ALTERNATIVE ARRANGEMENT AND THE NAGAS OF MANIPUR
From Hoi Polloi & Mundanity
This article was published by the Sangai Express ( http://thesangaiexpress.com) on December 11 2011 at http://thesangaiexpress.com/sangai-express-sunday-articles.php?categoryid=21
The issue of “Alternative Arrangement” was raised in the Naga People’s Declaration held at Senapati on July 1, 2010. In the same declaration, a decision was taken to “severe ties with the Government of Mani-pur”. The Declaration further explained that the alternative arrangement was sought to fill the vacuum/gap created in recent times, without substantiating what exact was the vacuum/gap. The Declaration was initiated by the United Naga Council (UNC) which was observed as a “Naga People Mandate”.
The “Unique” Naga People Mandate & Alternative Political Arrangement
It is noteworthy to recall that time and again UNC had used the term “Naga People Mandate” to gain political mileage. However, in many of the occasions, UNC failed to get any political gains. For example, the strength of the “Naga People Mandate” was tested during the Manipur State Assembly Election in 2007. Out of 11 Naga candidates nominated by UNC in the so called ‘Naga dominated districts’ (Ukhrul-3, Chandel-1, Senapati–1 and Tamenglong-1), only six could win. Similar was the situation in the Lok Sabha Election of 2009 when the UNC sponsored candidates were defeated.
Behind this obscure background, if we analyse the recent declaration which talks about severance of political ties with the Government of Manipur, the response of the Naga people seems to be the same (Sic. Divided). One Naga scholar from Manipur observed in a meeting that not many Nagas understand what severing political ties really mean. Even if some understand, none of the Nagas of Manipur, particularly those who are associated with the Government of Manipur, are following the declaration. The simple proof is: there are no reports of resignation from respective government posts. Even active members of UNC and their relatives who are government employees (Manipur Government) have not tendered resignation cutting across strongholds of UNC such as in Senapati and Ukhrul! The same applies to UNC nominated/backed MLAs. Instead of rendering resignation or for that matter cutting off political ties, aspiring candidates among the Nagas of Manipur have already started election campaigns for the forthcoming Assembly Elections. Community feasts and prayers are aplenty for the forthcoming election in different parts of the hill districts including Ukhrul, Senapati, Chandel and Tamenglong.
The most interesting or contradictory aspect of the “Naga People Mandate” of 2010 is the filing of candidates by the Manipur Unit of Naga People’s Front (NPF) which is ostensibly backed by the United Naga Council. When UNC is rallying vociferously for Alternative Arrangement, the Manipur State Unit of NPF has unanimously chosen to file its Spokesperson K. Somi as the party’s candidate for the Phungyar (ST) Assembly Constituency of Ukhrul District to the forthcoming State Assembly Elections. They have also nominated another candidate during the recent rally regarding Alternative Arrangement. Other than NPF, everyday there is news of one or two Naga prospective candidates declaring support of their villagers or unions or civil bodies to contest the forthcoming election. These instances vindicate that the “Naga People’s Mandate” as voiced by UNC is not a “unique” Naga People’s Mandate. It is a mandate of UNC and an imposition upon the Nagas of Manipur.
Alternative Arrangement for the Manipuri Nagas?
Further, the issue of “Alternative Arrangement” can be seen from different perspectives. First, it is a reaffirmation of the fact that the Nagas have given up the idea of sovereignty and moved closer for a settlement within the Indian Constitution. Second, the realisation that the issue of Greater Nagaland is diminishing and the need to move towards Manipur. This has been observed when the UNC demanded “Alternative Arrangement” only for the Nagas of Manipur instead of merger with Nagaland or any other States.
Third, reading the minutes of the “talk” between NSCN-IM and Government of India, we can understand that the stumbling block to Naga peace process is from the Manipuri Nagas. Perhaps on account of this reason, the Nagas of other States, particularly Nagaland, are helping the movement so that they move out of their States and they can proceed only with Nagaland which is much easier. This move by the Manipuri Nagas can be seen from the experiences of Laldena’s Mizo’s National Front (MNF) movement when the term “Greater Mizoram” was dropped by Laldena while signing a peace accord with the Government of India. The people from Churachandpur and other areas of Manipur which constituted “Greater Mizoram” were left with ‘no option’ and ‘no opportunity’ and even ‘no space’ within the settlement and within Mizoram.
Similarly, if there has to be any kind of settlement to the Naga movement, it has to be sealed only in Nagaland like the case of Mizoram. Of late, the Nagas have realised it. The Nagas of Manipur within NSCN–IM, who want to avoid a Mizoram-like situation, seem to be encouraging the demand of UNC for an “Alternative Arrangement”. In other words, it could also be an initiative by the Manipuri Nagas within the NSCN (IM) through the UNC to negotiate a space for them in Manipur. Else, they would be repeating the same fate of Churachandpur, when MNF reached a settlement with India. In addition to the MNF experience, the split of NSCN along tribal lines at Myanmar is a reality and fresh in memory. The only difference is that the decision makers were from Manipur and Manipur Nagas, particularly Tangkhuls, were the backbone of the NSCN-IM. This is reflected in the recently published “The Gist of Status of Discussions and Negotiations on various issues submitted by NSCN (IM)”. It is also equally true that the Tangkhuls are the forerunners in any of the Naga pressure group/civil society bodies in Manipur.
In the “minutes”, it is reflected that only the Tangkhuls are considered important among the Nagas of Manipur when any issues come out of Nagaland such as:
(i) State Flag and Emblem: “NSCN (IM) is insistent about separate flag and separate constitution. It has to be noted that even if a separate flag is agreed. It will only be for Government of Nagaland. The contiguous Naga areas in Manipur where Tangkhuls are staying will not be using it. The issue has to be discussed further”;
(ii) Boundaries, “This is a key proposal of NSCN (IM) on which they are insistent. They argue that without this, the Tangkhuls will remain under Manipur which is mainly administered by Meities.”
On the other hand, the political elites of Nagaland, particularly NPF, realising the move to shift the power base to Manipur, have already expanded their office in Manipur in the name of Naga cause and brotherhood. They are even preparing for the forthcoming Manipur State Assembly Elections. This will result in maintaining some power base in Nagaland if the Manipur section of NSCN-IM opts out or forced to move out, which are likely to happen considering past experiences. The NPF leadership is more concerned in retaining their power. That’s why they even formed the NPF led Government in Nagaland with the support of BJP who talk of “One People-One Nation” which is contradictory to the ideas of Naga movement. It is surprising that neither Nagas of Manipur nor Nagaland question the alliance. The question of NPF as a platform for the Nagas of Manipur is questionable as there is no Naga leadership in Manipur. It will further divide the Nagas of Manipur.
The Eastern Nagaland Peoples’ Organization & the Frontier Nagaland : Fragmented Nagas
The Eastern Nagaland Peoples’ Organization has submitted a memorandum to the Prime Minister of India on December 14, 2010 for the creation of a Frontier Nagaland. The memorandum states that nine lakh Nagas of the 20-lakh population of the State of Nagaland reside in these districts. The proposed State comprises four districts (Tuensang, Longleng, Kiphire and Mon) out of the 11 districts in the State. The situation in Nagaland reflects their interest. The demand by ENPO illustrates the fragmentation among the Nagas. If we see in terms of the population, the number that feels exploited is more among the Nagas of Nagaland than Manipur. The number (nine lakhs) is even bigger than the whole tribal population of Manipur.
The Nagaland Congress stalwart and former Finance Minister, K Therie (Dimapur, December 6, 2011, Hueiyen News Service/Newmai News Network) shares the same concern. He observed, “We have too many hungry mouths to feed. State itself is suffering from want of basic amenities such as free health services, civil supplies, trained teachers, road, water, power etc. Helpless ICU bedridden patients are highly charged, cancer, kidney, heart patients are dying after selling all properties, leaving behind the bereaved family members hand to mouth. Students are frustrated for lack of infrastructure to study their choices.” He further observe “The decisions are injurious to Naga brothers and sisters living in the neighboring states and will only lead to unrecoverable deprivation of opportunities in their respective states”.
He describes the Chief Minister of Nagaland as “Muhammud Bin Tulugh” who shifts his capital from Delhi to Devagiri without preparation and for raising land tax beyond citizens’ means.
The whole movement for “Alternative Arrangement” only for the Manipuri Nagas as well as simultaneously joining the Manipur State election can be seen as an initiative for reconciliation and peaceful co-existence in the State. The Nagas of Manipur who were earlier under the impression of achieving something “else” seemed to have realised that the only solution lies in approaching the people and working with the Government of Manipur. They seemed to have realised that neither the Union Government nor the Government of Nagaland, Assam or Arunachal Pradesh listens to their concerns. The free hand given by Government of India, in terms of imposing economic blockade or highway taxation, is not because they are supporting the Naga cause but giving an outlet to the frustrated cadres. One of the senior journalist of this region observed in a seminar at Mumbai that the Manipuri Nagas know that they cannot become Chief Minister or any other high profile politician in Nagaland but they believe that they can become in Manipur.
It can also be that the Tangkhuls as indicated in the minutes, are preparing their own plan under the banner of Nagas of Manipur. This can be justified when the Tangkhul Naga Long—the highest socio-political body of the Tangkhul submitted a memorandum to make Ukhrul as a summer capital of Manipur to the (ex)-Cabinet Secretary, Mr. GK Pillai on his visit to Manipur in 2009. Besides, whoever high profile India’s politicians and bureaucrats comes to Manipur in the last two three years, Ukhrul is second stop. Finally, the whole movement could end up by demanding some special status of Ukhrul like Laldena did for Mizoram.