Editorial – Anticipating Peace Train

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The statement by the chief minister, Okram Ibobi on the floor of the Assembly during the recently concluded budget session of the Manipur Legislative Assembly, that the government would even consider a discussion on holding plebiscite as a means of conflict resolution in Manipur is to say the least, significant. Even if this statement comes from a confidence that even in the event of such a radical method of deciding the insurgency issue were to be held, it would not shake the political status quo of Manipur as a part of the Indian Union to cause any alarm, it is still a generous thought and needs more serious consideration by all concerned. After all, successful diplomacy and politics, as they say is also about creating space of possibilities even where there had seemed none possible. At this moment, the idea is beset with possible hurdles. The first of these would be in deciding who would be the electorate to decide on this extremely vital and sensitive issue, Manipur being multi-ethnic and also hopelessly divided along ethnic lines. But, these hurdles should not be any cause for discouragement in any consideration of the government’s seeming softening of stance on the matter.
As a matter of fact, we would even suggest the enlightened section of the civil society to begin thrashing out the issue in anticipation, first preferably in confidence, and then after the thought has acquired some tangible shape, in open for the benefit of all. The responsibility for seizing this rare opportunity to a possible honourable solution to the nagging problem besetting the state must rest on everybody’s shoulders but most of all on the state’s intelligentsia. So far, this enlightened section of our society has been rather voiceless, especially on the most crucial issues of insurgency which would determine the future of the people and the state. Those who have been loud on the matter lacked the critical tone necessary to interrogate and thereby steer the agenda on to a course fit for the purpose. Most have instead either only echoed entrenched vested interests perhaps in view of personal safety or else have been miserably inadequate in coming up with level-headed visions capable of throwing vital light on a way forward. But let whatever has passed be, and let these not be any cause for differences now. All must now try and rise to the occasion to thrash out a viable route to an honourable solution, underlined by a commitment to justice for all.
While this is happening at the civil society level, the government must not stay idle either. Peace is in everybody’s interest, which means for itself too. It must form a committee to look into the matter in earnest. This committee can then be empowered to reach out, through various suitable emissaries, to relevant hierarchies of leaderships of the various parties involved and break the ice to prepare ground for a negotiation on the nature of the plebiscite and its conduct. To avoid any misunderstanding, let us underscore once again the point that these early negotiations must not be pushed as peace negotiations straightway, for this probably would result in instinctive resistance, considering what the routes of peace talks with Northeast insurgent groups have been in the past. Instead the negotiation should be initially about what’s and how’s of the plebiscite exercise, if at all it is to be allowed. Either party should also be given the right to pull out if nothing works out, but this is only a condition and not a premonition of things to come.
As the saying goes, it needs two hands to clap. In this situation, it may need more than two hands. It may have to be several hands clapping in unison. The government and the intelligentsia must do everything to set the agenda and then this agenda must be thrown to the larger civil society for a moral mandate which only they can give. Most importantly, the insurgent organisations must make a sincere effort to also accommodate proposals in a give and take spirit. After all, if these proposals come with the mandate of the people, would it be justifiable for anybody who professes to be working for the people to simply ignore them. What everybody needs at this moment is a change from the present predicament of mindless and increasingly directionless violence. This can only happen if a peace train loaded with justice and hope is allowed to approach.

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