TODAY -

Understanding the Politics of Plebiscite
- Towards Participatory Conflict Transformation -
Part 2

Sanatomba Kangujam *




Picture :: The Sangai Express



The plebiscite proposal of the UNLF can also be seen as a gesture of willingness or desire on the part of the insurgent group to make peace with India. This was the second attempt made by the UNLF to resolve the politico-military conflict between Manipur and India. The UNLF came up with the idea of plebiscite as its earlier demand for holding conditional talk was flatly rejected by India.

It may be recalled that the UNLF had in 2001 proposed to hold talk on three conditions:
1) talk should be on the issue of the sovereignty of Manipur;
2) Manipur should be demilitarised implying that the Indian military forces should be withdrawn from Manipur;
3) there should be a third party mediation. There is no question of abandoning the armed struggle on the part of the UNLF, but the strategic shift in its approach indicated a firm belief in finding a peaceful political solution to Indo–Manipur conflict.

It is interesting to note that an armed group which is deeply absorbed in sustaining the armed struggle demonstrated a strong political will to resolve the conflict through a democratic exercise. The UNLF is of the view that there could never be a military solution to the protracted conflict as proven by decades of India's military operations against the insurgent forces which has produced no tangible outcome.

Deployment of heavy military forces and continued enforcement of AFSPA and other draconian Acts have failed to subdue the armed movement for decades. Therefore, it is the firm belief of the UNLF that only a political solution could put an end to the highly intractable conflict. To this end, the proposal for holding plebiscite was mooted as a democratic approach to resolve the longstanding political impasse by directly involving the masses. According to the UNLF, no other approach could be more democratic than the plebiscite proposal.

Conspicuously, the issue of plebiscite would necessarily entail minute discussion between the conflicting parties. In other words, the demand for plebiscite, even if agreed upon by the GoI, would undoubtedly involve certain degree of consensus that could only be arrived at after engaging in a series of political negotiation. A dialogue, in this context, seems always remain an essential pre-condition for holding of the proposed plebiscite. Viewed from this perspective, UNLF's proposal for plebiscite implies a subtle indication of its willingness to engage in a political dialogue. A realistic view indicates that certain form of non-formal dialogue has already been set into motion through the media.

Insurgency in Manipur has degenerated to such a level that it has become increasingly difficult to characterise it as a genuine movement for independence. The so called liberation movement has become synonymous with the practice of extortion, percentage cut, contract and supply works et al. I wonder if it is evolving into a sort of a "cottage industry" as sarcastically dubbed by the Central leaders.

A handful of people with few guns can now form an armed group of their own under some high sounding principles and start distributing demand notes apparently for the cause of the people. The prevailing situation seems nothing more than simply a law and order issue. Majority of the people just do not know that there is a conflict situation in Manipur. Even certain informed quarters have refused to acknowledge the existence of conflict between Manipur and India.

At such a critical juncture, the plebiscite campaign comes as a reminder that there has been, indeed, an armed conflict in Manipur involving the Government of India and the armed opposition groups of Manipur. Continuous holding of public meetings to discuss the issue of plebiscite brings to the notice of the people that they are living in a conflict situation which is far from being resolved.

Besides, the awareness created by the plebiscite campaign enables one to draw a line of distinction between genuine insurgent groups, which among others, fulfill certain criteria like clear political objective, firm ideological principles, highly disciplined armed cadres, commitment to International Humanitarian Laws and most importantly people's mandate; and those armed gangs, which lack the above cited criteria but nevertheless have been operating under the mask of a revolutionary outfit. Thus, the plebiscite campaign serves as a means to educate the masses about the objectivity of the prevailing conflict.

One main shortcoming of the insurgency movement in Manipur is its inability to transform the armed struggle or, to be more precise, armed propaganda into a full-fledged people's movement. The participation of the people is strictly contingent for the success of any movement. The armed organisations are merely the frontliners or the vanguards. In the tug of war between the State and the non-State forces, it is the people that will ultimately determine the outcome of the struggle. But, now-a-days, the masses are highly alienated from the movement.

In other words, insurgency has mutated into a middle class phenomenon as if the armed struggle is of the middle class, for the middle class and by the middle class. Though, the movement claims to represent the hopes and aspirations of the masses, their views and opinions are not taken into account. Open criticism is something which is unthinkable in the present situation. Nobody dares to criticise the insurgent organisations for fear of stringent reprisal. In this regard, the so called "colonial Indian government" and the "puppet state government" are more tolerant to criticisms than the so-called progressive revolutionary forces operating in Manipur.

Under such circumstances, the plebiscite campaign provides the appropriate platform to elicit the views and opinions of the masses on the issue of the ongoing conflict in Manipur. The plebiscite campaign can also be viewed as a mechanism to transform the elitist character of the armed movement into a genuine people's movement. It serves dual purposes. First, the participation of the people in resolving the conflict is ensured. Second, people have the opportunity to offer constructive criticisms to the insurgent organisations.

Excessive monopolisation of power by the non-State forces in every public sphere has eventually led to usurpation of the civil society space. The civil society organisations (CSOs) are meant to mediate between the non-State forces and the masses; between the State and the people and also between the State and the non-State forces. But the civil society organisations have come under tremendous fire from both the State and the non-State forces. However, it is the non-State actors that are largely responsible for the erosion or depletion of the civil society space. Everything comes to be dictated by those at the helm of the insurgent set-up. They have now started interfering in almost everything.

There has been a tendency to transform all the civil society organisations into their front organisations (FO). But not all the CSOs can be expected to function as their FOs for the simple fact that a vibrant civil society space is a pre-requisite for the existence of a healthy society, or for that matter, a strong people's movement. The most urgent need of our time, therefore, is to regenerate, restore and reclaim the civil society space. Thus, the plebiscite campaign can be understood as a move to re-assert the autonomy of the civil society organisations.

Although the proposed plebiscite is yet to see the light of the day, it can be regarded as a process of conflict transformation. Acceptance or non-acceptance of the proposal for holding plebiscite is not the issue. What is more important here is for the Government to grasp the plebiscite proposal as an opportunity or as an entry point to engage in a peace process. Here, the observation made by the Honourable Shri O Ibobi Chief Minister of Manipur, on the floor of the State Assembly that the plebiscite proposal is a 'good sign' is worthy of appreciation from all quarters. The prevailing conflict in Manipur cannot be resolved or transformed overnight.

However, a beginning needs to be made in right earnest. Recognition of the existence of an armed conflict in Manipur is the first step towards resolving the same. The second step is the recognition of the fact that the prevailing armed conflict in Manipur is a political issue requiring political solution. Lastly, a "participatory political dialogue" involving the Government of India, the armed opposition groups of Manipur and the general public (through appropriate platform) is the only practical approach to resolve the conflict.

Concluded .. .


* Sanatomba Kangujam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer can be contacted through sanatombak(at)yahoo(dot)com
This article was webcasted on June 13, 2011.



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