How Honestly Sincere?
By Gosem Editor
The center’s interlocutor on the Naga insurgency, R.S. Pandey, during his ongoing visit to Kohima, the capital of Nagaland, had reportedly stated that the center is “honestly sincere” to resolve the protracted Naga political issue. Briefing media persons from the Raj Bhavan, the former Chief Secretary of the State said that his visit which will last till the 10th of this month is primarily aimed at updating himself on the prevailing atmosphere in the state. He also went on to state that the people of Nagaland, the NSCN (IM) leadership and the center are all keen to put an end to the decades old insurgency which has negatively impacted all development activities in the state.
The approach of the new interlocutor, of trying to feel the pulse of the masses, in trying to arrive at a settlement with the insurgent group is appreciable to say the least. It is a departure from the K. Padmanabhaiah era style of highly publicized meetings in Amsterdam or other European cities. Although it is a welcome change of direction in the entire approach, the complexity of the issue demands much more plough work before it can hope to reap any real benefit or begin to merit substantive praise. The central demand put forth by the NSCN (IM) is well known. They want the areas adjoining Nagaland having substantial population of Nagas to be integrated with Nagaland. These areas are spread in the States of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur, with the largest and most controversial chunk in Manipur.
The areas in Manipur claimed by the NSCN (IM) as “Naga inhabited” include large chunks of territory that belong to the Kuki tribes, who themselves are now demanding a separate State. In an effort to justify their claim on some of the territories as being exclusively inhabited by the Nagas, the NSCN (IM), beginning from early 1992, carried out an ethnic purging campaign on unsuspecting Kuki villages in Ukhrul, Senapati, Chandel and Tamenglong Districts of Manipur, brutally killing more than a thousand Kuki tribesmen, displacing more than 50,000 Kuki villagers and burning down hundreds of houses in more than 300 villages.
Despite fervent and persistent appeals to both the center and state governments by Kuki Civil bodies, many of these villagers have not been resettled nor rehabilitated by the government. The failure of the State government to provide protection to vulnerable Kuki villagers prompted the formation of Kuki Defense Force, a rag-tag militia raised to defend unprotected Kuki villages against the well armed cadres of the NSCN (IM). These militias later became ready recruits for the KNF and KNA which were formed earlier in the late 1980s to demand separate statehood for the Kukis.
Coming back to the point, R.S Pandey and his political masters would do well to visit neighboring States and peoples, not only the Nagas, to understand the undercurrents before deciding to settle issues with the NSCN (IM). Tribal land rights are protected under the constitution through various mechanisms including the Fifth and Sixth Schedules of the constitution. The Manipur Government, since the State’s inception, has consistently denied this right to the tribals of the State. However, these protections are in relation to the non-tribals.
Now when one tribal group dispossesses another tribal group of their land, as the NSCN (IM) did with the Kukis, it is the duty of the State to restore status quo and punish the aggressors for criminal offence. If the State fails to do that, the consequences can be damning, as is being witnessed and will likely be in the future. Does such a State have the moral authority to harp on territorial integrity?
It is no surprise then that the KNO have released their letter to the UN asking to prosecute Th. Muivah, Gen Secretary and Isak Swu, Chairman of National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN-IM) for crimes committed against the Kuki people in Northeast India, in the wake of the political dialogue between the NSCN (IM) and the Indian interlocutor held recently in New Delhi.
The point really is, R.S. Pandey should not and can not even try to resolve the Naga issue without addressing the political issues raised by the people affected by the Naga demands, such as those of the Kuki people of Manipur. And it is in the interest of lasting peace in the region that one group should not be placated at the expense of others. If the GOI’s interlocutor can transcend the temptation of bagging laurels by swift achievement of tasks assigned to him in favor of treading the long winding road to lasting peace, history will laud his contribution and the gods will applaud him for the peace he will facilitate.
Gosem is a bilingual daily newspaper in the state of Manipur, India.