Alternative arrangement for nagas of Manipur

1483

The nagas had been one people from time unmemorable. The first mention of the nagas in our present place of domicile was made by Claudius Ptolemy, Alexandrian astronomer and geographer in the first century B.C. He referred to our areas as being inhabited by people who were naked or with little attire. That the nagas had established their settlement, land, customs and usages at their area of domicile continuously for more than 2000 years is proof that the nagas were great warriors and resilient defenders of their land. Nagas were also peaceful and co-operative people living in harmony with each other. Every naga village was a sovereign village state in itself except in some ranges especially among the konyak tribe whose chiefs or Anghs dominated and ruled over several villages which was mostly for common defence strategy.

The nagas were a hard working and diligent people. They were self-sufficient and so had no reason to venture far from their home turf. This attitude, in retrospect, was also the cause of their many misfortunes in the future. Many of the ills the nagas suffered are attributed to many political decisions taken behind their back. For the nagas except for some salt expeditions and hunting expeditions there was hardly any interaction with the outside world. They lived under set norms and practices in public life yet had very high degree of personal freedom. Any crime big or small was promptly dealt with under an efficient customary law system and there was a great sense of safety and social security. This Utopian system of life gave little reason for anyone to move out of the circle of his village or tribe and kept the nagas in isolation from the outside world.

The first interaction between the nagas and the Meitei people was not on mutual reciprocal basis but a one sided intrusion from the meiteis.The meiteis were in Manipur which in those days meant only the present valley area.The sana leibak , the valley area was the Manipur of the Mahabharat according to the Brahmins from Puri which the king completely believed . In the Khomjon War of 1891 the British army inflicted a resounding defeat to the Raja of Manipur and annexed his territory and was made to pay an annual tribute of Rs.300000/- (Rupees Three lacs only) to the British crown. The king pleaded with the conquerors that the tax was enormous and that he be allowed to raise some tax from the surrounding hill areas. The British Government gave a reluctant but tacit approval to the request. This arrangement was made without the knowledge of the hill people.It was just a greedy nexus between the British and the raja.
Thereafter every year the Manipuri king sent his army of horsemen and footmen armed with muskets to forcefully collect an annual household tax from every village. The naga villages were few and far in between and the rajas army was well-armed and well manned. The villagers had little option but to pay up or face dire consequences. This levy was not a tax of the ruler on its subjects, it was just plain extortion under threat to life. This army was also more than willing to apply force against any village that resisted in which case the village would be looted and its members massacared as a lesson. The nagas being not very familiar with muskets or gun powder, in those days, the raiding parties took maximum advantage of the situation. This was also true of the other tribal areas.

This annual foray was the only interaction between the kingdom of Manipur which was the valley area alone and the people in the adjacent hill areas. The hill areas were however, never governed by the king of Manipur. He neither tried to nor ever wished to govern the hill areas. For him, these were just an area where he freely extorted money. Towards the end of the nineteenth century it became convenient for this marauding army to give Manipuri names to the villages in the hill areas. The ridiculous Meitei names thus allocated bore no meaning to hill people.

However, this act of naming villages presumably for the accounting reasons provided an opportunity to the raja which was irresistible. A sinister and deliberate plot was hatched and the adjacent hill areas used solely for extortion were surreptitiously shown as an extended part of Manipur bearing Meitei names. This was done without the knowledge or involvement of the nagas or the other hill peoples. In due course of time the western and northern boundary of Zeliangrong became Manipur boundary with Assam and Nagaland respectively instead of the foothills of the valley. The Senapati tribe boundary lands became Manipur boundary with the Angami and Chakesang tribes of Nagaland. Similarly, the land of the tribes of Ukhrul, Chandel and Churachanpur were claimed/included surreptitiously as the outer part of Manipur.

The raja however continued to rule only the valley area and the administration of the hill areas was continuously under the British crown. In fact, before the British administration departed from Manipur, under their guidance a draft constitution for Manipur was made in 1949. In the draft constitution there was a clause which stated that the state of Manipur will comprise of the valley of Manipur and the adjoining hill areas for 10(ten)years. After the expiry of ten years the hill areas may secede from Manipur if they so desire. Mr. Daiho and Mr. Tiankham objected to the period of ten years insisting that is should be reduced to five years. If the agreement had been approved as proposed and if the tribals representatives had not walked out what would have been our position are now in the annals of the ifs and buts of history . This however was probably was the first official endeavour to legitimise and to establish the state of Manipur, temporary however it may be.

I am emphasising and bringing out these points, because of late the territorial integrity of Manipur state appear to have become a bigger issue than the naga solution in the eyes of the Government of India even though the existence of Manipur as a state was ambiguous as late as 1949, long after independence of India. The naga peace talks that were to be held without pre-conditions appear to be coming up with more and more conditions as the years pass by. For more than fifteen years the government led the nagas on as though the naga solution was in next bend down the road. Is the Government of India going to mislead the nagas on and on while they go about diluting the aspirations of the naga people till there would be nothing left to discuss about? We have to be very realistic and seriously ponder upon this.
I had written earlier that if the nagas are not at peace, the entire north-east region will not be at peace, and if the north-east region is not at peace, the rest of India cannot be at peace. The government had recently stated that the Chinese and ISI elements are fomenting unrest in the region. A stable North-East is the best defence for the country and the right step in that direction is to resolve the naga conflict without further loss of time. Prolonging the issue will only further alienate the people of the region.
It is but natural for a people to aspire to stay together under one administrative unit. They must, there is no harm in that. What is appalling, however, is the steadfast manner in which the India politicians and bureaucrats keep parroting at every fora that the territorial integrity of Manipur cannot be compromised. What prompted them to sing this chorus everytime? Such acts by the Prime Minister and his colleagues from time to time and recently by the government of India and the government of Manipur at the Tri-partite talks with UNC tantamount to disrespect and insult to Indian parliament and Indian constitution. They cannot put an embargo on an issue which purely is the prerogative of parliament and guaranteed by the Indian Constitution.

Article 3 of the Indian Constitution states that:
Parliament may by law,

a) Form a new state by separation of territory from any state or by uniting two or more states or by uniting any territory to a part of any state.
b) Increase the area of any state.
c) Diminish the area of any state.
d) Alter the boundaries of any state.
e) Alter the name of any state.

The bill for the same, requires the recommendations of the President of India to parliament. (The President prior to that will seek the view of the state(s) likely to be affected in the process. Within a period of 30(thirty) days. The President ,however,may or may not abide by the views of the state legislatures, so ascertained nor is he bound by number of days so provided for the legislatures).

When parliament has been provided with such leverage is matters concerning boundaries or creation of states, politicians and bureaucrats have no business of pre-empting parliament and deny the people their constitutional rights.

Secondly , every state in the country, each and everyone of them, had territories added or taken out since independence. Vast tracks of land of Assam had been ceded to Bhutan and erstwhile East Pakistan even after independence without the Indian Parliament passing an amendment to the constitution which was a prerequisite. The amendment was passed more than a decade laterin 1961 after Supreme Court intervened. Meghalaya, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram were formed out of Assam.Did anybody big or small ever mentioned or spoken about Assam’s territorial integrity then or now?Then why has the Government taken such a diametrically opposite stand as regards Manipur? What is the motive? The year 1949 saw a lot of inter state adjustments when the states and provinces of pre-independent India were re-arranged into A,B,C and D states categories. The States Re-organisation Act of 1956 re0organised the state boundaries further into states and union territories based on “linguistic and local demands.” This continued after 1956. In 1959 transfer of territories between Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, Andhra and Tamil Nadu took place. In 1960 Bombay Presidency was bifurcated into Maharastra and Gujarat. Nagaland was created from Assam in 1962 and in the 70’s Arunnachal, Meghalaya and Mizoram were created. In the year 2000, Chhattisgarh, Uttaranchal and Jharkhand were created out of Madhya Pradesh, U.P and Bihar respectively. Now Telangana is poised to happen any time in the near future.

In this background is it not relevant to question why the territorial integrity of Manipur is so sacrosanct in the eyes of the Government of India? What is the motive behind it? Recently the Prime Minister of India had stated, alluding to the integration of the contiguous naga inhabited areas that what was not possible in one hundred years will not be possible in another hundred years. My question to the Prime Minister will be , what has happened to the rest of the country over and over in the last hundred years and will happen again and again in the next hundred years – not possible for the naga people? What prompted this consistent denial to us?

Just before the last elections Shri Ibobi Singh was the most hated chief minister in Manipur’s entire history. He even promoted a local party which put up candidates against official Congress party candidates who would not tow his line. Such was his precarious condition that he wantonly went against his own party and partymen. Then all of a sudden on 3rd Dec 2011 Dr Manmohan Singh happened. The Prime Minister that day declared the territorial integrity of Manipur will be protected. Overnight O. Ibobi turned into majority Ibobi. Was it appropriate for the Prime Minister to have made such a pronouncement while the negotiation to bring about peaceful solution to the Indo-Naga conflict was going on? Only time will tell.

From the utterances of the Prime Minister and his collegues, we can only draw the conclusion that the naga cause and naga aspirations had been misused and abused to gain political mileage for the congress party. Both Ibobi and Tarun Gogoi were notorious for sponsoring extra judicial killings and fake encounters. They had been alienated from the people at the grassroot level. But by raising a bogey of fears, while delaying the solution to the naga problem, the congress party has ensured maximum political mileage in the three states of Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh.

Our naga political leaders have also not been blameless. In fact they have become stumbling blocks to the naga people. After getting elected and on reaching Imphal or New Delhi they forget their people and the ones who elected them. At the no-confidence motion against UPA I in July 2008, our MP declared in Parliament that he will vote against the motion in support of UPA because the congress party had assured him that the party will reconsider its stand on protecting the territorial integrity of Manipur. Madam Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan singh, Pranab Mukherjee and the entire cabinet and treasury benches vigorously thumped their desks in parliament in appreciation and agreement. But nothing happened thereafter. There were rumours flying thick and fast that thirty pieces of silver changed hands. Whatever it was, a fine opportunity of a lifetime to further the cause of naga aspirations was lost.

The Government of India and the Government of Manipur seem to have developed an allergy to the term ‘naga integration’.The nagas of Manipur modified their demand to Alternative Arrangement for the naga people of manipur. Initially the alternative arrangement proposed no specific demand except the declaration that the present arrangement, the present dispensation (and the present system of government) was no more acceptable to the naga people. This followed a paradigm shift in the mindset of the naga people, an attempt to reach out to the other communities especially the Meitei people. The arrangement was envisaged to be an interim or temporary arrangement till the final settlement of the naga issue with the Government of India. It was an exercise in mending fences with our neighbours. In the first tripartite talks when Shombu Singh representing Government of India asked Mr. Sword Vashum, Chairman Alternative Arrangement Committee what alternative arrangement was, he reportedly replied “you tell us.” That was the epitome of what the alternative arrangement was all about. It meant we are of an open mind, we are willing to listen to and consider any proposal or suggestion, tell us what you have in mind, we have no fixed mindset on the matter. It was a positive signal to other communities that that the nagas are willing to sit down and discuss, sort out differences where it exists, build bridges and mend fences. In other words even one state two people, one state two administrations, nagas were willing to listen. The Government of Manipur and the Valley Civil societies appear to have not visualise beyond the tripartite talks and a great opportunity was missed. The UNC now appear to be more focussed on separate state. But let no one raise their finger at the naga people to say that nagas had not extended their hand in friendship..

The founding fathers of our nation Shri Jawaharlal Nehru the first Prime minister of India and Shri. G.B. Patel the iron man of India and the first Home minister of India has this to say regarding the aspirations of the naga people.On 13th May 1956 Nehru wrote a secret personal letter to CM Medhi Chief Minister of Assam.“One of their grievances is that under the constitution we have split them up in different political areas. Whether it is possible or desirable to bring them together again is for us to consider. Also what measure of autonomy we should give them so that they can lead their own lives without any sensation of interferences.”In 1961 Shri. G.B. Pant the then Home Minister of India stated that “Frankly ………. disintegration of present Manipur would be an inevitable process and naturally the naga would have to join their nagas and if they so choose even the kukis too should be given, as far as geographical position permits the choice to join the mizos who are more akin to the kukis…..”

Naga people must have a complete state of its own so as to better preserve their culture, tradition, customary ways of the Naga people.The naga people share a common vision of this which is a completely legimate aspiration and the position of Manipur’s sentiments has no locus standi on the topic. Indian states have been bifurcated or added to on several occasions in the past based on “ linguistic and local demands” alone. Our aspirations are just and guaranteed by the Indian Constitution and Indian Parliament had set so many precedents in the past while disposing such just demands of the people.It won’t be long before the naga peoples demand and dreams are fulfilled because the Government of India will have no alternative but to concede to the just demands of the naga people.

Puni Modoli.
Dimapur.
[email protected]

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