Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil’s failed Manipur mission is not unexpected. It would have been better for him to cancel the mission, as he was not prepared to understand the gravity of the agitation in Manipur. Hardly any responsible leader of the conglomeration of 32 organizations spearheading the agitation for removal of the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 from the State was there to have discussion with him on his arrival in Imphal since leaders of the conglomeration were arrested and booked under National Security Act (NSA) prior to his arrival in Imphal.
Manipur has been experiencing unspeakable hardships over the decades and many of which were due to amateurish handling of the issues by the leaderships of the country as well as State. Over the last few years, there has been a paradigm shift in the people’s thinking towards the Center. The northeastern States mostly bordering international countries like Myanmar, Bangladesh and China have been facing insurgency problems over the decades and the leaders of the oldest insurgency outfit—the Naga insurgency—have been now in dialogues with the Government of India to find a solution. But if one looks closely on the kind of insurgency movement in Manipur, everything is in a mess and the solution requires a multi-pronged strategy because over 20 insurgent outfits have been currently operating in the State.
Many of the insurgency problems of the region could have been resolved long back soon after India attained her independence in 1947 but this didn’t happen either due to the ignorance of the peculiar historical background of the region or the shortsightedness of the leaderships of the country at that point of time. Most of the Indian leaders including the first Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his deputy Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel were only busy negotiating with princely States to join the Union of India without properly analyzing the would-be future consequences in the part of the north eastern region. Manipur was one of those princely States that became part of Indian Union on October 15, 1949 through a “Merger Agreement” signed between the Maharaja of Manipur and the Government of India on September 21, 1949 at Shillong which the people of Manipur still claim as a “Forced Merger Agreement.”
It was not only the mainland Indian people who fought against the British imperialism but the people of the northeastern region too had their own contributions and Manipur in particular had a fierce fight with the Britishers. Several hundred freedom fighters of Manipur had sacrificed their lives to defend their motherland from the British invasion. Bir Tikendrajit, General Thangal, Kajao, Paona Brajabashi, Niranjan Subedar, Chirai Thangal, Haipou Jadonang etc. were among others who were publicly hanged by the Britishers.
Manipuris are also a devout Hindu and sometimes they are more Hindu than the Indian mainland Hindu. If one enters inside any Manipuri house, one will find idols and pictures of Krishna, Siva, Durga, Laxmi, Sarashati, Hanuman, Ganesh, etc. If you ask any Manipuri elders about great Mahabharata and Ramayana epics or Sanskrit, they will mesmerize you. If you visit Manipur during any Hindu festival season, you will find how Manipuri elders are so orthodox Hindu. However, one wonders why the authorities especially from the mainland India failed to tap the importance of these people who have been contributing towards the country in various fields including arts and cultures and sports, besides having similar traits with them in various ways of life.
Despite all this, the expectation Manipuris had so passionately from the visiting Union Home Minister was shattered and his visit could be summed up as a “futile exercise.” Instead of diplomatic way of handling, he commented that there were three shades of opinions on the controversial AFSPA—-“One group wants to revoke the Act. The second group wants to continue the Act while the third one to amend the Act.”
This has clearly indicated that he lacks knowledge of the prevailing situation in the State. Why over a month Manipur was on boiling. Why indefinite curfew was imposed soon after Manorama episode in Manipur. Why did dozens of national and international media personnel rush to Imphal? Why there were lead stories in almost all the national dailies and magazines for weeks. Why did student activists try to self immolate in front of Chief Minister’s office. Why did a student leader, Pebam Chitaranjan, self-immolat. Why could Manipuri women go up to the extent of removing their clothes in broad day light in front of the 17 Assam Rifles’ gate at the heart of the Imphal city? Why is Irom Sharmila still continuing her fast unto death for the last about four years as a lone crusader. All these are not for three shades of opinions as the Home Minister pointed out in Imphal while talking to media personnel. But it was for one point agenda—that is to remove the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 from Manipur not from seven constituencies. Could the Home Minister not think for a moment why in this 21st Century, some respectable Manipuri mothers took such unbelievable and extreme form of protest to register their anger? If he thinks meticulously on these few incidents, he would have come prepared to strike a positive note with the people of Manipur.
The insensitiveness and casual remarks—sometimes conflicting—of the Central leaderships have only exposed that they are confused on the issues and confused leaders’ approach without knowing the root cause of the problem will lead nowhere to solution. And Home Minister’s reply on why he delayed in visiting the burning State on the pretext that there is a popular State Government is ridiculous. It was insulting the intelligence of the people of Manipur who had in fact been eagerly waiting for something positive and a kind of healing touch from his visit to break the impasse.
Do we need more violence to draw the attention of the Center? I think it will be a wrong perception on the part of the Government of India to think they can only pay attention if people stir violence.
The poor Chief Minister O Ibobi has no option but to remove the operation of the AFSPA from some areas of Imphal against the warning of the Central leaders. This, however, doesn’t soothe the agitating people in the valley. Angered with Ibobi’s action, the Center had allegedly threatened him to either crack down on the agitators or else faces PR or replace him with Th Devendra as the new Chief Minister. He had chosen to crack down on the agitators and book them under NSA.
The structure of the Government which is democratic in nature is that those who are at the helms of affairs should have the quick reaction to the feelings of the masses. Because it is they who elected them but on the contrary, these people who are supposed to be servants of the people become masters thereby destroying the very democratic fabric of the country. The rulers of the country and state have terribly failed to understand what the people want.
The Government of India should not forget one thing is that they may crush the underground or militant movements through forces but never the movement of the masses. The current agitation in Manipur is the manifestation of it. We understand that most of the leaders of the country who are sitting at Delhi much have been well versed in the Indian history but lack in the north eastern region. This handicaps them in a big way in tackling with any kind of situation in the region. I surely believe that unless we know the history of the region or understand its people, it will be difficult for any leader to handle the situation. Most leaders in Delhi simply think that north east is nothing but insurgency and can be contained with forces but have never asked why these have happened.
The AFSPA which was imposed in 1980 in Manipur to contain mainly the rising activities of the underground PLA had failed to achieve its target, instead the PLA activities growing manifold and various militant outfits have been mushrooming yearly. Today, there are over 20 militant outfits are reportedly operating in Manipur. If the APSPA could not contain the rising militant activities in 80s while there were few underground organizations with negligible strength, where is the logic that the same Act would do the job after 24 years when the frightening strength of the over 20 underground outfits are there in the State.
Has not the very purpose of invoking the Act in Manipur defeated. Has not the time come for the policy makers of the country to rethink on the unproductive Act and find out some other way to deal with the prevailing insurgency problem? Was it not only the common men who have been bearing the brunt of the Act? Was Ibobi’s justification on continuing the Act just to curb the extortion in the State not a mockery? Where are those State forces which are under his disposal? What are they doing? Does he know that several State Government employees have paying taxes to some particular underground outfits over the years? Some years back, the State Police arrested some cashiers of Government departments in Imphal for allegedly deducting some percentage from the salaries of employees of their respective departments to pay taxes to some underground outfits. If these are the trends in the State, then why the Act is required? Is not Ibobi answerable for all these?
Ibobi, as Chief Minister of Manipur, has bounden duty to resolve the insurgency problems in the State and he should at least try to bring one of the powerful underground groups out of the dozens to the negotiating table. If he cannot convince at least one underground group, he is not fit to be Chief Minister of Manipur. He should clearly know that he cannot initiate talks through AFSPA. He should know that people are intelligent enough and time has come for him to work out a mechanism as to how talks can be held with the underground leaders in the State. He should invite intellectuals, intelligentsias and influential NGO leaders to discuss as to how they can prevail upon the leaderships of the underground organizations to come forward for dialogue. He should help bridge between the civil organizations and the underground organizations because it is only through them (civil organizations), rapport can be established. Mutual trust is very important on both sides at this juncture but using APSFA, as a tactics to convince underground leaders, will only negate the process.
Ibobi should study on why Government of India is negotiating with powerful NSCN (IM)? Why have they declared ceasefire agreements with NSCN (K) and many other militant organizations in Tripura, Karbi Anglong and Bodo areas of Assam? Why have they initiated talks with Bodo Liberation Tiger? Because we cannot wage war against them like in Kargil as they are our brothers.