NSCN-IM, NAGA MOVEMENT AND MANIPUR in 2013

Two articles on the present situation of the NSCN-IM and their movement vis-a-vis Manipur and beyond, by Yenning. These articles were originally published by the Sangai Express and Hoi Polloi & Mundanity 

Exposing the Urgency of Manipur NSCN-IM
(Published in the Sangai Express on 10 Feb 2013)

Political pundits are of the opinion that the political movement of NSCN-IM (frontal organisations included) have reached its zenith at least in the case of Manipur. Difficulty to manage the outfit’s demands at the constitutional level by India have turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the Union Government has given them a free hand to create a political space of their own. Equally true is the tempo in which Muivah is working realizing the timely need, or perhaps the last chance, to honourably exit from Nagaland, so as to join his wife and family in Ukhrul, Manipur. Three important factors that compel Muivah to hurry up his activities are discussed in today’s edition.

Political: Autonomous District Council Elections (ADC) 2010
A political vacuum existed at the grassroots level in the hills areas of Manipur when in the 80s democratic institutions such as the ADCs were declared to be defunct after holding elections (ADC). This situation coincided with the creation of NSCN-IM, and provided the best opportunity to the outfit to penetrate to the hill areas of Manipur under the leadership of Th. Muivah. An irony emerged. On one hand, the government institutions were not functional. On the other, development funds never ceased to flow to the hill areas in the name of ADC and others for development of tribal areas. These funds were forcefully taken away by NSCN-IM and in fact formed one of the most important sources for sustaining its movement. The irony was politically exploited. For example, blaming the Meiteis became a political technology to substantially increase the amount of fund allocations for the hill areas and the outfit has reaped the benefits for the last two decades and a half.

The decision to hold elections for ADC by the Government of Manipur in 2010 came as a “shock” for NSCN-IM. Some of the important reason includes the fear of filling up the political vacuum by others, which the outfit has been enjoying for decades, and in turn challenge its dictates. At the same time, the process of creating grassroots leaders by the State is bound to create conflict with the outfit’s interests. Emanating from such fears, the frontal organisations of NSCN-IM, in the name of tribal rights, vehemently opposed and protested against holding of ADC elections. In essence, it was not a tribal issue but about using the language of tribal rights, which originated out of the fear factor of NSCN-IM. Thus, the protest against ADC received poor response and as such four out of six ADCs in Manipur responded with high voting turnouts. In the remaining two ADCs in Ukhrul and Senapati, the vacant seats (two) were filled up within a year and became functional.

Making the ADCs non-functional is strongly on the agenda of NSCN-IM. Non-functional ADCs gives the outfit to propagate that the Manipur Government is the same as earlier which does not take any interest in the development of the tribal areas, and thus, provides the political space to exploit the opportunity and gain solidarity from the hill communities, especially, the Nagas.

Development: Tribal (Area) Development
Tribal Development is another area where the NSCN-IM tries to draw their legitimacy by claiming that the Meiteis have snatched away the shares of the tribal. But one needs to understand that the outfit itself is equally responsible for the under-development in the hills. First, as a strategy it has forbidden any developmental work, particularly roads which will facilitate movement of security forces. Second, for the purpose of propaganda it has wilfully created a cadre of activists who noisily complain about the underdevelopment of the hill areas as a result of exploitation by the Meiteis. As a result, the outfit has successfully propagated that the hill people are not treated as citizens by the Manipur Government. But what the outfit and its frontal organizations have not informed to the people is that development funds, either for valley or the hills, are being eaten up by the local leaders in collusion with the people in power (state and non-state). Common people in the valley and hills are not involved. So it will be wrong to blame a particular community, say for example the Meiteis, for the woes of a particular area.

An examination of the Department of Tribal Affairs reveals that the Minister concerned has always been a tribal. Moreover, there are times when even the Chief Minister is a tribal. During such times one neither witnesses any development in the hill areas nor complains about the deficit. Here it is worthwhile to remember what Honourable MP Thangso Baite remarked on January 18, 2013. He said, “Till date, the post of Tribal Development Minister has always been held by tribal. No Meetei has ever held the post. Under such a condition it would be wrong to blame the Meeteis settling in the valley of snatching away the shares of the tribal. We should not blame others for the faults we have committed”.

As far as tribal development is concerned, it is surprising to note that Manipur is one amongst the states in India with adequate/excess funding (budget allocations) for the same. The table given below is self explanatory.

Source: Annual Reports, Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of India, 2012.
Besides, there has always been complains of concentrating development in the valley areas as a way of discriminating the people in the hills. But, it is interesting to note that, when the Indira Gandhi National Tribal University, Regional Campus Manipur was proposed to be set up in Manipur, the tribal civil society bodies, academicians, politicians and advisors settled the location of the University at plain area. Officially, the area belongs to Senapati but it is just about 20-25 km from Imphal. None of the tribal activists complained about it. Similarly, it is the United Naga Council who give the permission to extract oil from Tamenglong while the non-tribal is the one who is leading the movement against the extraction of natural resources. It is unfortunate that only the tribal civil societies which areas are going to be affected are involved in the protest.

If we examine the present administrative set up of Manipur, it will not be wrong to call a Manipur a ‘Tribal Administered State’ as most of the high profile administrators or decision makers are from the tribal community. For instance, both the Additional Chief Secretary are from the tribal community. Out of the eight Principal Secretaries, three belong to tribal community while one is a Meiteis and the rest is from outside the state. Similarly, out of the 14 Commissioners, six belong to tribal community, five are Meiteis and the rest is from outside the state. Moreover, nine out of 16 senior police officers are listed from tribal communities.

This set up does not include the 20 elected members (MLA) from the tribal community who also constitute the Hill Area Committee (HAC) which looks exclusively for the welfare of the hill areas. This also does not include the two Members of Parliament from the tribal community (out of three MPs).

This set-up simply negates the ill-founded complains against the Meiteis. Then, the issue is why is the tribal areas not developed when ample amount of money is pumped in and when such a huge number of tribal’s administrators are involved in the state administration. Now, it is high time the Government comes up with a “white paper” on tribal development in order to clear up the misinformation and confusion.

Territoriality: The Issue of Land
Land issue is the most contentious of all in Manipur given that every movement is based on a claim for territoriality of a particular ethnic group. When apprehension were expressed that the non-tribal will occupy and exploit the land of the tribal, the Manipur Land Reform Act was put in place to erase the fear of the hill communities. But a reversal in terms of land ownership has emerged. When administrative safeguards have been put in place, the tribal are the ones who are settling permanently in the valley areas. But they continue to use hill addresses to avail reservations. So, we see increasing number of tribal colonies such as Nagaram, Lambulane, New Lambulane, Paomai Colony, Tribal colony, Naga River Lane, Tangkhul Avenue, Haokip Veng, etc. These are people who do not intend to move back to their native villages. The new settlement areas in the valley are sites where one finds most of the anti-Meitei campaigns or where the sympathisers of hill based armed opposition groups reside and operate. As a result, the new settlers pretend to be hardcore activists out of fear and reprisal.

The contemporary scenario in the hills reveals that it is the tribal civil and armed activists who are exploiting the hill areas. For example, chromite mining in Ukhrul is done right under the nose of NSCN-IM. UNC is the one who gave permission for oil exploration to Jubiliant Energy in Tamenglong. Precisely, this is why they want to keep the non-tribal off the areas and also to keep some of their tribal communities as a ‘show piece’ to tell the world that they are not allowed to be developed.

Way Forward It can be concluded that the source of Manipur’s NSCN-IM movement is drying up with the ADC elections. The rhetoric of underdevelopment of tribal area on account of the Meiteis is a senseless allegation but is an outcome of lootings and pilferages committed by the outfit in collusion with a section of elites who are settled in the Imphal. As far as land is concerned, again it reveals the extraction mindset of the outfit. In addition to these, the coming up election in Nagaland has been a worrying factor. Unlike the earlier election where NSCN-IM invests its resource and manpower, this coming election is doubtful as the organisation itself has weakened and divided over the honourable settlement which is going to confine in Nagaland. One is not sure whether the next government will support the movement like the present one. The changing situation in the two core areas is a worrying factor so the need to hurry up in order to get at least something. As the saying goes “Something is better than nothing”; but that “something” has to be related with Ukhrul but in the name of the Nagas.


The Manipur Project of NSCN-IM

(Published in the Sangai Express on 20 Jan 2012)

The Manipur Project of NSCN-IM and its General Secretary, Th. Muivah has become all the more revealing if one looks at the recent socio-political development unfolding in Manipur. In other words, it has thrown up certain crucial issues pertaining to the movement of NSCN-IM in Manipur. At the outset, it is worthwhile to recall that the ‘Muivah/Manipur’ factor has been a stumbling block to the much awaited honourable solution to the Naga movement of Nagaland. In spite of the negative impact the above has on the integrity of the Nagas, Nagaland has given support to the callous demand of Muivah recognising his contribution in terms of resources and manpower. Thus, Nagaland has agreed and supported the Muivah faction to find an exit from Nagaland.

Another reason, why the Muivah project does not draw flak from the armed groups in Nagaland is that the armed Nagas of Nagaland have declared their intention to resolve the movement by and for the Nagas of Nagaland. Take for instance, in an exclusive interview to Nagaland Post during the observance of the 6th Unification Day at GPRN/NSCN’s Designated Camp at Khehoi (Thursday, 23 November 2012), Kitovi claimed, “The current talks between NSCN-IM and the Government of India (GoI) were confined only to the Naga inhabited areas in Manipur and thus, the alternative arrangement for the Nagas of Manipur has nothing to do with the Nagas of Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam”. He further added, “Government of India, being a big country and a nation, their constitution is also very flexible. Although it is very bulky, it is flexible. But in the case of Nagas, the Government of India has set two rigid conditions – no sovereignty, no integration. So any solution that may come about between Government of India and Muviah cannot be applied beyond Manipur, since there is no question of integration.”

In the light of such developments, it is only reasonable to understand the predicament of the followers of Muivah in Manipur. What is more worrisome to them is about the fate of their cadres from Manipur in the days to come. Perhaps, few cadres close to the ‘top’ may fit in the absorption policy such as to the Indian forces but many will be left out. This reality has been a frustrating factor for the leaders of Manipuri Nagas within the movement. As a result, the movement for an honourable exit from Nagaland was started as a way of solving the problems highlighted above. Three attempts were made to push through the agenda but ended in failure. The failure can be said to be on account of being emotive and lack of clarity of vision. Emotional sensationalism, frustration and misinformation have been the characteristic features of the three attempts launched by Muivah.

First Attempt: Muivah’s Proposed Visit to Manipur
Having understood the grave situation of his followers and supporters in Manipur on account of the fallout of the 17-years long negotiation with GoI and in terms of the adamant response of other armed groups based in Nagaland as well as the people of Nagaland who do not accept them as part and parcel of Nagaland but see them as ‘outsiders’ or ‘impure Nagas’, Th. Muivah, a domicile of Manipur, made a strategic shift in his tactics. As a part of this new tactics, Muivah, with the permission of GoI, proposed a visit to his native village in Manipur and then to all the hill districts of Manipur. This had political overture, such as garner support in his vision of creating a political space (sic. Later on came to be known as alternative political arrangement outside the Government of Manipur). In addition, through the proposed visit, Muivah aimed at rejuvenating his otherwise dying movement.

In the proposed visit, government security personnel were expected to guarantee Muivah’s safety not by his armed cadres. It must be noted here that in the course of the tragic ridden Naga movement, many Nagas have died at the hands of the Indian security forces. Entrusting one’s security and life to a decade-long sworn enemy only proves that Muivah has succumbed to the inescapable tangle of Indian politics and turned collaborator. Another issue regarding the proposed visit concerns the means of transport which Muivah opted. A low profile air service (sic. helicopter) could have fulfilled his cherished dream of visiting his birth place. But the element of sensationalism and political loudness could be achieved only by surface transport, thus, Muivah’s choice of road trip. During the course of the movement, on numerous occasions, he must have visited his village many a times. But his sudden interest to visit his native village was a clear sign that he has given up the movement and he is more worried about the future of its cadres from Manipur than anything else. But simply giving up in this way would invite public ire and retaliations from his high profile cadres of Manipur. So, he looked for an ‘honourable exit’ by consulting with its core members in Manipur.
As expected, the proposed visit was stopped but ended in achieving Muivah’s dream of creating an ethnic divide. Later, a propaganda video message, which Muivah spoke in Manipuri (sic. Meiteilon), was circulated in the name of Naga rights and as a way of cementing the fractured Nagas in Manipur. This was the last and first attempt in which Muivah involved himself.

Second Attempt: Demand for Alternative Arrangement
The second attempt, i.e. demand for alternative arrangement was left to the frontal organisations of NSCN-IM with tactical and financial support from Hebron. This time, parties and civil society organisations based in Nagaland did not openly support as they did in the first campaign because they considered it to be a Manipuri issue. Within a year of Muivah’s proposed visit, the campaign for alternative arrangement was initiated albeit without defining the meaning and scope of alternative arrangement. It is more akin to an exercise of releasing frustration without having any basis or direction. Take for instance, one of the main organisers of the campaign, United Naga Council (UNC), came out with a private circulation in which they talked about severing ties from the Government of Manipur (GoM) but without talking about alternative arrangement. Moreover, they could not persuade a single Naga to do so. This brings us to the conclusion that UNC is merely implementing a programme to remain accountable to the higher authorities. The analysis of this campaign was discussed in our article “Alternative Arrangement and the Nagas of Manipur” (The Sangai Express, Imphal, December 11, 2011).

The campaign for alternative arrangement is a mere exercise of keeping under certain order the frustrated and misinformed Manipuri Nagas, particularly, the cadres who have dedicated their lives for the movement. Besides, it is also a mechanism to keep them engaged. The campaign will start whenever NSCN-IM does not have anything to share or are scared to share the progress and/or retreat of the negotiation with GoI. For instance, GoI has firmly denied sovereignty and integration of Naga inhabited areas into a single politico-administrative unit. Inspite of this, NSCN-IM and its frontal organizations continue to misinform the Manipuri Nagas that everything is going on well and an honourable solution is forthcoming. Over and above, sections of Manipuri Nagas, who are aware of the truth desist from making it public for fear of armed retaliation.

Third Attempt: Campaign of Communal Politics
With the waning of the campaign for alternative arrangement, a new strategy to engage the Nagas has been devised under the campaign of communal politics. In the process, UNC and other frontal organizations of NSCN-IM have been calling GoM as a as ‘communal government’ without explicating in what ways it is being so or what constitutes communal politics. In fact, “communal” and “communal government” have become the most favourite and oft-repeated catch words of UNC and others in their press releases. The Momoko incident is a testimony to this affliction. When justice for Momoko was demanded, none of the agitators demanded for punishment of a “Anal” Livingstone or a “Naga” Livingstone or a “Christian” Livingstone or a “Hao” Livingstone but simply demanded punishment of a criminal called Livingstone, who happened to be an NSCN-IM cadre. But UNC and other NSCN-IM frontal organizations likened it to be a case of “communal” politics.

Calling a name is easier than proving the basis. This seems to be the problem of NSCN-IM and its funded organizations. What they failed to understand is that communal politics is a politics based on religion for short term gains. If they feel that government of Manipur is communal, then to whom. Is it to the Chin-Kuki-Mizos and the Nagas, who are predominantly Christians, or to the Meitei Pangals who follow Islam or to other faiths? The answer is a big “No”. None of them feels that the government is communal except those who are returning home empty-handed after years of negotiation with GoI and aggressively and exclusively looking for an honourable space for themselves. Perhaps, “communal” is the only plank on which the campaign for alternative arrangement can be built and the only bargaining chip to throw to GoI when all others have failed.

Dancing to the Tune of Reality
It is political sagacity to be able to foresee the future and dance according to the tune of reality. Muivah and NSCN-IM leadership remains to be appreciated at least on these grounds. When limited options are available and faced with the potential crisis of the cadres, and above all, having learnt from history (sic. the Mizo Accord), Muivah is right to push ahead with the agenda of saving himself as well as close associates in Manipur. Apprehension on the part of the Muivah followers has been captured by the Morung Express, (January 4, 2013) when it reported, “UNC delegation is expected to visit Hebron camp in Dimapur soon and meet the NSCN-IM General Secretary Th. Muivah and Chairman Isak Chishi Swu to get a clear picture about what the Nagas of Manipur can expect in the event of a final solution to the ongoing Indo-Naga peace talks”. In the light of such developments, campaign for alternative arrangement is a political move to assuage the tensed minds and thus, a logical outcome. Not only this, on the material front, too, NSCN-IM leadership has also given permission to its cadres to amass wealth from any available sources as a move to appease them. The sanction given to Jubiliant Energy for oil explorations in Manipur and illegal chromite mining in Ukhrul District are indicative examples. Articulating communalism as the basis of alternative arrangement and destruction of Manipur by MNCs, will only lead to destruction of all the communities in Manipur. Is NSCN-IM willing to pay the price?

Read more on Yenning's analysis of NSCN-IM and its movement at hoipolloiandmundanity.blogspot.in

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