The statement of support extended by several Kuki civil society organisations yesterday to the stand of a major Kuki underground organisation now in a suspension of operations agreement, SoO, with the government that it would seek to settle the Kuki autonomy issue with the creation of a “Kuki (Khulmi) Development Council” under the 6th Schedule of the Indian Constitution, should come as welcome news to all the peacemakers involved in this particular peacemaking project. With some adjustments here and there to take care of regional idiosyncrasies, this target must appear as imminently achievable to all except the incorrigible cynics. This development coupled with the repeated promise that there will be no further alteration of state boundaries by the powers that be in New Delhi, must make it seem as if one problem in Manipur’s multi-faceted turmoil has virtually set sight on a conclusive resolution.
We however must raise some cautions here in the hope that these would contribute towards ensuring the achievements so far do not get derailed prematurely. Let it also be acknowledged that this eventuality is not at all impossible, considering the complex social structure of Manipur and indeed the entire Northeast region. Nobody will need much convincing after all that has been witnessed in the region for the past many decades of peacemaking, that peace settlement with one set of interest can rub the interest of some other groups the wrong way, thus ironically the very act of settlement of one conflict can end up triggering off a spiral of other conflicting situations. The point is, the larger challenge ahead is not just a sum of all its different part, so that settling the issues of each part individually is not necessarily the answer to the larger challenge. Clearly, there will have to be a balance struck, in which the interests of the parts as well as the whole are sought to be taken care of simultaneously.
As we see it, the 6th Schedule type of a political structure can be problematic in some areas, in particular when it comes to territory, community representation and not the least the possibilities of disenfranchisement of communities not considered as denizens of any particular Autonomous Development Council. Even when the equation was much more straightforward and one-dimensional, such as hill versus valley or tribals versus non-tribals, there were vexing issues. But when these ADCs are sought to be community exclusive, as in the present proposal of Kuki (Khulmi) Development Council, these frictions are likely to become accentuated. This is so because the Kukis, as also increasingly other communities, are not confined to any particular area. In Chandel, and for that matter all other hill districts, it is difficult to imagine how any area can be marked off as Kuki area and an ADC boundary drawn around it. The possibilities of a repeat of the spectre of ethnic riots between Nagas and Kukis in the 1990s, which resulted in what were virtually ethnic cleansing drives, should be the moderating thought in considering this ADC proposal. The minute the ADC, with clear territory demarcations are given an ethnic colour, it is more than likely to throw up deadly frictions.
The new ADC, if agreed upon and formed, must hence be given a more democratic visage. It must ensure fair representation of all communities falling within its jurisdiction. Or better still, this jurisdiction preferably should also not be territorially defined in black and white terms, and instead can be modelled on the Sami Parliament, or the Siromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee of the Sikhs. As in these two bodies, the new Kuki ADC can be made to be binding on all Kukis, culturally and emotionally, exercising certain juridical powers as defined by Kuki customary laws and commanding an autonomous budget for pursuing the welfare of those who fall within the ambit of the ADC. This way, non-Kuki neighbours would not feel alienated, just as Kukis living away from the ADC headquarters would not be left out. Despite these anticipated hiccups, there is no denying that the proposal would have lightened the hearts of not just the peace negotiators, but also everybody else, as a possible light at the end of at least one dark tunnel. We also hope more would follow suit so that ultimately all can in unison reap the fruits of peace together.