Toward a Win-Win Resolution of the Indo-Manipur Armed Conflict (IMAC)
- Part 1 -

Nongdrenkhomba Senjam *

MPA armies on their 22nd raising day - 2009
MPA armies on their 22nd raising day - 2009 :: Pix - TSE

It is a matter of historical record that when the British empire was beginning to disintegrate, the British government left Manipur to become an independent country in 1947, on 15th August of which India also regained its independence from the Raj. In the wake of the departure of the British, Manipur became a constitutional monarchy by adopting a Constitution and introducing an elective form of Government with the then king of Manipur as its head. However, unfortunately, Manipur was absorbed by the newly formed Union of India in October 1949 by virtue of the controversial Manipur Merger Agreement, 1949, which the people of Manipur are not ready to accept yet apparently.

The story of Manipur's merger with the Union of India has it that the then king of Manipur put his signature to the instrument of merger under duress, or more specifically, at gunpoint. If a sensitive strand of the merger story is to be believed, it was none other than Sardar V. Patel who had actually trained a revolver at the temple of King Budhachandra Singh, who had been supposedly held hostage in Shillong then after having gone there at the invitation of the Government of India, and forced His Majesty to sign the so-called Manipur Merger Agreement, 1949.

This is the reason why Sardar V. Patel, who died in 1950, continues to be generally considered something of fair game in Manipur. Well, the so-called 'Iron Man of India' is satirically known as the 'Gunman of India' among a large number of Manipurians. Indeed, a more apt sobriquet in the context of Manipur's involuntary merger with India, huh?

Infuriated by the illegitimate manner in which King Budhchandra was made to sign the Manipur Merger Agreement, 1949, some groups of disgruntled Manipurians began to marshal volunteers and then transformed themselves into full-fledged armed secessionist organisations thus leading to the outbreak of the Indo-Manipur Armed Conflict in the early 1980s as well as the emergence of a parallel underground government in Manipur.

For over three decades now, the armed separatist groups of Manipur (referred to as ASGoMs hereafter), which are now armed with deadly weapons like Kalashnikovs, Dragunovs, HK 33 rifles, RPGs, etc. and believed to be in the process of acquiring anti-armour rockets and portable SAM systems, have been relentlessly struggling to wrest sovereignty from the Government of India (GoI), which has also been endeavouring no less relentlessly to subdue what it calls the insurgent movement of Manipur. Given the current postures of both sides of the Indo-Manipur Armed Conflict (IMAC), one can safely infer that a civilized resolution of the protracted conflict is highly unlikely in the foreseeable future.

A few years ago the United National Liberation Front (UNLF), a major-league ASGoMs, challenged the GoI to settle the IMAC through a plebiscite under the supervision of a competent international organisation. But ironically, rather than jumping at the challenge the government of the world's largest democracy in its infinite wisdom did not bother, or rather dare, to take up the gauntlet and instead repeated its corny counter-insurgency platitude : 'shun violence, forget sovereignty and come to the dialogue table'. In response to which the UNLF reiterated its position that sovereignty is its ultimate objective, concerning which no compromise is possible. It should also be noted that the UNLF's stance on the vexed issue of sovereignty is shared by all other ASGoMs.

It is pretty obvious that the long running IMAC has badly affected the life of the common people of Manipur in several ways. Today the overall economic potential of Manipur remains underutilized, thanks particularly to the IMAC, which is, beyond doubt, the main reason for the prolonged economic underdevelopment of Manipur. Apart from their economic life, the collective mentality of the people of Manipur is slowly but surely being corrupted and their social equilibrium disrupted by the IMAC. Furthermore, it continues to erode their sense of security. In a nutshell, the people of Manipur have been at the receiving end of most undesirable effects resulting from the IMAC, the further prolongation of which must be avoided at any price for the sake of people of Manipur.

Resolving the IMAC without dragging it out further or trying to prove which side is in the right or in the wrong means striking a balance between the current stands of both sides on the core of the conflict: sovereignty. If both sides of the IMAC are really keen to find a solution that is easy and equitable, they should not hesitate to follow the line of least resistance and go for a compromise mode of settlement. Only then can they manage to end the IMAC in a win-win manner.

Well, the IMAC has already consumed a lot of valuable resources, which could have been deployed to improve the living conditions of a large number of people. Also, hundreds of lives, including many innocent civilians, have already fallen victim to the bullets fired for and against the idea of an independent Manipur. Both sides of the IMAC must, therefore, try to resolve it sooner rather than later so that further waste of valuable resources and lives can be avoided.

Needless to say, the inflexible positions of the ASGoMs and the GoI on the issue of sovereignty form the stumbling block to resolving the IMAC. The ASGoMs are not ready to accept anything less than sovereignty, whereas the GoI claims that the question of sovereignty is completely off-limits, let alone compromise on it. Under these circumstances, reminding both sides of the IMAC about the lie of the land is of great import.

The Lie of the Land

The IMAC may be a bilateral conflict but the international dynamics of the emerging world order in general and the geopolitical developments in the South Central Asia, under which India falls, in particular are bound to some bearing on the final resolution of the IMAC and other similar issues like the Kashmir dispute and the Naga issue. Though it is not practicable yet to confidently forecast which side of the IMAC will eventually come out victorious, the entire picture will have become clear enough by the end of this quarter of the century to correctly assess which side is going to win or lose if it lasts till then. Because by then a new geopolitical equation vis-a-vis India will have emerged for better or worse.

As we all know, India, which is today the fourth largest economy in terms of GDP by the Purchasing Power Parity method (4393 billion dollars in 2011), is an emerging global economic power that is beginning to command greater international focus and respect. Since the beginning of the end of the so-called Licence Raj and the wheels of liberalization was set in motion in the early 1990s, India has scrambled an average GDP growth rate of about 7.5 per cent. Even during the recent global economic downturn, which had been triggered mainly by American profligacy and Wall Street maladministration, India's service driven growth engine was unstoppable, delivering growth rates of 6.7 per cent and 7.2 per cent in 2008 and 2009 respectively and showing off the reliability and robustness of the country's economic fabric.

On the stage of geopolitics, India is gaining a lot of leverage and its role is slowly but steadily expanding, as witnessed by its increasing involvement in major regional and global issues like climate change terrorism and global economic stability. The role of India in the G20, the BRICS, etc. speaks volumes for its rising geopolitical influence. Though the country has been somewhat overconfident of becoming a permanent member of the UN Security Council, there is still some prospect that India will be able to secure a permanent but vetoless seat in the UN Security Council when it gets expanded.

In terms of science and technology, the achievements of the ISRO such as Chandrayaan 1 and other developments that India has witnessed in recent years, especially in the sectors of information and communication technology, pharmaceuticals and defence technology speak of the fact that India has already come of age.

When it comes to the military, the MMRCA deal with France, the Indo-Russian FGFA contract for development and production of over 200 Sukhoi T-50 PAK-FAs for the Indian Air Force, the purchase of C-17 airlift aircraft, the Admiral Gorshkov (aircraft carrier) deal, the addition of an advanced nuclear submarine to the grand fleet of the Indian Navy, the purchase of M-777 ultralight howitzers, etc. can be employed to measure the growing might of the Indian armed forces, whose overall lethality is fully supplemented by an array of strategic and tactical nuclear missiles as well as conventional missiles. Moreover, to shield the country from missile attacks, India is developing a missile defence system that can be intercept any incoming ballistic missile. Given the overall military build-up in recent times, it can be concluded that India is today a military power to be reckoned with.

So far as the political sphere of the country is concerned, it has been a wide range of major developments. Some of them are the RTI Act, the RTE Act, the NREGA, the NRHM, the ambitious Food Security Bill, the Lokpal Bill and the Unique Identification (AADHAAR) Project, which bolsters the democratic polity of this country.

Notwithstanding the promising allround developments that India has witnessed in the last decade, the fate of this country remains somewhat uncertain because of the myriad grane problems that India remains confronted with. Some of them are the rise of Naxalism, the IMAC, the Kashmir dispute, an alarming level of corruption, political cronyism and nepotism, the intractable exclusive pattern of economic growth and its resultant increase in income inequality, measuring well above 0.50 for the Gini Coefficient, which is an econometric measure of income inequality with a value of 1 when all income accrues to only one individual and 0 if and when everyone has the same level of income in and Žeconomy; and if this measure of a country crosses the 0.45 threshold, the country is believed to be running the risk of widespread popular rebellion, the looming prospect of the country's so-called demographic dividend becoming 'demographic burden' because of lack of employment can India generate 120 million more job in the next decade?, and its disappointing inability to expand manufacturing base, which currently contributes just 12% to the GDP and creates just 15%. of the country's total employment.

If not properly addressed and resolved in time, those grane problems can lead India to a nationwide chaotic situation and even to its disintegration. This may sound like and exaggeration but in view of the seemingly normal pre-revolt situations in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria, it is not illogical to argue that similar popular uprisings can also break out in the restine parts of India anytime.

So if the Gol, which has many venal vested interests within its top tier, is at all concerned for the country's fragile integrity and delicate law and order, which are currently being maintained via a security system, that is a fusion of police state tactics and martial law procedures, it has to change its unreasonably bold and rigid mindset so that the outstanding issues, be it the IMAC or the Maoist revolt, can be resolved in a pragmatic manner.

To be continued ....

* Nongdrenkhomba Senjam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer's can be contacted at maniyaisenjam(at)hotmail(dot)com or you can 'friend' him at facebook profile 'nongdrensenjam83'
This article was posted on May 24, 2012 .

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