Never before have ethnic relations in Manipur, and so too neighbouring Nagaland, been so complex and embittered. The fissures are suddenly beginning to be noticed even amongst communities which traditionally maintained neutral and even cordial relationships, while many bitter rivals have seemingly forged uneasy partnerships. Under the circumstance, one cannot help suspecting agent provocateurs at work, stirring up trouble, perhaps not for its own sake but as part of a larger game plan which they believe, rightly or wrongly, is in the “national interest”. But “national interest” can be extremely elusive and hard to define, being as it is a very relative quality. To take a distant example for the sake of objectivity, it was with this so called “national interest” in mind that the US invaded Iraq. Whether the invasion is turning out to be in the country’s “national interest” is anybody’s guess. Likewise whether the “national interest” that is sowing the current embitterment between different communities will prove to be ultimately in the “national interest” is also anybody’s guess. The “algebra of infinite justice”, to borrow a catchy line from writer Arundhati Roy, is a gross folly. Unlike in algebra, two negatives do not make a positive. History is evidence that this Machiavellian faith in the military strategy of neutralising “adversaries” by pitting one against the other, more often than not backfires miserably, injuring the manipulator more than the manipulated. This strategy becomes all the more cynical when “peace” becomes not a belief in genuine peace, but merely a tool in this game. The frequent fratricidal factional feuds in Nagaland and equally frequently the spread of communal venom in Manipur are only some of the indications.
Let this so called “national interest” that makes people indulge in Machiavellian politics then be tempered by the enlightenment of reason. Only then would “national interest” really be in “national interest”. For a start, everybody must think “peace” not in piecemeal but as a holistic picture. Take the case of the Government of India’s approach to resolving insurgency in the northeast. It got so taken by the lazy notion of “mother of all insurgencies” and actually at one point seemed to have come to the conclusion that the key to the problem was to tackle this mother and all else would be put to rest automatically. How false that conclusion was, it must now be realising, but only after going through a lot of embarrassments. More than mere embarrassments, it is in a position from where it can neither go forward nor retract its steps without causing more problems. But better late than never. It must seek to take more stakeholders on board the peace vessel. Even a single group left out of the process can jeopardise the entire project. To make this happen, it must think more in terms of fostering unity rather than do anything that may wittingly or unwittingly cause divides. Any mischievous thought of the algebra of infinite justice must be banished from coming anywhere near this grand enterprise of peace building. But it needs two hands to clap. The various insurgencies must also come to believe it is in their ultimate interest, and in the interest of durable peace, that they bury their axes and put up a common, mutually acceptable front.
Let military strategy and the onerous responsibility of charting out a final political blueprint for peace be kept distinctly separate. Histories of modern conflicts that were, or are in the process of being successfully resolve, have demonstrated loud and clear that while the military has been helpful in creating a condition where peace becomes the only real alternative for everybody, the task of actually formulating and defining peace has to rest in good, sound, imaginative politics. Ireland example is there for all to see. In Manipur, lawless as the land has become, even this broad but very fundamental understanding has been compromised. The military has chosen to bypass even civil authorities in the politics of peace, reducing as we have mentioned the peace process into a military strategy. This is a very dangerous game, one which can leave behind a legacy of bitterness long after the commanders of the policy have been transferred out to some other war or peace zone. Their visible disgust with the putrid political culture is understandable, but even this cannot be a license for it to dip its hands in politics.