Sunday, August 18, 2013

Recognise the Armed Conflict in Manipur

“Recognise there is armed conflict in Manipur!” This has been the voice of the people in every walk of life for ages – be it the civil society bodies, human rights groups, academics and others except for the political class. But this voice is trampled upon and repressed by the State. Even if the first generation educated elites of Manipur remained quiet when Manipur was forcefully merged with the Indian Union, Merger Agreement became a fresh issue of debate for the second generation people after the World War II. A common consensus was arrived that Manipur was forcefully merged with India and by virtue of this very historical reason among others, besides being a distinct nation in terms of culture and race, the erstwhile kingdom deserves a shot for its own independence. Vehement opposition against this kind of ideology ensued only from the political class, which have accepted the guiles of electoral democracy. Take for instance, the State Assembly sessions, which are devoid of debates, have become rituals, say of passing bills to project a democratic face, which in fact was crafted by the Centre. The packaged form of democracy, in fact delegated, they believe, gives them enough space for wealth creation and accumulation as the whole superstructure is grounded in capitalism. Moreover, a political unit which has been designed to be completely dependent on Delhi, gives the potential of amassing more wealth as long as they remain loyal and faithful. Manipur Government as well as the Assembly is the tool for implementing the democracy project. Over and above, existence of armed conflict or the very notion of existence of conflict gives them more room for political and financial bargaining and even for camouflaging corruption in its name. However, the political class is prohibited for declaring or taking a stand that there is armed conflict. Instead, they are taught to repeat like parrots that it is a problem of law and order. Thus far, the story is a familiar one.
But what is of significance is that until and unless, the existence of armed conflict is recognised by the political class and the core issues identified, there cannot be peace in the state. Simple truth is, the State cannot continue to practice the present format of “peace talk” through surrenders (drama or real), as a proportional number of armed opposition group will replace the so crushed ones – the ones who have “returned home.” So our proposition is that as an initial step the core issues need to be identified both by the armed opposition groups and the concerned Government and bargaining has to be started based on the commonly identified and accepted terms.
Core of the Armed Conflict in Manipur
This brings us to the issue of what constitutes the core. Believe us, it is not the most complex political entity, although determined by an ideology and state structure in terms of its manifestation. Take for instance the core of the Indian State, which is politically and legally understood is ingrained in the Constitution as the basic structure. And sovereignty is a key vital element. Any modifications of the basic structure would render India stateless or meaningless to exist as a sovereign nation-state. And these are, according to the makers of the India Constitution, are derived from the collective history and ethos including the culture, tradition, ways of life, etc. practiced by the “people” of India. Looking from this perspective, core is a very unique entity, just like the soul of the body. That’s why, India makes the habit of keeping a pre-condition before entering into negotiation or treaty or pact, “It has to be within the guidelines provided by the Constitution of India”. Such an understanding is applicable as far the matter is deemed to be internal and does not apply to external affairs. This forced, for example, even Th. Muivah of NSCN-IM to plead, “Accept in principle the sovereignty of the Nagas.” Perhaps, in spite of having a powerful stockpile of arms and cadres, NSN-IM could not convince that the Nagas (sic. under its command) are unique. The rest, again, is a familiar story; constitutionality contained conflict with the NSCN-IM.
What about the core of Manipur? This is not to be confused with the everyday forms of issues, such as unavailability of water and electricity, etc. These are, nonetheless, important but without treating the core, the other multiple issues will remain as such. Thus, if history has to carry any meaning, or help in providing a solution, then there has to be an inevitable acceptance of certain historical facts. History would reveal whether a nation was once sovereign or not, and whether it deserves to be one. The former is relatively easier to reveal and the latter is mired and over-shadowed by the acts of the political class. Even the term colonial has become a contested one to describe the actuality of the latter period. In India, particularly in the Northeast and Kashmir, academics and activists are banned from using the term, to the extent of making them imprisoned under subversive and seditious acts.
That Manipur was independent and sovereign before 1891 is not contested by India. The contestation begins after the British departed in 1947 both from British India and the Princely State of Manipur. Denial and allegation about the fate of Manipur can be traced during the intervening period 1947–1949. If we can accept that Manipur was a political heirloom inherited from the British by India, then the issue need not proceed further more. But even in this logic, the core issue is, what happened to the soul of Manipur. Even if the body has transmuted, we believe, the sanctity of the soul remains unchanged, and constantly struggles to free itself. The process of imprisonment of Manipur by India can be understood as colonialism. To cover up, it has been constantly undertaking the democratization project through the compradors, using any available tools and resources, including the military, funding for modernization of police, imposition of AFSPA, and others.
But the question is, will India be in a position to accept its own set of practices and declare that it has swallowed up the core of Manipur, and come to the negotiation table with the armed opposition groups, who are demanding restoration of its sovereignty? On the part of the armed opposition groups, they describe their movement as one demanding right to self-determination. They have asserted their rights as “restoration of sovereignty of Manipur.”
Their claims have already been placed at the international level, particularly, at the United Nations. Most significant documents include the following:
(i) RPF/PLA memorandum entitled “For De-Colonisation of Manipur from Indian Colonialism and Alien Racist Regime, Enlisting Manipur in the List of the Non-Self-Governing-Territories of the United Nations and, Restoration of Independence and Sovereignty of Manipur” and
(ii) (ii) UNLF/MPA presentation at UNHRC “Why Manipuris Fight for Right to National Self-Determination.”
These documents are easily available online and the United Nations must have forwarded the documents to the Government of India. It is believed that many of the concerned government officials have recorded and analysed the documents. However, what is unfortunate is the response of the Government.
Counter Insurgency Measures
In-spite of engaging it militarily with repressive powers such as AFSPA for the last many decades, they have treated it as a law and order problem. In order to undermine the liberation movement in Manipur, the Government has availed the services of retired military and bureaucratic officers (self-claimed experts on the conflict in Manipur). However, to be frank, their views are limited to military and to some extent economic. Habituated in taking orders, and trained in the art of governmentality, they see anyone who resists against the Indian State as anti-national. Their claims of expertise benefit the Government of India and the retired fellows see the opportunity to re-engage themselves with the Government for any assignment such as Governor or Lt Governor, etc. These military and bureaucratic turned irresponsible writers are responsible for creating a controversial image of the situation of Manipur. They are part of the counter-insurgency operations.
The military budget itself indicates the complexity beyond the issue of law and order problem. Besides the Modernization of Police Force and Scheme for Reimbursement of Security Related Expenditures of Manipur, the budget for Military Civil Action was increased from Rs. 700 to 1,319 crores during the year 2006-2010.
Modernisation of Police Force (in Rs. Crores)
Scheme For Reimbursement of Security Related Expenditure (SRE)**

Note: ** Timeline same as above.

Assembly Resolution for Conflict Resolution in Manipur & Stand of the Ruling Class
The state assembly has been operating for decades but it operates merely to support the democracy project. As a result, none of the members could effectively move at any of the assembly sessions except passing references. Few governors such as Ved Prakash Marwah, Oudh Narayan Shrivastava, and SS. Sidhu in 2005 and 2006 have raised the issue but the inaction of the government failed the initiatives. 
Now, with constant movement for human rights in Manipur supported by the benefits of information technology, the United Nations has already taken note of the conflict in Manipur. The visit of UN Special Rapporteurs such as Christof Heyns of extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and Rashida Manjoo of Violence against Women is an indication. In such a situation, it is unfortunate that the ruling class of Manipur is silent over the issue as if they are not aware of it. Their inability to explain the decades old conflict in Manipur questions their intentions as public representatives. It is also true that they cannot challenge the central leaders as they are more like a bureaucrat (taking orders). In such a situation it is suggestible that the ongoing assembly session should take a resolution to resolve the conflict in Manipur. This will act as their political will to address the situation. Merely treating the surrendered cadres as par with active armed cadres and portraying peace process is obsolete. The Assembly should constitute a state level committee to define the conflict situation in Manipur as the State and Non-state and UN have their own understandings and definitions of the conflict. It will be a futile exercise to address the issue without defining the issue. It will benefit only the people who are interested in the business of the conflict. They are also the spoiler in the process.

This article was published in The Sangai Express on Sunday, June 30, 2013

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