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Naga Insurgency: Knot Tightens

POSTED ON MAY 18, 2010

rani pathak das
research associate, Centre for Development and Peace Studies

The Naga knot has only tightened in recent weeks. The Manipur Government has taken a formal decision not to allow Thuingaleng Muivah, general secretary of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah faction) to visit his native village in the state’s Ukhrul district. New Delhi’s inability to convince either party — the Government of Manipur or the NSCN-IM general secretary Muivah — over the issue arising out of the Naga leader’s desire to visit his birthplace in Manipur after forty years has no doubt added a new dimension to the six-decade-long Naga problem.

On 1 May 2010, the Manipur Government decided not to allow Muivah to visit his native Somdal village, about 100 km north of Imphal. The Ibobi Singh government in Manipur took this Cabinet decision on the ground that this “may disturb the peace and tranquility” in the state. Reportedly, the Union Home Ministry had earlier directed Manipur Police chief Yumnam Joykumar to arrange security for Muivah’s visit to the Naga-dominated Ukhrul district from May 3 to 10.

According to Manipur Government spokesperson N. Biren, the Cabinet decision was intimated to the Centre pointing out that the ceasefire pact between the Government of India and the NSCN-IM was limited only to Nagaland state. Definitely there is some justification in Manipur’s fear of a repeat of the 2001 uprising. Eighteen people were killed and many injured on 18 June 2001 when security forces opened fire on people protesting against the extension of ceasefire to Manipur. The majority Meiteis in Manipur had then feared the extension of the Naga truce to their state could be the first step before parts of Manipur were sliced and merged with the adjoining Nagaland state.

Things worsened with the failure of the talks between the Centre and the two parties in conflict. Union Home Secretary G K Pillai and Naga interlocutor R S Pandey rushed to Manipur and Nagaland on May 11 and 12, respectively. Pillai met the Manipur ministers and reassured that 'the Centre will never accept redrawing of Manipur's boundary.' While Manipur was firm on its stand, Muivah too was not convinced by the Central representatives suggesting that he wait for a proper time to go ahead with his visit. Muivah decides to camp in village Viswema in Nagaland, 8 km from the Mao border gate, and is adamant on his plan to visit Manipur.

Well the ‘credit’ goes to the Central Government for being insensitive and lacking in prudence while tacking the whole problem. On the very first place, the Centre showed the green signal to Muivah to carry on with his visit to Manipur without having any discussion with the Manipur Government. CPI leader and former MP, Sudhakar Reddy’s charge that the Centre had not forethought the motive behind the NSCN-IM leader's desired visit not only to his birthplace but also to other Naga inhabited areas and attend public meetings is significant. The question arises, whether the Centre is unaware of the fact that the ceasefire is not extended to Manipur, or, about the tension among the states of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh regarding the Greater Nagalim (Greater Nagalim is the NSCN-IM’s concept of a unified Naga homeland comprising Naga-inhabited areas of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur and Myanmar, besides Nagaland) demand of the Nagas? The NSCN-IM is on a ceasefire with New Delhi since 1997 and about 60 rounds of peace talks have taken place aimed at ending one of India's longest running insurgencies.

The Centre has turned out to be the common “villain” both for the Manipuris as well as the Nagas. While Manipur Chief Minister Ibobi Singh has emerged as the “hero” for the Manipuris because he has defied the Central Government’s order and blocked Muivah’s visit, Muivah is “hero” for the Nagas fighting for Naga aspirations. The victims or people who are hit by this standoff are the common Nagas and Manipuris. While three Naga students were killed by security forces at Mao gate while protesting the ban on Muivah’s visit to Manipur, the people living in landlocked Manipur are now suffering immensely due to the economic blockade by the Nagas. Both the major National highways, lifelines of the people of the state, which pass through Nagaland, have been shut by protestors, leading to a severe food shortage and shortage of medical and petroleum products.

The Home Ministry feels that the Manipur government has blocked Muivah's visit, apprehending his interference in the May 26 elections to the Autonomous District Councils in the hill areas of the state. The NSCN-IM is opposed to the polls. It is surprising that in spite of the current political situation in Manipur, the Centre could not anticipate the consequences of the NSCM(IM) leader’s proposed visit in this particular period.

“The Government of India seems to be unable to take a stand. They will say something here and something else there. We’re very disappointed,” said V.S. Atem, a top leader of the NSCN-IM. This allegedly ‘thoughtless attitude’ of the Centre has the potential to bring the Naga rebellion alive once again shattering the decade-long peace process. Muivah is exploiting the present situation by combining his support base in the Naga inhibited four districts of Manipur (Ukhrul, Senapati, Tamenglong, Chandel) as well as in those parts of Nagaland where different groups had earlier questioned his authority and voiced their differences on the current peace process. The Union Government’s wait and watch policy may not yield the desired result because it may fail to cool passions.