Crucial Case

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The trial of the arrested United National Liberation Front, UNLF, chairman, R.K. Sanayaima, would begin sooner than later. The case is important for more reason than the obvious of the accused having transgressed the law. It will demonstrate among others the status government of India holds the various nationalistic uprisings (or insurgencies) in the Northeast to be. That is to say, this case will demonstrate whether the Indian state sees these shows of dissents as merely problems of law and order breaches or else radical political dissents arising out of historical and structural inconsistencies between the idea of the India and those who see themselves at its margin or else outside its fold. A lot of future resolutions the problem of insurgency in the Northeast as elsewhere in other parts of the country may indeed come to pivot around this case. Here is a case of an insurgent leader arrested in Bangladesh though officially unacknowledged, and two months after his arrest and illegal detention, surfaced allegedly in Bihar, and according to the official version, arrested while he was trying to cross into Indian territory from Nepal. There was a genuine worry at the time the arrested UNLF leader remained missing that he would be made to disappear without a trace, but this did not happen, indicating already the intent of his captors that he is better alive than dead. If it was otherwise, there ordinarily would have been no way to prove he had been arrested, much less executed. Quite obviously his captors knew this more than anybody else, but they did not do what had become a popular feared.

The arrested insurgent leader is now being charge sheeted. The charges against him can also be guessed. At its most grand, it would be waging war against the nation. The penalty for this, if proven, would be understandably tough. From all indications the arrested leader is also not shirking away from his role in the ideology he has been pursuing, or the fact that he had been the leader of an organisation outlawed under Indian law, his only caveat being that he was not waging war against India but defending an erstwhile sovereign kingdom’s right to self determination. In past cases of such arrests, the modus operandi had been far too often of the arrested leaders claiming, obviously on the advice of their lawyers, that they had nothing to do with the organisation they were accused of heading or had no knowledge of the offences against the law slapped against them, and in the absence of conclusive proof or witness evidences, eventually getting bail, which they then jumped. They get to be free again and continue their fight, but such moves morally demeaned the struggle they headed. In the present case, the table is being turned. With the same conviction that he fought his war, the UNLF leader is now defending the reason why he fought the war.

What the legal response would be is predictable and understandable. It can only go by the statute book. But what is to be watched here is the political response, or the statesmanship with which the Indian state would handle the situation. Would it too simply go by the statute book or look beyond and discover the larger picture. On the larger canvas of peace building and resolution to the various insurgencies in the Northeast, the Indian state’s attitude and decision on the UNLF leader case would have a profound bearing. It would also answer the million rupees question of whether resolving insurgency in the Northeast is a military responsibility or a political and statesmanship enterprise. In this way, we see the unfolding case to be an important litmus test. It will also determine whether the establishment is looking for a victory in a battle or thinking of winning the war. We do hope it is the latter. We do hope the arrested UNLF leader, for the very reason that has chosen to stand by his conviction, is not treated as a common law offender but a political prisoner with all entitled dignity accorded to him, even if he is ultimately rewarded the severest penalty for waging war against the nation. This is important, for it is now more than clear that the familiar tactics of delegitimizing insurgency by labelling it as criminal has not brought the intended result in all these decades. It only embittered the constituencies that threw up these defiant challenges to the establishment. It is now time to give these phenomena the legitimacy they always deserved, and then tackle it from this vantage. The trial of the UNLF leader R.K. Sanayaima in this regard can be the benchmark of a new and enlightened approach to resolving the question of insurgency not just in Manipur, but the entire Northeast and even beyond.

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