By Veronica Khangchian
On August 1, 2011, five persons were killed and eight others injured when militants triggered a powerful Improvised Explosive Device (IED) explosion near a barber’s shop at Sanghakpam Bazaar in Imphal East District. The explosive, planted on a two-wheeler, killed two Manipuri girls and two persons from Bihar – the barber and his son. Later, on August 2, Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh announced that the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak Muivah (NSCN-IM) was behind the blast, and revealed the identity of the fifth person killed in the incident as an active cadre of the NSCN-IM, named Anthony. He noted, further, that the NSCN-IM cadre, who rode the scooter with the explosives, might have had a specific target, but the device may have exploded prematurely. The Chief Minister claimed that the blast was aimed at the members of Autonomous District Council (ADC), who are housed in a nearby guest house complex of District Councils. The explosion reportedly occurred just after the vehicles of ADC members had passed past the spot.
Earlier on July 23, 2011, suspected NSCN-IM militants exploded a bomb in the office of the ADC in Ukhrul District, bordering Myanmar. On May 28, 2011 three persons were injured when a powerful bomb exploded at a sports stadium (Khuman Lampak) complex in Imphal West District. The blast was apparently intended to target members and officials of the ADC, who were functioning from this location due to the threat held out by the NSCN-IM.
Significantly, the United Naga Council (UNC), the NSCN-IM linked apex Naga body in Manipur, had opposed the ADC 2010 elections, held in two phases, on May 26 and June 2, 2010, under the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils (3rd Amendment) Act, 2008, since these were not under the 6th Schedule of the Constitution of India. The UNC argues,
‘Local adjustment’ has been spelt in the form of the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils (3rd Amendment) Act, 2008, which has been carefully doctored and stripped off of all the provisions that go into self governance and the rights of the hill people over their land and resources and removing the primacy of the traditional institutions of the tribals which is enshrined in the Constitution of India. The 6th Schedule of the Constitution of India has provisions of self governance and the rights of the hill people over their land and resources and the primacy of the traditional institutions of the tribals.
The UNC’s relations with the State Government have been deteriorating since the killing of two students in Police firing on supporters of NSCN-IM ‘general secretary’ Thuingaleng Muivah, while they were taking out a rally at Mao Gate in Senapati District, when the State Government blocked Muivah from entering Manipur on May 6, 2010. The situation worsened further with the ADC elections, held after a gap of 20 years, and the UNC announced a severing of ties with the Government of Manipur. The UNC approached the Union Government with the demand for an ‘alternative administrative arrangement’, declaring that the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils (3rd Amendment) Act 2008 failed to meet tribal aspirations or to provide any sort of autonomy, leaving the ADCs at the mercy and under the control of the State Government.
Subsequently, in a memorandum submitted to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on September 14, 2010, the UNC stated that on July 1, 2010, the Nagas in Manipur had resolved, through their highest decision-making forum, the Naga People’s Convention (NPC), that the Nagas would sever all political ties with the ‘communal’ Government of Manipur and, consequently, the vacuum in governance and administration created as a result, must be filled with an ‘alternative arrangement’ by the Government of India (GoI) in consultation with the Naga people at the earliest possible. It was also asserted that the ‘imposed’ ADC elections were “null and void” and, under no circumstances, would the ADCs be allowed to function in the Naga areas.
Shortly thereafter, on October 12, 2010, the Manipur Police Department received intelligence inputs that the NSCN-IM had decided, at the ‘highest level’, to selectively target and eliminate elected members of the ADCs belonging to the Naga community, since they had failed to ‘honour’ the group’s diktats for the boycott of ADC elections and, after getting elected, refused to resign from their posts despite specific ‘directives’.
On June 30, 2011, however, the UNC demand for an ‘alternative administrative arrangement’ for the Nagas living in Manipur received a severe blow, with both the State and Central Governments categorically setting aside this option during tripartite talks held in Senapati District. The outcome of these talks was in line with Chief Minister Ibobi Singh earlier declaration that a separate administrative model for the Nagas of Manipur was out of the question. The State Government indicated that the elected ADCs in the Hill region had enough power to develop their Hill Districts and redress grievances of the tribal people. Moreover, the Joint Secretary (Northeast) in the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, Shambhu Singh, added, “We could not understand what ‘alternative arrangement’ means and the Centre is not going to do anything on the issue.”
Meanwhile, on April 15, 2011, eight persons, including six Policemen, were killed and six injured in an ambush laid by the NSCN-IM on the convoy party of the Phungyar Member of the Manipur Legislative Assembly (MLA), Wungnaoshang Keishing, near Riha village in Ukhrul District. On April 19, 2011, the outfit accused Wungnaoshang of working hand in glove with the Ibobi Government’s policy to ‘disintegrate Naga territories’ by creating a new cosmopolitan District, Phungyar. Keishing, who supported the initiative, had been warned of “drastic action” by the UNC, if he did not withdraw his support for the new District. As the demand for the creation of Phungyar District becomes sharper, the UNC, on April 8, 2011, without naming the Phungyar District Demand Committee, stated,
It is implicit that the demand for new District(s) at this point of time in Naga/Hill areas of Manipur is the handiwork of the adversaries to vitiate and derail the ‘Alternative Arrangement’ process which is in progress peacefully and democratically. The UNC reminded that the Naga people in the State of Manipur have severed all political ties with the Government of Manipur, demanding the intervention of the Government of India for an ‘Alternative Arrangement’ outside the Government of Manipur.
Despite the threat to his life, Keishing has said that there was no question of his withdrawing support to the demand for the upgradation of the Phungyar Assembly Constituency into a full-fledged revenue District, in the interest of bringing about development and the meeting the aspirations of the people.
In another gruesome incident on July 24, 2011, a young couple was killed at Lungpha village in Ukhrul District. Claiming responsibility for the killing, the NSCN-IM said that Vareignam Mahongnao was killed for his anti-Naga activities as he was allegedly working with the Manipur Naga Revolutionary Front (MNRF). However, on July 28, MNRF denied any links with Vareignam. MNRF, an NSCN-IM splinter group in Manipur, was formed in 2008 under the leadership of Allen Siro, and claims to be an autonomous revolutionary group with the avowed aim of protecting the territorial integrity of Manipur and working for communal harmony between different ethnic groups in the State.
Evidently, the whole issue is intertwined with the NSCN-IM’s larger ambition for the integration of Naga areas under one administrative unit, and this is the cause of the spike in violence by the group in Manipur. According to the partial data compiled by South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), out of the 43 insurgency related killings in 2011, 15 are associated with the NSCN-IM, including eight civilians and seven Security Force (SF) personnel. In 2010, out of a total of 138 fatalities, the NSCN-IM was involved in only one incident – on May 18, 2010, one of its cadres was killed while the bomb he was planting under a bridge along the stretch of the Imphal-Mao section of the National Highway-39 in Senapati District, blew up accidentally.
On August 2, 2011, the Manipur Chief Minister, disclosed that the State Government has advised the Central Government to revoke the ongoing cease-fire with the NSCN-IM, since it continued to engage in open acts of terrorism in the State. Such advice is, however, unlikely to impact on the ‘peace process’ that has survived continuous breaches of ‘ground rules’ since the ceasefire agreement of 1997.
Amidst rising NSCN-IM activities in Manipur, reports indicate that major Meitei insurgent outfits in the State are making serious efforts to form a “united front” in pursuit of their own ethnically polarized goals. On August 9, 2011, Union Minister of State for Home Affairs M. Ramachandran told the Lok Sabha (Upper House of Parliament) that these groups included the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), United National Liberation Front (UNLF), Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL), Noyon faction of Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP-Noyon), Vice Chairman faction of People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK-VC), Progressive faction of PREPAK (PREPAK-P) and United People`s Party of Kangleipak (UPPK).
Manipur has experienced rapid improvement in its security scenario as steep declines in fatalities have been recorded in the State since 2008. All this is now in jeopardy, with the NSCN-IM’s rising ambitions, and the ‘reactivation’ of a coalescing Meitei insurgent front. Much of the escalating NSCN-IM violence has, of course, been directed against Naga leaders who have refused to toe the rebel group’s line. Nevertheless, the fundamentals of this violence are directed against the integrationist impetus of the Valley based politics and Meitei insurgent groups. Unless these inherent contradictions are managed – if not resolved – the spiral of violence can only push this unfortunate State back into the cycles of bloodletting that have wracked it for nearly five decades now.
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management