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Manipur: the solution-less ethnic cauldron?

POSTED ON 29 DECEMBER 2012

wasbir hussain
director, centre for development and peace studies

It is not for nothing that Manipur has come to be known as a ‘failed state.’ The Naga-Meitei divide has widened so much that bridging it looks impossible. The party in power, on this occasion the Congress led by chief minister Ibobi Singh, is clearly hostage to majority Meitei sentiments, something that is hardly surprising. Therefore, the state government almost invariably fails to tackle any situation that has a Naga-Meitei dimension. The sufferers on all such occasions are the common people who face bandhs and more bandhs.

The latest incident with a Naga-Meitei dimension is the despicable act of the molestation of a Meitei film actress Momoco on December 18 by an NSCN-IM cadre R. P. Livingstone during a concert in Chandel district. On the surface, this was a plain criminal act, and the accused, seen and known to most people, should have been arrested and tried in the court of law. But, things were not that simple. Livingstone is an NSCN-IM cadre and the Centre’s treatment of the Naga insurgent group with kid gloves has enabled the rapist to remain outside the reach of the police. It is as if Livingstone has come to enjoy a degree of immunity just because his outfit is in peace talks with the Government of India!

Manipur has been paralysed by protests in the Imphal Valley over this incident with Momoco, the victim, herself taking part in the demonstrations. It is not just the film fraternity that has come out to the streets, the entire Imphal Valley is crying for justice, beginning with the arrest of the NSCN-IM cadre. It was during one such protest that video journalist Th. Dwijamani was killed as police opened fire to disperse an irate mob attacking a police vehicle escorting some Nagas to safety. There have been a few incidents in and around Imphal where Nagas were assaulted by mobs. What was a pure criminal act had transformed into a riotous ethnic flare up. But yes, I must put on record that a group of Meira Paibis (Meitei women vigilantes) had rescued a group of Naga girls from attackers at Napet Palli in Imphal East district this week, sending out a message that sane elements do exist amidst the chaos all around.

The Nagas too have resorted to protests. The United Naga Council (UNC), Manipur’s apex Naga body, called a 72-hour general strike from the midnight of December 26 to protest the attack on Nagas in the Imphal Valley. Bandhs have been the order of the day in Manipur and if the UNC’s latest bandh has not come as any surprise, the group’s other key decision did surprise many. The UNC this time has banned sale, listening or viewing of all Meitei CDs and video cassettes or staging of Meitei plays (Leelas) in Naga areas in the state. To cap it all, the UNC has called upon the Centre to come up with an ‘alternative administrative arrangement’ for the Nagas in Manipur. This is what I mean by the near unbridgeable divide in Manipur.

Now, why is the government, if at all any exists in Imphal today, allowing things to drift and turn volatile? Well, the NSCN appears to have become sort of an extra-Constitutional authority and seems to be part of the ‘central list’ where states have no jurisdiction. The ceasefire between the NSCN-IM and the government is confined only to Nagaland state but cadres of the outfit continue to have a near free run, even while indulging in undesirable activities, outside of Nagaland. Today, the Manipur government has announced a reward of Rs 5 lakh for information on the whereabouts of Livingstone. But is it so difficult to guess the possible whereabouts of this man? Now, the Manipur government has decided to send an all-party delegation to New Delhi to meet with the Union Home Minister and others to seek custody of Livingstone.

The moral of the story is that the politics of peace negotiations where the key actors are the Government of India and the insurgent groups in the North-east can throw up challenging scenarios, many of which can be more difficult to tackle than the insurgency itself! But yes, governance just doesn’t seem to exist in Manipur. (courtesy: The Sentinel)