SoO: Bipartite or Tripartite?
It certainly evokes keen interest as it is quite significant. The Ministry of Home Affairs is holding another round of talks on August 17 with several Kuki militant groups clubbed together under two umbrella organisations; Kuki National Organisation or KNO and United People’s Front or UPF. Both KNO and UPF are signatories of the tripartite Suspension of Operation (SoO) agreement involving the Government of India and Government of Manipur. The agreement was first signed in 2008 with a pre-condition or term that the Kuki militant groups would not raise any demand which challenges the integrity of Manipur. But now both UPF and KNO have been violating this fundamental term in the most arrogant manner. They have been openly demanding the Ministry of Home Affairs to withdraw the clause (to safeguard integrity of Manipur) from the SoO agreement. Another round of talks was held in New Delhi on July 26 in the midst of the large scale violence gripping Manipur. It was during this round of talks that KNO and UPF representatives urged the Centre to withdraw the clause on safeguarding the territorial integrity of Manipur. With the Government handling the militant groups under SoO agreement with a very soft hand, these militant groups are becoming bolder and bolder. They are now demanding a Kuki-exclusive Union Territory. It is anybody’s guess what these militant groups would demand next. At the same time, as indicated by their complete turn-around and disowning of their own pledge, the trustworthiness or credibility of both these groups are now highly questionable. Although the Ministry of Home Affairs has neither issued any confirmation on the August 17 talks nor divulged any details, one KNO leader has claimed that they have scheduled a bipartite meeting with officials of the Union Home Ministry on August 17 and it would be a continuation of political dialogue regarding ‘our issues’.
If the words of the KNO leader are completely true, something is amiss. If we are not mistaken, Suspension of Operation is a tripartite agreement and the highest stakeholder in the whole engagement is undoubtedly the State of Manipur. In another word, the Government of Manipur must be a party to any dialogue held with militant groups under SoO agreement. The Government of India must not take undue liberty while dealing with these militant groups if serious repercussions and backfires must be avoided. It is understandable that New Delhi has been upholding the SoO agreement for the sake of peace in spite of rampant extortion and other unlawful activities by these militant groups which present clear cases of violation of ground rules. The demands for withdrawal of the clause on upholding the integrity of Manipur and creation of a Union Territory are reasons enough for abrogation of the SoO agreement. As history stands testimony, peace brought through appeasement policies will never be durable. New Delhi must draw a distinct line between peace and appeasement. Considering the huge firepower and unlimited arms and ammunition used in the waves after waves of offensive targeting Meitei villages which lasted for almost three months, the role of Kuki militant groups under Soo agreement in the recent violence must be first investigated thoroughly. At the same time, the Government of Manipur must be taken on board while dealing with these groups for SoO is a tripartite agreement. Earlier, Manipur Legislative Assembly adopted a resolution demanding amendment of Article 3 of the Indian Constitution by inserting a provision/clause that prior consent of the State legislatures of the affected State(s) shall be mandatory while forming new States, alteration of areas, boundaries or names of existing States. Though this resolution was adopted in another context, it is equally applicable to all political dialogues between Government of India and any militant group including Kuki militant groups under SoO agreement. Moreover this resolution was driven by a strong collective spirit and it was based on a very solid historical premise.