Need for conflict resolution and peace
NSCN-IM and KIM must stop war of words and shift focus to common interest

Jalun Haokip *

The renewed and emotionally-charged war of words between the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isaac Muivah (NSCN-IM) and Kuki Inpi Manipur (KIM) over the topic of ancestral land dispute has once again dominated Manipur news headlines recently. The NSCN-IM, the most powerful of the insurgent groups in north-east India, claims to represent the Naga people; KIM as the traditional institution of Kuki chiefs claims to represent the Kuki people.

This came against the backdrop of rhetoric over the much-hyped ‘Framework Agreement’ signed between the Government of India and the NSCN-IM on August 3, 2015. The bone of contention between the NSCN-IM and the KIM is the claims and counter claims of being the first or original settlers on the land and the other being intruders, subjects or refugees.

Provocative arguments, whether based on historical facts or distorted or invented history, can go on and on, but what is the point in such arguments when both Nagas and Kuki/Zomi people are equally indigenous to present Manipur and feeling systematically discriminated against by the State government?

The Framework Agreement has attracted mixed reactions but all that has been said, including conflicting statements from the Indian Government and NSCN-IM leaders, is speculative since the content of the agreement has not been published.

Reacting to the NSCN-IM’s repeated claim that the Government of India and the NSCN-IM have reached an understanding on shared sovereignty (including for separate constitution, passport and flag for the Nagas), a source in the Union Home ministry stated that any group has the right to make a claim, but that does not mean it is true, and that the government does not have to make a clarification every time a group makes a claim.

The Indian Government has on numerous occasions clarified there is no possibility of the Nagas having a separate constitution, passport or a flag, and that there would not be any disturbance to the territorial integrity of any of the north-eastern states, including Manipur, which neighbours Nagaland state.

Meanwhile, it is rumoured that the final settlement of the Framework Agreement will be grant of Naga autonomy in the form of Naga Regional Council in Naga-inhabited areas of Manipur. Terms such as shared sovereignty, recognition of the Nagas’ unique history and culture, and Naga integration, often chanted by NSCN-IM, are open to interpretation, unless clearly defined or explained.

Shared sovereignty could be as big a structure as the European Union where each member nation state enjoys sovereignty within the Union, or simply the sharing of Indian sovereignty by all Indian citizens, which has been the case since India’s independence in 1947 and the merger of princely states with Indian Union. Recognition does not necessarily mean agreement. Naga integration could be interpreted, as is most likely, as integration of contiguous Naga-inhabited areas of Manipur into a single administration with some sort of autonomy, but without disturbing the territorial boundary of the state of Manipur.

That said, I believe the struggling Naga people have the right to self-determine and deserve an honourable solution to their problem within the framework of the Indian Constitution and without hurting the sentiments of their neighbours. It is the same as for the struggling Kuki/Zomi people, who have their own unique history, identity, culture and political demands for a separate state, or a separate administration, within the framework of the Constitution.

In their unabated rhetoric over the last years, NSCN-IM and KIM have been entrenched in rigid, and often unrealistic or unhelpful, positions based on conflicting history; but lacked statement of their interests and willingness for negotiation. The fight for win-lose thus far ends up in lose-lose for both.

Both need to work on creating a win-win situation in order to resolve their conflict. For this, each side needs to reason their position and understand their real interests while being mindful of the fact that the sensitive subject of ancestral land is close to the heart of every community and this must be acknowledged and respected mutually.

The mindless ethnic clash between the Naga and Kuki tribals in the 1990’s, which proved disastrous on both sides in terms of loss of human lives, homes, land and possession and separation still fresh in the minds of many people changed the settlement maps of both Nagas and Kukis. For example, the Kukis lost a large chunk of land in areas dominated by the Nagas, and similarly, the Nagas lost land in Kuki-dominated areas.

The NSCN-IM and KIM should not exploit history and the bloody ethnic clash to consolidate their positions or narrow interests, but focus on finding a peaceful solution to the problem. What has happened cannot be changed but its meaning can be positively changed. As it stands, both sides stick to their positions to the detriment of resolution and peace. They need to shift their focus on ‘what is in our interest’? In view of the fragile peace between Kuki and Naga, which is hanging by a thread, they must maintain extra caution and a level of maturity and mutual respect.

I do not believe it would be in Naga interest, let alone the larger interest, for Kuki-dominated areas to be included in a separate administrative unit for the Nagas against the wishes of the Kukis or vice versa, for such a solution will be counterproductive in that the aggrieved party will continue to seek separation from such an entity . Any solution to the Naga and Kuki/Zomi political problems must be on the basis of interest with cooperation, mutual respect, recognition, trust and needs, the peaceful pathways to conflict resolution while appreciating the differences as well as mutual interests.

Both the NSCN-IM and KIM, along with all stakeholders, should sit down together and work out a solution to their problems on a win-win basis. One possible solution is a separate autonomous administrative division each for the Naga and Kuki/Zomi peoples in their respective inhabited contiguous areas under the 6th Schedule provisions of the Indian Constitution; or a higher provision within or outside Manipur.

Central and State Governments must also address the legitimate demands and concerns of the conflicting parties, and bring transparency to their processes, to help bring a permanent solution and peace.

* Jalun Haokip wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is an Australia-based social worker
This article was posted on July 04, 2017.

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