The clashes that occurred in Ukhrul yesterday during a United Naga Council rally pushing for an early resolution of the Indo-Naga issue among others, resulting in the loss of two young lives and several more injured was tragic and deplorable, but it would not be wrong to say the tension that led to the explosion was building up for quite some time now ever since the assassination of an ADC member, Ngalangzar Malue, at Finch Corner a month and a half ago, and the subsequent imposition of ban order under the CrPC Section 144 in Ukhrul district headquarters. The State government also rushed and stationed additional forces of India Reserve Battalion and police commandos there, much to the resentment of the residents. It must also be said, often it is not just the presence of government forces that ordinary people are averse to per se, but the likelihood of violent clashes with forces hostile to the State that their presence is likely to bring, and in which crossfire the ordinary residents may find themselves caught. This is the reality of any insurgency situation, and a drama played out in so many different conflict theatres in the State perennially. That the UNC rallies were held at all Naga majority districts but all except the one at Ukhrul turned violent is testimony of this residual tension. There were of course some reports from the Senapati district where signs of some minor skirmishes between the UNC rallyists and Sadar Hills district demand activists also showed up, pointing to the multi-pronged conflict time-bomb that Manipur rests on currently. Although nothing can compensate for loss of lives, it is at least a consolation that the Manipur government has promptly declared ex-gratia payments to the families of the two young men killed. The money is nothing, but at least the initiative is a welcome sign that the government is forthright enough to show remorse at its strong arm measures.
Tragic as the case may be, it is even more disturbing to think this is unlikely to be the end of similar violent clashes between the State and different sections of the people, and worse still, quite imaginably between different communities too. So far the latter variety of clashes have not happened ever since the 1990s, when ethnic riots swept both the hills and the valley of the State, first a brief clash between the Meitei and Meitei Pangal, in what has been described as a historical aberration, and then a more sustained one between the Nagas and Kukis, which caused much more deaths, injuries and displacements. There were other occasions when clashes of the ethnic hue had seemed almost imminent, but thankfully each time good senses prevailed, and despite numerous mutual provocations, the saner memories of traditional ties prevailed to save the day. But, those days of tension should be a caution not just for the government but the people themselves. When the ground becomes dry as tinder, a little spark can cause wild fires, and nobody would doubt possibilities such wild fires could have been the nightmarish realities on many of those occasions. And sure enough, such sparks can be lit by sinister and unscrupulous Grim Reaper incarnates and selfish ambulance chasers too. In the Meitei-Pangal clashes for instance, it was seldom, if ever, a case of clashes between neighbours, but of marauding gangs on dark murderous missions, perpetrating most of the killings and arsons. While passions of the day can blind anybody and everybody, there is no gainsaying the wounds of disastrous clashes such passions can lead to would leave scars on all sides that would take generations to heal. We can only be grateful to providence that such a nightmare has not come to pass, and we pray it never ever happens either.
The potential for violence as we have seen in Ukhrul yesterday continues to loom precisely because visions of political future of different communities have not only become divergent from each other as well as those of the State, but they have also become blind to the ground reality which says there can be no other than a multi-ethnic future for the State. The demographic composition of the State says this loudly and clearly, and it can only be depravity of mind which makes anyone not hear or see this. It cannot be by any definition be an easy task for any State to handle a conflicting social situation. But the Manipur government has no choice but to look for a democratic path out of its own social conflict situation. It can begin by being the governance agent it is meant to be in earnest, rather than be on perpetual personal aggrandisement missions, politicking and playing political musical chairs in the scramble for ministerial portfolios with brokerage handles on lucrative government development projects.
It must also however be remembered that it needs two hands to clap. Civil society organisations often act as foils to the militarised State in accentuating these conflict situations, precisely by not seeing beyond their noses and thereby being blind to the social realities of this multi-ethnic State. They too can be as bigoted as the State, and have far too often reduced the practice of democracy to what Karl Popper calls, “Mobocracy”.
Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam