Rapprochement model in Manipur
Another anniversary of the June 18 uprising in the valley to protest the unconditional extension of the NSCN(IM) ceasefire “without territorial limits” in 2001, a move of the then BJP government at the Centre which had seemed to many to be an imminent threat to the territorial integrity of Manipur, will be observed today with the same solemnity that marks the observation each year.
A total of 18 people had lost their lives in firing by security forces during the day’s agitation and scores more were injured, demonstrating the public passion the issue commands, especially in the valley area of the state. The unmistakable statement sent out by those who were driven to take to the streets on the issue was loud and clear – Manipur will not be allowed to disintegrate at any cost.
It is now everybody’s knowledge that the clause “without territorial limits” to the extension of the ceasefire had to be withdrawn before passions ultimately cooled. But the fact is, the ethnic divide in Manipur being what it is, there are others who still stand on the other side of this issue too. Indeed, Manipur’s cup of woe is destined to overflow some more – unless of course the people realize the inevitable destiny of geography and come out of their respective prisons of perspective. It will hardly need any explanation that this meta-narrative of geographical bondage cannot be undone at anybody’s whim without causing huge and tragic tremors in ethnic relations which can leave irreversible traumatic consequences.
The unrest in June 2001 gave us all a glimpse of what turns things can take. It is reaffirming that even in the midst of the extreme ethnic tensions then, no murderous mayhem resulted between the communities in the hills or in the valley, and although it cannot be denied that many Nagas fled the valley in the heat of the agitation, leaving their homes and properties unguarded, nobody even thought of taking them over or move into them. When normalcy returned, things were thus where they always stood, and thankfully too.
June 18 must then also be a time to reflect on this unseen and unarticulated grace in ethnic relations beneath what seem to be mutually and uncompromisingly hostile frictions.
The ultimate peace and reconciliation that must come about would have to begin with an acknowledgment of the existence of this umbilical cord, and then building on the sense of fraternity that this promises. Of course, this should also not mean homogenization of everything in the name of co-existence. This fraternity, if it must have any tangible meaning beyond its rhetoric, must also be about recognizing diversity and difference.
Hence, the demand for autonomy by different communities must be given new thought and focus. However, as IFP has also written on so many other occasions, the territorial divide between hills and valley in ethnic terms is only as old as the advent of British land management system that laid a premium on separating “fiscal subjects” from “absent citizens”, therefore a new imagining is what is called for in today’s popular notion of territory and ownership.
The idea that anything hill, including those embedded within the valley which have also always been closely associated with the myths and legends of valley dwellers must be given acceptance. If not, the opposite logic that anything valley must be reserved for the valley people must also apply. This does not however mean all existing ethnic territorial boundaries must be broken, but it does mean their rigidity must end. We also know from a generation which saw the state of things in the state in the 1940s and 1950s, many of whom are still alive, that many stretches of territory in the hills as well as in the valley which are now thickly populated, were virtually uninhabited, making our call for a reimagining of the notion of territory all the more relevant
Perhaps the Meghalaya model of autonomy can be explored. Here 6th Schedule covers the entire state, except for the Shillong municipal area, so that the administrative boundaries of the 6th Schedule ADCs and those of the state government overlap almost completely. In Manipur too, perhaps all of its territory, hill as well as valley except the Imphal municipal area, can be given similar autonomy, not necessarily as an exact duplicate of the 6th Schedule ADCs. There are inconveniences of this arrangement as those at the helm of Meghalaya administration will vouch, but the fact is, the two do not have to be mutually exclusive. If such an arrangement can give the sense of autonomous cultural space that so many in the state cry hoarse for, then there can be no harm experimenting with it. If this can resolve the issues of conflict and each community can within each of their autonomous cultural spheres, be themselves without worrying about annoying the other communities, nothing can be better. The state government can remain as the larger structure within which these culturally autonomous units can be find a federal unity.
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