The Kukis and the SoO: The road ahead
By Ngamjahao Kipgen & Th. Hethang George Haokip
The historic tripartite SoO (Suspension of Operations) that was signed between the Government of India, State Government (Manipur) and the Kuki revolutionary groups under the umbrella of a common bilateral platform called the UPF (United People’s Front) and the KNO (Kuki National Organisation) in New Delhi on 22nd August 2008 under a certain set of ground rules was represented and inked by DS Poonia, Principal Secretary (Home) and Naveen Varma, Jt Secretary (North-East), Ministry of Home Affairs on behalf of the State and Central Government respectively.
Also, to safeguard/oversee the implementation of the SoO, a committee called Joint Monitoring Group (JMG) was formed amongst the signatories and it is headed by the Principal Secretary (Home), Government of Manipur, and includes members like Inspector General of Police (Intelligence) of the concerned State; Department of Home Ministries; CPO’s, Army, and the UG groups. They convened a meeting at least once in a month, though the agreement binds upon for a period of one year.
Yet, it can be and has been extended from time to time through mutual agreement uptill today and that there will soon be a discussion on its further extension. In analysing the terms of the agreement, the Security Forces viz, the Army, Para-military Forces and the State police were not to launch any operations, neither could the UG groups were allowed to undertake offensive operations either by violent or non violent acts.
Some of the important ground rules, set for the Suspension of Operations (SoO), signed between the Government of India (GoI), the State (Manipur) Government and the Kuki insurgent groups included the following given points:
(i) The constituents of UPF and KNO will abide by the Constitutions of India, the laws of the land and the territorial integrity of Manipur, (ii) They are barred from committing all kinds of atrocities and extortions, (iii) Construction of designated camps, depositing of arms under a double locking system and financial assistance for the UGs, and (iv) Submission of the list and recent photographs of all cadres along with their bio-data. In pursuance to this, all cadres will be issued Identity Cards, etc.
The most controversial and debated agenda on the set ground rules that arose during the course of signing the SoO was ‘Maintaining Territorial Integrity of Manipur’. Many voices have been raised and discussed as the signing of the SoO involved abandoning their dream of Kukiland or Zalengam. However, Kuki Revolutionary groups under the umbrella of KNO and the UPF, in spite of the set ground rules on Territorial Integrity of Manipur, has signed the document by upholding a different perspectives. Some of the viewpoints are analysed as under:
First, the (Kuki insurgents and hereafter we will refer them as ‘they’) are of the view that the State/Manipur Government has nothing to loose or gain once the political dialogue got under way. Aaron, the Secretary General of the KNF in this regard has stated, “the hill areas of Manipur are not under the ambit of the State Government and that there is a specific location for establishing Kukiland within an outlined map” (TSE).
Second, they are of the opinion that prior to the British incursion on Kuki inhabited areas; the Kukis were living independently in their ancestral land, called Zale’n-gam or Kukiland. PS Haokip in his article “the Zale’n-gam and Kangleipak Equation” (www.kukination.net
) has put forth that Kangleipak/Imphal valley (Manipur) which comprises 10 per cent of the present State of Manipur and Zale’n-gam (Kukiland) were in peaceful co-existence.
They also claim to have begun asserting for the restoration of their ancestral land since 1917 [Kuki Rebellion, 1917-1919]. With this aim in view, the Kuki Insurgent groups’ were keen to sign the accord despite knowing the fact that the ground rules under SoO includes maintaining the territorial integrity of Manipur. Rather, they propagated that maintaining territorial integrity of Manipur has been the desire and aspiration of the Kukis since the very beginning of their movement.
Third, they are also of the opinion that, Kangleipak (Manipur) and Zale’n-gam (Kukiland) were in peaceful co-existence with mutual respect for territorial integrity and that the inhabitants vis-à-vis the Meiteis and the Kukis were living peacefully in their own respective territories without any interference in each other’s internal affairs. This may be well visualised from the events that have occurred in 1891 (Khongjom war) & 1917–1919 (Kuki war of Independence) in which the Meitei-land (Kangleipak/Manipur) and Zale’n-gam/Kukiland were subjugated and conquered successively ie, one after another.
Fourth, they also vehemently assert that the ‘Kuki Nation’ which has a distinct ethnic and socio-cultural identity, has every right to self-determination, ie the freedom to decide their own future, and that would be possible only when political autonomy (self-governance) is granted to them within the fabric of the Indian Constitution.
Consequently, so far, ever since the implementation of the SoO there are no such major differences from both Government (SFs) and the Kuki insurgents till today. Though there have been some instances of misunderstanding on violation of ground rules; the killing of four cadres of KNO/KLA at Mongkot Chepu village by the personnel of 12 Maratha Light Infantry on the evening of September 7, 2009 is one such instance. Significantly, the rate of extortion, ransom, kidnapping, encounter, casualties and so on which often makes daily headlines in all local newspapers has declined considerably.
The Kukis yearn for peace and lasting solution can further be seen from the recent developments as mentioned in the agreed ground rules. Construction of designated camps like, Camp Ebenezer, Gamnom camp, Muvanlai camp, Camp Sinai, Nazareth camp and so on are completed and inaugurated. Indian Home Secretary, GK Pillai, had visited the designated camp of the Kuki National Front’s (KNF) “Ebenezer Peace Camp” much before it was officially inaugurated. Even the Deposition of arms under a double locking system has also been on the move (process).
Stage being set for political dialogue
The Kuki insurgency movement has started right from the late 80s. Since then the journey has begun with despondency and many revolutionaries have sacrificed/laid down their precious lives with a ‘Hope’. And today that is emerging with concrete hope towards the future—from ideal to objectivity.
A lot has been said and written as to whether the SoO would materialise or remain an enigma ever since it has been signed. For instance, there has been skepticism on the part of the Center and State Governments’. Commander of 59 Mountain Brigade Brig Anil Chauhan while speaking at the inaugural function of the administrative block of a designated camp built for KNF at Natheljang said that the tripartite Suspension of Operation (SoO) pact signed between the Central Government, the State Government and Kuki militant groups is now in transitory phase and no political dialogue has been initiated as yet (TSE 28th Nov. 2009).
After much hiccups, hopes and yearning of the Kuki people, the much-awaited political dialogue is on the track as most of the SoO signatories have deposited their arms. All these developments signal the beginning of a new era of bright hope for the Kukis.
The Kuki National Front (KNF), one of the oldest organisations of the Kuki armed groups took the initiative of being the first one to deposit their arms at their designated camp, EBENEZER at Natheljang, in the Koubru range of Sadar Hills. The General Secretary of the KNF maintained the fact that cadres were able to settle at one place and open a peace camp after over 23 years of struggle, which is considered a positive political step of the Kuki people. They also further appeal to all SoO signatories to do the same so that a political dialogue could be held at the earliest point of time.
Similarly, Calvin H, secretary of ZRO’s ministry of external affairs in his speech on the inauguration of ‘Camp Muvanlai’ remarked that their gesture is made as a confidence-building measure to signify their commitment to a durable and honourable political solution and to re-affirm that it believes in the goodwill and sincerity of the Government in taking forward their legitimate demands for political autonomy.
He further asserts that as we have shown that we wish to settle our political desires through peaceful means we expect reciprocal moves from the Government in the form of political dialogue.
As it has been highlighted, the main purpose of SoO is to engage in political dialogue to find a political settlement for the Kukis within the Constitution of India. The Kuki peoples’ political aspirations and Constitutional rights could be realised only with the creation of an autonomous State within the framework of the Indian Constitution. With this hope, today, the initiative taken by the Kuki insurgents has signaled their readiness for an early peaceful political dialogue.
Considering the recent positive development after the signing of SoO, the Kuki groups have reaffirmed their respect for democratic principles of the Indian Constitution. Their efforts and interests have entered into a new stage. This is definitely a breakthrough. It is also hopeful that once the dialogue begins the Government of India will show its commitment and sincerity to the democratic principles of the rule of law and good governance.
Ngamjahao Kipgen is a research scholar at Indian Institute of Technology and Th. Hethang George Haokip is a research scholar at Manipur University, India.