By Rajkumar Bobichand
The present context of multi-ethnic Manipur is highly and communally charged with anti-Meitei statements from the frontal organisations of Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland – NSCN (IM) particularly United Naga Council (UNC) and the statements for territorial integrity of Manipur and anti-NSCN(IM) rhetoric from United Committee Manipur (UCM) and All Manipur Clubs’ Organisation (AMUCO). It is on the backdrop of new proposals from the Government of India (GOI) to ink an accord with the leaders of the NSCN (IM) before the election of Nagaland Assembly in 2013 after fifteen years of “Peace Talk” between the two entities.
The “Peace Talk” between the GOI and NSCN (IM) appears creating more conflicts and tensions in India’s Northeast Region or North-Western Region of South-East Asia (Nowersesia) in general and Manipur in particular for the last fifteen years. The “Peace-Talk” claimed many lives and wounded many people in both the Valley and the Hills of Manipur. The “Peace-Talk” divides the people of Manipur on ethnic lines.
The Kukis apex body, Kuki Inpi Manipur (KIM) strongly wants justice first before any settlement between the GOI and NSCN (IM). The KIM charges that the GOI has been ignoring the numerous pleas and prayers of the Kuki apex body for delivering justice to the victims of 1990s Kuki-Naga violent ethnic conflict where more than one thousand Kuki people mostly innocent children and women were slaughtered by the NSCN (IM) cadres and their collaborators, more than 360 villages were deserted and around one hundred thousand of people were displaced, many children were made orphans. The KIM says that it was never a conflict between the Nagas and the Kukis but the “ethnic cleansing” carried out by the NSCN (IM) to claim major areas of Manipur, where different ethnic groups have been living in coexistence for centuries, as Naga exclusive areas.
The KIM threatens to review their three principles of non-communal, peaceful coexistence and justice for all in Manipur if any settlement is arrived between the GOI and NSCN (IM).
The NSCN (IM) has been claiming a swathe of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh as “Nagalim” in the region. The UCM and AMUCO firmly stand for the territorial integrity of Manipur. The peoples of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh also object any carving out of their territories to appease the NSCN (IM) and form a Greater Nagaland. The provincial governments of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh also strongly stand that any accord between the GOI and NSCN (IM) should not compromise the territorial integrity of their states but welcome a settlement between the two sides.
The new Home Minister of India, Sushil Kumar Shinde seems rushing to make an accord between the GOI and NSCN (IM) at the earliest for the so-called Naga Solution and pushing the Chief Ministers of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh to accept the proposals. It is said that the proposal consists of the creation of a pan-Naga body to administer the Naga affairs spanning over the Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh as an “Alternative Arrangements to the Nagas”. And the Home Minister of India further pushes the Chief Minister of Manipur with a checked question – What is the harm in giving Alternative Arrangements to the Nagas? This aggravates the situation of multi-ethnic Manipur.
The GOI and its Chanakyas still do not or seem deliberately not understand Manipur. And the GOI also thinks that any settlement with the NSCN (IM) is solution to the Indo-Naga conflict ignoring the other stakeholders. The GOI and its think tank seems deliberately ignore the diversity and pluralistic nature of the region. The GOI seems only concerned to secure India’s territory at the cost of the natives of the region and don’t bother about the further divisions of the region on ethnic lines. It is not unknown to many people that once settlement of GOI with NSCN (IM) without respecting the political history of Manipur and interest of the peoples of the regions will make more violent conflicts between the different ethnic groups of the region in general and Manipur in particular.
The GOI and the NSCN (IM) must understand that Manipur is not a state formed out of India’s territories. Manipur has been a unique state, which had a written constitution and an Assembly of Peoples’ representatives elected based on universal adult franchise for the first time in South Asia and Southeast Asia before the coerced merger of Manipur to the Dominion India on 15 October 1949. Manipur is where the hills make the valleys and the valleys make the hills. It is an organic evolution which is indivisible. I think even the different ethnic groups that are seen as the original inhabitants of the hills may have moved to the hills from the valleys and vice versa due to the many challenges to live in the respective areas after the dispersion of the brothers from Makhel if no ethnic groups of Manipur deny the common mythology of human migration at Makhel in the northern area of Manipur. Another is that hills and valleys forming multi-ethnic independent kingdoms and states is not uncommon characteristic of the Southeast Asia. We will easily understand the symbiotic relationships of hills and valleys if we look into many countries and nations of Southeast Asia, like Laos, Malaysia, Thailand and Burma etc.
Manipur is not a forced union of the different ethnic groups. Only because of the struggles of life and capacities to adapt to the situations peoples settle at different places, may be the hills or the valleys and the lakes. Why the kings and peoples of Manipur (including the ethnic groups who are now settling in the hills) expanded up to Chindween in the east, upto Sumara in the west and even upto areas of present Nagaland? Why the kings and people of Manipur (including the ethnic groups who are now settling in the hills) have been protecting the present boundaries of Manipur, though sparsely settled by few people. I believe and think that it is because the hills are the common resources of the peoples who settle both in the hills and the valleys. Hills are the sources of forest produce, horticultural produce, fuels, and minerals while the valleys are the rice bowl for the peoples of Manipur. Hills are the ecology of the lives of the people of Manipur and inseparable part of the ecosystem. It is the need of the all people of Manipur irrespective of ethnic groups. Peoples of the hills and the valleys are mutually interdependent and all the ethnic groups of Manipur need both the hills and the valleys. The hills need the valleys and the valleys need the hills. Therefore all the ethnic groups need to have the equal stakes in all the spheres of Manipur.
I think Manipur is like a pineapple. Pineapple is a multiple fruit consisting of coalesced berries, named for resemblance to the pine cone. It is not a single fruit but a combination of individual fruits with their stalks impregnated collectively, with boundaries gradually becoming undefined, into the tip that appears as the grand stalk of juicy fruit. Each individual fruit of the multiple fruit marked on the surface by the near-hexagonal form which cannot be distinguished from one another.
As an individual fruit of a pineapple cannot exist independently, no group of people of Manipur can live exclusively. If someone tries to cut out an individual fruit of a pineapple, both the individual fruit and the remaining fruits will perish. It is only the matter of time, which perishes first.
Therefore, it is high time for all the right and positive thinking people of Manipur irrespective of their ethnic groups come together and visualise a common vision to live with dignity in active coexistence, equity resource and development, justice and mutual respect of distinct identities. If we are united we progress, divided we perish.