Naga ceasefire and Manipur
By Radhabinod Koijam
THE RECENT ceasefire with Naga militants announced by the Government of India without territorial limits caused a massive outburst of anger in Manipur. Manipuris are afraid that their centuries-old State would disintegrate and their rich cultural heritage would be buried and they would be rendered homeless and reduced to being non-entities. Fear, of course, is the key.
Contained within the protest is the question, ``Does anyone care for Manipur?'' Despite various representations to those who matter across the political spectrum at the highest levels, the Centre did not think it necessary to inform the public of Manipur and to take them into confidence before taking a decision that may change the course of the State's history.
The Union Government has been appeasing the NSCN(I-M) by agreeing to enter into a `ceasefire agreement' (a terminology reserved for use between two independent nations) and to hold talks outside India. Mr. T. Muivah, NSCN(I-M) general secretary, says, ``We do not want Greater Nagaland or Smaller Nagaland, we only want 120,000 sq. km of land that belongs to Nagas. Nagaland (now Nagalim) has always been a sovereign nation. It was forcibly apportioned between India and Burma (Myanmar) after their respective declarations of independence. The part which India illegally claims is subdivided and placed under four different administrative units, viz., Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Nagaland States... Nagalim, however, transcends all these arbitrary demarcations of boundary.'' Access the NSCN(I-M) website, www.angelfire.com/mo/Nagaland/map.html, to see the map of its so-called Nagalim, which includes two-thirds of Manipur, and access www.angelfire.com/mo/Nagaland/Background.html to know its claim to sovereignty, and to 120,000 sq km in between the longitudes 93 degrees E and 97 degrees E and the latitudes 23.5 degrees N and 28.3 degrees N with a population of 35 lakhs. The present Constitutional State of Nagaland has an area of only 16,579 sq. km with a population of about 16 lakhs. The claims of Mr. Muivah and the attitude of the Indian leaders justify the fears of the Manipuris.
Sighting an opportunity to twist the Union Government around its fingers, the NSCN (I-M) extracted its pound of flesh and made it agree to the extension of the ceasefire to territories outside Nagaland. The demands of the Naga movement started by Phizo in the 1940s centred around the rights of Nagas in the then Naga Hills district of Assam as well as in the North East Frontier Agency (NEFA). They had nothing to do with the Nagas in Manipur. A look into the Naga-Akbar Hydari Accord, 1947, would make this clear. The Accord was signed by the representatives of Nagas inhabiting the Naga Hill district and NEFA with the Assam Governor. None of the Naga tribes of Manipur was represented in this.
Manipur's history is more than 2000 years old. It was an independent princely kingdom. From the 16th to the 19th centuries it was a powerful kingdom. The plains of Manipur are surrounded by nine hill ranges where the tribals live. The tribals of Manipur comprise mainly Nagas, Kukis and Zomis. The present population of Manipur is 23 lakhs of which the Meiteis and the Muslims are 14 lakhs and 1.5 lakhs respectively while the Nagas are 3.60 lakhs and Kukis including Zomis and other sub-tribes of Kukis around 3.40 lakhs. Other smaller communities constitute 0.50 lakhs.
The Nagas of Manipur could be broadly divided into four categories - Tangkhul Nagas, Mao and Maram Nagas, Kabui Nagas, and Anal Nagas and Marings. They have been living in Manipur from time immemorial as peaceful subjects. They never had any social or cultural ties with any Naga tribes in the Naga Hills district or NEFA. The forest between the rivers Doyang and Dhansiri was officially declared by the British in 1835 to be the northern boundary of Manipur. On the west, the line of river Jiri and the western bend of river Barak were declared Manipur's boundary by the treaty of 1833 concluded by Raja Gambhir Singh with the British. On the south lie the mountain ranges separating Manipur from the Lushai Hills (present day Mizoram). On the east, river Chindwin was the boundary between Burma and Manipur as confirmed in January 1830 by the Supreme Government (the British Govt. of East India Company). However, this was changed to the foothills of Yoomadoung in 1833 after the Kabo Valley was transferred to the Burmese on payment of Rs. 500 a month as compensation to the Raja of Manipur. The arrangement continued till 1953 when Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru permanently gave away the Kabo Valley to Burma and stopped payment of the compensation to Manipur. Manipuris still grudge the gifting away of Kabo Valley.
Manipur adopted democracy in 1947. It framed its Constitution, the Manipur Constitution Act of 1947, and drew up a regulation for the administration of the hill peoples - the Manipur State Hill Peoples (Administration) Regulation, 1947. It vested the responsibility for the administration of the hill peoples in the Maharaja-in-Council to be exercised in accordance with the Constitution Act of the State. The Manipur Assembly was constituted on April 18, 1948, with 53 members elected to it from both the hills (18 members) and the plains. The Cabinet consisted of seven members, four from the plains and two from the hills headed by a Chief Minister nominated by the Maharaj. Maj. R. Khathing, a Tangkhul Naga, was the Minister in-charge of hill affairs.
Manipur was merged into the Indian Union on October 15, 1949. It was granted statehood in 1972 with a 60-member Assembly. Nineteen seats are reserved for the hill areas and one seat for Scheduled Castes. The Assembly has a permanent inner chamber called ``the Hill Areas Committee'' which acts as a mini- Assembly. Its Chairman enjoys the status of Cabinet Minister and all MLAs from the hill areas of the State are ex-officio members. All laws pertaining to the hill areas of Manipur to be considered for passing by the Manipur Legislative Assembly have to be first vetted and approved by this Committee.
In the 30 years since Manipur got Statehood, two Naga (Tangkhul) leaders were Chief Ministers for almost 15 years, the remaining period being occupied by President's rule (three years) and by a Muslim and six Meiteis. There are two seats to the Lok Sabha, one of which is reserved for the hill peoples. The elaborate arrangement between the peoples of the plains and the hills and the delicate balance in relations among different communities in Manipur are being jeopardised by the extension of the ceasefire to the Naga-inhabited areas of the State. There is no area in the State which is inhabited exclusively by the Nagas. Many other non-Naga tribes too inhabit these areas. Any step to create a premium in favour of a community will disturb the ethnic balance and could result in violence. The wounds of the ethnic violence that erupted in 1993-97 in the hill areas of the State between Nagas and Kukis, which left thousands homeless and hundreds killed, are still not completely healed. The extension of the ceasefire to Manipur may create new conflicts between communities and may also intensify the seccessionist movements there.
The Ceasefire Agreement read with the ground rules give leeway to the NSCN(I-M) to establish camps and for its armed cadres to move freely from one camp to another and to carry out subversive and illegal activities. It would forcibly create an artificial atmosphere favourable to them in the areas where the ceasefire is extended. Some argue that the Ceasefire Agreement and the ground rules have bound down the NSCN(I-M). Mr. Muivah must be tickled pink by the good-hearts who say this, but the Manipuris know otherwise and are not fooled.
Manipuris feel that no price would be too high to pay to safeguard the centuries-old boundaries of Manipur. They are watching the Government of India to see on whom it puts a premium, the armed secessionists or the people who stand for national unity and integrity.