E-Pao! Governance Opinion - Fire the Cease Fire

Do we really need to talk?

Sanatomba Kangujam *

Constant efforts of the Indian Government to quell the insurgency movements in the North East in general and Manipur in particular seems to have shown results with sections of our society beginning to exhibit a gradual propensity towards holding a peace dialogue since recently.

Itís really going to be a sad development if things are to take shape as per their plan given the supreme sacrifices made by our brothers and sisters and the sufferings that we have endured for so long.

Gazing at the wind of political changes blowing in the sky of Manipur that is clouded with the smokes emitted from the funeral pyres of our patriots, I simply canít help pondering over the Ďcauseí for which they had laid down their lives.

Today, that cause seems to have been bartered away by a few sections of the elite class as they are definitely trying to make a business out of the blood and tears that the sons and daughters of our motherland had given.

Sad! It is really a sad thing and a shame on the nation. The people of Manipur are perhaps going to experience a second Merger Agreement in this twenty-first century. Will the people accept such an outcome is a question that constantly haunts my political vision. But, the history of a nation may not be twisted that easily.

Should we give up so soon even before achieving something which is worth the cost of the struggle? Can we expect anything substantial from the politics of ceasefire and peace talk? Is the present condition ripe for a successful political dialogue? And of course, do we really need to talk at all? These are a few questions that we are required to answer before embarking on any peace initiative.

To set the record straight, there was peace in Manipur and that it was when it remained as an independent sovereign country with a democratically elected State Assembly to which both the valley and the hills were represented. But, consequent with the annexation of Manipur by India and the resultant militarisation of the State, a new era of political unrest and armed movements set to dawn in our history.

Nobody can ever deny the historical fact that the military detention of the Maharajah at Shillong and the subsequent political takeover of Manipur was an act of aggression. Now, the question is who shattered peace at the first instance?

In my view, the conflict between Manipur and India is purely a political conflict that has now taken the shape of international armed conflict. Therefore, the nature of the conflict indicates that no rounds of peace parley would be able to put an end to the existing crises unless the basic incompatibility is recognized and resolved.

Real peace is not something which we can expect from cessation of firing or depositing the arms with any international body. Rather, it is something which is inherent in the free existence of a nation without any external interference.

I donít think that peace would be possible until the moment when the pre-1949 political status is restored to Manipur. For the oppressed people reeling under alien domination, peace is opium if not a poison to be abstained from. Because, the education we received informs us that peace without freedom is but slavery of the worst type.

Interesting to note in this context is the fact that peace discourse is nothing but the language of political seduction which the GOI uses to seduce the armed resistance groups operating in the North East.

A significant implication inherent in accepting the offer of ceasefire and peace talk is the acceptance of the status quo. Once a group enters into a ceasefire with the Government of the aggressor country, that group in principle recognizes the existing political equation of being subjective to alien domination which in the process amounts to compromising the very notion of sovereignty for which they have been fighting so far.

The act of entering into ceasefire and holding of peace talk, therefore, betrays the very principle of NLM for it takes the movement within the purview of constitutional framework. Because, whatever may be the political stand of any armed group, the fact remains that every peace talk whether conditional or unconditional has to be carried out within the bounds of the Indian constitution.

Such a case if actually happens would naturally reduce the Indo-Manipur conflict to a mere internal problem of India while at a moment when certain section feels it imperative to portray the existing situation as an international armed conflict.

Another aspect that we have to take into account before initiating a political dialogue is the ethnic situation prevailing in our country. A keen observation of the existing ethno-political scenario in Manipur does not reveal any prospect of gain that we may expect from the peace process.

At the moment when the Nagas are demanding Southern Nagaland as part of Nagalim and the Kukis demanding Zalengam, it will be futile to expect any substantial outcome from the peace talk. In my view, such an exercise will only aggravate the existing ethnic cold war between communities on the one hand and internecine factional fight within the armed group(s) on the other. History will certainly repeat itself if we fail to learn lessons from historical events.

What we can generally expect from any peace talk is a disgraceful surrender at worst and achievement of autonomy at best. Experiences on conflict resolution from across the world indicate that autonomy is the only viable device for settling an intra-state conflict.

Conspicuously, what we can expect from the impending Indo-Manipur political dialogue is relative autonomy at the most. For the simple fact remains that the issue of sovereignty cannot be discussed at all in the event of any peace talk with the GOI leave aside the prospect of achieving it thro-ugh diplomatic parleys or democratic process such as the plebiscite.

In fact, increasing materialistic culture engendered by globalization, pumping of crores of rupees by the Central Government, ideological bankruptcy of the insurgent groups and emergence of a contented middle class are some of the factors contributing to the willingness on the part of a few affluent sections to engage in the peace process with a view to maintain the status quo.

Howsoever, if any group desires to negotiate for mere autonomy, then it may engage in a peace process. But one thing we have to remember is the fact that those who had laid down their lives in the course of the struggle did not do so for mere autonomy.

Hence, no amount of political autonomy or economic package will be able to compensate the loss inflicted on our nation for the last fifty years of alien rule. If we do not respect the sacrifices made by our brothers and sisters, the blood and tears that they had shed will surely spill on us and our generations for deceiving and betraying them.

Reading between the lines, I simply wonder whether itís going to be an honourable solution or an honourable exit. But it goes without saying that let any group engage in a peace process if they so desire. However, it would be unfortunate and undesirable to drag others into the quagmire of peace talk and ceasefire if they are not willing.

It would however be in the interest of the nation as a whole for any group interested in the peace process to ensure that the GOI recognizes the distinct political status of Manipur in case of actual political dialogue.

What constitutes the distinctiveness of its political status is one thing which I want our nationalist groups to place before the GOI. Nevertheless, the people of Manipur should arrive at a national consensus regarding the future political status of Manipur irrespective of whether itís talk or no talk.

As long as India remains insensitive to the national question of Manipur, it is likely that armed struggle would continue from generation to generation even in case of capitulation of the present movement.

* Sanatomba Kangujam wrote this article for The Sangai Express . This article was webcasted on 16th October 2007.

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