The history of armed movement in Manipur has been getting increasing attention since the last two years. But unfortunately the attention is not of resolving the conflict but of conflict management which increases the human insecurity and sustaining conflict situation in Manipur. Besides the militaristic approach, one visible strategy is the surrender policy which is projected as peace talk. It is difficult to understand how the surrender policy and the issue of peace talk are linked to each other as what kind of peace talk can be done when all the cadres including their arms are surrendered to the government. It cannot be peace talk but creating a cadre of surrendered men and women under a banner to claim that they are concerned about the conflict situation. Once surrendered, the surrendered cadres have to follow the orders and their mobility is restricted beyond their designated camp. They are considered as misguided unemployed youth which becomes difficult to link themselves with the armed movement. This question comes in as fake surrenders were reported just to increase the count of surrendered cadres which means more money flow. For instance, in the recent MoU signing programme (May 24, 2013) with UPPK, Principal Secretary Suresh Babu said that “New Delhi has released Rs 14 crores for necessary expenditures of the groups which have come to the path of peace”.
This is evident when the surrendered cadres (UPPK and other) in the name of peace talks have not come out with their charter of demands. If they are in a peace talk then why are they unable to spell their demands?. Who is stopping them and for what reason? It is sure that they cannot raise the issue of sovereignty but what are the other issues they raise or is it they simply surrendered themselves and their organisation as a sort of retirement plan. It has created a concern to the general public whether the people surrendered are really armed cadres who fight for their right to self-determination or government created cadres. It can be recalled how the surrendered ULFA of Assam (SULFA) were involved in the “silent killing” of Assam which was considered one of the worst years in Assam. Is the government planning a similar strategy? We have experiences of ZORO in the Army and Assam Rifles camps when we go to any place where it is manned by Army or Assam Rifles. Moreover, all these surrendered cadres particularly the valley based are put up in Assam Rifles camps.
It is not doubt that surrender policy is a counter-insurgency measure but the state government using the surrendered cadre to initiate peace dialogue is very unfortunate. What make the government think that they can do peace talk with the surrendered cadres? For instance, in the UPPK surrender function, it was dominated by the official claims but the position of the UPPK was not clear. They could not share what they want and what are the points they are negotiating. The situation is same with the United Revolutionary Front (URF), KCP (Lamphel) and KYKL (MDF) who surrender to the government in the name of Peace Talk. With no attention and apathy, they even threatened to withdraw from the same process which they cannot do. For instance, “URF’s Ruhini, KYKL (MDF) president Meisnam Athouba and KCP (Lamphel Group)’s general secretary Haobijam Dilip alias Taibanganba asserted that they would not hesitate in returning to the jungles for resuming the military offensive against the Government if plight of the surrendered cadres is not accorded importance”.
The government process of polluting the platform of peace talk has created a situation that peace talks means surrender. This is also evident when any of the surrender function is organised, they write as Peace Talk. But earlier, they used to write as Home coming ceremony. The shift can be understood if we analyse the policy of the government which is largely influenced by the real politik propounded by Kautilya (aka Chanakya), who helped King Chandragupta Maurya to build India’s first trans-regional empire just after Alexander’s invasion of India. Kautilya advocated Sham (conciliation), Dam (Bribe), Danda (Forces), and Bhed (Split) as the four options of statecraft to be used in effective combinations rather than as single, standards options. If the AOG (armed opposition group) insist on sovereignty or adopted positions unacceptable to Delhi, military operations were resumed with renewed vigor and intelligence worked overtime to split the recalcitrant AOG. Nagas, Mizos, Assamese or other tribal insurgent groups have all ended up in split, mostly during or after dialogue with the federal or the state governments.
Peace talk is something that can be done between two groups which are not dependent to each other. Further, the government must be aware that peace talk does not necessarily mean surrender. There can be peace talk to negotiate their claims and if they are not happy, they can continue with their processes. Likewise, the government should always remember that peace talk cannot be done with the Government and the AOG alone. They can talk to each other but since they exist in the name of the people, every peace talk should involve the public including women in any of the process. Negating the public has led to failure in earlier peace process in Northeast India which is not expected to repeat by the government. The change of policy from homecoming to peace talk should be reviewed if the government is serious about any peace process in Manipur.
Constitute an Independent Commission for Conflict Resolution
We can assume that the state government is concerned about the peace process in Manipur. But unfortunately the peace process is initiated as a counter-insurgency measure rather than as a genuine initiative. It may be because of military oriented advises or lack of expertise or inability to reach out to the expertise. Whatever the motives, there are certain compulsory measures or processes which need to be worked out before a peace talk or negotiation takes place. The process should not be considered as surrender by the government and also by the AOG. For instance, even after more than 60 years of armed conflict in Manipur, the government and the armed opposition groups are moving in parallel directions in terms of defining the problem or identifying the root cause(s). The government has not accepted the position of the armed opposition groups. Similarly, in spite of engaging international cooperation (military or otherwise), particularly with Myanmar and Bangladesh, to suppress the armed movement in the state, the government continues to claim that it is a law and order problem, and most recently, terrorism.
However, it will be impossible to start a conflict resolution or transformation process without defining a common problem. So, if at all the government is interested to resolve the conflict in Manipur through peaceful and democratic means, then the first and the foremost step is initiation of a process for identifying the common problems, which are acceptable to both the conflicting groups, through an inclusive mechanism. Mere appeals for peace talks from time to time along with military engagements cannot bring about any tangible solution and least of all, addressing the problem. The United NGOs Mission-Manipur charter of demands submitted to the President of India during his recent visit could be recalled to explain the pre negotiating measures to be adopted by the government. The selected points are (i) “Constitute an Independent Commissions for Conflict Resolution in the state; (ii) develop a framework on pre-negotiation, negotiation and post negotiation with special monitoring mechanisms with due representation from civil society, NGOs and also by engaging International Community as a Third Party to settle the long standing political conflict in the state”. It is not necessary that government has to take up all these processes at one time. The most important one is to constitute the committee to identify a possible common meeting point within a time frame. Similar studies were conducted at Jammu and Kashmir by the government of India but members of the Manipur committee should to be selected in such a way that they have the capacity to reach out to the major AOGs.
However, the process of constituting the committee should be done under the Prime Minister Office or Ministry of External Affairs with the state government particularly the Home Minister and/or elected legislators as facilitators. This will increase the commitment of the government to the AOG. The involvement of PMO office is necessary because the proposed committee might come up with various recommendations such as (i) within the Constitution of India; (ii) Within the Indian Union and (iii) Beyond the Indian Union. The state government cannot discuss any of these issues on its own, so constituting the committee is a compulsion. Moreover, the major AOGs have represented as leaders (of a country) in different platforms. So merely degrading them at the level of the state will be an insult which might deter the process. The other issue of elected legislators of state as facilitators is because, bureaucrats deputed by the Government of India for various peace talks are merely good in taking orders which they have been doing for decades. However, if the committed elected legislators are involved, they might think ‘out of the box’ unlike the bureaucrats who only wait for their next assignment from the government. Initiating the process of constituting a committee could be a major breakthrough for the SPF government which has created history in getting the attention of two UN Special Rapporteurs.
This article was posted in The Sangai Express on Sunday, May 26, 2013