When one talks of territorial integrity, most of us are fixated on the possible outcome of NSCN-IM and Government of India only. The concept of territorial integrity rather encompasses anything which dare threatens our borders and the issues of territorial disputes, homeland aspirations, ownership of state lands, and above all emotional integrity. And we should include for example the issues of frequent incursions of Myanmar forces on our borders and the border disputes with the state of Nagaland, the GOI negotiations with SoO groups, the Mount Koubru controversy and the unfinished district reorganisation also in the discourse of territorial integrity.In the last few decades, Manipuris more particularly the majority Meiteis had become insular. They had been on a defensive note to various ethnic aspirations spewing everywhere around them. Manipuri tribes had been aligning themselves with the Naga brotherhood espoused by AZ Phizo years ago while Kukis are trying to consolidate the Kuki-Chin-Mizo brotherhood for a separate aspiration as opposed to the Naga aspiration. In the meanwhile, Meiteis were caught in a time-warp.
When, the 1997 Bangkok declaration of ceasefire without territorial limits were signed between NSCN IM and GOI representative Padmanabhaih, the Manipuris were rudely awakened. And thus began the movement for maintaining the territorial integrity of Manipur at any cost. There was hardly any serious efforts for assuaging hurt feelings among the hill brethren. Rather, it was all about the territorial integrity and not of hurt sensibilities. Yes, we cannot deny the outreach programs of the said organisations. But, we have to say it was little too late. What was most lacking was the leadership and outreach most required of a majority community towards the lesser communities, and a political overreach. The recent coming together of COCOMI and United Naga Council with regard to the illegal migrants issue is indeed timely. Whatever differences the two entities might have on the issue of territorial integrity, it can be thrashed out through talks. But first, trust and confidence building measures are needed to bring about fruitful talks. What is more threatening now is the non-stop influx of illegal immigrants from across the Indo-Myanmar border.
Time does bring maturity. And the one-day people’s convention on special status for Manipur on December 26 in 2020 was certainly a beginning. It resolved that no ethnic based territorial council can be accepted within the territory of Manipur, citing that such an arrangement will create more political and ethnic problems in the state. There is also apprehension that some large communities might engulf people of small communities. To prevent such a threat to small communities and to provide equal rights and equal privilege for each ethnic community, the demand for a special status to protect the ethnic rights and identity as a whole was raised.
The principle includes acknowledging the need to protect the territorial, administrative and emotional integrity of Manipur, cherishing the age-old bond of brotherhood among all the indigenous communities of Manipur, upholding the inalienable rights of all the indigenous communities to protect, preserve and develop their respective distinct identities, realising the necessity to maintain harmony by respecting each other’s distinct identities and realising the truth that only a ‘special status’ with a high degree of autonomous power for the state of Manipur can provide for all aspirations and rights of all communities and others, three administrative subjects namely defence, external affairs and inter-state relations shall be vested in central government while the rest shall be conferred on the state government by amending the constitution of India, to provide powers to Manipur to trade with its neighbours, inter-state migration within the state shall be controlled by Manipur, amendment of Article 3 of the Indian constitution by inserting a proviso that any change in the boundary of Manipur shall require the concurrence of the Manipur Legislative Assembly and land and resources of Manipur shall vest in the state. It was indeed a step forward and surely good politics.