An exclusive Interview of S.T Thangboi Kipgen, President Kuki National Front (KNF) and Chairman of United People’s Front (UPF) by IFP’s Chitra Ahanthem at Camp Ebenezer, Natheljang in Senapati District.
IFP: You have been under Suspension of Operations (SoO) with the Government of India and Government of Manipur since 2008, what transpired from this agreement so far?
S.T Thangoi : The tripartite SoO agreement involving the Kuki armed cadres, the United People’s Front (UPF)and Kuki National Organisation( KNO) the two conglomerate organisations of Kuki armed groups with the Govt of India and Govt of Manipur was signed on 22nd August 2008 in New Delhi. Prior to signing of this agreement, Manipur witnessed endless encounters with the Army and Kuki armed cadres along with factional fights amongst us, killings and kidnappings with the situation in the hills going out of control. Now that UPF and KNO are pressing for a political dialogue, there is a sense of urgency in every leader to unite and work together. When we contemplated the SoO, there were several obligations put on us. However, we agreed to go ahead with the agreement because its mandate is to initiate a peaceful and meaningful political dialogue.
IFP: Six years into the SoO Agreement, there has been no political dialogue. What do you think is the reason?
S.T Thangboi: Yes, the agreement has been extended for six years with no official political dialogue so far. The Government of India has given us many reasons for this delay. Former Home Minister, Shri Sushil Kumar Shinde said all official documents have been submitted to the Prime Minister’s Office . Once the PMO gives clearance and an interlocutor is appointed, the dialogues would begin. When UPF representatives were unwilling to extend the SoO Agreement in New Delhi due to the delay in political dialogue, the state and central representatives committed to initiate the dialogue at the earliest date. However, nothing has materialized till today. It would be shameful on the part of the Indian leadership to attempt to fabricate their own commitment but we believe that peace is a process that needs patience.
IFP: Given the constant delays with the dialogue, what plans do you have for the future?
S.T Thangboi : The Kuki armed movement was started with the mandate of the general public and till today it remains a people’s movement spearheaded by the revolutionary groups. If the Government of India is not serious with the peace process, the Kuki people will decide what is best for their future. The legitimate rights of the Kukis cannot be denied.
IFP: What are the logistical issues that you face with the cadres and the camp? Has vocational courses started yet?
Aaaron Kipgen, General Secy KNF and Convenor UPF:
The stipends for the cadres are not given out monthly. Rather, it is released every ¾ months. In terms of the logistics, it gets rather difficult at times. You can see that the condition of the Camp has itself deteriorated, as we do not get any maintenance budget. Vocational and skill trainings have been announced and we had even gone to visit the proposed site at Churachandpur but nothing has happened on that front which is every discouraging.
IFP: Now that the BJP led NDA has formed the government at the centre, do you think this will affect the SoO agreement?
S.T Thangboi: I have been asked the same question several times by chiefs and social leaders in many places that I visited. Let me clarify here that the SoO agreement was signed with the Government of India. It was not an agreement signed with the Congress as a political party. So, whether there is a Congress or BJP Government at the centre, the SoO Agreement should be honored. Unless we decide to abrogate the agreement and announce formally, the agreement should be honored by the state the centre, UPF and KNO. Having said that I would like to take the opportunity to congratulate Shri Narendra Modi and the BJP for their outstanding performance in the 16th LS polls on behalf of UPF. We are really looking forward to the day the grievances and demands of UPF would be taken up.
IFP: Factionalism seems to be the biggest challenge in all revolutionary movements. What so you think is the cause for this? Is there any possibility of the two umbrella group of Kuki armed groups coming together?
S.T Thangboi: Fighting for our people is a service to the nation, a sacrifice. Our armed movement has only one goal, Kukiland, an autonomous state for the Kukis in Manipur. Cadres and leaders who deviate from this goal often float new groups to fulfill their personal desires, may be power, money or fame. Unless there is a true sacrificial spirit among the leaders and cadres, they cannot be true warriors. We have had a round of talks with the Kuki National Organization (KNO) in Churachandpur since we all do feel the urge to be united. We have not come to any concrete agreement but one day or the other, we can surely unite.
IFP: What issues are you going to put forth given a situation of a political dialogue?
S.T Thangboi: Our political stand is Kukiland, a land for the Kukis which is legitimate and within the Constitution of India. We are calling for an autonomous Hill state within Manipur that will include Sadar Hills and parts of Churachandpur, Chandel, Tamenglong and Ukhrul. The existing District Councils instituted by the State Government is a toothless model with no real power or autonomy. This is our political aspiration. I have a personal dream too: once peace is ushered in, we can all give our attention to the immense potential of our people and the natural resources we have around us. (Pointing to Baruni peak in the backdrop) Can you imagine just how wonderful it would be if steps are made from the ground level to the top, made in such a way that it becomes the world’s longest step way? At the top, there can be an all faith site for prayers. That would bring together not just the communities living in Manipur but also people from all around the world. That would be something!