It seems only yesterday. If we were to take a deep breath and reflect on the situation in the state exactly a year ago, it would seem almost unreal. About this time last year, the state was in a state of unprecedented turmoil, with different forces shrieking and pulling in different directions, threatening to tear the social fabric of the place apart. All these were happening on the eve of the state Assembly elections, and perhaps this made it worse with different interest groups trying to take advantage of the bad situation. Amidst an agitation by the United Naga Council, UNC, for the introduction of an alternative administration for the Nagas, the then government had declared the formation of seven new districts by splitting seven existing ones. While the then Congress government probably thought this would be received well assessing quite wrongly that people would consider it as a move to spread the administrative infrastructure, the UNC on the contrary thought it was a direct assault on them, aimed at undermining the Naga unity. Whatever the intent of the government’s move was, and regardless of whether the reading of this intent by interested parties were on or off target, the immediate social impact was horrifying to say the least. The UNC responded along expected lines and an economic blockade of the state was the resort, and when the hardships of the blockade began to be felt by people in the valley, they too resorted to counter blockade, paving the way for a show down. The worst that people feared then happened at Khurai on the Ukhrul road, when counter-blockade enforcers stopped a convoy of vehicles carrying Ukhrul residents, leaving Imphal for Christmas at their villages, and burnt them down. Thankfully, even in the worst of times, the human bondages that kept the state and its integrity intact for ages, held, and there were no humans casualties. That was a cathartic moment, and sure enough, Christmas celebrations last year was subdued, but thereafter, emotions began cooling allowing the smooth conduct of the Assembly elections, then barely a few months away, was possible.
The conflict dynamics that drove the state to the brink last year can hardly be said to have resolved conclusively even now, but thankfully unlike last year, the situation is no longer tense, even with all the talks about the possible dangers posed by the Framework Agreement. Curiously, it may be recalled how the blockade was called off not long after a BJP government replaced the incumbent Congress government after the elections, and with it all the fire and brimstone over the new districts too died down almost as quickly, as if this was never a real issue. If occasionally there are voices of protest on the new district issue, they seem to be only token in nature and not actually meant, after all, new districts do indeed mean further reach of the administration, and the people on the ground would have begun to realize this even if those who are wont to make opportunistic politics out of them are unhappy about this. Let whatever has happened be. It is time now for the state and its people to think of turning a new page. Let them now think of investing in peace, and this is best begun by an assessment of the enlightened self-interest of everyone inherent in peace. This would also mean trying to understand how certain conditions for peace, therefore conflict, are embedded deep in geography, and it goes without saying that none of us can change geography. This being so, the way forward is to come to term with this geographical reality in order that the conflict potentials in our society is put to rest. Robert Kaplan’s celebrated “Revenge of Geography” is a way to start exploring this new territory of conflict resolution literature.
In the meantime, let this Christmas be the point a new beginning is made towards building this future of peace and reconciliation. Let us remember Christmas season marks the birth of one who the Christian world knows as the Prince of Peace is upon us again. Let this be the occasion for Christians and non-Christians alike to remember the eight prayers of the Beatitudes, undoubtedly some of the most beautiful and poetic passage in the Bible. You don’t have to be a Christian to appreciate these, for they are also very much the essence of all other religions, though articulated in their own peculiar ways. Most pertinent of these eight prayers at this moment is the one which says, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be the inheritors of the kingdom of heaven.”
Source: Imphal Free Press