The UNLF chairman RK Meghen alias Sanayaima, it is now certain is in the custody of the National Intelligence Agency, NIA, and will be produced before the Gauhati High Court in Guwahati today (Friday November 3). Understandably, Manipur would have sighed of relief, for at least the arrested underground leader did not simply disappear without a trace forever, as many had begun to fear was a distinct possibility when no official information of his arrest or his whereabouts emerged more than two months after his arrest in Lalmati, in Dhaka, on September 29, as reported by the BBC website, www.bbc.co.uk followed up by numerous other newspapers and magazine, in the state as well as outside. Against this backdrop, the news on November 30 that Meghen was officially acknowledged as arrested from Motihari in Bihar while he was trying to cross border, although there would be few who believed it was not a cover up to avoid legal complications for detaining somebody for over two months without trial, is definitely welcome. Theoretically, after more than two months of illegal detention, it would have become increasingly difficult for those who made the arrest to acknowledge the arrest, thus making the usual resort of “unaccounted disappearance” or “fake encounter” killing to avoid further complications, seem a real danger.
Viewed from this light the Bihar arrest can be seen as a strategy and acknowledgement of the Indian government to continue engagement with the UNLF and its leadership, as well as other insurgent organisations, rather than end the effort abruptly in a fight to the finish. Such a reading of the unfolding developments lends room for optimism. For indeed, if the Indian authorities felt there was no longer a need for such engagements, the UNLF leader probably would have simply disappeared with the former maintaining its known stand till November 30, that it has no knowledge of the arrest. This would have left it up to the media to, from time to time, use a combination of its investigative skills as well as fertile imagination to make further speculations, some wild and some reasoned, on what may have become of the arrested man. Perhaps the masterminds of the counter insurgency operations in India also had other considerations in mind. They were watching the response of the ordinary people in Manipur and to a lesser extent the Northeast, to the news of the arrest of an important leader of a powerful insurgent group. The mood on the ground was mixed. There were no immediate shows of outrage, but as two months lapsed with the arrested man’s whereabouts still obscure, general discontent at the sense of the issue being taken too lightly was growing. This would have sent the message that if the arrested leader was made to disappear altogether, there was the distinct possibility of his being martyred and such an eventuality would have turned the table of public mood 180 degrees. The reappearance of Meghen, even if in a “staged” arrest in Bihar, in this sense too is welcome. Manipur has seen enough explosions of public discontent.
The question now is, which way from here? Thus far, our speculation is on what may have happened, hence and interpretation of past events and their possible causes. Reading the future, as all would agree, is far more difficult. If this were not so, all human problems would have had a very different visage. Problem solving would have been about avoiding problems rather than tackling them when they have landed. We will therefore not venture into predictions but rest content with making wishes of what we prefer should happen. There would be few in the state who would not want an honourable end to the problems facing Manipur. We do hope the arrest of the UNLF chief and the events that followed it, would have served as eye openers for all sides in the conflict that their readings of what constitutes popular aspiration is not always in congruence with what the people actually have as priorities in their wish list. Let all the parties then reassess their stances, and on the new platform decide what the best way to proceed should be. In whatever decision taken, by either or both sides to bring about a settlement to outstanding issues, whichever method this settlement is sought to be achieved, through continued violent antagonism or through democratic negotiations, let it be moderated by the new understanding of the people’s aspiration. Let there be no issue on this at least. The key to success lies in making an accurate and honest assessment of this new popular will.