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Now, a violent agitation to seek start of peace talks!


wasbir Hussain
executive director,
centre for development and peace studies

It was in August 2005 that several Kuki insurgent groups in Manipur had entered into a ceasefire agreement with the Government, agreeing to a suspension of operations. The Suspension of Operation Agreement was endorsed in New Delhi by emissaries of Kuki rebels, the Centre and State government respectively on 22 August, 2008. The 20 Kuki militant groups which are on a truce mode are now part of two umbrella bodies—the Kuki National Organisation (KNO) and the United People Front (UPF). Eight years down the line, the Government has not begun peace talks with these Kuki rebel groups.

Agitated and unable to cope with the uncertainty, the Kuki State Demand Committee (KSDC) called a 24–hour general strike on Monday, July 8, to press the Government to begin the long awaited peace dialogue with the group of 20 Kuki rebel groups. This was to be followed by a 48–hour economic blockade in the Kuki inhabited areas in Manipur. Angry KSDC supporters set fire to seven vehicles in Churachandpur district for violating the strike. The long and short of the story is that it had been a violent general strike and the irony is that the strike had been called as a means of protest to put pressure on the Government to start peace talks!

The Kukis in Manipur have been demanding maximum autonomy in the form of a separate state for the community. The question here is not of whether the demand is justified or whether the Government would or could consider the demand at all. The fact remains that Manipur is the only state in the North–east where insurgent groups, particularly the potent Imphal Valley–based Meitei insurgent groups, have not come forward to enter into peace negotiations with the Government. In this backdrop, the Government should have actually been in a hurry to start peace talks with Manipur’s Kuki rebels, at least to make a beginning in the thorny road to peace in the border State.

In fact, the background to the Kuki rebels entering into a truce and then signing the Suspension of Operation Agreement is itself highly interesting. First, around half–a–dozen Kuki rebel groups entered into an informal understanding with the Army. This led to quite an uproar in Manipur with many questioning as to how the Army could enter into any deal with the insurgents behind the back of an elected Government. The issue was resolved, however, with the truce being formalized later and several other Kuki groups joining the peace process.

The delay in starting the peace dialogue with the Kuki groups could have several reasons: first, New Delhi could actually be keen on first reaching a solution to the Naga issue; secondly, the Government might be finding it rather difficult to strike a balance between Kuki and Naga aspirations and the vehement opposition of the majority Meiteis in Manipur to any attempt at dividing the State. Whatever the case might be, it is indeed a failure on the part of the Government to raise the level of the peace process from that of a truce to that of political negotiations.

This again brings in the question that I am so fond of raising—is reaching a ceasefire with an insurgent group part of the Government’s strategy at postponing peace? Samir Das, a well known Sociologist and Vice Chancellor of North Bengal University, calls it the strategy of ‘peacefully postponing peace.’ But, such ideas, if at all they are part of the Government’s strategy, only smacks of insincerity on the part of the authorities in actually dealing with a situation and seeking its logical end. The politics of insurgency and the politics of talking peace are games that are more often than not beyond comprehension of many. Probed deeply, they always deliver surprises at the cost of peace and overall well being of a region and its people.

(courtesy: The Sentinel)