Something's cooking in Manipur and Nagaland, and it doesn't look good. A personal post
|Sunset in Imphal, Manipur.|
The leaves of all government and police officers in Nagaland and Manipur have been cancelled. The peace talks between the government and Naga organisations including the largest armed insurgent group in the north-east National Socialist Council of Nagaland or NSCN (IM) has reportedly ended.
The government has in very clear terms said the NSCN(IM)’s decades-old demands for a separate flag, constitution and integration of Naga-inhabited areas in neighbouring Assam and Manipur to form ‘Greater Nagalim’ cannot be fulfilled as these are unconstitutional demands. Agreeing to the NSCN(IM)’s wishes would also set a dangerous precedent.
The NSCN (IM), formed in 1980, is led by 85-year-old Thuingaleng Muivah; the other top leader of the group, Isak Chishi Swu, died three years ago at 87 of multi-organ failure.
The government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken a decisive decision to scrap special status to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution and divide the state into two Union Territories, something which past governments have been unable to do for over 70 years since independence. So it is silly to expect this government to cede to the demands of an insurgent group.
The local media has been reporting that all the other armed groups except the NSCN(IM) have agreed to the contents of the peace accord signed between them and the government in 2015.
The NSCN(IM) chief Mr Muivah also attended the signing of the peace accord with PM Modi.
|Ima Thokchom Ramani, one of the earliest members of the Nishabandh, which later came to be known as Meira Paibi, an influential all-women vigilante group in Manipur, similar to Naga Mothers’ Association of Nagaland. Ms Ramani met with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi in 1996. “We spoke with Sonia Gandhi about what was happening back home. We told her to remove AFSPA because of which women are facing a lot of hardships. Children and women are getting arrested for no reason. The politicians are also bad. We told her that. She really listened to us. 'We will discuss it. We will consider it,' Mrs Gandhi told us. I asked her for a photo to be taken together, though she seemed a bit reluctant. I told her that if we don’t get the photo how will people believe us that we met you?” Ms Ramani told me in 2013 when I met her for an interview.|
On Tuesday, people in Manipur’s capital Imphal spoke about stocking up supplies in anticipation of a long road blockade, since the main highway that connects this state passes through Nagaland.
Locals are giving unconfirmed reports of heavy army deployment in what could be a repositioning move inside Nagaland and in border areas with Myanmar. Manipur Police officers have reportedly been ordered to remain in standby, but it is not clear for what purpose.
There are rumours that insurgents of the NSCN(IM) have consolidated and are moving back to their camps in Nagaland. The NSCN (IM) has a ceasefire with the government and it has to report the location of all its camps to the army.
Locals say they worry about a full lockdown like the one that was enforced in Jammu and Kashmir. However, that may not happen considering the threat of cross-border terrorism in the north-east is minimal.
|One of my favourite photos of Manipur, on the Imphal-Moirang road that leads to the freshwater Loktak Lake. It reminds me of paintings by Vincent van Gogh. September 2011.|
It is indeed strange to see such a situation again after everyone thought the early 1990s was in the used to be. Manipur has developed a lot in recent years and businesses have been flourishing, pushing insurgency to the margins. For a while now people had forgotten about the threat of insurgency.
Back in the 1990s and the decade before that when insurgency was at its peak in Manipur, when I was growing up, people died of gunshot wounds almost everyday. Before my father retired from the social welfare department in 2010, he and many of his peers had faced attacks after attacks for not agreeing to the extortion demands of insurgent groups.
Our small house in Imphal has seen one RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) attack, two grenade attacks and several shootings. The Telegraph made a tiny mention of it at one time. We knew the attacks would come, so we used to sleep in a room in the back of the house, behind two empty rooms with concrete walls.
Let me tell you, an RPG round doesn’t explode like they show in the movies, with fireballs and all. The blast has a crack of a big rock falling on concrete. Then the shrapnel fly in every direction like a million bullets, making small holes on the walls. The state government eventually sent eight commandos of the Manipur Police for our safety, on the condition that we pay for their services and bear their food bills.
We set up a shed on the terrace for them. They were nice people. Their commander was an old man who I used to sit with on the terrace and share jokes. At night, they have fired several rounds in the air to scare away possible insurgents lurking around in the neighbourhood. Firing below at them was dangerous as the bullets could hit other houses.
|Monsoon in Imphal. July 2016.|
I hope the children in Manipur and Nagaland don’t have to go through this shit again today.