Peace and Conflict Ennui

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From all appearances, the peace talks between the Government of India and the Naga underground organisation NSCN(IM), is hopelessly stagnated. The confrontation recently between the underground group and the establishment when the two topmost leaders of the organisation, Thuingaleng Muivah and Isak Chishi Swu were prevented from visiting Zunheboto district of Nagaland, the home district of Swu by the Assam Rifles is just a case in point. The sorry episode was almost a repeat of the Mao incident in 2010 in which Muivah was prevented by the Manipur government to proceed to his home village Somtal. What then was the Naga peace talks about? Both the Government of India as well as NSCN(IM) leadership have been all the while been talking positive of an amicable solution sooner than later, but so far the reality has been something quite different. Perhaps, this stagnation was always embedded in the very nature of the conflict sought to be resolved. Indeed, there are too many contradictions within it – the definition of self-determination for instance. Depending on how one looks at the issue, this definition will inevitably change and radically too.

Consider this. There can be no doubt how the Nagas in their history of more than half a decade of nationalistic struggle would interpret the notion of self determination. For them the term would mean nothing less than absolute sovereignty that an independent nation-state is deemed to be entitled. Quite by contrast, from the Government of India’s standpoint, even its model of local self governance, popularly known as Panchayati Raj, is a guarantee of self-determination to the ultimate sovereign of a democracy – the individual citizen. At its roots the inability of the Naga peace talks to make any forward movement is this fundamentally different viewpoint. In other words, it is unlikely the Government of India would ever agree to dismantle itself to have a part of its present political map secede to form an independent nation. It is also evident it would be equally difficult for the Naga leadership to accept this definition of self-determination, after all so much blood has been shed in their half century chase for the illusive dream of a sovereign Nagaland already.

It must however be said, it is better to stagnate in peace than in conflict. If the Naga peace talk is stagnating, it is equally true the multi-dimensional conflict in neighbouring Manipur has not made any headway either. In fact, it has degenerated further, with many militant organisations splintering into numerous tiny factions, each becoming loose cannons in their turn, creating havoc in society and bringing misery to the ordinary men and women on the streets. Extortion has stunted all entrepreneurship, likewise except for the superhumanly resilient, schools and colleges are today under great strain because of bandhs and blockades, some of which can go on for months. Because of these conditions, there is today a flight of students away from the state. Expectedly, there is also a reciprocal exodus of young talents. Many of those who had been forced to seek education elsewhere are unlikely to return, for opportunities have shrunk in the state and the knowledge and skills they have acquired would find them better employment elsewhere. In the end, Manipur could be left with only those who either did not have the means to afford education outside or the right skills to find employment elsewhere. The only others other class than them left behind would be the old and infirmed. That would be when productivity in the state would have come to a grinding halt. This is already beginning to happen.

The fact also is, the stagnating peace talk in Nagaland and the stagnating conflict in Manipur are interrelated in many ways. The implication is, the key to solution to both must be hinged on the same issues. This being the case, what is called for then is a comprehensive and inclusive, rather than an exclusive solution. Genuine peace can only come about if and when this realisation dawns on all, from those in power to the ordinary citizenry. At this moment, such an approach is far from the minds of each of the parties involved in this sordid drama, beginning from the Government of India right down to the militant factions, some with no more than a dozen motley so called revolutionary fighters, whose idioms and ideologies of revolution no longer translate to more than the terror of a grenade hurled at individual homes for refusing extortion demands.

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