Crossing the bridge for an Alternative Arrangement : An opinion

The cry for an Alternative Arrangement outside the jurisdiction and legitimacy of the government of Manipur (GoM) by the Nagas in the present state of Manipur was not a hasty decision. The circumstances and conditions that led to this decision goes much deeper, and beyond the various perspectives, interpretation and speculations being made by State actors, Non-state actors and civil society.

Aware of the exhausted and limited strategies used in the past to achieve Naga peoples’ struggle for rights to life and property, identity, land, resources, traditional institutions and customary practices, the concept of “Alternative Arrangement” (AA) represents a resolute and confident strategy derived from within the collective thinking of the people. The AA stands for a peaceful and democratic process that goes beyond the notion of Manipur state territorial integrity.

Naga students, youths, women, men and traditional bodies in Manipur under UNC (United Naga Council) formed the NPC (Naga Peoples Convention) the highest decision making body. The NPC deliberation in 2010 resolved to severe all political ties with the GoM. It demanded the intervention of the Government of India (GoI) to form an Alternative Arrangement outside the present state of Manipur, is well within the legal provisions of the GoI.

The GoI responded with the suggestion for a tripartite dialogue between UNC, GoM and GoI at a ministerial level. However, the series of tripartite talks which began in 2010 have been at a bureaucratic level only; where the representative of the GoM repeatedly informs at the end of every meeting that: “….We have not come to any conclusion or agreement….we will discuss and deliberate again…”. While the GoI has acknowledged the AA issue as genuine, its unwillingness to engage in a dialogue based on mutually agreed terms implies that the tripartite dialogue is a premeditated strategy to delay the process and weaken the Naga people’s resolve by testing their patience.

The purpose and the method in which the tripartite dialogue is being carried on needs to be taken very seriously, lest, the Alternative Arrangement concept as well as its possibilities are pushed into oblivion.

Sustaining a peoples’ movement in a sophisticated bureaucratic ruled democracy like India, is a great challenge. In this form of bureaucratic ruled democracy, people’s movement are often caught within the cauldron of electoral political divide, thereby complicating their strategy in an already murky state of affairs. The controversial “elected unopposed” ADC members (Autonomous District Councillor) and inability to break through the impasse has furthered this uncertainty in Manipur.

The monotonous reaching-out programme by the AA and UNC to all Naga districts in Manipur has not been able to create a sustainable and decisive impact required to make the GoM respond to the people’s demand. The challenge of the UNC will be to sustain the movement for Alternative Arrangement while keeping in mind the impoverished economic conditions of the Naga people.

Time is therefore of the essence, and it will be worthwhile for the UNC to maintain a stipulated time frame in order to achieve their desired objective. Whereas, on the other hand, it will be strategy of the GoM to delay this process as long as possible, knowing full well the economic conditions of the Nagas.

The recent seminar organised by United Club of Manipur (UCM) on the theme “India’s Stand on the Territorial Integrity of Manipur” and the recommendation for mass movement and the subsequent decision of the Manipur Cabinet to protect the territory of Manipur state from the so called border dispute with Burma needs to be viewed cautiously. The timing and intention of the UCM recommendation and the Cabinet on the usage of “territorial integrity of the state” has deep rooted politics.

The outcome of the 6th round of AA talk at Ashoka Hotel Delhi as per sources is interesting, because the spirit of tripartite talks seem to remain overtly positive to all parties. Such formal pretentiousness is not helping in addressing the core primary issues. Rather this has reduced the process from actual dialogue at the ministerial level to negotiating around secondary issues. The politics behind this recent tripartite talk indicates that the GoI & GoM used it as a platform to convince UNC to lift its ban on the national project notably the construction of the power grid and Trans-Asian railway.

In the backdrop of the 6th round of talks, the hurriedly called meeting of the UNC presidential council and frontal organisations within 3 days of the talks which decided on lifting the ban on construction of national project was hasty and a breach of people’s trust and confidence. It was bad politics and not a well calculated decision. It has given advantage to the GoI and GoM. The UNC will have to rethink its strategy and return to the primary objective of the AA.

The GoM is also using development as a weapon to manufacture divisions with the UNC constituencies by initiating sectarian development. As part of Look East policy, upgrading Imphal Airport to an International Airport, massive tunnels cut through mountains belonging to the land of Zeliangrong Nagas (Tamenglong) for Railway to reach Imphal does not necessarily benefit the Naga People. However, GoM representative propounded these activities as development during the talk.

If the primary purpose for an Alternative Arrangement is to be achieved then the direction and leadership provided by the UNC must be united in purpose and people-centred. Therefore, consulting the people, seeking their opinion, disseminating information and keeping them updated of the process and sharing the purpose and objective of the AA and its campaign should be the focus of UNC.

There must be space for active participation of the youth and women. Simultaneously, UNC should continue to engage in dialogue with other communities and stake holders both within and without.

The direction of AA cannot be influenced by the interest of vested politician and other interest groups in the name of empowerment, upliftment and development, as this will have far reaching ramifications in the Naga people right over their political, social, economic and cultural future, including their ownership over land and resources. It is important that the future course of the Alternative Arrangement is decided by the people. The UNC needs to seriously and resourcefully motivate the people. In this regard, from past experienced counter-active methods such as bandhs and blockades should be discontinued, since it only creates bad publicity. More importantly, these methods instead of weakening the GoM has only strengthen them and it has compelled the dominant community in Imphal valley to become united. The UNC initiative should garner more support, rather than isolating themselves from the people and as well as other communities.

The UNC has clearly stated its understanding the mindset of the Meitei’s in its “Position Paper and Declaration for an Alternative Arrangement,” which says “The perception of the dominant community is the perception of the Manipur state government…To the Meitei’s, Manipur means Imphal and the people of Manipur means Meitei’s alone, and the tribals living in the hills and the 90% of the state’s areas belonging to the tribals are mere appendage.” Name any infrastructure, everything is completely centralised to Imphal alone hospitals, national and state institution, research centre, sports, culture centre, Manipur University, Central Agriculture University, Regional Institute of Medical Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehu Institute of Medical Sciences, National institute of Technology (NIT) Manipur Institute of Technology (MIT), Multi stadia Complex, Rice Research Centre, State Pesticide Testing laboratory, Soil Testing Centre, Software Technological Park, State Mechanise Farm, Seed Testing laboratory, Small and Medium Enterprise Development Institute, Sports Authority of India, Bio-diversity Conservation and Sustainable Development. Indira Gandhi National Tribal University, Veterinary Institute, Nursing, ITI, Polytechnic, Jawaharla Nehru Institute of Medical Science, State Institute of Rural Development, Tribal Research Centre, one can go on naming are cramped in Imphal and what is left in the hill areas just a name tag District HQ.

Therefore, it is paramount to understand the dynamics in achieving Alternative Arrangement. The challenge is not just trying to win over the GoI and GoM, but it also means convincing the other people to be convinced of the inevitable reality that Nagas must decide their own future.

This means the UNC must strengthen its relationship with the people and educate them and consult with them. The UNC will become a weak and powerless institution without the support of the people. The strength of UNC can only become stronger when the heart and mind of the people are with them. An inclusive and united approach is indispensable for AA.

Therefore, instead of maintaining status quo and following the same conventional operational strategy, a logical paradigm shift should be approached with series of envisioning process, such as discussion forum in different level of the society beyond the existing organisational level.

The Church also needs to be encouraged to get involved and should be utilized in dissemination of information. Creative symbolic gesture must be developed to keep people’s spirit active and creating open spaces for people to voice out their opinions should be encouraged. In this way, it will reduce the obscure views and propaganda which is promoted by vested people.

Providing platforms for school and college students through debates, symposiums and essay writing; and encouraging Naga artistes to write and compose music are some of the ways that the campaign can be strengthened. Naga journalist forum must be encouraged and strengthened since media is the weakest sectors for the Nagas at present. Engaging the Naga academician and scholars to facilitate and provide inputs, suggestions, criticism and analysis is a necessity at this juncture. Nagas from the present state of Manipur who are residing in the mainland India as students, research scholars, academicians, activist, and employees in govt. or private sectors can become an asset in reaching out and educating the people in India.

The Alternative Arrangement is a litmus test for the Nagas in Manipur, since it is only a strategy to ensure all Nagas come and live as one people in freedom and dignity.

It is only a temporary necessity. Shift from exclusive monotonous point of view to broadening the horizons of collective view needs to be approached for more pragmatic process. In the given situation the best way to realize as a dignified people is through an Alternative Arrangement outside the state of Manipur, come what may. May be then together we will continue to march singing …we shall overcome!

By
WG Vashum

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