand for Sadar Hills districthood is a logical outcome of the ongoing political dialogue between the Government and the SoO groups.

Now, on the basis of this understanding, it can safely be concluded that the Sadar Hills issue is purely an ethnic demand.

First, the demand for granting full-fledged districthood to Sadar Hills is made exclusively by the Thadou Kukis. The Kuki elites of Sadar Hills simply desire to carve out an exclusive political domain for themselves. Second, the map of the proposed Sadar Hills District is drawn up in such a manner as to include all the Kuki villages lying in the foothill areas. In the process, many Naga villages have been arbitrarily placed within the proposed Sadar Hills district much against their wishes. Third, the objection to the creation of the Sadar Hills district is raised solely by the Nagas by claiming that the geographical areas of the proposed district constitute part of their ancestral land. The veracity of the claim made by the Nagas is not a matter of concern here. What is more important is the fact about how deeply entrenched is the issue of Sadar Hills with the identity politics.

Justifications are galore regarding the demand for granting of full-fledged districthood to Sadar Hills, but that does not absolve the issue from being entangled to ethnic politics. The slogan of administrative convenience is just an ideological tool to justify a purely ethnic demand. The demand and objection centering on the issue of Sadar Hills districthood is only a manifestation of the deeper conflict between the Kuki elites and the Naga elites. The Sadar Hills issue simply happens to be one of the major areas where the exclusive political space imagined by the Kuki elites and the Naga elites overlap or intersect. Therefore, the issue ought to be located in the larger context of the relation between the Kuki elites and the Naga elites.

Notwithstanding the arguments for and against the demand for a full-fledged districthood, Sadar Hills has always remained the de facto homeland of the Kukis and will always remain as such. The Nagas or their armed groups will never be able to force the Kukis out of the Sadar Hills. This is the reality regardless of whether the Nagas recognize it or not and whether the Kukis admit it or not. The Sadar Hills will one day attain full-fledged districthood. It is simply a matter of time. In this regard, it needs to be understood that the opposition of the Nagas to the creation of Sadar Hills district is not absolute but conditional. The political stand of the Nagas on the issue of Sadar Hills is that they will not allow the formation of Sadar Hills district “without their wishes and consent”. They are not totally against it. But the Nagas will never concede to it under the present circumstances until and unless their political aspirations too are satisfactorily addressed. Besides, the proposed map of the Sadar Hills district may not be acceptable to the Nagas. Many Naga villages have already raised their dissent against their inclusion in the proposed Sadar Hills district. Obviously, boundary re-adjustment will become imperative even in the event of granting districthood to the Sadar Hills. A time will certainly come when the Nagas will be in a position to agree to the demand for the creation of Sadar Hills District. As of now, they are not yet prepared to part with it. By saying this, I am not upholding the claim of the Nagas over the Sadar Hills, but simply stating the ground realities.

The best available option, therefore, is to initiate political dialogue between the Nagas and the Kukis. Here, the Meiteis can play a neutral facilitatory role by convincing the Nagas and the Kukis to come to the negotiating table. The Meiteis cannot afford to betray the trust either of the Kukis or the Nagas as the imagined Manipuri nation is not complete without both of them. This does not mean that the Meiteis should remain mute spectators to the unfolding development. What I am trying to suggest is that the Kuki appeasement policy adopted by the Meiteis should not prepare the way for final parting between the Nagas and the Meiteis.

Concluding Remarks

The conflict among the struggling communities in Manipur is deeply embedded in the act of imagining exclusive political space by the contesting elites. The horizontal conflict which has assumed an ethnic dimension is basically an elite phenomenon. The so called ethnic conflict is the sole creation and projection of the opportunist elites. A closer look at the nature of the conflict reveals that there is no conflict at the people to people level. The common people are simply misled to fit into the political game plan of certain vested interests.

The intractability of the conflict among the struggling communities is not due to any primordial factors. As a matter of fact, it is the highly incompatible nature of the act of imagining the political space that has rendered the horizontal conflict seemingly intractable. It is seemingly intractable in that intractability itself is also the construction of the opportunist elites. The conflict is projected as highly antagonistic in character and that the prospect of its solution is far removed from the people’s psyche. But there is no conflict in the world which cannot be resolved or transformed. Besides, conflict between identity groups is not inevitable. The Swiss experience will absolutely falsify any understanding that upholds the inevitability of identity based conflict in a situation characterized by ethnic diversity.

Horizontal conflict, though basically an elite conflict, has come to pervade every aspect of our social existence. The conflict is highly entrenched in our social structure that it has become increasingly difficult to convince the common people of different communities about the non-existence of such conflict in their real worlds. Common people are easily swayed by the elites as they are in control of all the mental means of production (institutions designed to shape the mind of the general masses). In the meantime, a new elite, which is very powerful and influential has emerged in Manipuri society as a sequel of the armed movement. The nature of this nascent elite is yet to be ascertained. But with the emergence of the neo elite, the inter-group as well as the intra-group conflicts has been intensified and the vertical conflict is slowly being replaced with the horizontal conflict. Or is it simply a case of historical co-incidence?

Notwithstanding the multiplication of the opportunist elements in our society the progressive elements, though very few in number, are present in each and every community. It is the presence of such progressive elements across the divided societies that shall render it possible to transform the conflict. The primary task ahead for any project of conflict transformation, therefore, is the identification and unification of all the progressive elements in our divided societies.

The dominant discourse is not in favour of ethnic based political demands. However, I see no problem in the formation of districts and sub-divisions on the basis of ethnicity so long as it does not affect the integrity of the state. Ethnic federalism is important for small groups to ensure their survival especially in the face of aggressive assimilation process unleashed by bigger groups. We cannot expect small groups to merge their identities with the bigger groups. That would be too hegemonic.

It is pertinent to point out that there are many contradictions in the relationship particularly between the Hills and the Valley. These contradictions have remained unresolved over the decades. That was primarily the reason why it erupted in explosion occasionally. Mao incident of May 6, 2010 was not the first and would not be the last of its kind. In 1948, Mao-Maram areas had erupted under the leadership of A Daiho. He was arrested and imprisoned and subsequently, his political movement under the Naga National League (NNL) gradually evaporated. But since the contradiction was never resolved, it resurfaced at certain point of time though under different leadership and organization.

Finally, I would like to suggest granting of more political autonomy to the Hills of Manipur as a strategy to resolve the outstanding contradictions embedded in the relationship between the Hills and the Valley. The political aspirations of the Nagas and the Kukis must be fulfilled to the greatest possible extent. But any autonomy package for the Hill areas of Manipur should be earned by the Hill people themselves in due course of time as a price of their contribution towards building a composite Manipur. No autonomy package is offered on a silver platter. In the context of the Northeast as a whole, it is worthwhile to mention that the political future of all the struggling communities in the region is bound together by destiny. There can never be an isolated solution to the problem being faced by any specific community. Since the character of the problem confronting the region is common to all the ethnic groups, there ought to be an integrated framework for solution. It is high time to search for a common ground to settle our differences and build a shared future. We swim together or sink together. The choice is ours.

Some of the comments from the readers:

N Haokip
Commented on 19-September-2011 at 10:16:56
I applauded the writer for his deep analysis of the issues. However, in the last second paragraph the hyphenation he used such as Kuki-Paite or Kuki-Zomi is incorrect. It should have been Thadou-Paite or Thadou-Zomi clash. Since Paite is within Kuki or Zomi fold the two are incomparable. Besides Zomi & Kuki is just the nomenclature disparity, it means the same people. Further, Thadou-Piate clash in Churachandpur was the indirect result of Kuki-Naga clashed. During Kuki-Naga conflict a lot of Kuki refugees poured into CCpur, and due to shortage of resouces and space the fight for Ddomination between majority Paite brothers and the refugees mainly from the thadou clans erupted. This was the real issue which was completely ignored and misunderstood by many including paites and thadous themselves.

Commented on 19-September-2011 at 14:36:41

Well, I appreciate the writer in putting up an issue on the line of ethnicism. The writer must be careful when writing this type of Article. There was never KUKI-PAITE clash but was THADOU-PAITE. Dear writer, please correct your views and ideas. Comment here and let us know that you have accepted the mistake...please. Instead of that you are making more confusing in reading your article. The Paite and Thadous are brothers and they are of the same ethnic group of different tribes. Indeed it is correct Mr. N.Haokip that clash between Thadou and Paite was indirect result of the KUKI-NAGA clash. The results of Thadous n Paites are completely ignored by both the group in CCPUR. The Thadou refugees from Nagaland and Manipur's Naga dominated areas who took shelter in and around CCPUR were not given helping hand by the majority brothers Paites at first and others had arise to many demographic changes and enmity caused to each other was also another reason to conflict. The entry of NSCN IM brought in by some Paite bros at that height of KUKI - NAGA clash also gave the reason of conflict in CCPUR. Till today, both these gropus of Thadous and Paites ignored each other. If this ignorance continues, there will never be peace. Mr. Haokip, clear me if you want to say that there were very less Thadous in CCPUR before the refugees came or lesser than Paite? Well I don;t mean that Paites are less, they might be majority but Thadous in CCPUR were in large numbers even before the refugees came. So please never conclude your view in giving the name KUKI as refugees. Think before you speak. Because of some particular clan in Thadou, the name KUKI is played like a ball today causing the disunity among us. Re-unification KUKI Nation is the need of the hour. Being the front runners in LAMKA, Paite brothers, you have lots to play important role in uniting the KUKI nation overtaking Haokips and Khongsais politics. Let us respect the name of the Nation. Kuki is not a tribe but it is a Nation, Nation like Naga and Meitei. Long Live the Kuki Nation.

N Haokip
Commented on 20-September-2011 at 14:20:07

Yes, Brother right. thanks for correcting.

Commented on 20-September-2011 at 15:18:35

Well the ethnic clash that erupted in CCPur was at the beginning between the Paites and the Kukis, later on when other tribes within the Zomi fold viz. Vaiphei, Zou, Tedim-Chin, Simte,etc villages were attacked, plundered and burnt down by the Kuki UGs, it turned into Zomi-Kuki clash. Also, Mr Haokip was correct in saying it erupted because the Paites did not lend a helping hand to the Kuki refugees and the struggle for having control over Lamka township. Its very unfortunate that it happened. But now the Zomis and the Kukis now live peacefully side by side and it is the prayer of every citizen of Lamka that it remain this way. As for the strength of the Kuki population in CCPur befire and after the Kuki-Naga clash, there were few Kukis inhabiting CCPur before the Kuki-Naga clash. But as the clash goes on, a larege number of Kukis poured into the district and never leave it again and make it their home and hence the Kuki population in CCPur increase many fold. As of now, they even outnumber the Hmars who were the second largest tribe in CCPur before the Naga-Kuki clash. CCPur which has been the most peaceful district in all of Manipur has been turned into hell with the coming of these refugees.

Angry Lian
Commented on 20-September-2011 at 15:32:23

Dear Editor/Writer, with utmost respect I request to correct Kuki-Paite clash as Thadou-Paite. I have commented on your first issue and now you are repeating the same. Do you know with this insensitive knowledge of yours could harm more while you are educating us on the other end ? Please correct it as soon as possible for the sake of the communities within Kuki. I am a Kuki but Gante tribe. The Gangtes never fought the Paites or the Thadous. The Hmars did not fight the Paites or the Thadous. The Koms did not fight the Paites or Thadous. Same as the other 22 tribes of Kuki. Dear writer, the said Kuki-Paite clash has no meaning cause the meaning is same. Kuki fighting Kuki ? Is that what you want to say or write ? Meitei fighting Laurembam or Konjengbam is same as Meitei fighting Meitei. Am I right ? Have some deep knowledge before putting up in media. Because of people like you, there is always misunderstandings among the people of Manipurs especially the Hills men.

Commented on 21-September-2011 at 16:01:06

I like these lines "The only major hitch is the struggle for power and domination between the Thadou elites and the Paite elites" But Dear Writer, can you point out which Naga group has been included in Kuki-Zomi formation ? I don't think there is none. If you say Kom tribe, you are again very wrong on your knowledge cause Kom is the oldest formation of Kuki-Zomi.

Commented on 23-September-2011 at 08:13:26

Dear Sanatomba, your article captures the structural understanding of ethnic politics as it emerges in the context Manipur. Objective political analysis within the frame. However, i would like to point out one conceptual overlook. That your articles as common with all articles written by an individual based from a lived experience of dominant community takes for granted that the state has only three ethnic groups. Naga, Kukis and Meiteis. You have to conceptually define what you mean by ethnicity and ethnic groups. Here it is a generic tribe ethnic group (seccessionist construct) which have root in the divide and rule policy of the British (thus a colonial construct) now generally has become ideological construct for Nation theory such as Naga Nation, Zalengam or manipuri nation. Your suggestion about ethnic based reorganization will meet a dead end if is done along seccessionist ideological construct conflicting generic ethnic ethnic groups. But as seen in lived reality, there are various tribes who are known scheduled tribes corresponding their sociological and political category. The whole problem in the context of Manipur is caused by the over imposition mutually conflicting nation theories over these anthropological units. Therefore, i would like to suggest that ethnic based reorganization along such nation theories will not be possible at least in this era. However, the suggestion on providing autonomy is well taken. This should be done on the principle of the asymmetrical frame of the constitution, articles, 244, 6th scheduled etc. Finally to iterate the point that there are approximately more than 36 ethnic groups in Manipur within the state context. The Nagalim, Zalengam and Kangleipak etc... are secessionist ethnicity, ethnic construct. Ethnicity, its structure and ideology, lived reality and the emerging dynamic in your articles needs to go deeper.

vijayanta kshetrimayumCommented on 29 Oct (
when u can point out a common enemy to your group....u automatically unite them n also have control n power over them.Hitler in WWII pointed out to the Germans that Jews are the root cause of all sufferings in the same way in Manipur the tribal leaders always points out that meiteis are root cause of all their underdevelopment. They cannot see their own ministers,officers n NSCN-IM stealing their shares n buying lands in valley n living in a grand way. Most DRDA projects never reach the beneficiaries completely. Moreover the historical untouchability practices after the arrival of Hinduism by meiteis n fanatic Christianity concept of hill people that other religions going to hell made a good fuel for all this hatred. Common people never hates each other except the most stupid and anti social ones. how can i hate my best friend from Tamenglong who ate n stayed n studied with me? now the only solution is emergence of a political revolution free of corruption n communal policies. The wise good ones must join politics.

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