Greater autonomy On the path to exclusivity

It has been quite some time since the demand for a separate autonomous territorial council for the Kuki and Zo communities of Manipur is articulated through different platforms and media. It may be sheer coincidence or perfect synchronization that the demand for autonomous territorial council for the Kuki/Zo communities within the State of Manipur has been given a concrete shape when the Government of India and NSCN-IM have been pushing vigorously for a final settlement to the Naga peace talks. With the Kuki National Organisation (KNO), one of the two conglomerates of Kuki militant groups under Suspension of Operation or SoO pact with the Government of India and Government of Manipur, openly calling for a Kukiland Territorial Council to be modelled after the Bodoland Territorial Council in Assam, the demand for the Kuki militants is definitely taking a concrete shape. Bodoland Territorial Councul was constituted under the 6th Schedule of the Indian Constitution by virtue of which it enjoys a fair degree of autonomy. Juxtapose it with the NSCN-IM’s demand for physical integration of Naga inhabited areas or greater autonomy for the Nagas of Manipur; one gets a fair idea of the politics of exclusivity. Media reports say the demand for physical integration of Naga inhabited areas has been struck down by the Government of India but autonomous councils would be formed in Naga dominated areas of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh under the Naga Accord which is yet to be formally signed. In either case, one can visualise a clear picture of a highly fractured Manipur with Imphal Valley symbolising the ancient Nation and two autonomous regions surrounding it. Although such a scenario would make the paradox of pluralism and exclusivity vis-a-vis the State of Manipur complete theoretically, any such political arrangement would not be a smooth sailing at the least. Moreover, such ethno-centric divisions would be suicidal for all the indigenous communities of the land. Even in its current status, Manipur is too small to be accorded any importance from the perspective of Delhi mandarins. In case, it is fragmented into three political divisions, all the indigenous people would be reduced to nothingness.
At the same time, it is obvious that if any group of people living within any political domain is not happy with the existing politico-administrative structure, they would demand alternatives which they think would better serve their interests. To address these political demands for exclusive autonomous councils satisfactorily, we need to go deep to the roots and find out the factors which determined such political discourses. Outright rejection would not only tend to be hegemonic but will also invite discord in the society. The protagonists of pluralistic and united Manipur must study how these sub-nationalist discourses took birth and was given relevancy. Polarised politics and fragmented homeland imagination based on ethnicity; and failure or lack of political accommodation have come to define the State’s political process in recent decades. As commented earlier, the politics of ethno-exclusivity was writ large on the demand for creation of Sadar Hills district as well in the vehement opposition raised by another section of people. After a new district for Sadar Hills was created in the name of Kangpokpi which is still contested by the United Naga Council, now the UPF and KNO have raised the demand for an Autonomous Territorial Council exclusively for Kuki and Zo people. The trajectory is similar to that of the Nagas which began with the creation of a Nagaland State and later demanded a greater Nagaland. Given this history, one cannot help ask whether the demand for Autonomous Territorial Council is fuelled by bloated political ambitions or genuine socio-economic and cultural grievances. This question must be answered first. At the same time, majority Manipuris can no longer be lost in the purple haze of history or the historical sanctity of its territorial integrity. Negotiations can unmake history and create new ones. The society must be accommodative enough to let even the smallest community preserve and promote their own cultures and identities.