Source: IMPHAL FREE PRESS
Manipur today is in an unenviable situation. Multiple insurrections and the accompanying demands for unique identities and homelands have literally paralysed all vital activities both in the civil as well as government spheres. There is an added dimension to the problem now. This is most acutely felt after the government of India actively pushed its policy of suspending operations against militant groups which accepted its offer for peace negotiations. This is understandable, and any government anywhere in the world would happily have done what the Indian government has done, that is, to agree to cessation of hostility with any militant organisations which wish to settle their problems peacefully across the table with the government. However, in a multi-ethnic situation where there are many ethnic insurgencies whose interests and demands overlap considerably this strategy has given rise to previously unseen and grave consequences. One of them is that hostility may have ceased between the government and any particular insurgent group which is willing to talk, but this does not in any way spell an end of hostility between the particular militant groups and their rivals. This problem, as is being rudely discovered in Manipur, is nothing to trifle.
The other consequence, and a more serious one, involves not just a technical matter to be sorted out but also interrogates the moral responsibility of the government which has roped in insurgent groups to agree to come to the negotiating table. The natural question that follows is, are militant groups which have agreed to hold ceasefire with the government to be allowed to continue with whatever they were doing before the ceasefire so long as they do not fight the security forces? In particular, are they to be allowed to indulge in intimidation and extortion (or tax collection) as the militants themselves would call this activity? While outlawed organisations indulging in extortion is definitely a law and order question to be tackled by the law, how exactly would militant organisations which are no longer “illegal” in the eyes of the government, collecting these “illegal taxes” to be dealt with by the law? Not only is this a matter of a legal dilemma, but the social consequences of this can be grave. Manipur probably knows this better than any other state. The immediate example of truckers refusing to use the NH-39 protesting extortion by organisations which have ceased to be outlaws is just a very relevant case in point.
Thirteen years ago it was the NSCN(IM) which decided to hold ceasefire and begin peace talks with the Union government. Today a dozen or so Kuki militant groups under two umbrella organisations are in a suspension of operations, SoO, agreement with the Union as well as the state governments. All of them however have still not ceased extortion activities even if under the guise of “taxes”. Numerous news reports stand alibi to this. Should not the Union government be held responsible for this? It is simply passing on the most tangible burden of these peace initiatives to the ordinary people. It is true that these insurgent organisations, although they are holding ceasefire with the government would need money to ensure their organisational integrity while the peace talks are being held, but who exactly must pay this money is the moot question. To indulge in a little exercise in logic, the citizens of a country pay their government taxes in the belief that the government would be looking after their security in every respect. Can the government abdicate this responsibility even if it in the name of peace initiative with militants? We had made this suggestion before, and now that Manipur is in a deep crisis we had anticipated then, we are constrained to pose it again. Should not the Union government think of making an estimate of the budgets of each of the militant groups it is holding ceasefire with, and until a peace settlement is reached, pay the amount on the condition that none of them would collect their own “taxes” from the public. The government of India can easily afford this extra expense in “buying” peace. After all, the Indian economy has entered the exclusive elite club of a trillion dollar GDP and is still growing phenomenally. It is currently the 11th largest economy of the world. Surely footing an annual bill of a few hundred crore rupees in the pursuit of peace would be asking too much of it. In any case, it would be spending as much in fighting the law and order situation created by its refusal to do so. The Manipur situation should be a reminder for its Northeast policy mandarins.