Past lesson for present
On August 3, 2015 the signing of the Framework Agreement between the NSCN(IM) and the BJP government at the Centre would be completing four years. So much water has flowed down the many rivers of the region, even the interlocutor of the Naga peace negotiation who was signatory to the Framework Agreement, has been appointed Governor of Nagaland, but nothing much is still known for definite, although gathering inferences from statements by those involved in developing it and piecing them together, it does seem it will be an autonomy model within India, but also one which does not affect the territorial integrity of existing states. This is the time of the year, the rumour mills always come up with suggestions that something may likely materialize before August 15. So be it. But what is curious is, when we looks back into history, many of the proposed solutions to Northeastern problems, including that of the Nagas, seem almost like déjà vu of experiences from prominent chapters of Manipur’s beleaguered modern history. As for instance, the federal relationship supposedly proposed between the putative Naga state envisioned by the NSCN-IM and Union of India, whereby the new state would be allowed a separate flag, passport etc, but with India remaining as its bigger brother, controlling its currency and foreign affairs, etc, was with a few variations here and there, the status of the erstwhile kingdom of Manipur prior to its merger with the Indian Union in 1949. From records available, there is no denying that Manipur was to a great extent wedded to the idea of India in very many ways even before the merger, and its sovereignty then was in this way something akin to what is being proposed as a settlement formula for the Nagas now. Again the idea of asymmetric federalism, another supposed feature of the proposed relationship between the would-be Naga state and the Union of India, is nothing new to Manipur. In fact, it is a political relationship already in practice in the state in matters of administration of its valley and the hill districts. As for instance, in land tenureship and administration, Manipur virtually has two radically different laws, one for the hills and the other for the valley, existing side by side. There no doubt have been plenty of hiccups as expected, but the fact remains that the idea of asymmetric power equation is not new to Manipur, and despite the hiccups, and despite perhaps the need for adjustments to suit the needs of the times, it remains a system that the state has been able to absorb and sublimate all along, demonstrating in the process, its resilience.
The implication is clear, if and when the insurrections in Manipur decide on exploring the possibilities of a lasting settlement, it does not need to go farther than its own history to look for a model. It also means that if the peace model here is also one of asymmetric relationship, it should be far easier for Manipur and the Government of India to accommodate its provisions, for it would be just a matter of modifying and improving upon what essentially is already a historical experience. But the all-important question that remains hanging like a millstone around Manipur’s neck is whether the reigning chaos in the state would ever permit such an exploration. At this moment, there is no easy answer to the question what exactly is the goal of the insurrections in the land? For gone are the days, when insurgency was essentially a war between state and non-state. The days of yore when the news headlines screamed of fierce encounters between the state forces and insurgent armies, are no more.
Today the story is increasingly about shutdowns and strikes by hospitals and schools to protest government transfer policies or else bomb planted by sundry other UG factions in crowded areas. Often it also is about newspapers remaining off the stands unable to withstand contrary pressures from mutually hostile splinters of atrophying insurgent groups. Nobody can honestly still believe this still has the grandeur of a resistance fight. The only reason that prevents many observers from saying with any certainty that insurgency is over in Manipur is that this answer too would not be altogether honest, for somewhere, even if feebly, the initial fire that ignited this insurrection is still burning. This fire once addressed the people’s own outrage at the injustices of a corrupt, oppressive establishment. It also was fueled by the pains of wounds of history, and in this sense insurgency was as Frantz Fanon described in “Wretched of the Earth” – a “mailed fist” of the people. A delivery system of their anger at the chaos, injustice and corruption the establishment signified to them. The chaos, injustice and corruption of the establishment are far from gone, but the “mailed fist” is losing its moral strength. There is no doubt the people are disenchanted with the militants at this moment, but this does not mean they have shed their disenchantment with the establishment either. Because the latter is true, even if the present insurrection is quelled, a new one would sprout sometime or the other again. The responsibility for ending this vicious cycle and the return of peace and normalcy in the state will ultimately have to be shouldered equally by leaders on either side of the conflict divide.