As the Nagaland state assembly elections draw nearer and political interests are working overtime to wrest a solution to the age-old Naga imbroglio, here in Manipur, all seems to be blind to the new developments in the peace process and its wider implications. No doubt, we are busy in matters of illegal migrants eating into the ethnic demography, of tribal chieftains and groups claiming ownership of hill ranges and mountain tops besides reserved and protected forest areas, of war on drugs campaign, of the demand for Scheduled Tribes tag for the indigenous Meiteis of Meiteis, of revivalist ethos spreading everywhere, and of legalising liquor and preparation of white papers.Yes, these are important issues confronting the state. In the process, we seem oblivious to the new developments in the Naga peace process.
We are indeed happy that NSCN-IM and its rival NNPG have come to an understanding recently. Initially, the two groups were at each other’s throats. While NSCN IM supremo Thuingaleng Muivah was pushing for a broader Naga framework in the proposed settlement, NNPG wants the solution to be limited within the borders of Nagaland. Both Prime Minister NarendraModi and the Union Home Minister seem keen on resolving the issue before the state assembly elections.
The Naga issue has been plaguing the region for decades and everyone expects a viable solution. But, what is worrying us here in Manipur is the shroud of secrecy over the new understanding between NSCN IM and NNPG and whether it would affect Manipur in any way. The secrecy over the Framework Agreement signed between GOI interlocutor RN Ravi and ThuingalengMuivah in 2015 revealed only recently in conflicting terms had already taken its toll on the already strained ethnic relations. Nobody wants a repeat.
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 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, and the unfinished district reorganisation 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.
When the 1997 Bangkok declaration of ceasefire without territorial limits was 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 programmes of the said organisations. But, we have to say it was a 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 coming together of COCOMI and United Naga Council with regard to the illegal migrants issue is indeed welcome. 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. But first, the NSCN-IM and GOI as well as NNPG needs to take the state and people of Manipur into confidence with regard to new developments.