TODAY -

Manipur and Kashmir

By Heigrujam Nabashyam *



Manipur and Kashmir are beautiful states adorned with beautiful hills, valley and lakes. Kashmir is sometimes called, Switzerland of the East, so also Manipur is sometimes called, Jewel of India. Yet the two are miles apart, one at the western and the other at the eastern end of the Himalayas, a distance of 3000 plus kilometers. Since roughly about the last five or six decades both the states are struck with armed militancy fighting for the Right to Self-determination and lost thousands of life in the conflicts including those killed in the fake encounters by the security forces. In fact, the two states seem to be so similar yet they are so different both in content and spirit.

Kashmir became a part of India after the instrument of accession was signed between the Government of India and the then Hindu king Maharaja Hari Singh on the request of the King, though its majority Muslim population resented the accession.

Manipur became a part of India after the merger agreement was signed between the Government of India and the then Hindu king Maharaja Bodhachandra Singh. The difference was the king was put under unofficial detention or House arrest as popularly told in Manipur, in Shillong till he signed the agreement. Ultimately the king signed the agreement after the Government of India agreed to pay an enhanced privy purse and the majority Hindu population did not resent much at that point of time.

Major or important political parties of Kashmir the National Conference and the People's Democratic Party ask for autonomy of Kashmir in consonance with the sentiments of the public. The statures of the political leaders of Kashmir are comparable and compatible to the national leaders in Delhi.

Possession of Kashmir by India is strongly contested by Pakistan because it is a Muslim dominated state the theocratic theory on which Pakistan was created. The Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) of 57 Muslim states have shown interests in Kashmir having appointed an envoy for Kashmir despite the fact that India has the third largest Muslim population next to Indonesia and Pakistan.

The Kashmir issue was raised in the United Nations six decades ago by Pakistan. China tactically treats Kashmir as an entity which is understandable. The United States, Russia and other major powers acknowledge Kashmir as a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan. Such is the magnitude of Kashmir. Every Prime Minister of the country right from Pandit Nehru, whose lineage finds its roots in Kashmir have to deal with Kashmir accordingly because it has been the focal point of the Indo-Pak relations. Indeed in the early period, India's foreign policy were so engrossed with Kashmir that one can understand India's growing power and influence in the way India now keeps Kashmir away from its foreign policy dossier.

While speaking to the Editors in Srinagar on October 14, 2009, Home Minister, Chidambaram differentiated Kashmir from the Northeast saying Kashmir had"a unique geography and history" and therefore"a unique solution" is required. He also said, the UPA government wanted an"honourable, equitable and acceptable" solution to the Kashmir problem.

The uniqueness to Kashmir that the Home Minister had talked about, one can understand, is not so much about geography or history as he had asserted. The uniqueness of Kashmir is its strategic-value or in other words it is its strategic location between India and Pakistan where China could also be a factor in the changing geopolitics of Asia and the world. Recent move of China in the neighbourhood of Kashmir of which it had already occupied the Aksai Chin sector and Arunachal Pradesh is not encouraging in Sino-Indian relations.

While making his assertion of the new found uniqueness of Kashmir by the Home Minister, the China factor could never have missed. One must also remember that Kashmir unlike Manipur formed part of the ancient Indian civilization which is the bedrock of modern India. This is the paradox.

Manipur which was never a part of the Indian civilization is another paradox. It borders with Burma (Myanmar), its historical rival. It was and is an oriental society different from the Indian society in its ethos and values. However it so happened that in the 18th century the Manipuris embraced Hinduism enforced by the King's authority, a deviation of Hinduism Hinduism do not allow conversion much to the chagrin of the people and thus also the name Manipur came into being in place of the original Meitrabak or Kangleipak. In fact the King himself was the first to be converted and he became the first Hindu king of Manipur.

Manipur was perennially in a state of war with the neighbouring Burmese Kingdom spanning more than five centuries. In the 18th century before the advent of the British, Manipur at one time even advanced upto the then Burmese capital Mandalay. However with the arrival of the British on the scene, it became a different story, and Manipur had to cede the Kabow Valley which spreads upto the Chindwin river which was part of Manipur to the Burmese on the pressure of the British Imperial power under the Treaty of Yandaboo. In return the British India Government paid a compensatory annual tax to Manipur under terms of agreement of the Treaty.

After the British left, the issue of the tax became controversial. However the controversy was put to rest by prime minister Pandit Nehru when he met the Burmese leader in Imphal by writing off any claim of Manipur to Kabow Valley which was rich in forest and mineral resources. However the Manipuris felt let down by the Indian Government. Indeed Manipur People's Party, the oldest regional political party in Manipur demanded the return of Kabow Valley from Burma, though now it seems the demand is no more in its agenda.

Unlike Kashmir, Manipur has no political leader comparable or compatible to the national leaders who can communicate with the central leaders on any substantive political issue, besides the routine matters of the government prepared by the staff. This is a serious lacuna. And it cannot be left unattended, if a meaningful alternative is to be found.

Manipur possess no strategic-value simply because Burma is a week country and is not hostile to India. And China has no stake in it. Indeed Manipur is a fringe state and insurgency in Manipur is not equated with the Maoists of the heartland. Insurgency in Manipur is confusing. Manipur has a minimum of 36 ethnic groups and most of the groups have dedicated armed cadres to protect the interests of their groups. However, the Manipur government recognizes all the cadres as insurgents without making any distinction. This is the confusion because the dedicated cadres are not against the Indian Constitution nor they are separatists. Besides there is no credible leadership of the MPLF associates from whom the media can clarify the confusion.

In 2005, a Delhi based senior journalist of a national paper asked me if he could talk to a insurgent leader and took the name"Sanayaima" leader of UNLF for an interview"anywhere in Asia or Europe". Through someone in the media the message was sent to the UNLF leader, but no reply came and no interview. No wonder little is known about insurgency issue in Manipur even in the national media let alone international media. Only gun is not enough. Ideas must be told loud and clear.

To sum up, all the deficiencies on the part of the political leaders of Manipur and on the part of the insurgent groups, which according to the Chief Minister has gone up to"at least 40" insurgent groups, have failed the test of uniqueness conducted by the Home Minister inspite of the uniqueness of Manipur in terms of geography, history and of course, social factor.

Sadly, the public are at the receiving end. When a woman with a seven months' child in her womb was killed and a former militant was murdered in cold blood by the security forces in a crowded Bazar, just a stone's throw from the Manipur Assembly Secretariat and was shown in graphic detail by a weekly, there was not even a slight murmur of protest in the Parliament which was in session. What an unsavory gesture of the Parliament! And where were our MPs anyway?

"Dood ka dood, Paani ka paani" - let there be no confusion. It is a fashion to call the Chief Minister of Manipur a"Hunglai", a puppet. A Chief Minister is no puppet. The Manipur CM may be too subservient to his High Command for his survival. But to call him a Puppet is to help him and exonerate him from his wrongdoing, because a puppet is not responsible for his acts. When the Kashmir CM warned his army commanders that he would not tolerate any fake encounter or of the sort what did the Manipur CM do? And let us be honest.




* Heigrujam Nabashyam (An Ex-Candidate for Singjamei A/C) contributes to e-pao.net for the first time. The writer can be contacted at nheikrujua(at)gmail(dot)com
This article was webcasted on February 18th 2010.


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