Sunday, February 14, 2010

Proposal for Political Dialogue by Senior Citizens for Society: Rejoinder to Sanatomba Kangujam

The proposal put forward by the Senior Citizens for Society to the Government of India (GoI) for initiating unconditional political dialogue with the major insurgent groups of Manipur has come at a time when the peace talk between the GoI and the NSCN-IM has completed 12 years, and another fresh round of talk is to take place in April 2010 (the 13th round). At the same time, the proposal seems to have (at least) touched upon a thorny issue that has been the bone of contention between the conflicting parties (GoI on one hand and the armed opposition groups on the other), and the issue is the question of sovereignty. Precisely because the nature of the conflict that has been prevailing in this tiny State involves the issue of sovereignty, therefore, it demands a political solution. Moreover, years of military method (for peace) under the cover of Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 have not yielded any substantive results. In this context, taking together both the factors into account, how-much-ever the Senior Citizens, in their desire for peace, must have hurriedly erred (or call it short-sighted), a political dialogue is a welcome initiation and the first step towards a political solution. 
Lesson from NSCN-IM Leadership
Readers may rightly say that 12-long years of peace talk between the GoI and the NSCN-IM have not yielded any results, instead resulted in heightened factional killings and fratricides, multiplication of factions and finally an atmosphere of cold war in the region on account of operational area of ceasefire and so on. Or perhaps, readers may also say that GoI keeps deliberately extending the period or ceasefire or for that matter the rounds of peace talk, wherein peace ever remains elusive in Nagaland or surrounding states. And finally, that NSCN-IM has endorsed the constitutional arrangement of India, thereby abandoned the unconditional basis of the peace talk itself. However, in Yenning’s view, these are the fall-outs of practical negotiation. One cannot discount the merit of the peace talk by certain anomalies or without knowing the ground rules of ceasefire (topmost secret, which none knows other than the two negotiating parties). What needs to be appreciated is the basis of entry point of the ongoing “political” deal between the leadership of NSCN-IM and GoI.
In order to understand the entry point, one needs to understand two factors. First concerns the striking capacity of the NSCN-IM (including the cadre base). By year 1997, when the first ceasefire agreement was undertaken, NSCN-IM had established itself as the most powerful insurgent outfit in the region. It is an open secret that almost every outfit in the region sought its assistance in terms of training, hideout (camps), procurement of arms and so on from the NSCN-IM. There is also the undeniable fact that the outfit was able to “ethnically cleanse” the territories, which the Nagas dominated and convert into “Naga inhabited areas”, and claim as the Naga’s ancestral land. Over and above, the outfit could strike at the Indian armed forces at will, in spite of having rivalry with other outfits, chief among them the NSCN-K faction.
Second and most central to the issue of entry point is the political achievement of NSCN-IM in terms of forcing the GoI to accept the Naga “problem” as a political one that demands political solution. Here it is worth recalling one interview in which Th. Muivah appeared. He enthralled the viewers of BBC programme (Hard Talk way back in 2007) and scored a moral as well as political victory when he said that the Indian State should at least accept “in principle” the sovereignty of the Nagas. And thus, any efforts for peace demand a political solution. Today India admits the genuineness of Naga struggle even to the extent of omitting it from the list of terrorist organisations operating in India. Perhaps, given the complexity and stand of the Indian State, the IM faction may not get any of their stated demands, however, the Naga generation to come in the future will certainly salute the political maturity of the IM leadership.
Finally, one also needs to appreciate the role played by the Naga civil society bodies as well as well wishers stationed abroad such as the Quakers and other lobby groups in prevailing over the GoI to undertake political dialogue with the NSCN-IM. What is noteworthy to observe here is the nature of civil society bodies (especially in a fragmented society like the “Naga society” taking into account the type of conflict that exist among insurgent outfits in Nagaland) supporting NSCN-IM or vice versa (i.e. ability of the outfit to dominate and use them in their support).
What Yenning wants to point out here is that these factors became the efficient condition under which political dialogue between GoI and NSCN-IM could occur. However, our opinion does not necessarily undermine the striking capacity of the armed opposition groups in Manipur or the “struggle” as non-political, but to emphasise the point that India has so far de-legitimized the political conflict prevailing over Manipur as a law and order problem. Success of the Indian State’s proclamation as such could perhaps also indicate the weakness of the major insurgents operating in Manipur.
People & the Civil Society
The proposal for political dialogue by the Senior Citizens for Society comes at a time when murkiness surrounds civil society bodies in Manipur and when there is also confusion in the definition of the people in the State. At this juncture, once again we need to remind ourselves of the understanding of people and civil society in Manipur. Yenning had earlier talked about the same in this column under the title, “Extinguishing Conscience of the People: Need for Recovery of the Political” (The Sangai Express, Imphal, Sunday, June 14, 2009). What is central to the political understanding of the people is the personhood (person living in a society) associated with the understanding of the people. And most important of all, of a rational agent able to ask themselves questions relating to the purpose of life beyond the basic need for survival, or the nature of existence beyond that, which is empirically apparent. The pursuit of such goal demands the need for a political order, in which people have the responsibility to build (sic. political action).
Manipur stands divided against itself in several ways. The divisions cut across one another which ultimately have a tolling effect on ordinary human life and their existence. Recovery of the political can prevent the reduction of the people, in the words of Giorgio Agamben, to its biological species – Homo sapiens – devoid of personhood and stripped off being a rational agent. Then, in an environment where an orderly and peaceful co-existence is ensured, we can start engaging with issues beyond the meaning of life and survival or devising a collective survival strategy.
If one reads the above lines, or as Sanatomba Kangujam has highlighted (“A Response to the Proposal for Political Dialogue by Senior Citizens for Society”, Sangai Express, February 13, 2010), the initiation of the Senior Citizens needs to be appreciated. The distinctiveness of historical and political realities of Manipur as Kangujam has stated certainly needs to be taken into due consideration impinging upon the proposed political dialogue. Moreover, given the existential crisis of our time, what Yenning wants to add is also the immediate concern, then, must be the recovery of the political, the sufficient condition in which we can live together in peace and avoid the danger and fear of losing our lives. Such an understanding entails the need to disengage ourselves from many of the contrivances of state-linked internal colonialism, an encounter which we are experiencing, after British colonialism had lapsed in 1947, in the post-independence phase of India. Our inquiry should involve negation of the misnomer, such as democratization, employed at a temporal plane overdriven by political needs, when the body politic of Manipur, a constitutional democratic polity headed by the King was penetrated by the Union of India. Recovery of the political in Manipur should impinge upon acknowledging the fact that Manipur was the last “Kingdom” (one of the most ancient in South Asia) to be conquered by the British Government (after the Anglo Manipur War of 1891) and also the last “Princely State” to be merged/annexed into India (October 15, 1949). Equally important is, acknowledging a “movement” which involved grass root mobilization beginning in the 1930s towards the creation of a civic nationalism, negation of feudal and colonial structures, and finally, vision of an egalitarian society (a continuity we see in various shades in Manipur today).
However, the problem in hand today is the nature and character of the civil society bodies. Sometimes we get the feeling that many of them are totally cut off from the common mass. Over and above, the militarized situation also puts a question mark about the real configuration and orientation of such bodies. For instance, often the people are inclined to ask about their affiliations viz. with the State forces or any of the non-state actors. And indeed, such a situation leads us to ask if ever the civil society bodies truly stand for the people or they are voicing the agenda of any particular organisation (state or non-state).
Many of the unanswered spaces left behind by the Senior Citizens, plus the nature of our fragmented society compel us to ask, if ever the proposed political dialogue will see the light or vanish away like the issue of plebiscite put up a few years ago.

This article was posted on The Sangai Express on Sunday, February 14, 2010

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