Manipur - In a strange whirlpool of Cross-Current Insurgency
Posted January 3, 2005
South Asia Analysis Group
by R. Upadhyay
Manipur literally means a jewel-land, but for a last few decades the glamour of this culturally linked isolated corner of India too fell in the web of insurgency. Whatever may be the reasons behind the evolution of this misguided movement this bleeding portion of the nation has kept the entire people of the country disturbed.
With a total area of 22,327 Sq.K.M. Manipur is divided between Hills and valley. The valley account for only of 2238 Sq.K.M. that is only 10.02% of total area, but it represents 58.85 % of the total population of state, which is 2,388,634 (2001 Census). Its hill areas with 20089 Sq. K. M represent 41.156% of population. Of the three major ethnic groups, the Meiteis mostly settled in the valley constitute the largest segment of state population and are classified as non-tribal, the hills are the abode of the remaining Naga and Kuki (a sub-group of Mizo) groups with their 29 sub-tribes. Muslims, who are mostly the immigrants from East Bengal of British period, erstwhile East Pakistan and Bangladesh known as Pangals form around 8% of state population are also mostly settled in the valley. Rests of non-tribal populations known as Mayang (outsiders), are from different parts of the country. Meiteis, the Vaishnavite Hindus are not only debarred from special constitutional privileges granted to Scheduled Tribes but not even permitted under state Land Reform Act to settle in the hill districts. However, there is no such restriction on Nagas and Kukis, who are largely Christians to settle in the valley. This is one of the reasons for a gap of mistrust between Meiteis and the hill tribes. In the absence of any social homogeneity these various ethnic groups maintain their respective distinct identity.
With about 350 K.M. of international border with Burma (Now Myanmar) Manipur is bounded by upper Burma in east, Chin Hills of Burma in southeast, Nagaland in north, Mizoram in south and southwest and Assam in west. The state is presently having nine administrative districts including five in hills namely Churachandpur, Ukhrul, Chandel, Tamenglong and Senapati and four in valley which includes Imphal East , Imphal West, Bishenpur and Thoubal.
Historically, Manipur was also under independent monarchial system of governance till the British annexed it in 1891. It however, also enjoyed the status of Princely States under British dominion like hundreds of territorial monarchial regions in Indian sub-continent. Imperial power under colonial rule though, followed a superficial non-interference policy also in this one of the isolated corners of northeast region, it used Christian missionaries in its divisive game.
The Christian Missionaries, who followed the British flag in Manipur and landed there in 1894 gradually converted the animistic tribes into Christianity through allurement of some basic medical and educational facilities. In 1901 census there were only 8 Christians against 60% Hindus, 36% animistic tribes and 4% Muslims (Manipur: A British Anthology - Edited by Prof. N. Sanajaoba, Akansha Publishing House, New Delhi, 2003, Page 220). But by 1991 the number of Christian population in this state increased to 34.11% (1991census). However, the percentage of Hindu population was reduced to 57. 67 % though, the number of Muslims increased to 7.27 % of state population. If 12.81 percent of decadal growth (1991-2001 as projected in 2001 census report) in overall state population is taken into account the Christian population of the state might have gone above 36%. Thus, through Christianisation of the native tribes they not only cut off the latter from the mainland of this country but also debarred them to integrate in the socio-cultural national stream with their new religion. This was a major obstacle against their constitutional integration in post Independence India. Wide socio-cultural gaps even between the Hindu Meiteis of Manipur valley and the Christian tribes of the hill areas became a permanent source of their socio-political rivalry.
Manipur was merged in Indian Union on October 15, 1949 as a part C State after the departure of British. A small section of modern middle class, who emerged in Manipur during colonial rule, assumed the leadership of the state. They like other ethnic groups of Northeast India however were unable to understand the socio-political complexity of new democratic polity after Independence. They regarded the mainland political leaders as aliens and moved round the politics of their ethnic identity. Unabated influx of immigrants from Bengal during British rule and from East Pakistan after partition followed by arrival of businessmen, lower middle class and the labour class from northern India also caused demographic imbalance in the valley. Meiteis, who belonged to the ruling community of pre-British era therefore, became apprehensive of their socio-political marginalization in the new polity. The then central leadership of the country on the other hand remained confronted with multi dimensional problems following partition of the country and could not pay due attention towards cultural and constitutional integration of the region with national socio-political stream. Their failure to harmonise the changing order within the larger pluralistic society compounded the problem.
Democratically elected government is governing Manipur since Independence. It got the status of Union Territory in 1956 and full-fledged statehood on January 21, 1972. A unicameral Legislative assembly presently administers the state with 60 elected members including 19 reserved for Scheduled Tribes. It is also represented in Lok Sabha with two elected members and in Rajya Sabha with one member. But politicisation of socio-cultural demands of the three major ethnic communities followed by individualised interests of their leaders and higher level of corruption in government agencies responsible for economic developments gradually made the problem more and more complex. The foreign countries with vested interests also exploited the situation and they launched hate India campaign through certain sections of misguided youths, which gradually took up arms against Government of India to free their territory from "Indian occupation".
Ethnic Groups and Insurgency with Separate Identities:
With three major ethnic groups in Manipur, its insurgency is also primarily divided into insurgent groups of Meitei , Naga and Kuki. While the Meitei insurgents' prime objective is to free their pre-British territorial boundary from "Indian occupation", the Naga insurgents of Manipur support the demand of sovereign 'Nagalim' (Greater Nagaland) comprising of Nagaland along with the Naga majority areas of Manipur, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Burma (Myanmar). The Kukis on the other hand support the demand of separate Kukiland for which Kukis of Burma are also fighting.
Encouraged with the growth of Naga insurgency, a section of Meitei youths under the leadership of Hijam Irabot, a local communist leader opposed the merger of Manipur in Indian Union and set-up Manipur Red Guard with a view to wage war for liberation of this state from Indian occupation. This first symptom of secessionist tendency among the Meiteis gave birth to ethnicisation of politics in this state. The revolt though, failed to draw mass support and gradually fizzled out particularly after the death of Irabot, ethnic politics remained the focal point in the state, which even continues today.
The insurgency in Manipur like other states of northeast began with an ideology for restoration of the pre-British politico-ethnic supremacy of the Meiteis, later turned into ethnic conflict and finally entered into a cross-current of socio-political whirlpool due to individualized interest of the multiplying leaders of its respective insurgent groups. The Meiteis in the valley viewed the growth of Naga militancy in Nagaland and its close link with the Nagas of Manipur as danger to their political supremacy in the state. With a view to restore their pre-British pride some of the educated Meitei youths known to be the followers of Irabot regrouped and formed United National Liberation Front (UNLF) in 1964 under the leadership of Arambam Somorendra Singh and launched an underground movement. With sustained anti-Indian campaign a breakaway group of UNLF later established an underground government called Revolutionary Government of Manipur (RGM) under the leadership of Oinam Sudhir Kumar with its headquarter in erstwhile East Pakistan.
The Nagas and the Kukis of Manipur initially remained indifferent to the Meitei rebels to their obsession to respective ethnic politics. The Nagas of Manipur were supporting the movement of National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) demanding a sovereign 'Nagalim' (greater Nagaland) including the Naga inhabited territory of Assam, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Burma. The Kukis, who live side by side with the Nagas however, never supported the latter instead often clashed with them and formed underground group to fight for their separate sovereign identity. The Kukis were getting support from Kuki National Organisation (KNO) and Kuki National Army (KNA) the insurgent groups in Burma. Similar to the demand of separate Kukiland in Burma, the Kukis of Manipur too came up with a demand for separate Kuki district and subsequently for a separate Kuki state.
Defeat of Pakistan in Indo-Pak war of 1971 and emergence of Bangladesh was a great set back to Meitei insurgents operating from the pre-war East Pakistan. Indian security forces arrested a number of insurgents but most of them were gradually released and the secessionist movement apparently subsided for a while. However, by late 1970s and early eighties the UNLF cadres, who were reportedly trained in erstwhile East Pakistan and China regrouped and revived their movement with the objective of 'liberating Manipur from Indian occupation through armed struggle'. The insurgents asserted that their territory was forcibly merged with India and therefore, they had waged armed struggle for restoration of Manipur's independence. (Encyclopedia of Northeast India – H.M.Barek, 2001). They founded a number of underground organizations prominently Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) led by Nameirakpam Bisheshwar allegedly a China trained rebel in 1978, Peoples Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK) led by R.K.Tulachandra in 1977, Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP) in 1980 etc. They started lawless violence in Manipur valley and indulged in looting of banks, raiding police stations, killing of police personnel, snatching their arms and so on.
The first violent incident in the post-statehood history of Manipur was noticed on July 17, 1978 when, a Manipur Sub-Inspector of police along with a constable were shot dead in Imphal, which shocked the unprepared state police. The rebels escaped with the revolver of the deceased. The state later was placed under President's rule and the Government declared a number of insurgents organizations as unlawful associations under Unlawful Activities (Preventing) Act 1967. With declaration of entire Manipur Valley as disturbed area and imposition of Armed Forces (Special Power) Act, 1958, the security forces took strong actions and succeeded in killing almost all the front ranking insurgent leaders in encounter. They also arrested Bisheswar the founder leader of PLA and contained the insurgency to a great extent.
By late 1980s PLA cadres regrouped again and revived their activities. It formed Revolutionary People's Front (RPF) as its political front and also a united front of Meitei rebel organizations under the banner of Revolutionary Joint Committee (RJC). Indo-Burma Revolutionary Front comprising of various Northeast ethnic insurgent groups including ULFA of Assam, NCSN (K) of Nagas and KNA of Kukis was also formed in 1990 though, it failed to make any significant dent in the movement. Later the Meitei rebels formed Manipur People's Liberation Front (MPLF) incorporating UNLF, PLA and PREPAK. Now the avowed objective of the PLA is " to organise a revolutionary front covering the entire northeast and unite all ethnic groups, including the Meiteis, Nagas and Kukis to liberate Manipur. PLA, though, a Meitei outfit claims itself to be a trans-tribal organisation seeking to lead the non-Meiteis as well. It is alleged that the PLA has a government in exile in Sylhet district of Bangladesh with two training camps and five camps in Myanmar.
By mid nineties, the insurgents also raised the issue of outsiders ( Mayangs) and the Muslims (Pangals). A clash between Meiteis and Pangals in 1993 resulted in large number of deaths. Following the massacre of Muslims some militant Islamic outfits like NorthEast Minority Front (NEMF), Islamic National Front (INF), Islamic Revolutionary Front (IRF), United Islamic Liberation Army (UILA), Islamic Liberation Front (ILF), People's United Liberation Front (PULF) were founded in Manipur valley to counter the challenge of Meitei insurgents.
Insurgents, their strength and Ethnic Loyalty:
By the end of last millennium the estimated strength of the cadres of various insurgent groups operating in hills and valley of Manipur reached around twenty thousand. They are reportedly in possession of sophisticated weapons like AK 47 and Rocket Launchers.
"According to an intelligence report, 19,590 insurgents and extremists were operating both in valley and hill areas of Manipur by 2001" (Bleeding Manipur by Phanjoubam Tarapot, Har Anand Publication, New Delhi, 2003, page178). Another book (Insurgency or Ethnic Conflict by S.C.Sharma, Magnum, 2000, page 217-18) listed emergence of 34 insurgent groups including ten inactive in the state. Leaving apart the ten inactive groups the list includes the following:
Peoples Liberation Army (PLA), United National Liberation Front (UNLF), Revolutionary Peoples Front (RPF), Peoples Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK), Manipur Liberation Front Army (MLFA), Kanglei Yawol Khnna Lup (KYKL), Revolutionary Joint Committee (RJC), Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP), Peoples United Liberation Front (PULF), National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K), National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-I/M), Naga Lim Guard (NLG), Kuki National Front (KNF), Kuki National Army (KNA), Kuki Defence Force(KDF), Kuki Democratic Movement (KDM), Kuki National Organisation (KNO), Kuki Security Force (KSF), Chin Kuki Revolutionary Front (CKRF), Kom Rem Peoples Convention (KRPC), Zomi Revolutionary Volunteers(ZRV), Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA), Zomi Reunification Organisation (ZRO), and Hmar Peoples Convention (HPC).
Among over thirty militant groups, three Meitei militant outfits namely UNLF, PLA and PREPAK are most active in Manipur valley. They are presently under a unified platform namely Manipur People's Liberation Front which they had formed in 1999 with Rajkumar Meghen @ Sanayaima (Chairman of UNLF) as convener but maintaining their independent identity with their respective strength which is as under:
· UNLF – Rajkumar Meghen @ Sanayaima (Chairman), Khundongbam Tomba @ Sunil or Pambi (General Secretary), A.Wangpa (Secretary), M. Nongyai (Secretary Organisation) and N. Thabal (Secretary of Publicity). With Manipur Peoples Army (MPA) as its armed wing and estimated cadre strength of 2500 it also maintains link with RPF, NSCN-K, ULFA, KNF, KYKL-T, National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) besides PLA and PREPAK.
· PLA – Irengbam Bhorot @ Chaoren (Chairman), Manoharmayum (Vice-Chairman) and estimated cadre strength of 3000. Apart from UNLF and PREPAK it is also maintaining link with KCP, NSCN –K, ULFA, Tripura People's Democratic Front (TPDF), and Kachin Independent Army (KIA) of Myanmmar. It reportedly also received weapons from KIA. It is known to have largest following among the Meiteis.
· PREPAK – Achamba Singh @ Subhas (Chairman), Palliba Singh (General Secretary) and Tajila (C-in-C) With estimated cadre strength of 1500, it also maintains link with KYKL-T and NSCN – I/M which trained its activists. It also received arms from KIA.
All the three groups have common objective to free Manipur from Indian occupation. All of them are having their training camps in neighbouring Burma and Bangladesh. Apart from these three most active groups KYKL-O, KYKL –T and KCP are also operating in the valley though their strength is relatively much less. Both the factions of NSCN, and Kuki outfits are actively operating in the Hills of Manipur. While the estimated strength of NSCN-I/M in Manipur is 6000, NSCN-K's strength is 3500.
Most of these underground organizations waged war either for sovereign Manipur state or for forming different smaller independent states by dividing the present Manipur. Government of India being common target of all the insurgent groups of entire northeast however worked as a common link between them, which they have been maintaining even today. As per a survey report (Survey of Conflict and Resolution in India's Northeast - Ajai Sahni) cumulative total of fatalities in insurgencies in Manipur between 1992 to April 2002 was 3090. The deaths include Civilians, security forces and militants.
Corruption. Drug running and Nexus between Militants & Politicians:
The sequence of events shows that the core ideology of all the insurgent groups moved around their respective distinct ethnic identity. With number of splinter groups due to individualized interest and personal ambition of the leaders, factional feud among them coupled with, realignment with different insurgent groups of entire northeast, and their support link with various foreign powers pushed the insurgency in a cross-current of strange socio-political whirlpool. Inter ethnic clashes over control in drug trafficking added another dimension to insurgency. This also encouraged other smaller tribes like Paite,Vaiphei and Hmar in establishing their respective armed groups. Criminalisation of insurgency, clandestine link of its leaders with various political parties, NGOs, Government officials and their pressure on allotment of Government contract works made the process of peace initiative more complicated.
Notwithstanding the continuous native rule by democratically elected successive governments after the departure of colonial power, frequent defection by opportunist, selfish and corrupt political leaders for sharing power put the state under socio-political confusion and the common people are facing the burnt of the on going turmoil in the state.
Protracted deployment of security forces in the state to handle the situation caused lot of inconvenience to common citizens and lawless violence perpetrated by the insurgents not merely disrupted the socio-economic development of the people but pushed them to the economic backwardness. This gave rise to compounding unemployment problem leading to involvement of youths in drug trafficking for easy money. The political leaders of the state irrespective of their political affiliation due to individualized interests are more bothered to share political power than to find out a peaceful solution to the problem of insurgency. They do not approve any strong action by Government of India to deal with the situation. They often sabotaged the peace initiative by the Government with any insurgent group due to their vested interests. The national leadership in the country too is more interested in power politics than to have a lasting solution to the problem, which has perhaps left the people in disarray.
Common citizens who want a normal and peaceful life are fed up with the no-win situation and their recent outburst in November 2004 over the custodial death of Manorama, a local lady was the frustrations of the people against the Government. This has again surcharged the atmosphere of Manipur valley thick and heavy. They wanted withdrawal of the Armed Forces (Special Power) Act and indulged in lawless violence in the region. Sensing the mood of the people, the state Government decided to de-notify this Act without concurrence of the Union Government. This shows a perceptual difference between state and centre in assessing the situation, which would adversely affect the on going peace initiative in the region.
Factors that sustained Insurgency:
Peace initiative by the Government of India ever since the insurgency began - failed to bring any negotiated settlement due to many factors such as:
· Failure of the national leadership in constitutional and cultural integration of the various ethnic groups of isolated northeast with the rest of diverse Indian society.
· Multiplicity of insurgent organisations.
· Top leaders of prominent insurgent groups are seldom interested in negotiated peace as "their children study in the best schools abroad and their family live in luxury" (Insurgency or Ethnic Conflict by S.C.Sharma, 2000, page215).
· Obstacle by Drug Traffickers, who control huge amount of underground economy with their money-spinning strength. Return of normalcy will hamper their unlawful business.
· Higher levels of corruption in State agencies, which are responsible for utilisation of substantial fund allocated by the centre for developmental programmes. Central Government has been bearing about 90% of the state budget but economic and industrial development is negligible.
· Negligible benefit to the common people through developmental programmes alienated them from the centre.
· Connivance between corrupts officials and the insurgents created underground economy under the control of the secessionists.
· It is alleged that the insurgent organisations collect monthly donations from government employees. "Going by the sources, the collection of money by various underground groups was nearly 100 crores of rupees a year" (Bleeding Manipur by Phanjoubam Tarapot, Har Anand Publication, New Delhi, 2003, page 54).
· Prolonged stay of security forces in the region has annoyed the people.
· Poor generation of employment opportunity for educated youths.
· Constant external support to all the insurgent groups.
· Liberalised trans-border movements with weak neighbours like Burma and Bangladesh wherefrom the insurgents operate conveniently.
· Demographic imbalance due to unabated illegal infiltration from Bangladesh, which has not been tackled by the Central Government effectively. The central leadership placed party interest above of the nation due to vote bank politics. Lt. Gen. (Retd) S.K.Sinha, PVSM, Governor of Jammu & Kashmir in his foreword in ACDIS (Arms Control, Disarmament, and International Security) Paper written by Jaideep Saikia quoted B.K.Nehru, Governor of Assam in late sixties saying: "The East Bengal Muslim was the main vote bank of the Congress party in Assam. Chaliha (then Chief Minister of Assam) doing as he did from the days of freedom struggle, was governed by the value of that time. He placed the national interest above those of the party. But the High Command thought otherwise. The party interests were paramount. Chaliha was ordered to stop the nonsense forthwith. This was of course welcomed by the Government of Pakistan. It had always pretended, as Bangladesh does now, that there is no migration from its territory to Assam". The present Muslim population in Manipur has increased to about 8 % of total state population, which were only around 4 % in 1901. Sinha also quoted Lt. Gen. Jameel Mahmood, the then GOC-in-C, Eastern Command telling him in 1992 that "unabated illegal migration from Bangladesh into Assam and Bengal has been posing a serious problem for our national security".
· Political leadership at centre has failed to instill confidence among the natives regarding its peace initiative since 1997. The on going peace-talk with NSCN (I/M) has aggravated their apprehension that the government might concede the demand of underground Naga militants for 'Nagalim'(Greater Nagaland) by unification of Nagaland with the Naga majority areas of Assam, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Myanmar.
· Non-Naga populations of Manipur do not like the idea of any territorial division of Manipur. Ever since the peace initiative by the government with a selected group of insurgents (NSCN-I/M) they organized protest rallies time to time. A huge rally of over five lakh people in the state capital Imphal on 1st August 1997 under the banner of All Manipur United Club Organisation (AIMUCO), a non-political body appeared to be a mass upsurge to oppose any such attempt. Similar rally was also organized in September 2000 as well as in June 2001.
· Extension of ceasefire agreement between Government of India and NSCN(I/M) was never liked by the non-Nagas of Manipur.
A close examination of the situation shows that the goals of the insurgents in Manipur are in conflict, which in long run will doom their own people if they ignore the ground reality. The scenario reflects the uncertain, anarchic and chaotic future of the state. With about 350 K.M. of international border and people of hostile attitude the on going insurgency is a not only a matter of security concern but is also relevant in the context of national unity.
Manipur Needs National Attention:
Just to blame the hostile foreign countries for keeping alive the insurgency - is not an answer to this decades long unanswered question. The gradual turn of events since Independence shows that local issues including caste and ethnicity have come to centre stage at the cost of national issues, which is not a healthy trend. Contemporary India of over half a century is a grown-up democracy and perhaps needs a radical transformation in its federal structure for constitutional integration of its entire population. It is for the political leadership of the country to decide whether national interest is beyond the party/power or not if it is really serious to tackle this problem.
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