Time for Modi-Shah duo to ink the final pact
Dr Th Suresh Singh
This 65 yr-old problem has given a lot of hiccup in the past. Now and then hope followed by despair is the craft of this parley. In the meantime, we the people, are hoping against hope that the problem is nearing a solution. But, at the last moment, delusion is the last trait disappointing many people in the region. The talk has continued for the last 23 years.
As far as my State of Manipur is concerned, it is to be made very clear in the final deal that Manipur integrity in any form - geographical, administrative, political, social and ethnical- is not touched upon or disturbed. Manipur’s fate be left to the Manipuris.
What I visualise as a critical observer is : i) Manipur geographical boundary will not be touched upon. This has been assured by PM Modi himself in his 3 visits here. There is no reason to disbelieve him ii) some form of Autonomic District Council is to be granted to the Naga-inhibited areas under 6th Schedule or some other crafted laws.
This is the catch. It seems that Shah was not briefed properly in his talks with Civil Societies/ by Manipur Govt./Opposition parties. It further seems Interlocutor RN Ravi to be ignorant about this vital aspect in spite of his many plus points. I will shorten this point- if the Centre grants some form of Naga Territorial Council under 6th Schedule or any enacted law, other ethnic groups, especially vocal Kuki groups in the hills, will demand the same as they are in a majority in many areas. The Centre and the State have to sit on this fire. And, what about the valley ? You will grant facility to the hills and nothing to the valley ?
Manipuris will continue to blame the Centre for its “divide and rule” policy between the valley and hill. The same is introduced by the British in 1907 by introducing “ Rules of the Management of Manipur” after the defeat of Manipur in the Anglo-Manipuri War. As far as COCOMI (Coordination Committee on Manipur Integrity), an apex body of many organisations is concerned, their stand was communicated to HM, Governor and CM on 22nd September last year and in the meeting with Amit Shah at Delhi on 25 November last year. The takeaway is-all Manipuris are against ethnic division.
The solution lies in bringing a consensus by discussing with, we the people, of this vital aspect. The mantra be – ‘bring a consensus with all stakeholders’ and avoid the famous 14th June 2001 incident of Bangkok Ceasefire Agreement of Vajpayee Government when Manipur burnt with the death of 18 people, destroying Assembly building, humiliating MPs/MLAs etc. The day is observed as the “Great June Uprising” by Manipuri Civil societies. Manipuris are not forgetting this incidence; they are not going to forget it in future either. The bone of contention was - the word “without territorial limit” included in the ceasefire agreement. By this very phrase, Manipuris took that the State was included as a part of Nagaland. That is it. Fortunately and showing maturity, Vajpayee withdrew the offending words subsequently. During Congress CM Ibobi’s tenure, NSCN (IM) supremo T Muivah was also not allowed to inter his birthplace village at Ukhrul district of Manipur in spite of repeated efforts by the Mandaris at the Centre. I am only highlighting this emotional scenario between Manipuris and NSCN (IM) so that Amit Shah is well prepared.
Manipur history not exposed properly : The unfortunate part is - Manipuri historians/intellectuals and outside historians are not able to present the true perspective of Manipur. Hence, those sitting at Delhi are ignorant about this hidden history. We have at least 33 officially recognised tribes; if smaller tribes are included, the total comes to around 40.
Manipur boundary : By virtue of our great campaigner Maharaj Gambhir Singh who undertook his famous Naga campaign in 1833, Manipur boundary was extended up to the present Assam plain. Kohima and surrounding odd 34 villages were under him. In 1835, the forest land between Doyen and Dhunsiri river was declared as boundary between Manipur and Assam (Nagaland was not born as yet). This is in British records as agreed to by Captain Jerkins and Captain Pemberton. Any interested person can find this in many British books/write-ups. In layman’s term, the southern portion of Naga Hills was Manipur’s North-West boundary.
The area continued to be Manipur’s when it handed it free to Lord Northbrook, the Viceroy of India in a Darbar Meeting on 11th August 1874 held onboard the Viceroy’s yacht. This meeting is famously known as Jiri Darbar after the Jiri District of Kachar (Silchar). In fact, the Viceroy was requesting the Manipuri King for transfer of only 1,000 sq. km of land at Thibomei (Present Kohima) to establish a British trade centre there. The king handed over the whole Kohima and surrounding villages conquered by his famous father Gambhir Singh. How noble (or one can call, how foolish) he was. Thus Manipur lost its boundary of the southern portion of Naga hills after 40 years of occupation. Had these areas remained under Manipur, Nagas and present Manipur would have remained as brethren peacefully and with prosperity. I am only highlighting this so that our Naga brethren knew the sacrifices Manipuris did and not to reclaim it. Since 1200 AD, the present Manipur boundary stood as it is now and NSCN (IM)’s demand for Greater Nagalim has no relevance vis-a-vis Manipur is concerned.
Present parley : The jig-jag continues with Ravi insisting on signing without a separate flag and Constitution and Muivah and company insisting on the same. It is a matter of chess game now. Ravi’s message is very clear- there shall be only one National flag and Constitution in India. He added that common understanding has been reached on all the issues on the table and conclusion of talks on October 31, 2019 and people of Nagaland are ready for a new dawn. There are some people who are standing as “a roadblock” to the aspirations of the people of Nagaland (Hindustan Times). In another press release NSCN (IM) stated that Ravi should “not bite off more than he can chew.”
However, according to V Horam, executive member of the NSCN(IM)’s steering committee, they have made their position very clear to the GOI and are now waiting for draft peace resolution in writing from the GOI. According to Horam, 35 rounds of talks were held between August and October this year. NSCN (IM)’s demand continues to be greater geographical area from neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur with a separate flag and Constitution (The Print). Horam is very optimistic about their demands.
But, according to another group, Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs), an umbrella body of other 7 rebel outfits which joined the talks in 2017, negotiations held between August and October this year are “insignificant”...all negotiations have been done and everything is in black and white...besides altering a few words here and there, Government cannot alter anything that we have mutually agreed upon (The Print).
3 Agreements in last 6 year : For the common people and writers like me, we have 3 Agreements- 1st one of 2015 signed between PM Modi and NSCN (IM), the 2nd one on 31 October 2019 between Ravi and all stakeholders (including NSCN IM) and the 3rd one between GOI and IM on August and October this year i.e. 35 rounds of talks mentioned above. It is all confusing and unproductive at the end, all in the last 6 years of Modi rule, just like who is who in the dictionary. Time is running out. Modi has done many good things for the N-E Region, far better than previous Governments. I at least expect another cap to PM Modi by solving this vexed problem for the entire NE region and giving a gift before the coming Holi at the latest.