From SoO pact to political dialogue

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Indeed, a big milestone has been achieved. For too long, the tripartite Suspension of Operation (SoO) signed between the Government of India, Government of Manipur and two conglomerates of Kuki militant groups namely Kuki National Organisation (KNO) and United People’s Front (UPF) was hanging in limbo for a long time without making any tangible headway except for the fact that hostilities have been ceased officially. Virtually, the Government of India took a giant step by initiating a dialogue process with KNO and UPF at New Delhi on June 15, 2016. At the very beginning, both the KNO and the UPF have placed their demands or ‘wish list’ before the Government of India as stated by the Ministry of Home Affairs, Joint Secretary (North East) Satyendra Garg who presided the opening round of the dialogue process. Though the demands or the wish list of the KNO and UPF have not been spelt out to the public or media, Satyendra Garg has categorically stated that the “frameworks of the talks will be under the Indian Constitution”. This means any solution that the tripartite dialogue may arrive at the end will be within the ambit of the Indian Constitution. Yes, if there is cease fire, there must be political dialogue. And if there is dialogue, there must be a solution. The SoO pact was first signed in 2008. Since then the pact was being extended periodically but very little was achieved in terms of bringing a negotiated settlement. But at last a glimmer of hope has emerged with the initiation of political dialogue.
Even though the process of political dialogue was initiated by the Government of India, the Government of Manipur cannot be overlooked or sidelined. Whatever solution the tripartite dialogue arrives at will have serious implications on the geo-political entity called Manipur. The plural character of Manipur and its ethnic diversity should not be overlooked at any point of time during the whole dialogue process. Whether the peace talk is with NSCN-IM or Kuki rebel groups, Manipur always occupies the central position. Whereas Naga militants and some influential Naga civil society organisations have been demanding integration of Naga inhabited areas, many Kuki militant groups have already raised the banner of a separate State exclusively for Kukis. But no part of Manipur is exclusively inhabited by Nagas or Kukis. There is a third party which holds the territorial integrity of Manipur as the most sacrosanct, something untouchable under any circumstances. Before talking about the ultimate political goal of Kuki State or Naga integration, let’s look back at the issue of Sadar Hills. Every time there was massive and sustained civil movement for creation of a full-fledged Sadar Hills district and the State Government got down to work to fulfill the demand, it was the question of boundary and its ambiguity which nullified all the civil movements as well as Government efforts. Interestingly, the boundary disputes are largely between Naga villages and Kuki villages. This is a clear indication that no part of Manipur is exclusively inhabited by a single community. Dialogue per se does no harm but quixotic demands are self-defeating. Only time can tell what are the primary demands of UPF and KNO, and how far the Government of India can accommodate them.

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