Time to Learn from Experience
By P. Sharat Chandra Singh
The Naga (political) blockades along the National Highway 39 often punch the Manipuris on the stomach, sending them reeling and simmering for days, weeks and months. Mr. Thuingaleng Muivah had once (2010) planned to visit his native village and some other places. But Manipur was suspicious of his motives and stopped him at Mao gate, of course, at the cost of two precious lives. (May the departed souls rest in peace). Muivah was camping at Viswema (Nagaland) and yet insistent that the Government of India should prevail upon the Government of Manipur to concede his demand – quite a harrowing time for all concerned. Good sense prevailed; the central emissaries – Pillai and Pandey duo – came to Manipur and Nagaland, assessed the situation, and, sensing danger, they cajoled Muivah into agreeing to postpone his journey.
But what was the need for fomenting political turmoil in an already fractured Manipur? Why the “Naga Cease Fire” handlers in Delhi failed to consider the need for creating ambient conditions of peace dialogue through a process of mutual consultation? They had mistakenly played into the hands of Muivah who was otherwise wary of the old idea of nationalism waning in a rapidly changing and shrinking world. Technology has made the world flat, open and inclusive. It is a new international order that thrives on connectivity and mobility. Most of the nations today simply ignore territorial boundaries and converge on a “global village”, regardless of ethnicity, faith, language and identity. For instance, human instinct for freedom had brought down the infamous Berlin Wall. The European Union, ASEAN, SAARC, dollar as the international currency, e-banking, credit cards transcend international borders – nothing is going to stop the process of convergence. Isn’t it time to broaden the old concept of nationalism that was constructed on the basis of history, ethnicity, religion, language and the like?
Muivah’s sojourn (May-June, 2010) and its ripple effect was like history repeating itself. Manipur was in flames (June 18, 2001) in the face of Naga cease fire extension without territorial limits. On both the occasions, the Centre had taken decisions without consulting Manipur, thereby offending the sensibilities of its people and stirring up a real hornets’ nest. And, Manipur’s protests against the decisions were so compelling that the Centre felt constrained to retract its commitments to the NSCN (IM). The moral lesson is that any unilateral peace policy would simply backfire. Given the federal structure of the Indian Union vis-à-vis the territorial aspirations of the NSCN (IM), it would have been more prudent to get all the stakeholder states – Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh –involved in the peace process. Conversely, the Centre might consider an option for the concerned states to hold a referendum on the issue of territorial reorganization. In a televised interview (June, 2010) Mr. Handique, the Union Minister in charge of the North East, had commented in a similar vein.
In the aftermath of the public upsurge in Manipur (June 18, 2001) against the unilateral extension of “Naga Cease Fire” without territorial limits, a high level political delegation urged the Prime Minister and the Home Minister of India to give credence to the voice of the people of Manipur. In the same spirit the Manipuris observe the Great June Uprising/Unity Day every year on 18 June, to express solidarity with all the communities who stood against the threats to peace and integrity of Manipur. It is, indeed, hard to fathom the great sense of restraint displayed by the people of Manipur despite all the provocations and pains.
The government of the day will have to take the blame for any slippage in managing the affairs of the state. When 25 lakh Manipuris were on the brink of starvation nothing should have daunted the state authorities about securing the Jiribam – Imphal NH 53 to sustain the flow of goods into the state. The bureaucracy should have risen to the occasion rather than hibernating in the shadow of ministers and quietly watching the “Guite Road Misadventure” and “Air Cargo Tamasha”. To maintain supplies of essential commodities is a routine administrative function that may not require any political decision. Thanks to the political leadership, some Ministers and MLAs led from the front in clearing NH 53. Pessimism – “it is somebody’s business” or “I can’t help” kind of attitude – has been pushing the bureaucrats into oblivion. The people have forgotten them even in the moments of crisis. ISTV had reported a panic stricken woman’s gory encounter with a handful of blockade supporters who attacked bus passengers at Noney in the presence of the security personnel on duty nearby. Isn’t it a sad reflection of the gaps in the command structure/deployment of the security forces?
Anyway, Muivah had to muffle the alarm and abort the journey as both the government and the people of Manipur remained bitterly opposed to it. However, the ignominious end of the journey notwithstanding, it was (for him) a mission accomplished to the extent of rekindling the pro – Nagalim feelings and, at the same time, antagonizing the majority of the Manipuris who were opposed to any idea of disintegrating the State of Manipur. The blockade days are gone along with Mr. Muivah. But there is no end to Manipur’s tale of woes. The Centre as well as the State still owe the Manipuris a lot of explanations. All the stakeholders need to unravel the Naga tangle with a sense of decency, and yet keeping in mind the fact that (political) aspirations threatening Manipur’s territorial integrity and socio-cultural fabric will ever remain the Achilles heel. An inclusive Senapati Dialouge as slated to open on 6 February, 2014 should herald a new era of reconciliation.
(The author is former Principal Secretary of Government of Manipur, e-mail: [email protected])