On 26th November 1949, 'we, the people of India' emphatically resolved to constitute our nation into a 'sovereign, democratic republic'. 60 years later, despite the plethora of problems faced, we proudly declare that we are the largest democracy in the world. But this evolution has neither been smooth nor steady. Apart from the multitude of problems arising due to partition and apathetic socio-economic conditions in 1947, a major task was to consolidate the internal and external borders of the nascent country. This massive task of integrating the 500+ princely states with India was carried out by the 'Iron man' – Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel though the 'Instrument of Accession'.
Over the last six decades, the political map of India has undergone numerous changes. The seeds of secession which India adopted at its birth have grown into major pockets of unrest. Today, the country is in the grip of intensified demands of statehood and autonomy which cuts across its length and breadth. From Kashmir in the north to Telenganna in the peninsula, from Vidarbha in Maharashtra to Gorkhaland in West Bengal, the situation is tense and it requires a holistic and everlasting solution.
Further east, crossing the 'chicken’s neck', one enters into a region which is a cauldron of separatist movements. United Liberation Front of Asom [ULFA], National Democratic Front of Bodoland [NDFB], National Socialist Council of Nagalim - Isak Muivah [NSCN-IM] etc all have made their presence felt from time to time and clearly specified their claims of “enhanced sovereignty” with means ranging from violence to dialogue and from constitutional to extra-constitutional.
The NSCN-IM, demanding a 'Greater Nagalim' created ripples last month by its never-ending blockade of Manipur, which is already one of the most troubled parts of the north-east on account of several insurgencies. It has witnessed almost 88 days of blockades in two phases, surviving solely on army-escorted supplies. The state faced acute shortage of essential commodities like medicines and food grains, with prices shooting up to Rs 70/- per kg rice and LPG cylinders at Rs 1500/-.
NSCN-IM has claims over territories in Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. The reason why Manipur stands out as an exception is because Nagaland controls the highway that is Manipur’s main link with the rest of India – NH39. The other Highway - NH53 is practically impassable due to landslips and bad road conditions. Led by NSCN-IM, the Nagas have exploited this geographical advantage to press their claim over four districts in Metei-majority Manipur through the blockade.
The present siege began in mid April when the Manipur Government, led by Okram Ibobi Singh, decided to hold Autonomous District Council elections, including in the districts claimed by the Nagas. The Nagas opposed by saying that this took away vital rights of the hill people. Moreover, the situation worsened when the Ibobi Government barred NSCN-IM leader T Muivah from visiting his birthplace in Manipur saying it would incite communal tension. On 24th August, the United Naga Council extended the economic blockade by another 25 days.
Roots to this Naga movement go back to mid 1950s, when under the influence of A.Z Phizo, the Naga National Council inclined towards seeking secession from India. The Naga secessionist groups regard him as the 'Father of the Nagas'. The NSCN-IM was raised on April 30, 1988 by Isak Chisi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah with an aim to establish a ‘Greater Nagalim’ based on Mao Zedong’s ideology. Their principles include Socialism for economic development and a spiritual outlook – ‘Nagaland for Christ’.
After years of delay and ignorance, the centre seems to be buckled up now to pay due attention to this issue. The peace process with the NSCN-IM was started in 1997 by putting in place a ceasefire arrangement. Since then, over 50 rounds of talks were held between Centre and Naga groups, but could not achieve any breakthrough. In February 2010, IAS officer R.S Pandey was appointed as the interlocutor to facilitate talks with NSCN-IM. There have already been more than 3 rounds of discussion this year and the Union Government has extended the cease-fire agreement for another year till April 28, 2011.
The question is – why has the pace of 'talks' accelerated suddenly?
During the ceasefire period, NSCN-IM has strengthened itself and become the de-facto government in Naga inhabited areas of Manipur – it collects taxes, dispenses justice and ensures security. It has also demanded a separate flag, constitution and more control on finances and natural resources. This is a grave threat to national interests and internal security. Moreover, in early 2010, NSCN-IM joined hands with Hurriyat Conference of Jammu and Kashmir [ J&K ] and Dal Khalsa of Punjab to put pressure on the Centre for an ‘early solution' to the impasse in Nagaland, Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab’.
Central intelligence agencies have indicated that the NSCN-IM is re-arming by procuring sophisticated arms and ammunition - mostly from China. Muivah had visited China in the 1960s and his outfit has had a Leftist leaning although it is based on a platform of Christianity. A few years ago, there was a meeting between the CPI [ Maoist ] and NSCN-IM which took place near Dimapur [ on the Assam-Nagaland border ]. However, Muivah has also said that killing of civilians was against Naga culture.
New Delhi has categorically ruled out any division of Manipur or other neighbouring states to appease the Nagas, causing much resentment to them. Interlocutor R.S Pandey has said that the centre is 'honestly sincere' to find a solution to the Naga problem but has also made it clear that the Government believes in the concept of 'shared sovereignty' as opposed to NSCN-IM’s notion of 'full sovereignty'. In addition, the Home ministry is of the opinion that it will come to a decision only after talks with all Naga underground groups.
Its high time that priority is given to measures which will ensure that the present situation does not drift any longer without a resolution as the lives of ordinary people are at stake. Immediate efforts should be made to lift the economic blockade of Manipur and restore normalcy in the state. Thereafter, the centre can embark on a coherent and responsible policy, based on objective assessment of the situation to ensure an everlasting solution to this problem.
Indira Mukherjee is a Computer Engineer and works in a reputed IT consulting company in Kolkata. She takes keen interest in India's history, foreign policy and domestic issues. She is passionate about quizzing as well. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org