The North-Eastern Problem: Anxiety in Manipur over the final Naga peace accord
As the 'deadline' for arriving at a solution to the protracted Naga political problem is upon us, there is growing anxiety in Manipur over rumours of territorial redrawing of North-Eastern states
On October 29th a sensational piece of news started doing rounds in Manipur: that two men called Yamben Biren and Narengbam Samarjit, who claim to be ‘representatives’ of Manipur’s King Leishemba Sanajaoba, have declared its independence from India and set up a “government in exile” in the United Kingdom.
The very next morning the state’s titular king, Leishemba Sanajaoba clarified that he is not a part of this rebellion and had nothing to do with it. Even the leaders of Manipur’s majority Meitei community also played down the development saying that this is not to be taken seriously. Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh strongly condemned this 'announcement' and said that a case has been registered against the separatists Yamben Biren and Narengbam Samarjit, under Sections 121, 121A and 121B (waging war against the state).
His Highness the King of Manipur has issued statement distancing himself from the announcement. He said he was made to sign some documents by these representatives on the pretext of acquiring some Manipur-related documents & pictures from London. He is unaware of the declaration. pic.twitter.com/CXikELytKh— Angellica Aribam (@AngellicAribam) October 30, 2019
This announcement should not be seen in isolation, as Manipur has been in a state of flux and unease with the 'deadline' to settle the 'Naga problem' upon us. From October 23, thousands of women poured into the streets of Imphal holding banners and placards warning against any solution that affected Manipur’s “integrity”. Ahead of the 'deadline' a Manipuri organisation of non-governmental organisations, had even asked the people to participate in a “cease-work” protest on Thursday against a peace deal that could “challenge” the State’s territorial integrity.
(Meitei protest in Imphal | Photo: Twitter @epaoManipur)
But after Home Minister Amit Shah assured an all-party delegation from Manipur late on Wednesday that the interests of Manipur will be taken into account before finalising the Naga peace accord, the protest has been called off.
Origin of the worries
This anxiety of Manipuris stems from speculation that the Centre and the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) reached an agreement that would lead to the redrawing of boundaries of the States with a sizeable Naga population. Naga nationalists have long claimed vast swathes of Manipur’s hills as part of its imagined homeland of Nagalim or Greater Nagaland.
While the Govt sources have repeatedly claimed that the final peace accord 'does not change the boundary of states', Naga-dominated areas of Manipur and Nagaland might undergo some cosmetic administrative changes.
The Meiteis, Manipur's majority ethnic group are even against those proposed cosmetic changes like autonomous Naga territorial councils for Arunachal and Manipur and a common cultural body for Nagas across states. In fact another group called Kukis are also in opposition to the idea of a greater Nagaland, as large parts of the imagined Kuki homeland in Manipur’s hills overlap with Nagalim – which has led to years of bitter conflict and bloodshed.
(A Kuki protest ahead of the 2015 peace talks | Photo: Facebook @epaoManipur)
So the final settlement of Naga problem is not only an issue of Nagaland, but one that affects most of the North-Eastern India, and can potentially create unrest across Nagaland, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh. Ahead of the decision, Manipur is on alert with additional forces, and cancelled leaves for officials of the police and civil administration.
Coming to back to the story of two gentlemen forming the 'government-in exile' from UK soil: Some say history repeats itself, and if it really does, then the government of India will have a lot to worry about.
In 1959, a Naga gentleman called AZ Phizo, who was the president of Naga National Council, called a series of press conferences in the UK, where he accused the government of India of atrocities against Nagas and announced independence in front of the whole world. This would lead to one of the bloodiest insurgencies in the history of India, and give rise to a problem which New Delhi still hasn't completely solved.