The Indo-Naga ceasefire was signed in 1997, however, it was the secret Framework Agreement signed on August 3, 2015, which increased the political anxiety in Manipur. R N Ravi, the interlocutor, had on multiple occasions assured the non-Naga civil society leaders that all the stakeholders will be consulted before finalising the Indo-Naga Peace settlement.
Hence, the announcement of the October 31 deadline came as a surprise, and as a result, some ominous developments are playing out in Manipur. Several existing valley organisations have come together as Coordination Committee on Manipur Integrity (COCOMI) since October 21, 2019. It comprises of All Manipur United Clubs’ Organisation (AMUCO), Committee of Civil Societies in Kangleipak (CCSK), Ethno Heritage Council (HERICOUN), League of Indigenous Peoples’ Upliftment (LIPUL) and United Committee Manipur (UCM). COCOMI coordinator Sunil Karam has appealed to all the youth clubs, Meira Paibis (women guardians of civil society), CSOs, NGOs and others to participate in the “alert meetings” and various forms of mass movements like torch rallies, mass rallies, human chain, etc. COCOMI’s main apprehension and demand is that the Indo-Naga settlement should not impinge upon the integrity of Manipur and its territorial boundary in any manner. A concern which has been repeatedly highlighted to the Government of India. None less than the Prime Minister himself had assured that all stakeholders would be consulted before working out the final settlement. The same assurance was given by the Union Home Minister Amit Shah to the team led by Chief Minister N Biren Singh, even a day before the deadline of October 31.
The Naga aspiration is anticipated with equal apprehension by the Kuki community of the state who also have an overlapping claim of the areas. Kukis had been involved in an ethnic clash with the Nagas in the early 90s, leading to severe hardships on both sides and a lasting psychological distance despite the physical proximity of their habitats/villages. Both these communities come together as part of the exclusive tribal students’ collective of the state, namely the All Tribal Students’ Union Manipur, and yet, their apex tribal bodies – United Naga Council (UNC) and Kuki Inpi have always had a fragile relationship which has played out so vividly this month.
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Under the aegis of the Kuki Inpi, a centenary celebration of the ‘Anglo-Kuki War’ was organised and all the Kuki villages were to erect a memorial stone with an inscription that reads, “In defence of our ancestral land”. The Meiteis and Nagas immediately reacted to the use of “ancestral land”, with the UNC in its press note challenging the claim and the Chief Minister had to intervene with directives to delete the controversial sentence. The present Maharaja of Manipur also announced through the media that there was no Anglo-Kuki war to defend any ancestral land.
The volatile situation in anticipation of the Indo-Naga final pact was punctuated by another surprise two days before the deadline. Post dinner on October 29, as everyone was retiring to bed after Ningol Chakkouba (one-day festival celebrated by Meiteis, where married women are invited to their parental homes), all the social media users were shocked to read the declaration of Manipur’s independence from India and the formation of a Manipur State Council in London through a press conference by Yambem Biren and Narengbam Samarjit, assuming the post of new Chief Minister and External Minister, respectively.
The Maharaja, who had attended the state Ningol Chakkouba function earlier, in his casual clothes faced the media in the night to clarify his innocence and shock. Chief Minister N Biren gave another press conference the following morning stating that the crime branch has been entrusted with necessary action and the duo was booked for waging war against the State.
Also read: Renewed Protests in Manipur Over Possible Implementation of the Naga Pact
Much of the Naga community living in the valley have gone back to their respective villages in anticipation of an uproar. In 2001, the agitation that demanded the GoI to delete the three words “without territorial limit” had led to exodus of the Nagas living in the valley for months. At least 18 people had died in the agitation which is now observed as the Great Uprising Day on June 18 every year. The psychological warfare of that phase divided the Meiteis and the Nagas further.
In the last few years, the Scheduled Tribe Demand Committee of the Meiteis have been campaigning using the native card and claimed closer ties with the other indigenous communities of the state. Similarly, groups like Haomees also tried to create a new platform for Naga Meitei collective, however, it has been viewed with suspicion from both sides and failed to garnish popularity and larger acceptance.
It is in this political backdrop of these diverse aspirations that the Indo-Naga Peace talk will ink its final pact. All political parties except the Naga Peoples Front (NPF) have repeatedly taken decisions and lobbied with national political leaders to respect the integrity of state of Manipur. The NPF, on the other hand, has tried to utilise the last minute chance and convened a meeting on October 31 with the seven Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs) and National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) [NSCN-IM] with an appeal to unite for the Nagas’ future.
Also read:Ahead of Peace Talks, 7 Naga Outfits Ask Legislators to Clear Stand
The state government had hosted the Eastern Command Air Force military drill of its fighter plane, Sukhoi 30MKI in mid-October. In the last few days, the police and administration has been alerted. Six companies of central paramilitary forces (CPMF) have reached Imphal on October 30 and nine more companies were expected to reach the next day. The Incident Response System including Fire service, Power supply, Water supply, Medical, Transport, etc. have been put on alert for any disastrous situation. Colleges and educational institutes are occupied by these additional forces. Public mobility was completely curbed following the shutdown call given by COCOMI on October 31.