LIBERATION MOVEMENTS IN THE NORTHEAST: THE MANIPUR CHAPTER
This article by Ceety Khongsai was originally published by the Sangai Express on 10 Aug 2012
The North East India has the unique characteristic of being the thorny states since Indian independence in 1947 and till today, the liberation movements in this part of the region has become a headache to the national policymakers and law enforcement agencies.
The liberation movements and the counter insurgency operations of Indian security forces have rendered many young ladies as widows; many children become orphans and a good number of people met pre-mature death who otherwise would have enjoy many years of peaceful lives with their families. As against all sagacious norms of human society, dignity of women got sacrilege while the male counterparts ‘are undignified to a third class degree torture by the security forces for allege sheltering of insurgents whereas leakages of secret information of insurgents to the security forces and the consequent arrest of UGs by the army is being assumed as act an facilitated by the hapless civilians. In otherwords, the insurgents harass the civilians by falsely implicating them as ‘Army Informers’ while the Indian Security Forces tortured them for wild accusation of being ‘UG sympathizers’. In the process, the most vulnerable people are the hill men; and among the hill people poor jhumias at the fringes of Indo-Myanmar borders are at the receiving end because remaining indoors protesting against serving as unpaid labourers of UGs tantamount to starvation whereas venturing outdoors to attend the jhum fields equally imperil their lives due to rampant landmine traps within the vicinity of their villages. On top of this, what makes the issue more complex and unrealistic in the present context of high voltage nationalism of world environment is the fact that striking a political deal with the tribal insurgent groups entails redrawing of the political map of two sovereign entities- Bangladesh and Myanmar. Precisely, two insurgent groups claim parts of Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh and the Chindwin Valleys in Myanmar as the ancestral territories of their forefathers and the unification of those territories with their present day settlements (in India) is what they thought to be a dream comes true. Moreover, the purported support given by the two neighbouring countries to the northeast insurgents explicitly reveals the politics of national interests and diplomacy of opportunism adopted by the two countries rather than truly supporting the liberation movements. Moreover, political solutions in the north east implies dismemberment of existing geographical boundaries of the seven sister states which, instead of peace, would certainly open up the gate of bloodbath hitherto unknown in human history. The fact that the north east region comprises of myriad ethnic groups and the claims and counter-claims of exclusive rights of inhabited lands by each groups is the crux of the problem. If the demand of all these tribe-based insurgents for political sovereignty is conceded the topography of the present day north east will completely be transform into Platonic Greek city states and all the recognised tribes will become independent sovereign nations. But, in those imaginative states ‘enduring peace’ will definitely be overshadowed by socio-economic uncertainties due to the fact that not a single state of the north east are self sufficient and, therefore, cannot survive without compromising their political and economic sovereignty. Therefore, it is pertinent on the part of the Indian government to have an insight of the issue before signing a peace deal witn any of the N-E insurgent groups. Above all, the central government need to redefined its policies towards the north east and change its conception of bringing peace with the might of its security forces.
The liberation movement in the north east is as old as Indian freedom struggle. History is a testimony to the fact the people of the north east are indigenous settlers of the region who lived under different traditional governments, and no foreign invaders ruled oyer them before the annexation of the entire north east by the British. With the exception of the seven years occupation of Manipur by the Burmese not a single Indian rulers had ever conquered the north east and its people. The annexation of Manipur by Indian government through the controversial Merger Agreement supposedly signed under duress by Maharaja Budhachandra Singh at Shillong in 1949 is regarded by the new generation Manipuri scholars and historians as contravening to the UN Charters on Right of Self-Determination of Nations. Further, even if Maharaja Budhachandra Singh signed the Merger Agreement in his own freewill, it was to be ratified by the Durbar, a constitutionally elected representative assembly of Manipur. It may be noted that Manipur had its own constitution since 1947 and this constitution was fully operational at the time the merger agreement was made. However, neither the king referred the merger agreement to the Durbar nor the Durbar had ever ratified the agreement. Therefore, the veracity, legality and constitutionality of the merger agreement is now befng questioned by the Meitei nationalists and this political disillusionment found its manifestation in the form of armed revolutionary movements to revive the lost kingdom of Manipur. In the hills, two dominant tribes namely Kukis and Nagas live side by side sharing common territories since the time human memory can recall. Until the British incursion into their land, no other foreigners ruled over them; the tribals ruled themselves independently- internally and externally, through their traditional governments. The colonial Britishers had ruthlessly suppressed the tribals by overthrowing their traditional governments but failed to uproot the traditional village administrative systems which, in turn, germinate into political aspirations with unconquerable spirit to live as a sovereign entity. As a result, no sooner did the flag of the Union Jack was dehoisted in 1947; the tribals proclaim their independence by reviving their traditional governments. Notably, Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri, the first Home Minister of Free India had the toughest times in his consolidation processes as the tribal leaders were steadfast in asserting their political sovereignty. However, shrewd as the Machiavelli’s Prince combined with the Hegelian dialectical acumen at his disposal, Shastriji out witted the simple minded tribal leaders by convincing them to keep their movements in abeyance for ten years during which the whole of India would be re-organised and if the tribal people wishes so, secession from the Indian Union is unstoppable. Nevertheless, even after fifty years of independence there’s no question of inviting the tribals by the successive governments to decide their future. The Indian policy framers and strategists must realise the fact that the enthusiasm for re-uniting with kindred fellows from Bangladesh and Myanmar, the passion for living in their dreamland as independent nations, the hope of their dream motherland joining the comity of nations and the spirit of nationalism infused into the minds of the true revolutionaries cannot be easily dowse off by the humane deficient suppressive measures of counter-insurgency operations of any code names; force only begets force and, in lieu of peace and development creates ‘irreconcilable sense of suspicions into the minds of the people. It was not force that changes the hearts of the mighty Britishers!
Too Many UG Outfits:
It’s natural that in all freedom movements two different schools of thoughts emerge during the course of the movement. The two schools of thoughts basically differ on the question of approaches or methods for achieving their goals. Those who believe in constitutional methods are commonly known as liberalists (UCM, UNC, KIM?) while those who preferred the revolutionary methods are called extremists (insurgents?). Whatever may be the methods or techniques both the liberals as well as the extremists strive for liberation of their motherland? In the case of Manipur, a state with a geographical area of just twenty-two thousand plus sq.km, existence of more than thirty plus different UG outfits with seemingly vertical political agenda has sullied the true meaning of revolutionary movements and vilify its leaders as gangsters of politically motivated hardcore criminals and looters. Putting it bluntly, out of the thirty plus UG outfits only few come close (not exactly) to the true path of revolutionaries while others are sheer mercenaries working for ego centric politicians and conservative narrow minded tribe leaders. It may sound humorous but speaks volumes to quote an octogenarian politician who inadvertently discloses the unholy politicians-UGs nexus by pointing out the secret criteria of how party tickets are allotted to intending candidates: “Have you the support of any UGs? Frankly speaking, party tickets are allotted to candidates backed by the UGs. Our party cannot think of losing a ticket”. This is just a tip of the iceberg on how politicians patronises so-called UG outfits for selfish interests. Indeed, criminalisation of politics in the northeast especially in Manipur is at its climax and patronisation of UGs for political innings has become a new curriculum of practical politics. To become a successful politician one must have.a mastery over two things- One, to become expert in accumulation of wealth by all means and two, putting the UGs under one’s domain. Apart from limited job opportunities, the all time high record of corruptions during the SPF regime has irresistibly lured nominally educated youths towards the material lifestyles of school drop-out UG cadres. Similarly, the mushroom growth of insurgents can be attributed to (i), the temptations of donning most feared olive green camouflage uniforms for easy money and luxurious life. (2), to waylay the physically ill-equipped CRPF patrol party or overpowered the theoretically trained Manipur Rifles (outposts) for weapons and establish one’s identity the organisation. (3), having earned honour and position in the organisation, one can authoritatively summon any person- village chiefs, MLAs, Ministers, Officers, Contractors etc to strike a contract deal on central projects and percentage cuts. (4), with the ill-gotten money thus collected one has to buy some arms and ammunitions to be surrendered at the time of ‘Homecoming Ceremony’. (5), now, having been widely recognised as a dreaded leader with multiple bank accounts of huge deposits in one’s fictitious names, in addition to enviable assets, one can comfortably retire from the organisation on flimsy health ground by engineering the ‘Homecoming Ceremony’ in collusion with the state government and the Assam Rifles to wash off all criminal charges and warrants pending upon oneself to become true citizen and thereafter enter active politics in the state as true sons of the soil. Consequently, the true meaning of revolutionary movement got prostituted and, many of the pseudo revolutionaries end-up in ‘homecoming ceremonies’ although they certainly are at home. As a result, the trust, confidence and support of the people got diluted, and instead, regarded the revolutionary organisations as private business enterprises. Whereas the Government of Manipur got crores of rupees as Peace Packages to be manipulated in the rehabilitation of those home coming ‘Misguided Youths’, the Assam Rifles doubled its reputation, at least in the eyes of the centre, as harbinger of (momentary) peace and defender of the country with a leniency on all their acts of omissions and commissions in its counter-insurgency operations in the northeast.
The MCA Programmes:
The Military Civic Action (MCA) programmes can be appropriately described as a ‘damaged removal device’ of the Indian security forces. Since the counter insurgency operations in the north east has failed in its mission of uprooting the insurgents for bringing enduring peace and development in the region, New Delhi has revised its policy by introducing a novel scheme called ‘Military Civic Action Programme (MCA), a bullet and loaves tactics, to win back the trust and confidence of the people. Truly speaking and much to the chagrin of the security agencies, today, the general perception of the people towards the security forces is that of enmity rather than friends and protector of the people. The sight of the security forces has created insecurity and fear psychosis into the minds of the people; safety of the womenfolk is what all husbands, fathers and brothers think no sooner did the security forces are sighted in the neighbourhood; the fear of being dragged out of homes and bullied with rifle butts on mere suspicions; the thought of one’s lifeless body being dressed in over-sized camouflage combat dress along with arms and incriminating forged documents beside one’s dead body associating posthumously with any of the 30 plus UG outfits; the anxiety of being whisked off blind folded to unknown locations and the worry of one’s children becoming orphans facing the hard weird world soften even the bravest hearts tremble with fear. Besides, the horrendous tale of Th. Manorama persistently haunts the physically lesser armed but naturally beautiful Manipuri eves when the evening sun goes down in the western horizon; and, the happiness of Diwali lights turn into darkness as sound of crackers reminds local residents about the senseless Oinam killings. From the army perspectives, the counter-insurgency operations may possibly be very successful because there’s enough room for promotions through fake encounter dramas! The MCA project would have been wholeheartedly welcome by the people had it preceded the C.I. Ops. Moreover, it would have had unprecedented support of the people had it been launched sans the C.I. Ops. As a matter of fact the people may not oppose any developmental schemes or projects under the MCA and will readily accept any gifts or presents whatsoever but will never give their hearts until and unless the security forces changes its policies towards the north east and its people. Money Cannot Atone (MCA) is exactly what the people look towards the MCA. The policy of killing and development cannot bring enduring peace.
The Peace Talks:
The Peace initiative of the GOI in the northeast suffers from ambiguities. The matter becomes more confusing when the GOI-NSCN (IM)’s Ceasefire Agreement intentionally nullifies the repeated “Manipur Territorial Integrity Bills” passed in the Manipur legislative Assembly by appending the words, “without territorial limits. Sensing the impending inter community fracas the GOI was left with no other options but delete the controversial words from the text of the agreement. However, the public are still in disbelief regarding the sincerity and honesty of the central government in handling the fluid social atmosphere in Manipur; in the backdrop of the UNC’s Alternative Arrangement for the Nagas gaining momentum fresh clouds of apprehensions grips the entire northeast by questioning New Delhi’s honesty on the issue. On the other hand, the recent announcement made by Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh at Guwahati that “there’s enough room in the constitution to accommodate the demands of the northeast insurgents” categorically invalidate the hypothesis of possible outside-the-constitution solution to the decades old Naga political problem. Whatever may be the solution, within or without the constitution, the centre’s northeast policy lacks in many fronts. First, the centre’s policy of bringing peace in the region through suppressive measures of counter-insurgency operations is at fault. It is a fact that the counter-insurgency operations have temporarily put the liberation movements under control but can never eliminate it completely. As human beings the people of the northeast need humane treatment. To win over their hearts, the central government need to realise the fact that a little more concern for their sufferings with compassion will certainly be more effective than the inhuman Acts likeAFSPA and the C.I. Ops. Secondly, the assumption that striking a peace deals with a seemingly mother of insurgents-the NSCN (1M) exclusively will bring back normalcy in the region is an ill conceived hypothesis which have the tendency of inflaming the entire region. The thirty plus revolutionary groups united minus NSCN-IM faction have the potentialities to create havoc in the region. It is therefore imperative to take into confidence all insurgent groups operating in the region before signing a final peace deal. Thirdly, the diplomatic ideology of dilly-dally stratagem of the central government towards peace talks with the insurgents will not be fruitful. The policy of self-negation of the UG outfits due to ageing of its leaders and intoxication of its officers with luxurious lifestyles by offering crores of rupees as peace packages will not quench the revolutionary spirit of true revolutionaries since every single drop of their blood have been sacrificed at the alter of their dream motherland. The true homecoming of these full-blooded revolutionaries in the national mainstream lies in the honesty and sincerity of the central government.
In conclusion it may be pointed out that the liberation movements of the North East India is a direct fallout of the centre’s decades of indifference on the sufferings of the north easterners, racial stigmatization, faulty policy of development, lack of infrastructure for development of human as well as natural resources etc. For instance, four hours power breakdown in the national capital hits headlines of all national newspapers-print and electronic media but ninety days of economic blockades on national highways in Manipur hardly attract attention of the mainland newspapers. Whereas the outrageous issue of stray dogs in Haryana and Punjab drew more attention of the journalists than the killing of human beings in the northeast; the Anna Hazare’s few days fast against corruption rocked the Indian parliament but Ms lrom Sharmila’s decades old fast for protection of human lives remain unheard; and, the Imphal-Jiribam road of 222 km which is just a day’s journey now requires 6-8 days but none of the national newspapers highlighted the humanitarian crisis arising out of the issue. Nicknamed as the ‘Switzerland of India’ for its natural beauty, scenic landscape and peaceful environment, the north east has the distinction of being good example of unity in diversity wherein all different cultures of the mosaic society lives peacefully with mutual respect. However, the peaceful environment was metamorphosed into hostile relationship since the 1950s. Indeed, something goes wrong somewhere in the constitution of India pertaining to these people. The people of the northeast felt that they are unfairly denied what is due to them as true citizen of India. The need is to re-construct the federal structure of the constitution and make it more flexible to accommodate the demands of the insurgent groups. Of course, this proposition will certainly be the best exposition of Mahatma Gandhi’s Ram Raj. The peculiar nature of the region requires peculiar solutions, and human problems need humane approach to the problem but not bullets. —concluded