Dialogue July- September, 2005, Volume 7  No. 1

Editorial Perspective

Manipur Blockade: Implications

The 52-day economic blockade (June 20- August 11, 2005) of Manipur by the All Naga Student Association of Manipur (ANSAM) has been suspended and has left the issue of resumption open. It was in protest against the decision of the Manipur Govt. to declare June 18 as the State Integration Day as a holiday, as it militated against the demand of Nagas for a merger of all Naga areas with Nagaland. As NH-39, the lifeline to Manipur, which passes through the state of Nalagand and Naga districts of Manipur state, was effectively blockaded, it caused untold sufferings and miseries to the people of Manipur. Normally over 8000 trucks pass through NH-39 every month with Manipur as destination. The blockade was, later on July 17, joined by the Naga Students Federation (NSF) of Nagaland and supported by other Naga NGOs including the Naga Hoho. It was finally suspended on August 11 on a request of Govt. of India, as claimed by the ANSAM and in consultation with other Naga organisations including the Naga Hoho.

In order to help the hapless people of Manipur, the Govt. of India had made functional with great difficulty the unused NH-53 and had also later resorted to airlifting the necessities. The ANSAM have described the blockade as the “most democratic means of protest”. Reacting to the appeals of the State Govt. for talks and lifting of the blockade, the ANSAM demanded the Chief Minister should visit their Hqrs. in Senapati District to hold talks or that it should be held in Delhi. The economic blockade brought almost to the heel the Manipur Govt. It resisted any compromise with ANSAM due to the threat of Manipuri people led by United Committee of Manipur (UCM). A remarkable feature of the blockade was the fortitude with which the people of Imphal and Manipur faced the ordeal and there was no anti-Naga violence in the Valley. Equally noteworthy was the apathy of the national media to the developments of significance and suffering of the people of a state.

There are many ways to interpret the Manipur blockade. However, to look at it only as a localised issue will be shortsighted. The immediate provocation was, of course, provided by a clueless Manipur Govt. and its Chief Minister. Confident and defiant Naga youth of Manipur and Nagaland, with tacit indifference of the Nagaland Govt. held the state to ransom for over 50 days. On its part the Central Govt. initially dithered, and did not act in a decisive manner when the blockade started. The message that got around was that the Manipur Govt. was to blame for the developments and it was. But its impact was rather severe. The ANSAM, NSF and Naga Hoho do not realise that the youth of Assam can also resort to the “most democratic means of protest” of economic blockade in protest against the demand of Nagalim.

This is just a beginning. The ANSAM asserted that the Manipur Govt. was ignoring the grievances of Nagas living in Manipur, and demanded (July 13) that all Naga MLAs and Ministers resign from the Manipur Govt. and the Assembly stating that Naga identity and dignity cannot be safeguarded under the present arrangement of Manipur state under any circumstances. Earlier on May 27, 2005 a memorandum had been submitted to the Govt. of India signed by 12 Naga members of Manipur Assembly and Rishang Keishing, M.P. and former Chief Minister of Manipur, supporting the demand for a Greater Nagaland (Nagalim).

In the background of above, it is difficult to interpret developments of the blockade as an internal matter of the Manipur state. It has a wider dimension and linked with demand of the NSCN(IM) for merger of all Naga inhabited areas of Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam into a larger Naga entity which will negotiate the final settlement of its sovereignty with the Indian state on equal footing. This demand and assertiveness of the NSCN(IM) in its negotiations has only grown by the years. This is not the place to discuss all the events including the shortsighted role of the NDA Govt. at the Centre in the last assembly elections of Nagaland allowing a free hand to the NSCN(IM) cadres to defeat the incumbent Congress (I)-led Govt. No wonder there is a growing feeling among the Nagas, particularly the Naga youth, that the Govt. of India is favorable to their demand for Greater Nagaland which had led to extension of the casefire in 2001 to other Naga inhabited areas. It was in protest against this extension (later withdrawn) that 20 Manipuris were killed in police firing on June 18, 2001 which was declared by the Manipur Govt. as the State Integration Day in subsequent years. In brief, the growing Naga assertiveness and equally silent defensiveness of the Govt. of India on Naga demands has fuelled the fears in affected states of territorial disintegration in favour of Nagas.

Perhaps in North-East Govt. of India would soon be reaching a defining moment on how to deal with the Naga demands. Hapless Arunachal is hardly in any position to protest if it loses its two Naga inhabited districts. The Manipur youth are already alienated, sullen and resorting to violence. Its political leadership is corrupt and inept and has neither will nor capacity to control the militants. In the circumstances a divided Manipuri society which gives an impression of being under siege will either implode from within or explode in a manner that will be difficult to control only by security forces. In any case the outcome will be disintegration of an old civilizational entity in the North-East. The consequences of disturbing the integrity of Assam will at best be unpredictable and at worst perhaps disastrous. How the Government of India handles the Naga negotiations which in search of peace it has allowed to spiral out of control will be problematic. With time Naga perceptions about justifiability of its demands, particularly among the youth, has deepened as no one had disputed the authenticity of claims based on “unique history” and ethnicity. Its too late to do so now.

While Manipur has suffered due to blockade, its current political scenario indicates only further decline and chaos, mainly because it has no worthwhile political leadership. The Naga assertiveness, egged on by the NSCN(IM) is only going to increase as is manifest in extension of ceasefire only by six months against for a year in the past. Henceforth Nagas and Manipuris are going to have an uneasy co-existence in the state leading to further political and social distancing and tensions.

The whole course of Naga negotiations has been perceptively summed up in an editorial of Shillong Times (3.8.2005) – “All this is not merely separatism but also pretty close to secession. Can the two sides effect a compromise? Hardly likely. The issues are not negotiable”. The editorial further adds – “There is no need to fight the ethnic and tribal identity which holds the Naga community together. But a separate flag for the Nagas will be the tip of the iceberg”.

In this whole imbroglio thrown up by the blockade, the Central Government is on slippery slopes and its an understatement.

Understanding Pakistan

Syed Salahuddin, chairman of the Muttahida Jehadi Council (United Holy War Council) and chief of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, while addressing a seminar on “Kashmir Freedom Movement: Prospects of Success, Concerns and Threats” organized by Tehrik-e-Hurriyat Jammu & Kashmir of Syed Ali Geelani in Islamabad on August 7, 2005, ruled out any ceasefire by the militant groups operating in the Kashmir valley until New Delhi declared Jammu & Kashmir a disputed territory, withdraw its forces and free all political prisoners as a prelude to a dialogue with the Kashmiris on their future. According to him the “armed struggle in held Valley would continue till the freedom of Kashmir was achieved.” For the success of the struggle in the present global scenario, he stressed the need of strong armed struggle supported by vibrant diplomacy and political leadership.The dais, among others, was shared by Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, the Information Minister of Pakistan. Qazi Hussain Ahmed, chief of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), who also shared the dais, criticized Musharraf and other Generals and said, “The Generals have become property dealers, they have acquired major lands and they have no appetite for any armed engagement with India.”

The chief of the Jamat-al-Dawa (the erstwhile Lashkar-e-Taiba), Hafiz Saeed was also not happy with the General. In an open letter to Gen. Musharraf in an Urdu daily, a day later, he criticized him for his desire to promote European culture of enlightened moderation in place of Islamic culture. He wrote:

“The religious circles are concerned in this context and if you think that you could defend the country through such measures, you are mistaken. You would also not be able to satisfy the US and the Europe by taking action against religious circles. You say that jihad against Russia was right and the need of the hour. We want to ask you as to why the jihad against India, Israel and US aggression has become wrong? You must differentiate between jihad and terrorism.”

The US, soon after 9/11, placed some demands before Gen. Musharraf, which included ’reform’ of the madrassa system of education. The US believed that the madrassas imparting ‘Islamic education’ were producing radicalized graduates ready to be hired by al-Qaeda. Musharraf ordered registration of all madrassas, introduction of a mixed curriculum to teach subjects like science, modern mathematics and information technology along with Islamic studies; and an audit of madrassa accounts. These ‘reforms’ generated a tremendous backlash from the seminaries and religious political parties. Musharraf had to quickly retreat from his position. After western media reports that two (and possibly three) of the July 7 London bombers spent time in Pakistani madrassas, Musharraf has decided to expel about 1400 foreign students enrolled in Islamic seminaries. He has done nothing to prevent Pakistani students from joining the “Jehad factories”.

Musharraf’s talks of “enlightened moderation” and “zero tolerance towards those advocating violence” lacks credibility. He has not even uttered a word against Hizb-ul-Muzahideen, the organization claiming responsibility for at least two of the deadly attacks on Indian forces in the Kashmir valley a few weeks earlier in his post 7/7 pronouncements. Maulana Fazlur Rehman has openly pointed out that he is helping militants by sending them to Afghanistan from Waziristan. More over, even his Information Minister uses a different language. During the Seminar mentioned above, he echoed what Musharraf said in Agra. According to him, what is happening in Kashmir is a legitimate movement for emancipation from foreign yoke and not terrorism. For him jihad was a major component of Islam and anybody denying the same was out of the ambit of the true religion.

And even this half-hearted measures and soft-peddling have not endeared Musharraf to the Islamist Jehadi outfits. On the outburst of Rehman, the Daily Times said in an editorial that “Rehman is feeling the heat of some government measures and is signaling the government to lay off.”

It is often said that terrorists are the products of Islamic seminaries and the reform in their system of education is overdue. This is only partly true. What is taught in other schools of Pakistan is also not desirable. Evette Claire Rosser has done enough field work and research on this subject. Her book, Islamization of Pakistani Social Science Textbooks (2003), throws enough light on the subject. The concept of war for the average Pakistani is not different from the concept of Jehad propagated and preached by the Mullas.. A study of Brigadier S.K. Malik’s The Quranic Concept of War (foreword by M. Zia-ul-Haq) may help in understanding the same. After all, it is not without a reason that heroes of the Pakistanis are those who were the tormentors of their forefathers. The ‘composite culture’, about which there is so much talk in India, is vanishing in Pakistan. Indian intellectuals and media create haziness about Pakistan and Pakistani mindset. As a result, we least understand our neighbour.

                                                                                                                                            —    B.B. Kumar


Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)

              Astha Bharati