Plebiscite For Peace

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“Plebiscite not only leads to break provinces but also helps consolidate countries according to the wishes and determination of the inhabitants. Notwithstanding the merits and demerits of the proposal for plebiscite in Manipur, we may consider it as truly the first ever peace initiative from a separatist insurgent organisation to which the government always appeals for dialogue. The offer for surrender of weapons to a third party for effecting a fair voting may also be considered as noble and reasonable measure. If the plebiscite proposal is endorsed by various insurgent groups in one voice, and if the government of India stands sincere to the solution of age-old conflict in the region……, the proposal may be more fruitful.”
By: Neken SeramIndian constitution provides every citizen the right to freedom of speech and expression, subject to certain reasonable restrictions on grounds of sovereignty and integrity of the country. Everyone has the liberty to put academic exercise on the subject of self-determination, unless it harms the integrity and sovereignty of the country. Plebiscite – to assess the determination of its people for their future, has to be academically examined, discussed and deliberated upon at various forums so as to uphold the integrity, prosperity and democratic values of the country and its people. Discussing plebiscite for ending the so called India-Manipur conflict is not always pro-independence, and is not always against the sovereignty of the nation.
Plebiscite is the best way to ascertain people`s wishes. Canada and Indonesia have proved that in Quebec Province and East Timor respectively. Quebec nationalist groups had engaged in violence to attain freedom for its French-speaking Province from the majority-English speaking Canada before a plebiscite was held in Quebec in 1980. Almost 60% of the people voted in favor of continuing as a province of Canada. Quebec nationalist groups accepted people`s verdict and there was no more violence. On the other hand, years of bloodshed in East Timor ended when, under heavy international pressure, Indonesia held a plebiscite in East Timor in 1999. Majority of people voted for independence and it was granted. A new country was born. Plebiscite not only leads to break provinces but also helps consolidate countries according to the wishes and determination of the inhabitants.
Plebiscite is a direct vote in which an entire electorate is asked to either accept or reject a particular proposal. This may result in the adoption of a new constitution, a constitutional amendment, a law, the recall of an elected official or simply a specific government policy. It is a form of direct democracy. The word plebiscite comes from the Latin plebiscita, which originally meant a decree of the Concilium Plebis, the popular assembly of the Roman Republic. In the United States, a plebiscite is typically known as an initiative when originating in a petition of ordinary citizens, and as a referendum only if it consists of a proposal referred to voters by the legislature. A plebiscite can be considered a kind of election and is often referred to as such in the U.S.
Plebiscite has made turning points in the history of many nations. It has indelible relations to people’s self-determination right. Instances are visible in Montenegro, Southern Sudan, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and other Russian provinces. Croatia held an independence referendum in May, 1991 in which 93 per cent of the voters opted for independence. East Timor, formerly an autonomous province of Indonesia, held a referendum in October 1999, which led to its independence from Indonesia. In April 1993 nearly one million voters cast their ballots for a sovereign and independent Ethiopia. This vote was the result of thirty years of war of independence by Eritreans. In 1979 and after the Islamic Revolution had toppled the Iranian monarchy, a referendum was held to choose the future governing system of the country in Iran. The Islamic Republic was established after more than 98 per cent of the population voted for it.
There was an independence referendum on 23 December 1990 in Slovenia. 95 per cent of the turn out voters voted for the independence. On 25 June 1991, Slovenian parliament passed an independence law proclaiming Slovenia a sovereign country. In 1976 a referendum was held in Spain to determine if citizens wanted to change the dictatorship political system or not to change it, after the death of Francisco Franco. Spaniards voted for change. The late Naga Leader A. Z. Phizo spearheaded the region’s first ever plebiscite on May 16, 1951 in which the Nagas voted for a ‘Sovereign Nagaland’. The spirit and aspirations of the Naga plebiscite are still on the cards.
On January 31, 2005, the United National Liberation Front (UNLF), the proscribed armed group operating in Manipur, announced a four-point proposal for holding a plebiscite in order to resolve what it calls ‘Manipur-India political conflict’ once and for all. The group put up certain conditions that United Nations Peace Keeping forces should be deployed in Manipur to ensure free and fair voting. It demanded that Indian government should remove its forces from the region while it assured to surrender all its weapons to the UN forces. According to the UNLF, the plebiscite is the democratic solution which will end the age-old political conflict in Manipur. It says that military action could never bring peace and solution to the issue, as experiences of the 50 years have proved it beyond doubt.
Notwithstanding the merits and demerits of the proposal, we may consider it as truly the first ever peace initiative from a separatist insurgent organisation to which the government always appeals for dialogue. The offer for surrender of weapons to a third party for effecting a fair plebiscite may also be considered as noble and reasonable.
There have been discussions and deliberations among various sections of people on the plebiscite proposal, amidst obstructions and impositions of the government machinery. In September 2005, Union Defense Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, while addressing media persons at Leimakhong Army Headquarters said that ‘the matter of holding a plebiscite towards bringing an end to the decades old insurgency in Manipur will not be possible if the intent is to disintegrate the country.’ He asserted that any dialogue to end insurgency in Manipur or any part of the country should be done within the framework of Indian constitution.
The Manipur government flatly rejected the UNLF-proposal for holding plebiscite as unrealistic. The then Manipur Governor SS Sidhu held a meeting with the Director General of police, state Chief Secretary and Principal Secretary (Home) on 23 January, 2005 and declined the proposal. State government decided, at that time, to take action against government employees who attended public discussions or talks on the plebiscite issues. Acknowledging the freedom of its people to think, deliberate and express their opinion on a particular issue, the government has apparently softened its stance to disturb the public meetings as of now. The public discussions on plebiscite are continuing at various places of the state with participation of civil society organizations.  Still there is hope that more civil society bodies and intellectual organisations will join the discussion on plebiscite issue, and its pros and cons will be revealed to the people for public education and awareness. The discussions will bring in more fruitful results, if more intellectuals, academicians and journalists communities take active roles in it. Moreover, it is hoped that if the numerous insurgent groups of the state voice the proposal for peaceful solution in its collectivity and in one principle, the proposal would be more forceful and fruitful. Any measure for conflict solution in Manipur calls for unity and oneness of ideology among the various underground outfits operating in the state, and also sincerity on the part of the government of India.

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