ALL’S NEVER WELL ON THE IMPHAL FRONT:
Shilajit Kar Bhowmik
Unrest in Manipur is no flash in the pan as the state’s association with such a phenomenon began since the days of yore. Ethnic conflagration is a routine incident and has become the order of the day. That’s why, the indefinite economic blockade imposed by the United Naga Council (UNC) in Manipur is zilch outlandish, as a matter of fact. The UNC can’t afford to reconcile to the creation of seven new districts out of the already exisiting seven among overall nine in the state. Out of the nine, four valley districts which consist of Imphal East, Imphal West, Thoubal and Bishnupur predominantly comprise the Meitei populace. Whereas, the five residual hill districts excluding Churachandpur, are inhabited by the Nagas and considerable number of Kukis. Churachandpur dwellers are Kukis and Zomis. Of all the districts, Imphal West and Bishnupur are sidelined from the bifurcation.
Nevertheless, the UNC claims that the Manipur Government is trying to vivisect the Nagas. As enshrined in the Indian constitution, Article 371 (C) mandates prior consultation with the Hill Districts Committee in relation to execution of any decision undertaken for the hill districts of Manipur. The Hill Districts Committee is a mini-assembly in the Manipur Legislative Assembly itself. It reserves 19 seats and the Chairman is equivalent to a cabinet minister in status. UNC alleges that the Manipur Government has overstepped as the Committee has not been consulted before creation of those new districts. On the contrary, Manipur CM Okram Ibobi Singh has justified himself by citing facilitation of administative conveniences. Notwithstanding, the blockade has thrown life out of gear for civilians and normal life has been paralysed.
The promulgation of Inner Line Permit in Manipur has become the bandwagon of the Meitei community as they seek to clog the settlement of outsiders who, as they allege, are a threat to the state’s demographics. The tribals of Manipur strongly oppose ILP. They also take umbrage at the three bills passed by the state’s Legislative Assembly last year to safeguard the interests of the indigenous people. These bills are still pending with the President of India.
UNC has on 1st Nov, 2016 imposed an economic blockade for repealing those bills. But this has failed to break the logjam. Instead, the flames were fanned with the State Government issuing a gazette notification in Dec, 2016 to commence the creation of those new districts.
The blockade has led to severe shortage of commodities in the state.
Peace has hardly prevailed over Manipur post-independence owing to the dominance exercised by insurgency and militancy. Discord and despair has ravaged it to the core. But what aptly explains the state’s long drawn-out predicament?
As presumably predestined, Manipur’s allegedly coerced accession with India is the reason behind its invariable kerfuffle. The Manipur Constitution Act came into effect in 1947 which led to the subsequent creation of its State Assembly on April 18, 1948. This was because the benevolent Maharaja Bodhchandra Singh sought to introduce democracy in Manipur. But initially, he had no contemplation to merge his state with India. It was Assam’s then Governor, Sriprakash who pushed him to the wall. He invited the Manipur king to Shillong which was accepted and responded in positive on September 18, 1949. As the Maharaja had an audience with the Assam Governor, he was presented an agreement. The witty king scanned the agreement and discovered that it was an ‘Agreement of Merger’. He refused to sign the agreement immediately, but promised to reflect on the matter with his council of ministers.
As the king returned to his Redlands residence in the hill station, he was held captive by Indian army personnel and kept under house-arrest. He then signed the agreement under duress. Manipur was merged with India in the long run. The Manipur State Assembly was dissolved which raised everyone’s hackles. Earlier, its suzerainty spanned from River Chindwin in Myanmar to River Surma in Bangladesh. However, the merger with the Indian Union stamped Delhi’s fiefdom on it through the Chief Commissioner. This folly and foible of the Centre thus, stirred the hornet’s nest. The stage for a violent insurrection was finally set.
The Centre’s iniquity was not lost on the posterity. They decided to avenge it. The first stage of vengeance was wreaked in the form of the birth of United National Liberation Front (UNLF) on 24th Nov, 1964. It is Manipur’s maiden insurgent outfit which was floated by a Poona University post-graduate named Arambam Samarendra Singh. It later mothered subsequent insurgent groups of the state. Its sole demand was restoration of the lost sovereignty of Manipur.
However, UNLF failed in its objectives as factionalism rolled into it and stirred a cleavage. To be precise, the UNLF espoused social reform, while a faction led by Oinam Sudhir Kumar advocated outright revolution. Sudhir Kumar later pulled out of UNLF and formed the Revolutionary Government of Manipur (RGM). The Manipur Government queered its pitch by incarcerating several of its leaders in Agartala jail. That was the venue in which Nameirakpam Bisheshwar Singh, one of the top RGM leaders was befriended by naxalites. This bonhomie ideologically impinged on Bisheshwar and he began to yearn for Chinese support. The RGM’s extrication from the bars in 1975 was followed by a split as then Manipur Chief Minister, Dorendra Singh granted them amnesty. Sudhir Kumar’s overtures with the CM boiled Bisheshwar’s blood. The latter tiptoed to Lhasa and sought recourse to Chinese training. Reinvigorated by Chinese patronage, Bisheshwar formed the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on 25 July, 1978. The PLA, UNLF alongwith a newly-formed outfit christened, ‘People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak’ (PREPAK) unleashed an orgy of violence. The Union Government foisted AFSPA on 1980, but it has not curbed insurgency. Instead, it has exacerbated matters by appropriating the fundamental rights of civilians. That’s why, the Supreme Court has cracked down by chaining it in fetters.
Be that as it may, the Union Government has failed to bring Manipur’s insurgent groups on the tables inasmuch they survive on disparate objectives. Peace was restored in Mizoram because the Mizo National Front (MNF) had a single and unified objective. That of a sovereign Mizoram.
The situation in Manipur and Nagaland have similitudes as the insurgent groups of Nagaland – NSCN(I)(M) and NSCN(K) have divergent objectives. Hence, Northeast India still has a long way to plod for bidding a farewell to arms in both these states.