TODAY -

Why Separate Administration can pose threat to India's sovereignty and foreign relations

RK Sanayaima Singh *



Manipur's fleeting stability shattered as ethnic turmoil erupted in May 2023 between the Meitei community in the valley and the Kuki community in surrounding hills and urban areas. The catalyst was a 'Tribal Solidarity March' opposing the demand for inclusion of Meitei in the Scheduled Tribes.

Violence ensued, claiming over 100 lives and displacing 60,000 people. Deeper causes included forest protection measures, Kukis' solidarity with displaced Chin people, and the Government's crackdown on poppy cultivation. Tensions grew as Kuki populations extended into reserved forest areas, while Meitei harboured resentment over limited access to land in the hills.

However, to understand the ongoing mayhem, there exists a deeper layer, intertwined with geopolitical dynamics and the echoes of transboundary Pan-nationalism. At the heart of this narrative lies the idea of a sovereign land known as Zalen'gam, an aspiration for ethnic groups of Chin-Kuki-Mizo, collectively also referred to as the Zo peoples. The term translates to "land of freedom" encapsulating the homelands inhabited by these tribes across the North Eastern States of India and Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh, and parts of Burma, now Myanmar.

In the realm of this ethnic mobilization, a distinct feature emerges—a transactional and transborder nature that defies conventional boundaries. PS Haokip, the leader of the Kuki National Organisation (KNO), sheds light on the formation of the first Kuki armed movement in his propaganda book, "Zalen-Gam–The Kuki Nation."

He highlights how the Kuki people's ancestral land, their Zalen'gam, was forcibly divided by the drawing of international boundaries between India and Myanmar, depriving them of their consent. Driven by the desire to reclaim their perceived "lost lands," the KNO, along with its armed wing, the Kuki National Army, was established in 1988, along the Indo-Myanmar border in Manipur. Their objective was clear—the reunification of their fragmented territory.

"Pan-Nationalist Mobilization: The Resonance of the Chin-Kuki-Mizo Movement in India's North East"

The yearning for a separate State or distinct political arrangement for the Chin-Kuki,-Mizo ethnic groups in Manipur has deep historical roots. Since 1960, the Paite National Council and its leader T Goukhenpau advocated for the establishment of Chinland, uniting diverse tribes under the "CHIN" category. In 1972, the Zomi National Congress (ZNC) emerged, aiming to unify the Chin-Kuki-Mizo communities and achieve political emancipation.

The Zo Re-unification Organization (ZORO) was formed as a powerful platform, culminating in the World Zomi Convention in 1988, where delegates from India, Myanmar, and Bangladesh pledged solidarity and integration for the Zo people's reunification. In subsequent years, in 2010, the Kuki State Demand Committee (KSDC) was established, endorsing the call for a separate Kukiland.

They submitted a memorandum to the Government of India, demanding the formation of a separate Kuki homeland comprising Churachandpur, Chandel districts, Sadar Hills, and other contiguous Kuki-inhabited areas of Manipur. The KSDC resorted to occasional strikes, and highway blockades, obstructing the flow of goods into the Imphal Valley.

In Manipur's southern border State of Mizoram, amidst the ongoing Meitei-Kuki clash, a powerful movement for territorial integration has resurfaced. The voices of the Chin-Kuki-Mizo ethnic nationality resound, reigniting age-old aspirations for unity and collective identity. Kuki BJP MLA Paolienlal Haokip boldly expressed their determination, considering options like a separate State, Union Territory, or even becoming part of "Greater Mizoram." This reflects their commitment to rejuvenating their political imagination.

In line with this sentiment, Mizoram's Chief Minister Zoramthanga, a former militant leader, addresses the Mizo National Front (MNF) workers, emphasizing the unification of inhabited areas belonging to the Chin-Kuki-Mizo in neighbouring States. He recalls the peace talks and the MNF's pursuit of a cohesive "one administrative unit" encompassing Mizo-inhabited regions across different States. This echoes the historic Mizo National Front's secessionist movement in the 1960s, which sought a greater Mizoram and culminated in the Mizo Accord of 1986.

Forging Unity: The Chin-Kuki-Mizo Ethnic Consolidation Movement in Myanmar and Bangladesh

The Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh experience an ongoing armed movement led by the Kuki-Chin National Army, the armed wing of the Kuki-Chin National Front. The Kuki-Chin National Army, also known as the "Bawm Party," comprises members from six Kuki-Chin ethnic groups. Amidst unrest in Manipur, a Kuki-Chin National Army ambush on May 16 in the Bandarban district resulted in the loss of two Bangladesh Army soldiers and injury to two officers.

In Myanmar's border regions with Indian States, authorities' reluctance to grant autonomy has led to the reorganization of insurgent groups among the Chin-Kuki-Zo communities. An insurgency movement emerged among the Zo ethnic tribes in 1964, led by Hrangnawl, Lt. Col Sonkhopau, and Tunkhopum. Despite limited success, the insurgency persisted, fuelling Zo ethnic tribal Nationalism.

The Chin National Front/Chin National Army (CNF/CNA) and Chin Liberation Army (CLA) continue the pursuit, advocating for political autonomy. Established in 1988, the CNF has become a powerful Ethnic Armed Organization (EAO) in Myanmar.

Turbulent Inter-Ethnic Clashes: Navigating the Complexities of Demands for Separate Administration and Homeland in Manipur

Amidst the recent upheaval of inter-ethnic clashes between the Meitei and Kuki communities, the consideration of endorsing the Kuki demand for a separate Administration/Homeland or even Greater Mizoram for the Chin-Kuki-Mizo ethnic groups beckons grave consequences, both internally and externally.

A profound evaluation suggests that preserving peace, and harmony in Manipur, safeguarding India's integrity, as well as maintaining amicable relations with neighbouring Nations, necessitate careful deliberation and prudence.

What are the potential cycles that may emerge in the future?

Firstly, the Government’s endorsement of a separate Arrangement/Homeland or Greater Mizoram based solely on ethnic lines would inflict severe damage upon Manipur's social and political cohesion. The Meitei community in the valley would steadfastly refuse any division of Manipur's territorial integrity, which has been promised and upheld by the Indian State since the merger of Manipur with India in 1949. Furthermore, the territorial claims of the Kuki community overlap with those of the Nagas in Manipur, exacerbating tensions and complexities.

Secondly, the prolonged territorial dispute between the Chin-Kuki-Mizo community and the Nagas has engendered a contentious environment. The Kuki-Naga ethnic conflict witnessed a blood-stained chapter in 1992-1993, characterized by fierce clashes over contested land, resulting in numerous fatalities.

On May 31st, the influential United Naga Council (UNC), an apex body representing the Nagas, unequivocally conveyed to the Government of India that they "will not accept any disintegration of Naga areas" concerning the recent demand for a separate homeland by the Chin-Kuki-Mizo community.

In a memorandum submitted to Union Home Minister Amit Shah, the UNC cautioned that any fragmentation of Naga areas or detrimental effects on the Nagas would have far-reaching consequences, instigating senseless violence among various communities.

Thirdly, In the intricate web of administrative arrangements based on ethnic lines, the demand for a separate administrative setup for the Chin-Kuki-Mizo in Manipur presents a distinct peculiarity when compared to existing models in North East India.

Entities like the Bodoland Territorial Council, Garo Hills Autonomous District Council, Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council, Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council, and Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council have found relative clarity in area demarcation and their respective ethnic groups, resulting in lesser controversy.

However, the case of the Chin-Kuki-Mizo community differs significantly. Their contiguous population straddles the borders of three countries, introducing a complex dynamic that has the potential to shape a broader Pan-Nationalist sentiment. This unique circumstance raises concerns about the gradual emergence of Pan-Nationalism among the Chin-Kuki-Mizo, which could pose unforeseen challenges for India in the future.

The existing administrative setups in North East India, though not without their complexities, have managed to navigate these issues with relative ease due to their lack of cross-border presence.

In contrast, the Chin-Kuki-Mizo's geographic distribution across multiple Nations adds an additional layer of complexity to the equation. The demand for a separate homeland arrangement for this group requires careful consideration, as it could pave the way for a growing sense of Pan-Nationalism, potentially shaping the future landscape in ways that India must be prepared to address.

Fourthly, any recognition of a separate homeland for the Chin-Kuki-Mizo community would reverberate internationally, causing significant ramifications. This move by the Government of India would undoubtedly strain relations with Myanmar and Bangladesh, as these Nations are already grappling with armed militancy originating from Chin-Kuki-Mizo ethnic groups within their territories.

In light of these multifaceted implications, it is imperative for the Indian Government to tread cautiously, considering the broader ramifications on Manipur's stability, India's relations with neighbouring countries, and the potential for future conflicts arising from ethnic separatism.

A measured and balanced approach, fostering inclusive dialogue and addressing underlying grievances, may offer a more sustainable path towards peace, unity, and harmonious coexistence for all ethnic communities involved.


(Writer’s note -

This piece first appeared in India Today NE.

The opinion piece initially appeared in INDIATODAY N-E on June 26, 2023. The corresponding web link is provided below. This opinion aims to provide insights into the challenges and complexities surrounding the demands for separate administration and homeland in Manipur.

The ethnic clashes in Manipur have been a recurring issue, and understanding the underlying causes and implications is crucial for promoting peace and harmony in the region. This article delves into the historical and political factors contributing to these clashes, with a specific focus on the demands for separate administration and homeland put forth by the Kuki community.

By exploring the intricate dynamics of these demands, the article aims to shed light on the complexities faced by Manipur in addressing the aspirations and concerns of different ethnic communities. Additionally, the opinion write-up discusses the potential implications and the broader impact of meeting or not meeting these demands, both for Manipur and India as a whole.
)


* RK Sanayaima Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on 02 December 2023.



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