Seeking solutions, not scapegoats: A response to Ngaranmi Shimray on Manipur’s conflict

Yenning *

The qualities of a true scholar encompass an unwavering pursuit of knowledge and truth, guided by both intellectual exploration and moral grounding. This pursuit takes the form of open-mindedness to diverse perspectives, a healthy scepticism that sifts fact from fiction, and a steadfast commitment to fairness and perseverance. Creativity allows them to forge new ideas and illuminate undiscovered corners of knowledge.

At the same time, humility guides them to acknowledge the limitations of their understanding. Integrity ensures their research and communication are ethical and transparent, and responsibility weighs the impact of their discoveries, urging them to wield knowledge for positive change. Finally, a deep and abiding passion for their chosen path fuels their journey, igniting their curiosity and sustaining their dedication.

While the specific blend of these virtues may vary across individuals and disciplines, the unwavering pursuit of knowledge, truth, and understanding remains the heart and soul of the scholarly calling. This pursuit can expand our collective experience and illuminate the world with newfound knowledge and wisdom.

Within this spirit of scholarly discourse, we approach Ngaranmi Shimray’s response to Yenning’s “From Cosmopolitan Hub to Fractured Community”, published on January 18th, 2024, which focused “specifically” on the situation in Moreh.

We acknowledge that some aspects of Shimray’s rejoinder raise valid concerns. At the same time, there are opportunities for further exploration and a more nuanced understanding of the complex issues at play in Manipur.

While Shimray raises the critical point that the broader conflict extends beyond Moreh, acknowledging the specific historical and socio-economic factors that make Moreh a critical case could be beneficial.

Take, for instance, the Kuki-Naga conflict, a complex and sensitive issue with deep historical roots. The flash point of the conflict was Moreh. It was a turf war over controlling the commercial border town. By a twist of fate, the Naga became the everlasting victims who lost a place called home. Therefore, drawing lessons from this period is crucial for Manipuris.

Instead of viewing it as a singular event showcasing commercial gain and humanity’s potential downfall, the three memoranda in consideration provide a richer understanding by analysing the interplay of political, economic, and social factors that contributed to the Kuki-Naga conflict. Such an analysis provides valuable insights into the current situation in Moreh and informs more effective solutions.

In other words, while analysing readily available sources like Yenning’s article is understandable, delving deeper into the original primary sources with demands on conflict resolution, peace-building, and community rights protection could offer valuable insights. Recognising the diversity of perspectives within Manipur, as reflected by the three memoranda, is crucial for fostering constructive dialogue and achieving lasting peace.

If that had been the case, perhaps Shimray would not have posed, “Why is only Moreh prioritised for such special consideration and treatment when the problem for both displaced communities is not confined to Moreh Town alone?” He would not have added, “In the midst of an ongoing conflict, without tackling the problem of restoring normalcy to the entire state, the idea floated only for Moreh is specious, and such a piecemeal approach only goes to confirm the parochial attitude of the valley CSOs and the state’s leadership”.

To clear the clouds of doubt, let’s take a moment to revisit AMUCO’s memorandum submitted to the Prime Minister in September 2023, with the shared goal of constructive dialogue and finding solutions for Manipur.

Their document states their intention to “put an end to the prevailing hatred, animosity, and violence”. It proposes ways to achieve peace and normalcy. These include:

1. Cessation of armed violence: an immediate halt to all armed conflict to end the ongoing suffering.
2. Peace process and resettlement: initiating a comprehensive peace process alongside support for internally displaced persons to return to their homes.
3. Constitutional amendment: proposing an amendment to Article 3 of the Indian Constitution to safeguard Manipur’s territorial integrity.
4. National Register of Citizens (NRC): Expediting NRC implementation to address illegal immigration concerns.
5. Ending ethnic-centric political units: reorganisation of Kangpokpi and Bishnupur districts.
6. Special Administrative Zones: Establishing zones in Moreh and Beihang to address specific needs.
7. Forest protection: strengthening measures to protect community and reserve forests.v 8. Eradication of narco-trade: developing effective mechanisms to eliminate drug trafficking and poppy cultivation.

While differing opinions have been on specific approaches, like the proposed special administrative zone in Moreh, engaging in respectful dialogue and considering diverse perspectives like those presented in AMUCO’s memorandum is crucial. This measure will help us find more inclusive and lasting solutions for Manipur’s complex issues.

Shimray also pointed out, “The proposal for Moreh appears to be driven by a selfish motive, as the most affected people on account of the closure of cross-border business through Moreh and Tamu are the Meitei community”. But let’s accept that the indefinite closure of Indo-Myanmar border trade (IMBT) on account of the COVID-19 pandemic, followed by the civil war in Myanmar, has affected every trader, cutting across community lines.

The scrapped Free Movement Regime (FMR) that allowed head-load trade was the only solace. Since the 1990s, not a single Tangkhul could partake in this IMBT except for engagement in contraband or head-load trade at Indo-Myanmar border points like Ashang Kullen Aze, Wangli, Namli, Pillong, Choro, and Skipe.

It is true that the Meiteis are the most affected in terms of loss of property and business at Moreh, as every soul, totalling 4860, was forcefully evicted by Kuki narco-terrorists and their supporters in May 2023. However, it would be wrong to label the valley CSOs as “parochial” like Shimray did.

To begin with, as seen above, AMUCO stands on high moral ground and demands to “send back affected persons to their original places of habitat”. It is not a Meitei exclusivist agenda. Moreover, as the name suggests, Moreh Meetei Council (MCM) is a hill-based CSO. And its prayer for resettlement at Moreh is not a plea for the affected community alone.

In its memorandum, MCM pleaded with the Indian Prime Minister and the Manipur Government “to restore the multicultural town of Moreh to its pre-1991 status”. It also prayed for “taking up appropriate measures for the return and rehabilitation of all those who had been driven out of Moreh by Kuki militants and their supporters since 1991”.

It remains to be seen if the “slumbering government” (Shimray’s words) awakens and resettles those, including the Naga brethren numbering 180 pattadars, by reinstating them with valid documents and protection. The government is reportedly ready if the claims from the affected communities come forward.

It’s difficult to discern when Shimray uses “parochial state leadership,” whether he is referring to the Manipur Government or pointing the finger at RK Ranjan Singh, the Union MOS. As we’ve seen above, the demand for “prioritising Moreh” is not a government initiative. Assuming Mr Shimray is referring to the Hon’ble MOS, a deeper reading of Ranjan’s letter to the Indian Prime Minister regarding Moreh’s administration in a hybrid mode would do justice.

But for our discussion, let us re-quote him. Ranjan said, “Let the Bharat Army run this prospective trading border town under a governing body or board. Under the protection of impartial soldiers, all ethnic communities will feel safe and secure”. He added, “The existing FMR with Myanmar may be scrapped, and in its place, a more pragmatic system may be formulated in the national interest of both countries”.

And finally, he emphasised, “As Moreh is a golden goose for our country, let us redeem peace and normalcy at Moreh and make it functional at the earliest”. Under this proposed arrangement, how a particular community, like the Meitei, stands to benefit is something Shimray can undoubtedly elaborate on. Nevertheless, we’re against any form of militarisation.

We appreciate Mr. Shimray raising the crucial issue of finding comprehensive solutions to the conflict across Manipur rather than focusing on isolated or piecemeal approaches. He hasn’t offered specific alternatives concerning issues like illegal immigrants. We also wholeheartedly agree with the statement that a lasting resolution can only be achieved through peaceful talks that benefit all affected communities. The shared yearning for peace in Manipur is undeniable.

It’s important to remember that the efforts were already underway. The Indian Government established a Peace Committee in June 2023, composed of diverse representatives from various political parties, ethnic groups, and civil society. Their mandate included facilitating dialogue and strengthening understanding between communities.

However, it was scrapped in the face of stiff opposition from the Kuki brethren, especially by ITLF, COTU, and Kuki intellectuals. Their resolute stand is on a “separate administration,” which, as Shimray rightly pointed out, would undoubtedly endanger Naga’s ancestral land. And, if we are allowed to add, it will tilt the understanding of indigeneity, given that Meitei lands will also be equally affected.

Moving forward, open and respectful dialogue considering diverse perspectives, as represented in AMUCO’s memorandum and others, is vital. Engaging with a broader range of stakeholders, including representatives from various communities and ethnicities, can offer deeper insights and pave the way for a more inclusive and peaceful Manipur. We can even make a road map to peace-building in text-book mode.

Consider the following:

1. Organise joint forums and workshops: Bring representatives from various communities, ethnic groups, civil society organisations, and government agencies to discuss the issues and share perspectives. Workshops can focus on conflict resolution, economic development, or cultural exchange.

2. Facilitate dialogue between conflicting groups: Act as a neutral mediator to facilitate direct dialogue between communities or groups currently in conflict. This could involve creating safe spaces for open and honest communication.

3. Support research and knowledge-sharing: Encourage research on the historical, social, and economic factors contributing to the conflict. Share the findings and recommendations with stakeholders to inform policy decisions and community initiatives.

4. Promote cultural exchange and understanding: organise cultural events, festivals, and educational programs that showcase Manipur’s diverse cultures and traditions. This can help foster empathy and understanding between different communities.

5. Advocate for inclusive policies and programs: Lobby government agencies and policymakers to implement policies and programs that address the needs of all communities and promote social justice.

6. Support grassroots peace-building initiatives: Provide resources and support to local organisations and individuals working on peace-building initiatives at the community level.

7. Utilise technology for communication and collaboration: Create online platforms for dialogue, knowledge-sharing, and collaboration between stakeholders dispersed across Manipur and beyond.

8. Establish a truth and reconciliation commission: Address past grievances and promote healing by establishing a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate historical injustices and recommend actions for reparation and reconciliation.

But does Mr Shimray honestly believe these are feasible when Manipuri society is in a Hobbesian state of nature, and some communities are profiting from the ongoing violence? At the moment, the emphasis must be on ending the prevailing hatred and violence, as AMUCO rightly pointed out.

* Yenning wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on 30 January 2024 .

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