The Manipur Project of NSCN-IM and its General Secretary, Th. Muivah has become all the more revealing if one looks at the recent socio-political development unfolding in Manipur. In other words, it has thrown up certain crucial issues pertaining to the movement of NSCN-IM in Manipur. At the outset, it is worthwhile to recall that the ‘Muivah/Manipur’ factor has been a stumbling block to the much awaited honourable solution to the Naga movement of Nagaland. In spite of the negative impact the above has on the integrity of the Nagas, Nagaland has given support to the callous demand of Muivah recognising his contribution in terms of resources and manpower. Thus, Nagaland has agreed and supported the Muivah faction to find an exit from Nagaland.
Another reason, why the Muivah project does not draw flak from the armed groups in Nagaland is that the armed Nagas of Nagaland have declared their intention to resolve the movement by and for the Nagas of Nagaland. Take for instance, in an exclusive interview to Nagaland Post during the observance of the 6th Unification Day at GPRN/NSCN’s Designated Camp at Khehoi (Thursday, 23 November 2012), Kitovi claimed, “The current talks between NSCN-IM and the Government of India (GoI) were confined only to the Naga inhabited areas in Manipur and thus, the alternative arrangement for the Nagas of Manipur has nothing to do with the Nagas of Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam”. He further added, “Government of India, being a big country and a nation, their constitution is also very flexible. Although it is very bulky, it is flexible. But in the case of Nagas, the Government of India has set two rigid conditions – no sovereignty, no integration. So any solution that may come about between Government of India and Muviah cannot be applied beyond Manipur, since there is no question of integration.”
In the light of such developments, it is only reasonable to understand the predicament of the followers of Muivah in Manipur. What is more worrisome to them is about the fate of their cadres from Manipur in the days to come. Perhaps, few cadres close to the ‘top’ may fit in the absorption policy such as to the Indian forces but many will be left out. This reality has been a frustrating factor for the leaders of Manipuri Nagas within the movement. As a result, the movement for an honourable exit from Nagaland was started as a way of solving the problems highlighted above. Three attempts were made to push through the agenda but ended in failure. The failure can be said to be on account of being emotive and lack of clarity of vision. Emotional sensationalism, frustration and misinformation have been the characteristic features of the three attempts launched by Muivah.
First Attempt: Muivah’s Proposed Visit to Manipur
Having understood the grave situation of his followers and supporters in Manipur on account of the fallout of the 17-years long negotiation with GoI and in terms of the adamant response of other armed groups based in Nagaland as well as the people of Nagaland who do not accept them as part and parcel of Nagaland but see them as ‘outsiders’ or ‘impure Nagas’, Th. Muivah, a domicile of Manipur, made a strategic shift in his tactics. As a part of this new tactics, Muivah, with the permission of GoI, proposed a visit to his native village in Manipur and then to all the hill districts of Manipur. This had political overture, such as garner support in his vision of creating a political space (sic. Later on came to be known as alternative political arrangement outside the Government of Manipur). In addition, through the proposed visit, Muivah aimed at rejuvenating his otherwise dying movement.
In the proposed visit, government security personnel were expected to guarantee Muivah’s safety not by his armed cadres. It must be noted here that in the course of the tragic ridden Naga movement, many Nagas have died at the hands of the Indian security forces. Entrusting one’s security and life to a decade-long sworn enemy only proves that Muivah has succumbed to the inescapable tangle of Indian politics and turned collaborator. Another issue regarding the proposed visit concerns the means of transport which Muivah opted. A low profile air service (sic. helicopter) could have fulfilled his cherished dream of visiting his birth place. But the element of sensationalism and political loudness could be achieved only by surface transport, thus, Muivah’s choice of road trip. During the course of the movement, on numerous occasions, he must have visited his village many a times. But his sudden interest to visit his native village was a clear sign that he has given up the movement and he is more worried about the future of its cadres from Manipur than anything else. But simply giving up in this way would invite public ire and retaliations from his high profile cadres of Manipur. So, he looked for an ‘honourable exit’ by consulting with its core members in Manipur.
As expected, the proposed visit was stopped but ended in achieving Muivah’s dream of creating an ethnic divide. Later, a propaganda video message, which Muivah spoke in Manipuri (sic. Meiteilon), was circulated in the name of Naga rights and as a way of cementing the fractured Nagas in Manipur. This was the last and first attempt in which Muivah involved himself.
Second Attempt: Demand for Alternative Arrangement
The second attempt, i.e. demand for alternative arrangement was left to the frontal organisations of NSCN-IM with tactical and financial support from Hebron. This time, parties and civil society organisations based in Nagaland did not openly support as they did in the first campaign because they considered it to be a Manipuri issue. Within a year of Muivah’s proposed visit, the campaign for alternative arrangement was initiated albeit without defining the meaning and scope of alternative arrangement. It is more akin to an exercise of releasing frustration without having any basis or direction. Take for instance, one of the main organisers of the campaign, United Naga Council (UNC), came out with a private circulation in which they talked about severing ties from the Government of Manipur (GoM) but without talking about alternative arrangement. Moreover, they could not persuade a single Naga to do so. This brings us to the conclusion that UNC is merely implementing a programme to remain accountable to the higher authorities. The analysis of this campaign was discussed in our article “Alternative Arrangement and the Nagas of Manipur” (The Sangai Express, Imphal, December 11, 2011).
The campaign for alternative arrangement is a mere exercise of keeping under certain order the frustrated and misinformed Manipuri Nagas, particularly, the cadres who have dedicated their lives for the movement. Besides, it is also a mechanism to keep them engaged. The campaign will start whenever NSCN-IM does not have anything to share or are scared to share the progress and/or retreat of the negotiation with GoI. For instance, GoI has firmly denied sovereignty and integration of Naga inhabited areas into a single politico-administrative unit. Inspite of this, NSCN-IM and its frontal organizations continue to misinform the Manipuri Nagas that everything is going on well and an honourable solution is forthcoming. Over and above, sections of Manipuri Nagas, who are aware of the truth desist from making it public for fear of armed retaliation.
Third Attempt: Campaign of Communal Politics
With the waning of the campaign for alternative arrangement, a new strategy to engage the Nagas has been devised under the campaign of communal politics. In the process, UNC and other frontal organizations of NSCN-IM have been calling GoM as a as ‘communal government’ without explicating in what ways it is being so or what constitutes communal politics. In fact, “communal” and “communal government” have become the most favourite and oft-repeated catch words of UNC and others in their press releases. The Momoko incident is a testimony to this affliction. When justice for Momoko was demanded, none of the agitators demanded for punishment of a “Anal” Livingstone or a “Naga” Livingstone or a “Christian” Livingstone or a “Hao” Livingstone but simply demanded punishment of a criminal called Livingstone, who happened to be an NSCN-IM cadre. But UNC and other NSCN-IM frontal organizations likened it to be a case of “communal” politics.
Calling a name is easier than proving the basis. This seems to be the problem of NSCN-IM and its funded organizations. What they failed to understand is that communal politics is a politics based on religion for short term gains. If they feel that government of Manipur is communal, then to whom. Is it to the Chin-Kuki-Mizos and the Nagas, who are predominantly Christians, or to the Meitei Pangals who follow Islam or to other faiths? The answer is a big “No”. None of them feels that the government is communal except those who are returning home empty-handed after years of negotiation with GoI and aggressively and exclusively looking for an honourable space for themselves. Perhaps, “communal” is the only plank on which the campaign for alternative arrangement can be built and the only bargaining chip to throw to GoI when all others have failed.
Dancing to the Tune of Reality
It is political sagacity to be able to foresee the future and dance according to the tune of reality. Muivah and NSCN-IM leadership remains to be appreciated at least on these grounds. When limited options are available and faced with the potential crisis of the cadres, and above all, having learnt from history (sic. the Mizo Accord), Muivah is right to push ahead with the agenda of saving himself as well as close associates in Manipur. Apprehension on the part of the Muivah followers has been captured by the Morung Express, (January 4, 2013) when it reported, “UNC delegation is expected to visit Hebron camp in Dimapur soon and meet the NSCN-IM General Secretary Th. Muivah and Chairman Isak Chishi Swu to get a clear picture about what the Nagas of Manipur can expect in the event of a final solution to the ongoing Indo-Naga peace talks”. In the light of such developments, campaign for alternative arrangement is a political move to assuage the tensed minds and thus, a logical outcome. Not only this, on the material front, too, NSCN-IM leadership has also given permission to its cadres to amass wealth from any available sources as a move to appease them. The sanction given to Jubiliant Energy for oil explorations in Manipur and illegal chromite mining in Ukhrul District are indicative examples. Articulating communalism as the basis of alternative arrangement and destruction of Manipur by MNCs, will only lead to destruction of all the communities in Manipur. Is NSCN-IM willing to pay the price?
This article was published in The Sangai Express on Sunday, January 20, 2013