The United Naga Council, Manipur (UNC) has once reiterated the call for integration of all Naga territories, as the talks between NSCN (I-M) and Government of India remains in limbo. So, even with recent rapprochement between the Naga groups and COCOMI, the threat to Manipur’s territorial integrity is still there. The latest interjection on the question of territorial integrity is the threat by All Manipur Christian Organisation (AMCO) in the backdrop of Meitei outrage over spiteful remarks by a Meitei pastor. The issues are totally different and we wonder what led AMCO to bring in the issue in the current controversy in such a volatile atmosphere.
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 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.