If the people by and large remain unconcerned as they seem to be now, there is a danger that a good opportunity for peace may become lost. We refer here to the arrest of the UNLF chairman, R.K. Meghen alias Sanayaima, and the developments thereafter. At this moment, the matter is being slowly but surely pushed out of public consciousness, except when the media in New Delhi find something newsworthy to report, as was the case today of how the arrested underground leader confirmed the presence of the United Liberation Front of Asom, ULFA, chairman Paresh Barua in China, claiming he had met the latter during the Shanghai Expo last year. It was newsworthy no doubt, but from the point of view of peace builders, it had no relevance to peace concerns in Manipur. On the other hand, it was merely feeding the general, obsessive, hostile, concern of the Indian intelligentsia as such to the supposedly antagonistic positioning of India and China. The attitude is one of: “I told you the nexus always existed” and not “how do we settle the immediate and local problem at hand”.
The latter attitude must come about first before we can hope for peace to return in this conflict theatre. But from the way things are being conducted, it is difficult not to recall the Wikileaks revelations of reports of American diplomats in India to Washington which said India does not take “insurgency in the Northeast seriously”. Otherwise, the ground should have been prepared by now for a political process of resolving the crisis to begin. As for instance, the arrested UNLF chairman could have been brought back to Manipur, so that the fact of his arrest is never too far away from public mind, and public discussions and moods of whatever hue on how the matter must resolve, remain active and vibrant. This would show not only the government the possible ways forward, but also the non-state players to gauge how much they are in sync with the aspirations of the people. At this moment, the feeling is, both the government as well as its radical underground opponents have drifted and are unable to assess, much less act in accordance with the will of the people.
Before the situation returns back to square one, and at this moment this is a distinct possibility, let the establishment make the first move. Simply interning Sanayaima at a remote facility and pushing him away from public consciousness in Manipur, thus humiliating him, may be satisfying for those who want to settle personal scores with the arrested man and the organisation he headed, but this would hardly be in the interest of a final resolution to the problem. This is a public issue and not a personal one. For as far as the UNLF and the insurgency movement in the state is concerned, it would have acquired enough resilience to move on despite setbacks of whatever nature. If it comes to such a pass, the only losers would be those who crave for peace. The bitterness and cynicism left behind as residue would also be such that the clock would have been turned back at least a few decades on any new peace initiative.
What is needed is for the government to begin thinking out of the box. Even as the judicial process takes its own course, within the parameters of the established judicial mechanism, there would be spaces for politics to play its peace-building part. Finding this space is also absolutely essential, for the judicial process normally would see only black and white, guilty and not guilty, and in the process miss out on the multitudes of nuances invariably associated with complex human issues such as an insurrection. Only the political eye can see beyond the immediate as well as below the surface of the obvious. This is of course a delicate balancing act, but with political acumen and imagination, not impossible at all. One needs only to look at the democratic and peaceful resolutions reached in conflicts in other parts of the world to realise this, be it in South Tyrol, Northern Ireland or South Africa. If mere rule of law was all there was about justice, conflict resolution, or good governance, all human issues would have had a robotic solution. But unfortunately human issues are not so easily defined, if it is possible to define it with any finality at all. This is why politics is vital to administer human needs. It is for no reason man is referred to as a political animal. Good politics however must have good politicians and political will behind them. The tragedy is, the latter are so scarce today.