Militarism and Future of Democracy in Manipur
History and Ideology of Resistance
Part 2

Kangujam Sanatomba *

Militarism and Future of Democracy in Manipur

The Merger Agreement has become central to the political mobilisation of armed resistance against what they call occupation of Manipur by the Indian State. The armed-opposition groups of Manipur contested the Manipur Merger Agreement 1949 on the ground that it was executed under 'duress' and 'coercion'. It is also alleged that the Maharaja did not have the authority to enter into such an agreement as he was during the moment of the signature merely a titular head of the State under the Manipur State Constitution Act, 1947.

The Agreement was, the allegation continues, neither approved by his Council of Ministers nor ratified by the Manipur State Assembly, which had existed prior to the Agreement. The said Agreement was in the form of a 'personal contract' between the king and the Government of India and therefore the Agreement does not reflect any imprint between two States. The king did not sign the Agreement on behalf of the people of Manipur but only on behalf of himself, his heirs and his successors.

It thus left a room for the people to endorse or reject the Agreement. The weakness of the Agreement lies also in the fact that the people of Manipur did not give consent in any form to the Merger Agreement as no referendum was held on that issue. Therefore, the Manipur Merger Agreement of 1949 does not have any legality and Constitutional validity in the views of the resistance groups.

In the leftist discourse, resistance to the Indian State is also articulated in the form of class struggle. The primary target of the class struggle is to overthrow the Indian capitalist regime and its compressor class. The ultimate objective envisioned by the left-wing resistance groups is to set up an egalitarian society free from feudal oppression, colonial subjugation, and class exploitation. The resistance groups with leftist orientation identify their armed struggle as revolution and call themselves as revolutionary groups. The widespread use of the term revolution by the armed opposition groups indicates the influence of communist ideology on the concerned groups.

Another ideological stream of resistance is the revivalist school. Those who subscribe to this school of thought advocate the revival of the ancient glory of the Meitei Nation. They want to recover and preserve the religion, script, custom, tradition, social ethos, cultural values and political institutions of the past. They draw their inspiration from the imagined glory of the ancient Meitei civilisation.

The resistance group(s) advocating revivalist ideology had offered their resistance not only to the Indian State, but also to the Indian culture and religion. The revivalist discourse has been able to give a civilisational dimension to the conflict in Manipur ie conflict between the Indic civilisation and the Mongoloid civilisation. As such, the conflict between Manipur and India is not merely a politico-military conflict betw-een two nations but a conflict between two civilisations.

The act of resistance further generates a nationalist contestation to the Indian rule in Manipur. Resistance to the Indian State is rather articulated as a National Liberation Struggle by claiming that it is not even a demand for independence. It is instead, as the Chairman of the UNLF, RK Sanayaima in his interview with the CNN-IBN in 2006 asserts, a question of regaining the lost sovereign independence of Manipur.

) Similarly, the RPF also claims that the existing issue is not an internal matter of India as the Government of India understands, but purely a conflict between two nations. The conflict, according to RPF, is between Manipur and India and this is due to the annexation of Manipur by India in 1949. It, therefore, considered it irrational to hold unemployment and underdevelopment as factors responsible for launching the liberation movement.

In this regard, the UNLF had also stated thus, "Not even the biggest development package under a new governing structure within the Indian Union can buy us out." The RPF also holds the view that their struggle is not a separatist or secessionist movement on account of the fact that they are not asking or demanding even an inch of the Indian Territory that existed as in 1947. Claiming that Manipur was never a part of India, the armed opposition group remarked that their resistance is a movement for national liberation which aimed at restoring the independence of Manipur.

The Future of Democracy

The future of democracy in Manipur is, I believe, contingent upon the possibility or impossibility of resolving the prevailing political conflict. But before going for any project of conflict transformation, it is imperative to understand the types of conflict prevailing in Manipur. In my understanding conflict in Manipur may be classified into two types, viz (1) vertical conflict and (2) horizontal conflict.

The vertical conflict is the type of conflict involving the Indian State on the one hand and the non-State actors of Manipur on the other. The horizontal conflict refers to the conflict between the armed groups or between different ethnic communities. Of the two types of conflict, vertical conflict stands out as the principal or core conflict while the horizontal conflict remains as the secondary conflict. It is secondary in a sense that its resolution is strictly contingent upon the resolution of the vertical conflict.

As a matter of fact, the vertical-horizontal paradigm may also be equally applicable at the regional level. The vertical conflict and the horizontal conflict are structurally interlinked. De-intensification of the vertical conflict (conflict between the Government of India and the struggling communities of the North East as represented by the insurgent groups) correspondingly leads to intensification of the horizontal conflict (conflict between the struggling communities of the region).

Intensification of the vertical conflict, however, may or may not lead to de-intensification of the horizontal conflict. Similarly, intensification or de-intensification of the horizontal conflict may or may not have any bearing correspondingly on the vertical conflict. But the present dynamics indicates that the horizontal conflict is conditioned more by the vertical conflict and not the vice versa. Therefore, it may be assumed that resolution of the horizontal conflict is contingent upon the resolution of the vertical conflict.

Once the core conflict is resolved or transformed, all the marginal conflicts will get automatically transformed and disappear. Therefore, what I want to emphasise is that the principal issue should be resolved at the first place so that secondary issues will have their logical transformation. This calls for identification and recognition of the basic incompatibility underlying the core conflict.

One of the most significant factors responsible for the failure of conflict transformation in Manipur has been the stiff political stance of the armed opposition groups not to hold talks with the Government of India except on the issue of sovereignty, on the one hand, and the refusal of the Government of India to discuss the same, on the other hand. The issue of sovereignty, thus, constitutes the bone of contention between the Government of India and the armed opposition groups of Manipur. However, a meeting point must be chalked out if conflict has to be resolved and democracy restored.

In order to break the deadlock, firstly, the issue of sovereignty may be included in the political talk between the Government of India and the armed opposition groups of Manipur. Listing the issue of sovereignty as the agenda for any political dialogue does not necessarily imply that sovereignty should or should not be granted to the other conflicting party. Open dialogue on the issue of sovereignty should at least be open up for generating healthy debates towards conflict transformation.

Secondly, in the event of any political dialogue, "the distinctiveness of the historical and political realities of Manipur" must be taken into account:

(A) Distinctiveness of Historical Realities

  1. Manipur was never a part of India
  2. Manipur was an independent sovereign State in between August 15, 1947 to October 15, 1949
  3. The Manipur Merger Agreement, 1949 was executed in violation of established procedural norms
(B) Distinctiveness of Political Realities
  1. Prevailing conflict is a political conflict involving two legitimate entities
  2. There can never be a lasting military solution
  3. Political dialogue is the only option to resolve the conflict.
Recognition of these realities will go a long way in resolving or transforming the prevailing conflict in Manipur. Seeking a military solution to an issue which is entirely political in nature would prove to be highly counter- productive for India in the long run. Besides, a military solution to the ongoing political conflict is a misplaced notion. Extensive deployment of Army and continued enforcement of AFSPA for the last 30 years or so has absolutely failed to produce any substantive outcome. The militaristic approach needs to be replaced with a political approach in order to find a satisfactory resolution to the protracted Indo-Manipur conflict.

Adopting uncompromising stances and setting conditions for any proposed political dialogue or peace process may not be constructive and productive at this historical juncture. Nevertheless, the only pre-condition for any political dialogue is the recognition of the fact that the conflict between the Government of India and the armed opposition groups of Manipur is 'political'. Unless all the different quarters of concerns particularly the GoI officially recognises the centrality of the issue and political nature of the conflict, restoration of peace and democracy in Manipur will ever remain an elusive dream.

Full text of the speech delivered at the Colloquium on "Militarism and Future of Democracy in Manipur" organised by Manipur Research Forum, (Imphal & Delhi) in collaboration with Department of Philosophy, Manipur University, Canchipur; All Manipur Working Journalist Union, Imphal; Indian Council of Social Science Research (NERC), Shillong; and Human Rights Alert, Imphal. March 24-26, 2011. Venue: Manipur University, Canchipur.

Concluded ..

* Kangujam Sanatomba wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on July 08, 2011.

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