TODAY -

J'MANIPUR' THE SICK MAN OF NORTH-EAST

'MANIPUR' THE SICK MAN OF NORTH-EAST
Courtesy: Somendrajit Naorem
Kakching Ningthou Leikai


In the 60's and 70's, few people knew of the North-East states save Assam. My mother who was then studying (late 60's) t Delhi's Lady Harding Medical College would describe Manipur as the eastern neighbour of Assam. Often she would simply tell her classmates that she was from Assam to avoid a lengthy description. Devout Hindus would, however, link the Mahabharatta epic with Manipur -- the episode of Manipuri princess Chitrangada marrying Arjuna, the Pandava prince. But historians doubt his as it is seen as to give the origin of Hinduism in Manipur to antiquity. Nehru described Manipur as the "Jewel of India".

Today, Manipur is known to the rest of India for her contributions in sports, the Manipuri classical dance, theatre etc. and none the less insurgency. In fact, Manipur has the dubious distinction of having the largest number of insurgent groups (17 is a conservative estimate). Noted among these are; The Revolutionary People's Front (RPF); The United National Liberation Front (UNLF); the Kuki National Army (KNA) and of course the powerful National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM). The recent declaration by the centre of Valley-based insurgents as terrorists and excluding the hill-based insurgent groups is clearly indicative fuel to the already burning strife-torn state. (The Times of India, Oct.27, 2001). * Now changed to Nagalim.

The recent extension of cease-fire to the Naga inhabited areas in Manipur (The Bangkok Agreement of June 14,2001) to be in force w.e.f. the first of August, 2001 for a period of one year, led to a massive violent uprising causing great loss to life and property as a protest. The protestors targeted the government machinery and public leaders (setting fire to the Manipur Legislative Assembly building, manhandling the speaker of the Assembly). As many as 14 people were brutally killed in cold blood in the firing by the Security Forces and many were seriously injured. Faced with an unprecedented civil and political unrest in Manipur, the Centre ws left with no other option but to review the Cease-fire Agreement. All Manipur Students' Union (AMSU) demanded the resignation of all the MLA's and MP's of the state. The arrogant politicians, however, refused to step down (from their coveted posts). They served half-hartedly an a ultimatum to the Centre threatening to quit their posts and resign in masse if the latter did not revoke the agreement latest by the 31st July, 2001. Left with no other go, the Union Home Minister, L.K. Advani, announced that the three unwarranted words-- "without territorial limits" in the June 14, 2001 Agreement stand deleted and the status quo ante June, 14 be restored (N.E. Sun, Aug, 1-14, 2001, page-8).

Why did the valley people, especially the majority Meiteis were hell-bent on revoking the June 14 Agreement? As the Manipur Students' Association Delhi (MSAD) clarified in their handout at a protest rally at Jantar Mantar: " The mass uprising in Manipur is not a protest against the Naga peace-process per se, nor is it the protest as anti-Naga movement, as some vested interests have been trying hard to project as". The extension of the ceasefire to Manipur was an attempt to legitimize the Greater Nagaland (Nagalim) claim of the NSCN(IM) by the Centre. This was percieved as a direct threat to the territorial integrity of Manipur. Hence, the June 18 mass uprising in Imphal. The cease-fire extension was also perceived by the people as the continuation of the old colonial policy of "Divide and Rule". Understandably, the NSCN(IM) has played the ethnic card thereby mobilizing the Nagas on the pretext of bringing peace and a possible greater Nagalim in the near future. The people's suspicion was vindicated by Th. Muviah, the NSCN(IM) supremo's claim that Nagalim covers 12,00,000 square kilometers whereas the area of Nagaland state is only 16,579 Sq.Km !

The United Naga Council (UNC) of Manipur had earlier warned the Centre of dire consequences if the June 14 Agreement was either reviewed or revoked. No wonder, the UNC, the Naga Students' Federation (NSF) and various other Naga bodies started organizing sit-in-protests, torch rallies at night and blockades of the two main national highways (NH-34, NH-53), the lifelines of Manipur.

They, in fact, called for an indefinite economic blockade on these two highways from the end of July till the first week of August in an effort to intensify thin agitation- to restore the white flags, which were earlier hosted. Ethnic clashes between the Meiteis and the Nagas seemed imminent. The fleeing of Nagas from the valley escalated this. Fortunately, a remarkable display of restraint and political maturity on both sides did prevent a communal and ethnic flare-up.

During the blockade of the two highways, the supply of essential goods was disrupted. Hundreds of trucks were stranded in Nagaland with perishable goods. There was hyperinflation- a kilo of rice reached 40 Rupees in the hill districts. On 10 August, a LPG carrying truck, was burnt near Tadubi (Senapati District- a Naga majority district) by Naga agitators. However, it must be noted that the blockade and violence were restricted only to Naga areas of Manipur, a point emphasized by Chief Minister of Nagaland.

The government of Manipur failed to provide an effective security to the transporters and the passenger bus services passing through the Naga areas of Manipur. The govt. did not impose a single curfew to prevent violence on the national highways. This has led to the people's belief that the government is partisan and ecouraging the Nagas to intensify their agitation. The apathy of the government resulted in some student organisations like the Manipur Students Federation (MSF), another powerful student organization, to call for a counter-blockade of the Naga-areas of Manipur. Later, they were persuaded by the United Committee of Manipur (UCM), spearheading the anti-cease-fire extension agitation to avoid a possible ethnic clash.

But the damage has been already done. The spirit of peaceful co-existence seems to have been lost among the Nagas. The United Naga Council (UNC) is now demanding the merger of Naga areas of Manipur to Nagaland. This is partly due to the revoking of the Cease-fire Agreement and the general feeling that the Meiteis have neglected the hills. The Meiteis generally use a derogatory term "Hao" for the tribes and is obviously resented by the tribes. The emergence of Naga nationalism has further alienated the Nagas from the Manipur mainstream. However, the so called Naga inhabited areas" is misleading for various other communities like the Kuki, Nepalis also reside. The Naga-Kuki ethnic clash was the clash over land ownership in the hill districts of Manipur. No wonder, the Kukis too vehemently opposed the ceasefire-extension to the so-called Naga areas of Manipur.

The two national highways (NH-39, NH-53) are also not safe even in normal circumstances. Highway robberies and extortion or road tax imposed by both the Naga and Kuki militants is a normal feature. A goods truck has to pay at least Rs. 5000 per trip. Highway robberies are rampant in the Moreh-Pallel sector. It is done even near the vicinity of security camps. One could even get slaps failing to give less than Rs. 500 (from ordinary passengers). Many victims say they are the insurgents as well as petty highway robbers masquerading as insurgents. I once encountered some NSCN (IM) stopping our bus and demanding not less than 1000 Rupees, while returning from Moreh. This happened not far from a CRPF camp! More ironical is the way, the police personnel at Moreh, Tengnoupal and Pallel imposed heavy fines, for bringing foreign goods. Police officers can make a fortune in few years. It's every policeman's dream to get posted in the Moreh-Pallel sector.

Manipur was put under the President's Rule owing to breakdown of constitutional machinery. On July 30, L.K. Advani, the Home Minister, made a statement that the political crisis in Manipur represented a "textbook" case for invoking the President's Rule. Except for the politicians, almost every section of the populace welcomed the imposition of the President's Rule.

The government employees were happy that they would get their salaries in time. Many people welcomed it in the belief that a semblance of law and order would bring about peace and development. They hoped to witness the repetition of V.K. Nayar's rapid development schemes when he was the President's Rule depends on the personage of the Governor. The President's Rule under Ved Marwah is perhaps the most unpopular Manipur has ever experienced. It has failed on all accounts. The centre should remove him immediately.

The Joint Administrative Council (JAC), the apex body of the government employees, has been launching a cease-work strike (from 18 october, 2001) demanding the government to resume the payment of Travel Allowance, House Rent Allowance and Dearness Allowance. Most of the government employees have not taken their salaries for nearly 3 months in protest against the salary deduction. The government made a vague promise to resume full payment from April 2002. The JAC insists on payment from Dec-January. The government propaganda that due to implementation of the Fifth Pay Commission, development work could not be done and has resulted in fiscal deficit is ludicrous and untenable. Long years of fiscal mismanagement, diversion of development funds, failure of state sponsored schemes i.e. all resulted in a fiscal deficit of more than 1000 crores. The Home Ministry is restricting flow of funds to the State as they are now aware of the diversion of development funds to the insurgents.

As a consequence of non-payment of the salaries, the general populace is hard hit. The urban people who are mostly employees are really in dire straits. They are finding it difficult to make both ends meet. Prices have fallen and the peasants are finding it hard to sell their agricultural products. The governor is trying to add fuel to the fire by indicating that the employees would not get their salaries for the cease-work period. It would be advisable for the Central govt. to bail out the fiscal deficit and resume full payment of salaries. They are welcomed to downsize excess and unnecessary jobs and investigate fake appointments. For long, the Centre has been a mute spectator to the corrupt activities of the political class.

The political class as a whole has started recuperating after the recent public outbursts against them. Can a leopard hide its spots? Never, they were hoping to derive political mileage when the Centre annulled** the extension of Cease-fire to dissolve and put under the President's Rule. Now another six months have been extended. Nonetheless, the politicians are defecting and forming new parties. As many 13 ex-ministers have joined the Congress. The BJP is virtually a non-entity now. To avoid political instability, defection should not be allowed at all by passing a constitutional amendment.

The infrastructure development has virtually come to a standstill. Even the national highways need immediate re-surfacing. The State highways, especially, the Burma-Sugunu Road deserves to be mentioned. It is almost non-motorable and looks as if B-52 bombers have bombed it with impunity. The hills have hardly any metalled road and conditions there are more appalling. The government increases electricity bills but can't give an uninterrupted power supply. Hence, people buy kerosene for load shedding days and thus spending more. The major towns only the state capital.

The recruitment of candidates for various government jobs by Manipur Public Service Commission (MPSC) has been always controversial. Previous selected candidates for the Manipur Civil Services (MCS) and Manipur Police Services (MPS) candidly admits bribing the MPSC Board. For the second time, the 199 MPSC, MCS and MPS written examination was again drawn into a controversy when four successful candidates' mark were found tampered by the examiners. Consequently, the four candidates had been disqualified. As per the latest High court orders, it has ordered to re-evaluate the Economics, Sociology, English, Mathematics and Political Science. This is being interpreted as unfair by successful candidates (written exam) as there is every likelihood of reduction in their marks in the event of having new examiners. The MPSC recommended College lectures have undertaken a relay-hunger strike from 21st November 2001 to protest against the Govt's non-appointment and apathy. The Govt. is still indifferent towards them-- a heart-breaking situation indeed!!.

The educational scenario is alarming. The rate of successful candidates for 10+2 examinations barely reaches even 40 percent of the total candidates. The lack of infrastructures of schools and colleges in the hills are appalling. Schools and Colleges are woefully short of teachers. Fake appointments of teachers, untimely transfers, frequent bandhs and strikes have obviously hampered the academic life. No wonder parents prefer sending their wards to Delhi', Mumbai, Chennai and other cities. The campaign for a quality education is a far cry.

Development comes when there is peace and hardwork. Insurgency has invariably hampered the development process. In fact, there has been a steady flight of capital from the State. A World Bank funded project to build highways in the state has been apparently shelved due to a particular insurgent groups' demand of its pound of flesh!! The valley-based insurgents despite their claim to forming a united group, Manipur People's Liberation Front (MPLF), however, continues to function as separate groups. The NSCN (IM) basically sees the valley based insurgents as demanding the independence of Kangleipak (the Manipur Valley) from India. This is also the crux of the conflict between the NSCN (IM) and the valley based insurgents who dream of an independent Manipur.

Little wonder, the UNLF and the NSCN (IM) have frequent armed clashes. This has only helped the government of India to suppress the insurgents by these internecine wars. But the Centre's policy of appearing the NSCN (IM) would boomerang** sooner of later.

The idea of a sovereign state per se is not a bad idea. Some people insist that the term 'insurgency' is a misnomer. What is happening in India's North-East is nothing but ethno-nationalism. However, the "modus operandi" of the insurgents or the freedom fighters are now being questioned in the wake of recent events. The people, especially in Kakching, the second largest town of Manipur, have condemned the killing of non-manipuris. People are now asking and expressing thin views without fear-- why is their revolution taking so long? Why do they ambush the Security personnel in residential areas and leave the civilians butchered by the security forces? Can't they adopt their struggle in the Gandhian manner? The insurgents have lost the confidence of the general masses. According to V.K. Nayar, the former governor of Manipur, there is a well-entrenched nexus between politicians, bureaucrats and insurgents exploiting both the ballot and the bullet for perpetuating their power.

The army and the para-military on their part has been abusing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958. For example, one Sharmila Chanu has been undertaking a fast unto death from 1Nov. 2000, (she is being forced to have nose feeding) demanding the removal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. (Poknapham, Nov. 24/ page-1). The Security Forces give a damn about human rights violation. Often, the army arrests suspected persons without issuing an arrest warrant. In the even of an ambush on the security forces, they retaliate and the civilians are beaten up mercilessly. Small children and even old people are not spared. On 2 Nov. 2000 the Assam Rifles personnel killed 10 Civilians in retaliations after a bomb attack on them at Malom. Only recently (21st Oct.) some insurgents attacked the 5 AR's post at Sekmaijin. In retaliation, the AR personnel beat up innocent civilians. Many have fled homes for fear of army reprisals. Rape cases, disappearance of innocents, custodial deaths are causes of concern. The Prevention of Terrorist Ordinance (POTO) would only give more powers to the army and thereby increasing the human rights violation. This is state-sponsored terrorism in the name of fighting terrorism.

Among the army regiments, the Gorkha regiment deserves a special mention. When the 5/5 Gorkha Regiment was posted near the Sekmai Barrage (Keirak), there was a peaceful atmosphere. Even under the most provocative circumstances (there was a bomb attack), they never terrorized the innocent civilians. No wonder people only want the Gorkha Regiment instead of Sikh, Maratha regiments etc. The Kargil war recalled the 5/5 Gorkhas to Kashmir. This is a regiment who respected women and human rights.

People are now talking about "Talibanisation of Manipur" owing to some irrational activities of the insurgents. The Taliban like diktat of a particular insurgent group prohibiting the girls of wearing trousers drew a prompt protest and even defiance. Banning of Hindi movies in cinema halls have resulted in the bankruptcy of the movie theatre owners. Since Hindi films are immensely popular. It has only encouraged a thriving business in pirated CDs and audiocassettes. The ban of Hindi movies and songs could not be enforced in the hill districts of Manipur. Probably, only the Manipuri film producers support the ban of Hindi films. But they can't even produce a Box-office let alone a blockbuster.

Many people are disillusioned and want to migrate to other states. Both the government and the insurgents have not won the confidence of the masses. It is tempting to compare Manipur and Myanmar in the present context. Even though Myanmar is under military rule, the people are more honest, hardworking and prosperous. The difference between Moreh (the border town of Manipur) and Tammu (the border town of Myanmar) is so striking that one invariably gets a complex. There's so much civic sense there, even if Kabaw Valley was with Manipur, it would be reduced to a filthy place and destruction of its ecosystem for cutting vast teak forests. Only the rich Marwaris, Tamils, Sikhs business class would dominate like Imphal and Moreh. It is doubtful whether the Kabaw Valley (now bordering Manipur on the east) people would like to merge with Manipur. Even the present political boundary is now being challenged by various Naga groups and the demand for Greater Nagalim by the NSCN (IM). The dream of a independent Manipur seems so farfetched.

Given this background, a 'social revolution' although not dramatic and spectacular as that of the Russian and the Chinese might re-invigorate the state. The 'prohibition' campaign by women in Manipur is an attempt to bring about a social change. Whether the prohibition would succeed or not is a moot point. The Meiteis, the majority community, are now talking about an emotional integration with tribes especially the Nagas. Voluntary organizations, clubs and students are talking about electoral reforms to curb unnecessary elution expenditure. Roads in rural areas are solely maintained and repaired by the people. It's really a shame that the government cannot even maintain the state highways. Contractors are now not keen to take up infrastructure works due to insurgents' demand of money and uncertainty in bill payment. It would be extremely difficult for future generations to get a decent job in the government. The government plans to downsize the strength of its employees. Future generations should now concentrate on getting jobs in the private sector, the central services or even NGOs etc.

As of now, it would be no exaggeration to call Manipur the sickman of the North-East. Only Assam and Nagaland give us some solace as far as the law and order is concerned. Our destiny lies in our hands. The army and the Govt. of India cannot solve all the ills of our society. Let's take a cue from the Asian tigers and china, which have witnessed an unprecedented growth and prosperity. Are we not more closer to them racially?


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