India: Igniting The Tinderbox In Manipur – Analysis
By Giriraj Bhattacharjee*
On November 8, 2019, State Deputy Chief Minister Yumnam Joykumar Singh declared that the Naga peace deal in its current form was not be suitable for Manipur, as it only catered to Naga demands. On the other hand, the current administrative arrangements for the hills within Manipur caters to “…a mixed population of Nagas and Kukis”. Singh emphasised, “Manipur is different from other northeastern states like Meghalaya, which have homogenous populations. An autonomous council comprising only Naga’s will not work for Manipur.” Currently, Manipur’s Hill Districts are administered by Six Autonomous District Councils (ADCs) formed under the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils Act, 1971 Chandel ADC, Churachandpur ADC, Sadar Hills ADC, Manipur North ADC, Tamenglong ADC and Ukhrul ADC.The rumour of a Territorial Council for the Nagas was reported after a ‘breakthrough’ was reached between the Government of India and Naga armed groups on October 31, 2019.
In an interview published on November 6, 2019, NNPG ‘co-convenor’ and ‘chairman’ of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland – Reformation (NSCN-R), W. Wangtin Naga, had disclosed that each of the Naga groups in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur would be governed by Territorial Councils. Wangtin Naga’s interview confirms earlier reports of submissions made by the Government’s interlocutor for Naga talks before the Parliamentary Standing Committee in 2018. The Interlocutor, R. N. Ravi, when questioned about the status of the framework agreement, had informed the members of the Committee that a “special status” would be offered to the Naga people by extending Article 371 (A) to Naga-inhabited areas.
Auch arrangements have never been acceptable to Valley based political and civil society groups.
Indeed, the Coordinating Committee on Manipur Integrity (COCOMI), an apex body of five civil society groups formed to protect the ‘territorial integrity’ of the State, urged the people to launch various campaigns near the houses of the 60 Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) and four Members of Parliament (MPs). The Coordinator of COCOMI, Sunil Karam stated, on November 7, 2019,
Though the Chief Minister N. Biren had assured the leaders of the civil organisations to summon an emergency session of the Manipur Assembly it is now clear that there will be no session to take a resolution on the Naga agreement. On the other hand, Biren says he will be first to resign or to sacrifice his life if Manipur’s interest and territory are compromised. However, some leaders point out that it will be immaterial if Biren resigns or takes the extreme step once the Naga agreement is inked.
Earlier, on November 2, 2019, COCOMI Coordinator Karam had stated,
People have been kept in the dark about the points discussed during negotiations. We have asked the state and the Centre to disclose by November 4 the details of the framework agreement signed by the NSCN-IM [National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak Muivah] and the government.
COCOMI, formed on October 21, 2019, consists of All Manipur United Clubs’ Organisation (AMUCO), Committee of Civil Societies in Kangleipak (CCSK), Ethno Heritage Council (HERICOUN), League of Indigenous Peoples’ Upliftment (LIPUL) and United Committee Manipur (UCM).
COCOMI has intensified agitations since its formation. On October 25, 2019, as part of a “public alert movements” progamme by COCOMI, hundreds of women participated in torch rallies to reaffirm their stand on territorial integrity, in various locations across the Imphal city, shouting slogans like ‘Long Live Manipur’ and ‘Condemn communal politics by India’.
On October 30, 2019, normal life in the State, and especially the Valley Districts, was affected due to a 20-hour cease work protest launched by COCOMI, called to highlight the need to safeguard the State’s interests and territory amid reports of the finalisation of the Naga peace talks with the Centre. The Cease Work protest was later extended till 6pm on November 1.
Since November 1, 2019, COCOMI has launched agitations in the form of ‘’Public alert rally’’ and ‘alert sit-in’ protests against the imminent agreement between Naga groups and the Government of India (GoI).
Previously, UCM, the main civil group behind the 2001 violent protests in response to the extension of the Ceasefire agreement “without territorial limits”, and one of the main constituents of COCOMI, had on October 1, 2019, held a meeting with all political parties actively present in the State, and adopted the following three resolutions:
The Framework Agreement on the possible final settlement of the Naga Peace accord shall not disturb and infringe upon the unity and traditional integrity of Manipur under any conditions. Even if the Government of India confirms that the geographical boundary of the northeastern states will remain intact, anything which subsequently relates to the ongoing framework agreement cannot be taken up inside Manipur without the prior sanction and approval of the State Government and the people of Manipur. Any steps that might be taken up by Government of India which directly or indirectly seemed to endorse the long-standing demand of the NSCN-IM of integrating the Naga inhabited areas, such as Pan-Naga or cultural provincial-territorial councils, or any arrangement relating to financial or ethnic-based administrative arrangements or any similar structural formation, is not acceptable to the people of Manipur.
Further, on October 30, 2019, the Thadou Inpi, apex body of the Thadou, the largest community within the Kuki ethnic group, met the Interlocutor for talks with Kuki armed groups, A.B. Mathur, and asked the Central Government to conclude the ‘Indo-Kuki’ talks alongside the ‘Indo-Naga’ peace process. They also opposed any move to take their land for a final settlement with the Nagas.
Meanwhile, two Improvised Explosive Device (IED) explosions were reported in the State.
On November 5, 2019, five Policemen and one civilian were severely injured in an IED explosion at Khoyathong Road near Sani Mandir in the Thangal Bazar area of Imphal West District. The blast occurred at around 9:30 am when the market was abuzz with traffic and office goers.
Earlier on November 2, three Border Security Force (BSF) personnel were injured in an IED explosion at Telipati in Imphal East District. The wounded personnel were identified as Lalkumar, Koram Mahindra and Santram.
No militant group has so far claimed responsibility for these attacks, but the role of Valley-based groups is suspected. Significantly, both of these incidents, happening within a few days, occurred at a time when there was increased apprehension amongst non-Naga communities residing in the State – mainly the dominant Meitei who primarily inhabit the Valley Districts and Kukis residing in the Hills – after ‘successful’ rounds of peace talks between the GoI and Naga Groups on October 31, 2019. Meitei militant groups are likely to attempt to demonstrate their presence in a situation where there is a palpable sign of unrest, in order to regain lost space. According to partial data collected by South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), nine fatalities (four civilians and five militants) in seven incidents have been recorded from January 1, 2019, till November 8, 2019, as against 19 fatalities (six civilians; seven SF personnel and six militants] in 17 incidents in the corresponding period, in Manipur.
Meanwhile, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA), in a statement issued on November 1, 2019, sought to assuage fears in Manipur,
…rumours and misinformation are being spread in a section of media and on social media about the final Naga settlement and it is creating anxiety and concern in some parts of the country… before any settlement is arrived at with Naga groups, all stakeholders including States of Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh will be duly consulted and their concerns will be taken into consideration.
Nevertheless, with the prevailing situation in mind, security reinforcements have arrived in Manipur. Additional numbers of Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) personnel were deployed at important areas to check any “unwanted activities”. An unnamed top Government official disclosed, “Fifteen new companies of paramilitary forces have been deployed in the State to meet eventualities. Some that have reached are currently stationed at three colleges in Imphal. Over the past few days, Army troops have also arrived here in AN-32 aircraft.”
The sensitivities of this multiethnic State will have to be taken into consideration when GoI arrives at a final solution with both Naga and Kuki militant groups, so that delicate inter-ethnic ties are not disrupted, and all stake holders are taken into confidence. Ethnic tensions and violence could reignite the subdued militancy, providing motive and men to renew the fight.
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management