Showing posts with label Articles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Articles. Show all posts
02 November 2015

Lengpui Makes News

title=By Nirendra Dev

Mizo civil societies and youth organisations, especially those attached to non-Congress opposition political parties, will be in the national capital soon. They have a host of issues to protest against and also meet Central ministers and others.

The issue of Bru (Reang) voters has been hanging fire for a long time. Mizo society, by and large, and the political class, irrespective of party affiliations, are unhappy over the political developments in Manipur where the alleged “majoritarian”’ approach of Meiteis has created fear of suppression of ethnic Mizos, Kukis and other smaller hill tribes. Mizoram chief minister Lal Thanhawla rose above party affiliation and flayed Manipur’s  Congress government led by Okram Ibobi Singh for passing three controversial Bills. These would be brought to the notice of the Central leadership.

They have another issue as well. It is about the purported move by the state government to hand over Lengpui Airport, the country’s only state-owned one,  to the Indian Air Force. The opposition Mizo National Front and others have threatened an agitation if their “prestigious” airport is handed over to the IAF.

(It is said that for the construction of the airport the locals themselves cleared  the dense forest and when completed  it was inaugurated by a local person.)

The  youth wings of the Mizo National Front, the Zoram Nationalist Party and the Mizoram People’s Conference  issued a joint press statement in Aizawl  stating that “if the IAF operates warplanes from  Lengpui Airport, the capital Aizawl would be targeted by the enemies in times of war”. Something highly exaggerated but that’s how the tribals look at things.

The general impression about Mizos is that they are a laborious lot. The entire history of Mizo insurgency and subsequent developments after attaining statehood suggests Mizos are also pragmatic and will not unnecessarily give an emotive twist to an issue. But the IAF has a unique historical association with Mizoram and Mizos cannot forget that episode so easily — that is, the bombing of Aizawl in March 1966. It  still haunts Mizos.

Even the Army or military leadership have  appreciated that the insurgency problem in the North- east — barring Mizoram in the 1960s — is being tackled politically by the government(s) after they realised there can be no military solution. And even for the Aizawl bombing, the decision came from higher-ups and was not decided unilaterally by the IAF. But the wounds and the pain remain.
Now for the state to run an airport is a costly affair. It is altogether a different issue that the chief minister’s arch rival, Zoramthanga, has listed “gross mismanagement” as the main reason for the financial mess.

The airport has been with the state government for the past 45 years. In fact, Lengpui is the only airport in the country that is state-owned and is still neither with the Airport Authority of India nor the Indian Air Force.

“The Mizoram government in likely to hand over the airport to the IAF,” Mizoram chief secretary Lalmalsawma said, adding that the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Eastern Air Command, on 24 June came up with a proposal to the state government. Principal Consultant of the Union civil aviation ministry, Wing Commander (Retd) Lalzawma said if the IAF took over the airport, security and maintenance of the runway would be in the hands of the Air Force while the terminal building would be maintained by the state government. He also said the IAF would construct a new hangar while the existing one would be under the state government. Besides the  financial crunch faced by a cash-starved state government, IAF sources revealed that the proposal had been given keeping in mind the strategic location of Mizoram.

The Union home ministry under Rajnath Singh in one of its routine review meetings took cognisance of the fact that the North-east militant groups were using Myanmar as bases and what prompted the IAF move was the trategic location of the state, sandwiched between Bangladesh and Myanmar and sharing a 722- km international border.

Now the government plans to convert Lengpui airport into a military one with a civil apron like Bagdogra in North Bengal.  According to security specialists, the government could use the airport at Lengpui to install powerful a air defence radar system to keep an eye on “developments” in the jungles of Myanmar. The cross-border exchange of gunfire between security forces and Naga militant group led by SS Khaplang in June 2015 was a pointer, they say.

But the politics over the move is likely to escalate. The opposition parties have warned that they would not take it lying down if the Lal Thanhawla government did not think it over. Lal Thanhawla has his reasons for going to town with the rhetoric that he had bowed out of office as chief minister in order to facilitate tformer rebel leader Laldenga to take over charge.

However, the real credit for the same should go  to the pragmatism of Mizos.
27 August 2015

China shadow looms over Naga Accord


Not just a paper threat China has known to foment insurgencies in the North East NSCN (Khaplang), which is opposed to the deal and operates out of Myanmar, is likely to be encouraged by China

Successful implementation of a Peace Accord would also benefit the neighbouring States of Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland, where there are Naga populations, by ending decades of insurgency and ethnic conflict. In expressing optimism about success of this Framework Accord, reference is often made to the Rajiv Gandhi-Laldenga Accord of June 30, 1986, which has brought about lasting peace, harmony and development in Mizoram. This would, however, be a simplistic assumption.
The Mizoram Accord was inked by the Mizo National Front led by Laldenga, who was the sole and undisputed leader of the Mizo uprising, in a State which is not afflicted with tribal differences and rivalries. Moreover, the Accord was signed when there were no foreign patrons or havens left for the Mizos.
The 8-point Accord clearly spelt out the extent of autonomy the Mizos would enjoy, the process for laying down arms and ammunition and measures for resettlement of underground personnel. This was combined with the conferment of full Statehood and establishment of a separate High Court for Mizoram.
China angle
While the details of the recent Nagaland “framework” have not been made public, it is acknowledged that many complex issues remain to be sorted out. While the demand for a “Greater Nagaland” embracing the territories of Nagaland and Naga dominated areas in Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh appears to have been given up by the NSCN (IM), the issue of Regional Councils or other such institutions for Nagas in the three neighbouring States will remain contentious, especially given the none-too-happy experiences following the establishment of a Bodoland Council in Assam.
Moreover, Naga society is afflicted by tribal rivalries and by the presence of large number of armed groups, each with its own sense of self-importance. Finally, the most powerful insurgent group after the NSCN (IM), the NSCN (Khaplang), which broke along standing cease fire agreement with New Delhi on March 7 and killed 18 Indian soldiers on July 4,remains implacably opposed to the August 3 Accord.
The NSCN (K) is predominantly Myanmar based and its cadres are trained and operate from areas in the neighbouring Sagaing Division and the Kachin State. These areas are along the borders with China, where the Myanmar Government has scant control and China now freely consorts with Indian separatist outfits.
New Delhi has to bear in mind and react imaginatively to the reality that Myanmar now faces serious problems on its borders with China’s Yunnan Province in the Shan and Kachin States. The Chinese have a cosy relationship with the Kachin Independence Army, which exercises full control of areas in Kachin State bordering China.
Ever since they were ousted by Sheikh Hasina from Bangladesh scores of members of north eastern separatist groups including the NSCN (K), ULFA, the Peoples’ Liberation of Army of Manipur and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland have taken refuge along the Myanmar-China border, in Kachin State.
These groups have now come under the umbrella of an NSCN (K) led and quite evidently Chinese backed grouping, calling itself the “United National Front of West Southeast Asia”.
As its name suggests, the grouping is exclusively India centric. We are evidently seeing a return to Chinese policies of the Maoist era, when China backed and armed separatist groups along our borders with Burma and the then East Pakistan.
Importance of Myanmar
Given the policy of NSCN (K) to seek a peace accord for its people and desist from violence within Myanmar, it is unlikely that Myanmar will be in a position to respond positively to any request for the extradition of the NSCN (K) leadership. What can at best be achieved is obtaining Myanmar pressure on the Khaplang leadership to get the NSCN (K) to join the Nagaland peace process and desist from violence. The Home Ministry and needs a word of caution on this score. They should curb the propensity to seek media publicity and conduct all moves involving Myanmar, maintaining strict secrecy.
Apart from the inability of the Myanmar Government to exercise control over areas of Kachin State bordering China, where Indian insurgent groups are based and are strengthening links with China, Myanmar itself seems headed for political uncertainty, as the country heads toward elections for a new Parliament and President on November 8. The two main Parties are the National League for Democracy led by Aung San Suu Kyi (who is still ineligible to be elected as President by the Legislature) and the army backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), led by the Parliament Speaker and former Armed Forces Chief General (Thura) Shwe Mann.
The army establishment, in which former military ruler Senior General Than Shwe wields considerable influence, is still averse to Aung San Suu Kyi, or her Party assuming, or influencing the Presidency.
In these circumstances, both Shwe Mann, who realistically realised that his Party the military backed USDP would receive a drubbing in the elections and Suu Kyi who needed Army support to become eligible for office, appeared to be moving towards a deal, in which Su Kyi’s NLD would back a Shwe Mann bid for President, after the elections. Sensing this, President Thein Sein, with the backing of the current armed forces Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and quite evidently the former Junta Leader Senior General Than Shwe, acted decisively to marginalise Shwe Mann. While positioning himself for re-election, President Thein Sein removed Shwe Mann for the post of the Party Chief of the USDP and himself took charge of the Party. Troops of Myanmar Army positioned themselves around the offices of the USDP and the residence of Shwe Mann. The die was cast and the message sent that while Suu Kyi would enjoy respect as an elected leader, the army would resist her access to effective executive power. It remains to be seen how developments play out in Myanmar.
It is evident that in dealing with implementation of the August 3 MoU with the NSCN (IM), New Delhi will have to tread carefully internally and externally, in its relations with Myanmar.
The writer is a diplomat and former Indian High Commissioner in Pakistan
20 August 2015

Naga Peace Accord: Why Now?

By Namrata Goswami
The Naga Peace Accord, a framework agreement as it has been termed, signed between the National Socialist Council of Nagalim-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) and the Government of India on August 3 is significant for several reasons. 

First, it shows the flexibility and realism of the NSCN (IM) in terms of the willingness to alter goals, from complete sovereignty and Greater Nagalim to acceptance of the constitutional framework albeit with a provision for the grant of greater autonomy to Naga inhabited areas outside of Nagaland through the establishment of autonomous district councils. 

This indeed had been a sticking point in negotiations as Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, and Manipur had categorically stated their opposition to any territorial division. Second, the signing of the accord at this moment in time discloses that the platform of social support for the NSCN (IM) comprising Naga civil society groups are insistent on a peaceful path to conflict resolution. 

The accord arrived at now ends the ceasefire process in existence since 1997 and locks in the NSCN (IM)’s commitment to peaceful dialogue. The urgency to get a peace deal breakthrough had risen in the backdrop of the rival NSCN (K) abrogating its cease-fire with the Government of India on March 27, 2015, and following it up with the June 4 ambush in Manipur that killed 20 military personnel.

Third, the leaders of the NSCN (IM), Thuingaleng Muivah and Isak Chisi Swu (who has been unwell for some time now), have been forthcoming since 2011 to sign a framework agreement that pledges to preserve the culture, history and traditions of the Nagas and grants greater autonomy to Naga inhabited areas outside of Nagaland. Fourth, Modi’s own promise to resolve the Naga conflict within an 18 months’ timeframe must have been a factor in the signing of the framework agreement.

If the news about a non-territorial resolution framework agreement holds true (details of the Accord are yet to be released), then it is worth deep consideration by Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur. It would enable them to maintain the territorial status quo while only giving up developmental privileges in their Naga inhabited areas to a new Naga non-territorial body. 

A non-territorial resolution framework also favours the Nagas as their core demands – such as recognition of their “unique history” and culture, Naga leverage over deciding the development path for the Naga inhabited areas, etc. – are met through the grant of greater autonomy. 

This is an optimal solution that would address the concerns of all the relevant parties. For the Indian government too, it results in recognizing the Naga’s “unique” history and culture within the territorial and sovereign framework of the Constitution.

The fact that such a non-territorial resolution package had gained wide acceptance in Nagaland can be discerned from the fact that former Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio along with all 60 Nagaland State Assembly Members including MLAs of the Opposition parties came out in support of such a framework in the year 2012. 

Being politicians, none of these MLAs would have openly supported such a framework had there been no support for it in Naga society. A resolution of one of the oldest armed ethnic conflicts in the Northeast offers a way forward to resolving many other ethnic conflicts in the region such as those involving Kukis, Meiteis, Bodos, Dimasas, Hmars, and Karbis. 

The recent Bodo violence in Assam against immigrant minority communities only highlighted the dangers of an ethnically slanted territorial council that failed to safeguard the physical security of minorities in Bodo inhabited areas. In that light, a non-territorial resolution framework is perhaps the only feasible outcome to the multiple ethnicity-driven conflicts in Northeast India. 
14 August 2015

Married in Meghalaya: Feminist dream or the iron fist of matriarchy?

By Simantik Dowerah

Nobody in the wife's house cares about her husband. He feels like an outsider. He can't return to his parental house because his sister won't care for him. He feels lost. So many Khasi men feel like an outcasts. They become desperate," Keith Pariat told Firstpost, from Cherrapunji.

Pariat is a building contractor by profession and the president of Syngkhong Rympei Thymmai ('a new hearth'). SRT aims to overthrow Meghalaya's matrilineal system. The organisation, which was founded in April 1990, in Shillong has taken upon itself to "liberate" men from female "dominance".

The iron fist of matriliny?

An exception in a predominantly patrilineal world, Khasi tradition dictates that property owned by a couple must be inherited by their youngest daughter so that she can take care of her brothers and parents. As per the norm, the youngest daughter's husband has to stay at her residence.

"As per the matrilineal system, the younger daughter as the custodian of the property has to get her maternal uncle's permission to do anything with the property. This keeps the brothers and husband out," said Pariat.

The maternal uncle in the Khasi system wields immense influence since the youngest daughter in a family, who is the custodian of property, has to consult with him on all issues. "But nowadays the maternal uncle stays with his own wife and is busy with his family. So the daughter keeps the property for herself without caring for her husband or brother," said Pariat. "Be it as a brother or as a husband, the position of men in the Khasi community is not at par with women."

Not everyone believes that the old ways are in need of change. Esther Syiem, who heads the department of English at the North-Eastern Hill University in Shillong, says that Pariat's SRT is relevant since it highlights loopholes in the present system. But she warns against taking it too seriously.

"But what is the strength of the SRT?" she asked. "Less than 2,000-odd urbanites against over a million plus. In the rural areas where the laws of marriage are strictly matrilineal, there is hardly anyone who would opt for a radical change to patriarchy. Change is inevitable but it cannot be drastic."

Syiem points out the role that men have traditionally occupied in these societies and the cultural implications of those choices. "Changes will have to be take place but not at the cost of culture," she said. "The feeling of insecurity is definitely there among some men. But you have to understand that historically, men have always been the ones who were the decision makers of society. In that respect, they have never been or ever wanted to be associated with material wealth."

Syiem says the culture evolved from the fact that women were considered the custodians of material wealth and keepers of ritual and religion. "In this day and age however, material wealth has taken precedence over everything else and the claims speak louder than the responsibilities. And so the complaints continue," she said. She also pointed to the fact that women aren't always the sole inheritors of property. "Among the War (a Khasi sub-tribe), property is being distributed among all the children, boys and girls,” she says.

Not all men are opposed to the system either.

"I believe in equality in the family as both parents play an important role in healthy development of their children. There is no question of anyone trying to subjugate the other," said Teilang J Marwein, who is Khasi but lives and works in Mumbai. Marwein believes that the patrilineal society is favourable only if a man is setting up a business, since establishing one in a matrilineal society is "next to impossible". But that's the only drawback that he sees.

"The insecurity that some Khasi men have is more to do with their financial status and dependency on the wife or in-laws. Any financially independent person who can support and raise his family should not have an inferiority complex at all," he said.

A Khasi couple pose in traditional wedding costume after their marriage ceremony in the Shillong. The Khasi tribe is one of the world's few remaining matrilineal societies, who trace their descent through their mothers and take their maternal ancestors' surnames. Reuters

No escape from marital woes

The Khasi community can take pride in the fact that no dowry system exists in its practices and it's also a community where women are comparatively freer than their counterparts in the rest of India. But though women have the right to property, it doesn't necessarily mean they are better off. Traditional burdens like child rearing are still there and ills of a patriarchal society like domestic violence remain prevalent despite matriliny. Domestic violence numbers are among the highest here, according to Syiem. Marriages are brittle in Meghalaya, and divorce and separation rates are very high. The 2011 census data revealed the state is second only to Mizoram in terms of its divorce rate.

However, that has little to do with matriliny.

"Our marriages break easily because we do not believe in the concept of doli (palanquin) to asthi (ashes). If there is any wrong against us, we are not afraid of walking out of the marriage...Our families always stand by us when we have to walk out of the marriage," said Jasmine Mawthoh (name changed), who hails from Shillong and works in Mumbai.

Even if a couple that is separating has children, families are usually supportive. "Separation is accepted in Khasi society," said Syiem. "In the past, in the villages, the couple would announce their separation and the husband and wife went back to their parents. If the woman has children, her parents help her in raising the children."

She says there are many single mothers and fathers in the community who faced no trouble while raising kids. "My own uncle brought up his children single-handedly. An extended family is one of the strengths of this society," Syiem said.

The threat from outsiders
Pariat believes that the old system is now being exploited by many non-Khasi men.

"They [non-Khasi men] target the youngest daughter of a Khasi family to get the property indirectly," claimed the SRT head. "They even open businesses in their wives' names as we tribals don't have to pay income tax. They exploit the privileges given to us by the government. Many unassuming Khasi girls are falling into this trap."

Marriage between Khasis and non-Khasis is nothing new. "Earlier when Khasi men married non-Khasi girls from the plains and came back to the hills, the girls were given a new surname involving the word 'khar'," said Mawthoh. "Surnames like Kharkongor, Kharumnuid, Kharbamon indicate that. It is primarily a Niam Trai, or the indigenous Khasi tradition. This has been there for ages." Mawthoh herself is married to a non-Khasi and while she admits these inter-community marriages may be used for outsiders, it didn't mean a girl should be banished from the community as some organisations like the Khasi Students' Union demand.

Syiem sees nothing wrong in cross-cultural marriages. She points out that it's not just the Khasi women, but the men too are doing so. "There are many women who have married men from the rest of the country and the world. I personally know many such couples who've actually settled here and vice-versa. Increasingly there are many men now marrying from other communities and bringing their wives here," said Syiem.

The effect of being surrounded by patrilineal societies

Given almost every other community outside Meghalaya is a patrilineal one, its effects are being felt upon the Khasis' age-old tradition.

"Once you stay outside Meghalaya, you are bound to be influenced by your surroundings,"says Faddey Nongkynrih (name changed), who teaches in Shillong and has been married for 15 years. "Following ways that are similar to patrilineal society is quite normal. For example, if the husband is earning and feeding his family in Mumbai, it is natural that he will have more say." While this doesn't usually affect the transfer of property within the state, it is making an impact upon the next generation. Nongkynrih says his own equations are good with his in-laws though he doesn't stay with them.

The Khasi community is now at a point where it is trying its best to adapt to the practices of a patrilineal society without doing away with the matrilineal ones. "We are at a stage where there is a tug-of-war going on within society," said Pariat. "Even at my house, there is a tug-of-war between my wife and me. She wants the old system to continue, but I am against it. And this has been going in many families."

He claims matriliny is a system whose time has ended. "We would prefer Khasis losing their uniqueness as matrilineal society than to go extinct. We want to join the mainstream of the world as a patrilineal community," he said. Others believe that the cost of such radical change will be far too high. "If our roots and culture collapse, I don't think we can survive for more than two or three generations at most and our identity would be lost forever," warned Marwein.

But most believe that change, while inevitable, does not need to be either radical or destructive.

"I find that people look upon the matrilineal society as a 'museum piece'," said Syiem. "The Khasis are being seen as following some ancient tradition that no longer fits into the modern world. But in a country like India, cultural hybridity is nothing new. We survive very happily, imbibing changes and making them part of our system. So changes at ground level happen, at their own pace."
10 August 2015

Discord Over Naga Accord

The Naga Hills
The Naga Hills
PM Modi called it a historic accord, but doubts and political points have been raised over the peace initiative that aims to end India’s oldest insurgency

Khonoma village is barely 20 kilometres from the Nagaland state capital, Kohima, but the drive takes a good hour. The metalled road turns into a bumpy highway before becoming a mud track clinging on hillsides. On the side of the road, standing out amid the lush green, are occasional patches of grey: Memorials to leaders of a parallel government, of a country that struggled for decades to be born. “Nagas are not Indians; their territory is not a part of the Indian Union. We shall defend this unique truth at all costs and always”, says a plaque quoting Khrisanisa Seyie, “first president of the Federal Government of Nagaland”. The memorial was unveiled in 2007. By then, the guns had largely fallen silent in the Naga hills, but the sentiment for freedom from India was still not quite dead.

The announcement of a framework Naga Accord on Aug 3 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and leader of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) Thuingaleng Muivah is a long, long way from that memorial on the road to Khonoma. A statement signed by Mr Muivah said that, “Better understanding has been arrived at and a framework agreement has been concluded based on the unique history and position of the Nagas and recognising the universal principle that in a democracy, sovereignty lies with the people.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the occasion as “historic”.

The NSCN (I-M) has been the biggest and most powerful insurgent group in the Northeast for most of the last three decades. It was formed in reaction to another accord. In 1975, some underground leaders of the Naga National Council (NNC) signed a peace deal in Shillong. The Shillong Accord had three simple points: The signatories would accept the Constitution of India, lay down arms, and be given “reasonable time to formulate other issues for discussion of a final settlement.” Angami Zapu Phizo, the man from Khonoma who is regarded as the father of the Naga insurgency, was then in exile in London. He was not among the signatories; his brother Kevi Yalley was. Mr Phizo kept a stoic silence on the deal. Mr Muivah and Mr Isak Chishi Swu, the leaders of the NSCN, were then in the NNC at senior ranks. They had gone to China for training and weapons. They saw it as betrayal.

Instead of bringing peace, the Shillong Accord therefore sparked off the next 20 years of conflict.

Not Shillong Accord
This accord is very different from the Shillong Accord. It is not a product of the Emergency, and has the clear support of the most powerful group in the Naga insurgency, a large chunk of Naga civil society, and politicians of all hues. “It is an opportunity for Nagaland and the Northeast to come together and resolve this longest running insurgency,” former Nagaland chief minister and current MP Neiphiu Rio of the Naga People's Front said in a telephonic interview. Mr Rio added that he feels the accord should be given a chance since the problem it aims to solve is not a problem of the Nagas alone, but a national problem. “Even the Nagaland chief minister was not consulted, so question of consulting other chief ministers does not arise,” he said.

A lot of work has gone into creating conditions for the agreement. There is currently no opposition party in the Nagaland Assembly since all parties, from the local unit of the Congress to the local BJP, which has four MLAs, are members of an all-party government. Three of the four BJP MLAs defected from the NCP last year to pave the way for the all-party government. This year, eight MLAs of the Congress including the Nagaland Congress Legislature Party leader Tokheho Yepthomi were suspended by the All India Congress Committee in May for joining the government. In their reply to the show cause notice from AICC, the MLAs cited resolution of the Naga issue as their reason for joining the current Democratic Alliance of Nagaland government led by Chief Minister TR Zeliang.
Mr Rio pointed out that representatives of the joint legislative forum comprising members of all parties had visited Delhi and met Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh in July to press for an early resolution of the Naga issue. The Nagaland assembly had earlier passed a unanimous resolution to form the joint forum and press for early resolution of the Naga issue.

Nagaland BJP MLA Mhonlumo Kikon, welcoming the signing of the accord, said it was long-awaited and its signing would further strengthen peace and development. “We hope and expect that every stakeholder who is interested in peace and development of the Northeast region will welcome this and not be blinded by their political colours,” he said.

During the negotiations over the last 17 years, some constitutional issues had crept in and created apprehensions among neighbouring states, Mr Kikon added. “In light of past experience, the government of India in its maturity would have factored this in,” he said.

Details of the accord are still being worked out, which is why no one has been informed of those details yet. Meetings are currently on. The chief interlocutor on the Naga side is VS Atem, who retired as general of the Naga army. Mr Atem declined comment for this article saying he was caught up in meetings. The Indian government’s interlocutor for these talks has been RN Ravi, chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee. Mr Ravi also did not reply to emails and messages.

Sudden preamble
The accord was announced suddenly on August 3, taking even the Home Ministry by surprise. Speaking to the Nagaland Post that day, Mr Ravi had said the agreement was signed following a request made by NSCN (IM) chairman Isak Swu, who wanted an agreement signed in his lifetime. Mr Swu, 85, was in the ICU in Delhi’s Fortis hospital and said to be critically ill. Mr Atem, on that day, had described the accord as a “framework” and a “preamble”.

This preamble is significant because it clearly lays out that the solution will be achieved peacefully within the Indian constitution. This is planned through some form of shared sovereignty, whose exact terms will be worked out in the following months. It is likely that Naga traditional institutions will be empowered to achieve a form of grassroots democracy.

The matter is an extremely sensitive one and will impact peace throughout the entire Northeast. There is potential for a bloodbath in Manipur if clashes break out.

The Manipur Assembly was burnt down by protesters in 2001 after the Naga ceasefire was extended to Manipur. The Meitei groups saw it as a step towards the redrawing of the state’s borders, which they were not willing to allow.

Reacting to the latest accord, Governor of Assam and Nagaland PB Acharya said in Guwahati, “As per my understanding, as told to me by the prime minister, there will be no territorial changes.”
It is widely expected that a settlement will involve the formation of autonomous district councils or territorial councils of some sort, to create enclaves for the Nagas living in Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Several such councils already exist, including in Manipur’s hill districts. The demand for extension of provisions of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution (which gives enhanced administrative and judicial powers to autonomous local bodies) to Manipur’s hill districts goes back to 1978. This June, the Union Home Ministry wrote to the Manipur Chief Secretary asking for details of areas to be included under the Sixth Schedule. Assam already has the Bodoland Territorial Council, apart from district councils.

Party politics and perils
“Partisan political criticism does not need to be taken seriously. It is only the final step of the peace process with the NSCN(IM)”, says Ajai Sahni, Executive Director of the independent think-tank Institute for Conflict Management in Delhi. “The UPA government did not take the states into confidence any more than the NDA now has,” he adds. “The UPAs problem is one of sour grapes, because they weren’t able to push the deal to a conclusion within their tenure — though there were many occasions when a settlement was believed to be tantalisingly within reach.” However, Mr Sahni added a note of caution, saying that while the deal is certainly historic, it is not the end of troubles surrounding the Naga issue. This deal is overwhelmingly in favour of the NSCN(IM) and will create a vast space for dissent which other groups, most significantly the NSCN(K) but also others, would try to occupy, he said.

There are at least 35 Naga tribes, and inter-tribal politics is a major thing. Different insurgent factions are typically associated with particular tribes and have their own areas of influence. For instance, SS Khaplang, who heads the NSCN(K), is a Burmese Naga and has influence on that side of the border and among the Konyaks in Nagaland. Mr Swu, the ailing NSCN (IM) chairman, is a member of the Sema tribe, which is one of the largest Naga tribes. If he passes away, the group would have to appoint a new chairman, most probably from the same tribe. There is a good chance that a new appointee may have taken the negotiations back several years in the absence of any agreement being signed during Mr Swu’s lifetime.

All previous governments, from AB Vajpayee’s to Manmohan Singh’s, had conducted discussions through interlocutors without formally sharing details with any chief ministers of neighbouring states. Swaraj Kaushal, husband of Sushma Swaraj, was the first interlocutor. The current interlocutor, RN Ravi, a veteran intelligence officer with vast experience in Northeast India, was appointed by the Prime Minister who overruled the Home Ministry’s candidate for the job. The talks were directly monitored by the PMO. There were little rivalries — within the Naga movement, in political parties, and also between departments — that existed before this accord was announced.

Lhouvi Tsikhano, a votary of Naga traditional institutions from Kohima, said cadres of all groups would have to be given “their due”. He added that autonomy and power would have to be extended to Naga tribal institutions.

Even a successful conclusion to this accord may not represent a change in the Northeast’s relationship with India, says Prof Sanjib Baruah, an expert on the region who teaches political studies at Bard College in New York. “There is no question that there is an agitation fatigue among many. But I see more continuities than discontinuities in the energy of the campaign for ILP in Manipur or Meghalaya, or regarding the National Register of Citizens in Assam,” he says. What has brought insurgents, the mainstream, and street politicians together in many parts of the Northeast is “the inchoate presence of constituencies that feel unrepresented, or feel their voices are not heard. I don’t see a change in that condition,” says Prof Baruah.

As a member of Naga civil society who did not wish to be identified said ruefully, “To have a permanent peace, we have to go through a lot of problems. Peace cannot be achieved peacefully.”

This is the sad situation in that troubled region.
05 August 2015

Autonomous Councils Key To Naga Deal Success

By Vijaita Singh & Anita Joshua

A day after the Naga peace accord was signed, a senior government official said here on Tuesday that the creation of “autonomous councils for Naga people outside Nagaland is under consideration.”

A similar peace agreement failed in 2011 as States with a sizeable Naga population such as Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh put up a stiff resistance to the formation of such councils. Though the Centre is yet to release the terms of the accord signed with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah), government sources said a “redrawing of the internal boundaries of the States is not on the cards”, but the Naga people would have sovereignty. Autonomous councils are locally appointed governments that function in Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura, West Bengal and Jammu and Kashmir.

The NSCN has been demanding a “Greater Nagalim” comprising all contiguous inhabited areas.

Two months to fix ‘nuts and bolts’ of Naga deal

R.N. Ravi, negotiator for Naga peace talks, told The Hindu that the deal struck on Monday was not only a “framework agreement but indeed a peace accord” and once all the modalities were finalised, it would be sent to the Parliament for ratification.

Sources said the government has fixed a two-month limit for the “nuts and bolts” to be fixed.

Explaining the procedure involved, an official said the interlocutor has to prepare a draft note and send it to the Home Ministry, which would circulate it to the concerned ministries and the state governments. Based on their comments, a final Bill will have to be prepared and if agreed upon by all the stakeholders it will be presented before the Cabinet. Once the Cabinet gives the nod, the Bill is presented before the Parliament for ratification.

In the present case, no such steps have been taken till now and only the contours have been defined, an official explained.

Senior Congress ministers said a similar exercise was done in 2011 but it could not be signed due to opposition from the then Congress chief minister of Manipur, Ikram Ibobi Singh who opposed changes in status quo.

A similar deal was arrived at between the then interlocutor R.S. Pandey and Mr. Muivah, in a low key affair held at the Border Security Force (BSF) mess in Hazrat Nizamuddin area of Delhi on July 20, 2011.

Mr. Pandey told The Hindu: “There was a breakthrough earlier as well but it could not materialise due to differences of state governments. It would have been better had the other two groups — the KK and Reformation factions also come on board. Though the terms of agreement have not been released this is definitely a step towards the peace accord. This government was decisive enough to do it.”

CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said: “What are the details of the Naga Accord? The Government has given the Opposition no opportunity to even discuss it. Normally, a statement is made by the Minister in the House before making such an announcement when Parliament is in session. They may take the plea that making a statement was not possible since proceedings are being disrupted. In that case, they could have at least tabled it.”
20 July 2015

Manipur’s Latest Sigh And The Idea of India

By Garga Chatterjee

While sections of the ILP movement points to ‘non-Indian’ outsiders as its primary concern, that’s a narrative of tactical convenience, given Manipur’s present political status vis-a-vis the Indian Union.

Manipur’s Imphal valley, is witnessing an extraordinary mass movement around the Inner Line permit (ILP) issue, in the face of relentless curfews and Khaki violence. Protesters have been killed and wounded. We remain blissfully unconcerned because no senile ‘Gandhian’ or NCR candle-holding or tricolour self-righteousness is involved. The ILP is an Indian Union government issued travel document that outsider Indian citizens need to enter Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland (except Dimapur).

The non-partisan civic-political coalition called JCILP wants the ILP system to be promulgated in Manipur too. The ILP system was introduced during the late 19th century when the British were making new territorial acquisitions in the present day Northeast by force and adding these newly acquired areas to what  they called India. The ILP was partially developed to secure British commercial interests by maintaining peace without spending resources. British acquisitions that were beyond the inner-line enjoyed considerably more internal autonomy than their Indian counterparts.

Such ‘Swaraj’ lapsed with New-Delhi raj. In 1949, the unelected King of Manipur was virtually detained in Shillong and allegedly forced to sign a merger document with the Indian Union.  At that time Manipur had a democratically-elected representative sovereign government in place, led by the Praja Shanti Party, which was of course dismissed by democratic India. New Delhi sponsored democracy has been unstoppable in Manipur ever since.

Manipur has no ILP system because it was never part of British India. When the British were busy expanding their India into these areas, the sovereign rulers of Manipur managed to largely preserve Manipur’s centuries’ old distinctiveness, politically, demographically and otherwise. After the 1949 merger, it had no method of regulating the entry of outsiders.

The ILP demand is about preserving the communities whose homelands are in Manipur. The ILP demand stems from the reasonable anxiety of being destroyed by superior numbers. The population of Uttar Pradesh is 75 times that of Manipur. But aren’t we all Indians, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari? 

Whether we are one people or not, depends on who you ask but what’s certain is that we are co-citizens. The youth of Imphal do not enjoy the freedoms available to the youth of Delhi. Probing those differences may uncover unpalatable truths. Hence, Indian Union’s ‘national’ media showers more concern on the treatment of Manipuri students in Delhi than the condition of actual Manipur.

While sections of the ILP movement points to  ‘non-Indian’ outsiders as its primary concern, that’s a narrative of tactical convenience, given Manipur’s present political status vis-a-vis the Indian Union.

For communities who once enjoyed autonomy to suddenly become ‘small’ or even minority in their homeland is extremely destablising. While the Constitution shows no concern for demographic anxieties within subsets of its population, the anxieties are real, especially in the backdrop of widely varying poverty levels, employment opportunities and total fertility rates from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. Phizo, the Naga statesman, stated in 1951 that “we can easily be submerged and get lost: our culture, our civilisation, our institutions, our nation and all that we had struggled and build up as we are today will be perished without the least benefit to mankind” (emphasis by the present author). No one wants to become a pariah in their homeland. It’s this humane plural vision of the future, to live and let live, that has to be remembered.

Can Tamils imagine becoming minority in Tamil Nadu? Can that ever be a good thing? If such a scenario threatens to emerge, can we even imagine the kinds of forces that will be unleashed as a reaction? No people should be pushed to such a corner. ILP for Manipur is an idea whose time has come.

The author comments on politics and culture
18 June 2015

An Eye To Myanmar’s Sensitive Spots


Although Delhi and Yangon have a tacit understanding on insurgency, ground realities must govern Indian operations

Even as India promotes regional connectivity and economic integration across its land and maritime borders, there is very little understanding of the importance of relations with Myanmar. We seem to forget that Myanmar borders four of our insurgency-prone States — Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram.

When Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao introduced the country’s ‘Look East’ policy, Myanmar assumed a key position as India’s land bridge to the fast-growing Asean economies. Recognising that Myanmar itself was concerned about its increasingly close embrace of China, India supported its quest for membership of Asean. New Delhi also fashioned a multi-faceted framework of dialogue to enhance economic and border security cooperation.
Careful cooperation

A wide ranging dialogue with Myanmar on trans-border border cooperation followed. Both India and Myanmar faced problems from the propensity of the Khaleda Zia government in Bangladesh to fund, train and arm separatist terrorist groups from across Indian’s North-Eastern States.

After careful preparation and security exchanges, the armies of India and Myanmar launched coordinated operations in 1995 against a large group of armed separatists being infiltrated from Bangladesh into India’s North-East. Myanmar quietly permitted Indian forces to operate on its territory. The infiltrators were largely eliminated. The Narasimha Rao government wisely avoided public comment, but the message worldwide was that India and Myanmar had cooperated in a massive anti-terrorist military action.

There have been subsequent instances of counter-terrorism military cooperation between India and Myanmar, involving action by India against the NSCN (Khaplang). In recent months, the situation has deteriorated along the India-Myanmar border, with the NSCN (Khaplang) entering into a ceasefire agreement with the Myanmar government. At the same time, relations between Myanmar and China have deteriorated, with Myanmar cancelling project approvals for major Chinese projects.

China, in turn, is backing ethnic armed groups of Han Chinese origin (Kokang and Wa) along its borders with Myanmar’s Shan state. Matters escalated when an attack by the Myanmar Air Force killed Chinese nationals in the bordering Yunnan province. Closer to India’s borders with Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh, Kachin tribals of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) are involved in an armed insurrection against the Myanmar government. China, which has a cosy relationship with Kachin separatists, is attempting to play mediator.
Brokering talks

Leaders of Indian insurgent groups from Assam, Manipur and Nagaland who were maintaining links with the Chinese were backed by the KIA. They made regular visits across the Myanmar-China border to Ruili, in Yunnan province. These groups have now come together under the umbrella of an NSCN(K)-led and evidently Chinese-backed group calling itself the United National Front of West Southeast Asia (UNWSA).

There are also credible reports that ULFA leader Paresh Barua is emerging as a kingpin and major arms trader. Interestingly, all this comes at a time when an Indian is playing a discreet role in brokering peace between ethnic armed groups and the government in Myanmar. The former Mizo insurgent who became chief minister of Mizoram (1998-2008), Zoramthanga, has been seeking to facilitate a peace process which could bring even the Kachins, Wa and Kokang, despite their close links with China, to the talks.

The recent attacks on the Indian armed forces in Manipur and elsewhere in the North-East have to be seen in the context of these developments. The NSCN(K), which had observed a long-term ceasefire in Nagaland and Manipur, has evidently been given the lead position in the UNWSA. The NSCN (K) took the lead in the June 4 attack in which 18 Indian soldiers were killed. The Indian response was swift, measured and decisive, with an airborne commando night raid on NSCN camps in Myanmar.

The attack was necessarily carried out without prior intimation: Indian Ambassador Gautam Mukhopadhyaya informed the Myanmar foreign office only early in the morning. Keeping in mind Myanmar’s sensitivity regarding its sovereignty, the Indian Army came out with a measured statement, indicating that it had acted decisively in an attack “along” the India Myanmar border, carefully avoiding mention of crossing the international border. The corps commander in Srinagar noted rightly that the situation along the LoC and the international border with Pakistan was very different from the India-Myanmar border.
Contradictory statements

Reacting to this,, the office of Myanmar’s president, Thein Sein, stated that what had transpired was “coordinated cooperation between Indian troops and the Myanmar armed forces based in the area”. He added that while no Myanmar soldiers were directly involved, “we will never allow or support insurgents, whether they are against Myanmar, or against a neighbouring country”.

In the meantime, a junior minister of the Indian Government contradicted what the army had said earlier about the operations being “along” the India-Myanmar border, by asserting they involved special forces “crossing the border and going deep into another country”. This was contrary to a long established practice with Myanmar. It also contradicted the Indian Army’s statement that the operation was along the India-Myanmar border. Moreover, all this occurred when Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was commencing a high profile visit to China, which signalled growing Chinese unease with its traditional supporters in the present dispensation.

The ministerial statement from Delhi could well be used by opponents of the government in Myanmar to signal that the government had compromised the country’s sovereignty by allowing a foreign military force to intrude into its territory.

With National Security Adviser Ajit Doval visiting Myanmar, these issues will hopefully be addressed. There is little to be achieved by disregarding sensitivities in a friendly neighbouring country. It also needs to be borne in mind that for the foreseeable future, the army in Myanmar will continue to play a significant role in that country’s national life. It would be useful if India’s army chief, like some of his predecessors, pays an official visit to Myanmar soon.

The writer is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan
05 June 2015

Will Nagaland Ever Have Peace?

Will Nagaland Ever Have Peace?
Image Credit: REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Ever since Independence, peace and stability have been treasured luxuries in the Indian states of Nagaland and Manipur. In the last two decades, however, while peace talks may have produced little in the way of progress, ceasefire agreements with the various warring groups have at least provided a relative peace.

The Naga issue is the major threat to peace in India’s Northeast. Broadly speaking, the insurgent groups National Socialist Council of Nagaland – Khaplang (NSCN-K) and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland – Isak Muivah (NSCN-IM), which claim to represent the Nagas, demand that a territory known as Nagalim (or Greater Nagaland) – which would include the present state of Nagaland along with roughly four districts of Manipur and parts of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh where Nagas live – be carved out to address the Naga issue. The proposed region of Nagalim would also include a not insignificant chunk of Myanmar, making this an international issue.

Fifteen years back the Indian government agreed to a ceasefire with the two major Naga insurgent groups, and both sides called for solutions through negotiations. Unfortunately, nothing worthwhile was achieved, except the routine extension of the ceasefire. Then, in an unprecedented move, the Myanmar-based S.S. Khaplang faction of NSCN, NSCN-K unilaterally withdrew from the ceasefire on March 27. This move will have far-reaching repercussions for the local population. Once again, it seems, Nagaland is on the verge of a nasty bloodbath. In the last 14 years, with the NSCN-IM and NSCN-K observing ceasefires with the government, the Nagas have become accustomed to relative peace. Now the future appears uncertain.

This was brought home by an attack last month on Assam Rifles personnel in the Mon district of Nagaland, in which eight soldiers were killed by NSCN-K cadres. The attack underscores the political uncertainty and associated risk of violence in a region that otherwise has immense potential for development.

On close observation, there are three primary reasons for this move by the Khaplang faction of NSCN.

Loss of Public Support
First, over the years during which the ceasefire agreements held, the insurgent groups in Nagaland increasingly lost the public support they once enjoyed. Violence has given way to comparative peace and locals are realizing (even if slowly) that their grievances will not be solved through the barrel of a gun. The younger generation no longer has the same sympathy towards the insurgent groups that their parents did. They have been witness to development. Many have been exposed to life in cities like Delhi, Bangalore, Pune, and Kolkata. They have seen the possibilities the big cities offer. They have seen their counterparts elsewhere in India prosper and so are now more inclined to seek to make a living by hard work rather than by taking up arms. The floating population has also exposed those back home to the prospects of the cities, and this to a great extent has redefined their understanding of development. The message is clear, at least among youth, that violence is now a failed strategy.
Moreover, the ideology of the Naga leaders has stagnated. It has not evolved with the times. There is nothing new in their proposed glorious future nor is there anything fresh in their strategy to attain it. Put simply, Naga leaders are failing to capture the imagination of the present generation. This is an issue explored in a recent report in Nagaland Post – a leading daily from Nagaland – which appeared in the wake of the May 3 killings.

In a bid to make its presence felt in the Naga community and save itself from extinction, the Khaplang faction has ventured back onto the path of violence. But while the ceasefire agreement had its drawbacks, it at least ensured that no lives were lost.

Second, there was a general apprehension within the Khaplang faction that New Delhi is systematically sidelining it from the Naga talks. There is considerable merit in this apprehension. In fact, when the ceasefire was first announced it was with NSCN-IM, and not with NSCN-K. It was only later, following violent protests in Manipur and other regions, that the ceasefire was extended to NSCN-K. Throughout the talks on the Naga issue New Delhi in one way or the other has considered the Muhiva faction NSCN-IM to be the “genuine” representative of the Nagas. This is largely because NSCN-K is seen to have its stronghold in the Naga-dominated areas of Myanmar rather than in India.

Evidence of New Delhi’s indifference towards the Khaplang faction can be gauged from the Uninion Minister of State for Home Minister (GOI), Kiren Rijju’s statement in parliament. In a written reply Rijju said, “NSCN-K has walked out from the dialogue process with GOI. NSCN-K with its Myanmar based leadership is mainly interested in extortion and has nothing to do with Naga issues.” He added that “security forces would react accordingly” in response to the May 3 attack by NSCN-K and that “talks with NSCN (I-M) for settlements are continuing and interlocutor has been appointed for the purpose.”

This proximity of New Delhi to the Muhiva faction has made Khaplang prudent about its own position. Thus moving out of the ceasefire agreement at present provides the Khaplang faction with a chance to reposition itself in the Naga talks.

Third, the Khaplang group has lately been troubled by ongoing infighting within its own ranks. Of late there has emerged a clutch of leading figures (among them Wangtin Naga, P Tikhak, and Wanglon Konyak) have favored peace talks with New Delhi and even diluting the group’s staunch demand of a separate Naga homeland. This, they believed, is a more realistic approach at the moment. However, Khaplang thinks otherwise and believes that any talk with India cannot undermine the principle of sovereignty of the Naga people. It is thus not surprising that the day NSCN-K walked away from the ceasefire agreements these rebel leaders themselves walked out of the group and formed one of their own called National Socialist Council of Nagaland – Reformation. Within days NSCN-R had signed a ceasefire agreement with the Indian government.

It is clear that the recent moves by the Khaplang faction are part of an effort to answer its own existential question and reposition itself within Naga politics. But this effort also jeopardizes the lives and liberty of the local population.

These developments in the Northeast have far-reaching implications for the stability of the region. It also clouds the future of India’s ambitious “Act East” policy, which aims to deepen trade relations with Southeast Asia. India cannot enjoy a healthy trade relationship with this part of Asia if it does not have a peaceful Northeast.

Further complicating the issues is the fact that NSCN-K has signed ceasefire agreements with the Myanmar government and that the Nagas have been accorded autonomous status in certain regions. Writing for the Indian Express Sanjib Batuah observed, “Increasingly, the Indian approach to the Naga conflict is at odds with developments across the border. The ceasefire between the government of India and the S.S. Khaplang-led faction of the NSCN has unraveled and there have been attacks on Indian soldiers by NSCN-K militants. But across the border, relations between Khaplang and the Myanmar government have been on the upswing. The group has signed a five-point agreement with the Thein Sein government. The terms include a ceasefire, the opening of a liaison office to facilitate talks and freedom of movement for unarmed cadres within Myanmar.”

The six-decade history of the Naga issue suggests that violence has done more harm than good. While peace talks are the only rational solution, New Delhi must realize that by sidelining a faction of the NSCN in the talks, it is only perpetuating the chaos and breeding future resentment.
New Delhi also urgently needs to boost its ties with Myanmar, not only in terms of trade relations but also to help it resolve the Naga issue, which troubles both countries. While Myanmar has been able to handle its problem with the Nagas quite well (mainly by according them autonomous status and entering into ceasefire agreements), India has allowed the issue to drag on for six decades. Nor is there any resolution in sight.

An early solution to the Nagas is in everyone’s interests. Only when peace is ensured can development can take place. The hills of Nagaland and Manipur will echo with bullets as long as the leaders continue to embroil local communities in their ambitious projects. It is time now for these same communities to make themselves the architects of their own future – a future that should be marked by stability, development, and peace.

Mukesh Rawat is a freelance journalist based in New Delhi and has spent seven years in various regions of Northeast India. Twitter: @mukeshrawat705
10 April 2015

The Balancing Act in Manipur

By Sudeep Chakravarti

A file photo of Naga tribesmen during a festival at Kohima. Non-Naga communities fear that giving autonomy to Nagas in Manipur will be the first step to a Greater Nagaland that rebels have advertised for long. Photo: AFP

A peace deal with Naga rebels will require granting autonomy to Nagas in Manipur; this will need to be balanced by addressing the concerns of non-Naga inhabitants of the state

A peace deal with Naga rebels could make or break India’s peace-and-prosperity stakes in a region neighbouring Myanmar, the country’s stated overland gateway to hydrocarbon reserves and markets of South-East Asia, and a pivot to counter China.

Settling Naga rebels in Nagaland is only part of the story (See Naga peace process: New equations, Mint, 3 April 2015). A peace deal will also require settling Naga rebel leaders and cadres in their traditional homelands in adjacent Manipur, and granting administrative autonomy to Nagas there—articulated as Alternative Arrangement by United Naga Council (UNC), the apex body for Nagas in that state. This will need to be balanced by addressing the concerns of non-Naga inhabitants of Manipur, who constitute the majority.

Observers point to overtures like Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of a sports university for Manipur as being deal sweeteners. Imphal valley, home to the state’s majority Meitei population, and the southern arc of hills, home to most of Manipur’s non-Naga tribal people, won’t be bought that cheaply.

Modi and his team need to ensure that the territorial integrity of Manipur is seen to be preserved. Non-Naga communities, especially the Meitei, fear that giving autonomy to Nagas in Manipur will be the first step to a Greater Nagaland that rebels have advertised for long. This concern will likely be assuaged by the natural tribal politics that will, for a time, keep Nagas in Manipur away from the ambit of Nagas in the present-day state of Nagaland, and also by constitutional mechanisms that prevent absolute powers to UNC’s Alternative Arrangement.

Peace will require other grand gestures. A surefire buy-in would be withdrawal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, or AFSPA, which offers the armed forces both impunity and immunity, and remains the most explosive emotional trigger in Manipur after territoriality. The law that heaps gratuitous insult and brutality on non-combatants in a quest for national security has gradually been removed from the municipal limits of the state capital Imphal. Without any loss of influence—several laws besides AFSPA permit search, seizure and combat against enemies of the state—the gesture could easily be extended. If security hawks are wary of such blanket removal, AFSPA could remain only in a strip along the Indo-Myanmar border in Manipur. It’s a porous membrane, as it were, that thrives on the smuggling of weapons, narcotics, sandalwood and other products, a food chain that caters alike to rebels and the political elite.

Low-key visits by senior army officers in recent weeks to Manipur are being interpreted by some local observers as evaluation of the ground for give-and-take. At any rate, the current chief of army staff, Dalbir Singh, is uniquely placed. Having commanded a Rashtriya Rifles battalion in Nagaland, and later the Army’s 3 Corps based in Rangapahar, near Dimapur, and the Eastern Command in Kolkata, he brings experience of a vast area that includes Nagaland, Manipur, Assam and Mizoram. He brings insights into nearby Myanmar and Bangladesh and the local and geopolitical impulses that, for all the recent bonhomie, impel these countries to harbour anti-India rebels.

Reconciliation would also be required between the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah), the largest Naga rebel group currently in talks with the government of India, and the Kuki community. Kukis hold this group responsible for triggering a territory-oriented blood-letting in the 1990s that killed and massively displaced Kuki communities in areas that the Nagas—in particular the Tangkhul tribe—claimed as their own. The Kuki Inpi Manipur, the apex body for the community in that state, demands a formal apology. It seems like a small price for peace and reconciliation.

Balance is also likely to be driven by the needs of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is making determined forays into northeastern India. Senior bureaucrats from Manipur tell me that the BJP would be wary of anything that permits the Congress and its entrenched and riotously controversial chief minister, Okram Ibobi Singh, renewed lease as protector of non-Naga communities when assembly elections come around in early 2017. The Congress has 42 seats in Manipur’s 60-seat assembly, mostly from Imphal valley. These plains account for 40 assembly seats: a BJP target.

Fancy footwork by the Modi government will, of course, not prevent undermining of a process of peace and reconciliation by fat cats in politics and the establishments of both the state and rebels that have grown plump in the economy of conflict. It’s a balancing act to top all balancing acts.

Sudeep Chakravarti’s latest book is Clear.Hold.Build: Hard Lessons of Business and Human Rights in India. His earlier books include Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country and Highway 39: Journeys through a Fractured Land. This column, which focuses on conflict situations in South Asia that directly affect business, runs on Fridays.
19 March 2015

In A Tiger Reserve in Mizoram, Camera Traps Are Taking Pictures of Gunmen

By M Rajshekhar 

Photo Credit: M Rajshekhar

Along the length of Mizoram’s border with Bangladesh lies the Dampa tiger reserve, sprawled across 1,000 sq km. This tropical forest stretching over hills and valleys has few – if any – tigers and leopards. But there are large numbers of smaller mammals – martens, civets, clouded leopards, binturungs, golden cats, marbled cats, leopard cats, and vulnerable species like the Malayan Sun bear. Despite the rich fauna, the camera traps laid by biologists to photograph the prowling cats often end up taking images of gunmen.

The park is overrun by assorted gunmen, from local hunters to armed insurgents. A senior forest official in Mizoram's forest department estimates that, given Dampa's location, abutting Mizoram's border with Bangladesh and Tripura, the reserve is used by as many as 12 separatist groups variously to enter or leave India.

Key among them are splinter groups of the Shanti Bahini, which is fighting for Chakma autonomy in Bangladesh, and the National Liberation Front of Tripura, which wants to establish the state as an independent Christian nation.

In recent years, the NLFT has carried out a set of kidnappings in and around Dampa. The most recent took place in February, when NLFT insurgents, working with the Bru Democratic Front of Mizoram, kidnapped 22 workers of the Border Roads Organisation near Dampa. While the Mizos were released the same day, two non-Mizos were taken hostage. Unconfirmed reports suggest they were eventually allowed to go, but only after ransom payments were made.

Armed insurgents, however, aren’t the only threat to the park. Dampa exemplifies the complexities of wildlife conservation in the North East, a region where not just animals, even people are caught in the throes of upheaval.

Squeezed by people

The villages near Dampa are home to people of the Bru tribe, an ethnic minority in a state where the Mizo tribe is dominant. Violence against the Bru people in 1997 and again in 2009 drove thousands of them to flee Mizoram for neighbouring Tripura.

Over the last couple of years, they have begun to return. Pu Sanga, a resident of Damparengpui, a village close to Dampa's core area, is one of the Brus who stayed on. In his fifties now, Sanga estimates that over the last two years, the village's population has swelled from 300 families to 500.

The increase in population has a direct impact on the reserve. The Brus are dependent on the traditional livelihood of jhum, or shifting cultivation, where the community farms in a different part of its traditional lands each year, burning a a patch of the local forest to create a clearing. After the end of the farming season, the patch is left fallow to recover, while a new one is cleared elsewhere for the next season.

Ever since the refugees began to return, Priya Singh, a wildlife biologist studying clouded leopards at Dampa, has noticed an increase in the clearing of forests in the park's 500 square kilometres buffer zone.

But shifting cultivation alone cannot support households for an entire year, especially with rising numbers. People have always turned to the forest for hunting and gathering minor forest produce. But as the buffer crumbles, most of them are now heading into the park's core area.

Failed attempts

Mizoram's response to these threats is weak. For years, successive governments have been running programmes to wean people away from shifting cultivation. The latest iteration of this programme, started by the Indian National Congress government shortly after it came to power in December 2008, is the New Land Use Policy. However, ask people in the villages near Dampa about it and they are categorical that most benefits have gone to people close to the Congress.

To tackle the insurgents, India is erecting a 62 km-long fence along the western flank of Dampa. The Supreme Court directed the government last December to expedite work.

As for the threat of poaching, Dampa is ill-equipped to combat it, given the systemic problems with its staffing and funding. The state government has very few permanent staff at the park – just 17. The bulk of the patrolling is done by 170 forest guards, drawn from villages in Dampa's fringe, who are hired as daily wage workers. These workers are not paid by the state forest department but from central funds given by the National Tiger Conservation Authority for Project Tiger.

Usually, forest guards are not posted for duty in the village they belong to, since this results in a conflict of interest as they are reluctant to catch offenders from their own village. In Dampa, this rule is not followed. In Terei village, about 12 km to the east of Damparengpui, 16 people of the village work in the forest department. All of them are stationed in Terei itself. At least one attempt to transfer them was reportedly stymied after the guards approached local politicians for help.

Unpaid salaries

While the job of the forest guard is a valued one, the salaries remain low and stagnant. “All of them make Rs 6,600-Rs 6,700,” said Singh, the wildlife biologist. “Even those who have been working for almost 20 years get paid as much as someone hired a month ago.”

But for the last six months, even these low wages have not reached the forest guards. The Guwahati-based regional director of the National Tiger Conservation Authority, DP Bankwal, told that the money for the salaries had been released by the organisation. “We released one-third of the park's allocation in June, even before the budget had been passed,” he said. The allocation was sent to the state finance department which was supposed to release the money to the forest department, but a senior wildlife official said that the money had not arrived in the department coffers.

In terms of scale, the problem of delayed payments is larger than just Dampa, said Rajesh Gopal, the former head of the the National Tiger Conservation Authority. The problem plagues most states in the North East. “There was a similar delay in releasing funds at Kaziranga [in Assam]. In Nameri National Park [in Assam's Sonitpur district], with great arm-twisting, we were able to get 2013-'14 salaries paid out a few months ago.”

Underfunded and unprotected

Mizoram, said the state wildlife official, allocates very little money to the forest department – one reason Dampa uses centrally allocated Project Tiger funds for paying forest guards. The underfunding has ensured that the state forest department has – at best – antiquated guns like .303 rifles. This is the reason that the guards cite for not patrolling the western flank of the park, which borders Bangladesh, and sees the movement of insurgent groups. A local forest officer told Scroll, on the condition of anonymity, that “patrolling is underway only in the east and the south”.

The outcome: parts of the park are entirely unprotected. Singh, while installing her camera traps, could only cover the north-eastern part of the park. The rest of the area, the forest department told her, was not safe.

But the National Tiger Conservation Authority is getting impatient with the poor results. “All this talk of insurgency is an excuse,” said Bankwal, the organisation's regional director. “What is stopping them [the forest guards] from going on patrols with police?” There might be some merit in this view. The forest guards are drawn from the same community as the insurgents, which makes it less likely for them to get targeted. But another reason for their reluctance to patrol could be their low and irregular salaries.

Incidentally, in Mizoram, it is not only the forest guards who are getting delayed salaries. A health department staffer told, on the condition of anonymity, that even National Rural Health Mission salaries were late. Community health volunteers under the ASHA programme were yet to get their dues amounting to an average of about Rs 6,000 each. The day Scroll travelled to Dampa, students in Aizawl and other towns were protesting against the delay in the arrival of their scholarship funds.

The next story in this series will look at why the state is failing to make these payments on time. In the meantime, the future of Dampa, which Gopal describes as "an important forest linkage between Bangladesh and India," looks uncertain. 

18 March 2015

Reimagining Dimapur

Dimapur Lynching,   Dimapur rapist lynching, Dimapur mob lynching, Syed Sharif Khan, illegal Bangladeshi Immigrant, Dimapur Bangladeshi Lynching, Sanjib Baruah column, indian express column, ie column

By Sanjib Baruah

By all indications, the lynching of Syed Sharif Khan was the result of an episode of moral panic about the so-called IBI — “illegal Bangladeshi Immigrant” — in Dimapur. Sociologists use the term “moral panic” to describe heightened public anxiety, triggered by media frenzy, about an individual, a minority group or a subculture seen as an imminent threat to social order.

The media has always been an active contributor to moral panics. But it seems that in a new media environment that includes mobile phones, the internet and social networks, there can be situations when crime and punishment move from the courts and prisons to the street. And the street can turn into a theatre of the absurd, or reality television of a frightening variety. The lynching of Syed Sharif Khan was the mediated spectacle of capital punishment of a person who — it is now believed — may not have been guilty of any crime. It is not accidental that these horrendous events unfolded in Dimapur.

While many in India seem to think of Dimapur as a remote place, historians of World War II know it as an important strategic location. It was the main supply depot for the British 14th Army in its war with the Japanese. That is why capturing Dimapur was an important strategic goal for the Japanese. What made Dimapur so strategic was its railhead.

Thanks to a metro-centric bias, we don’t think of places like Dimapur as urban spaces. However, those who study urbanisation in India deeply disagree with the way urban spaces are officially defined. Concepts like subaltern urbanisation or vernacular urbanism, debated among academics, give a sense of the issues involved. In the words of Naga journalist Y. Merina Chishi, Dimapur is “a city of villages”.

Even important government buildings like the deputy commissioner’s office are located in “villages”, as are some of the city’s posh areas.

In that regard, Dimapur may have a lot in common with the urban villages of Delhi, where many Northeasterners live. But Dimapur is also a city in the important sense that, like many other cities in the world, it is where people have to live with difference and deal with heterogeneity, both cultural and economic. Escaping to the comfort zones of imagined homogeneity is not an option.

Dimapur is Nagaland’s only plains district. Its topography explains why Dimapur has the railhead, which was the reason why the Dimapur mauza of what was then the Nowgong district of Assam was transferred to the Naga Hills district in the early part of the last century — giving an opening to a district closed off by the Inner Line. The same railhead made Dimapur strategically important in the last World War. Even today, the railhead gives Dimapur its special economic niche. And since it is in the plains, Dimapur has always been outside the Inner Line regime. It is hardly surprising, then, that it is the state’s economic hub and attracts migrants from other parts of the country (and possibly some from Bangladesh), as well as from the rest of Nagaland.

But perhaps it is equally unsurprising that in a state with all other districts closed to settlement by those not from the region, Dimapur should become the focus of fears about so-called IBIs, or about outsiders corrupting Naga society. The growing demographic imbalance between Dimapur, with its growing non-Naga population, and the rest of Nagaland is also a source of significant political consternation.

Dimapur has the only general unreserved seat in the Nagaland assembly. The constituency has an electorate that is many times that of other Nagaland constituencies. In 2002, the Delimitation Commission awarded four additional seats to Dimapur based on population shifts. The commission, however, did not get into the potentially explosive issue of whether those seats should be general or reserved.

Fortunately, an ordinance in 2008 deferred the delimitation of constituencies in Nagaland till 2031, kicking the proverbial can down the road.

Interestingly enough, what worries so many Naga activists and politicians about Dimapur are exactly the things that serious thinkers about northeast India’s economic future find promising. The region’s future prosperity, they believe, lies in the ability to create more Dimapur-like open economic spaces in the hill states of the region. The late B.G. Verghese was a great friend of the Northeast. Something of a futurist when it came to the region — and an eternal optimist — he extolled an implicit Dimapur model in some of his writings. In November 2014, during his trip to the Northeast, Prime Minister Narendra Modi flagged off the first passenger train from Mendipathar in Meghalaya’s North Garo Hills district to Guwahati. In a book published in 1996, Verghese had speculated on what this railway link could do to Meghalaya’s economy. Certain areas, he wrote, including perhaps Mendipathar itself, could be de-reserved or made free zones, “like Dimapur in Nagaland, where ‘outsiders’ may freely invest and settle”. Such a step, he thought, would build confidence and attract capital to the hill state. Elsewhere, he wrote of economic spaces designed for servicing the hills, again modelled on Dimapur.

Many of the colonial era institutions that persisted in the Northeast, like the Inner Line, acquired important new functions after the end of the Raj. They have morphed into instruments of protective discrimination. Many benefits have come from these continuities. But the trouble with path dependency is that societies can be locked into dysfunctional institutional arrangements even when better alternatives are available.

The difficulty with the Inner Line is rooted its very history. As historian Bodhisattva Kar succinctly puts it, the Inner Line was “not only a territorial exterior of the theatre of capital — it was also a temporal outside of the historical pace of development and progress”. The choice is not between keeping those institutions and abolishing them. Verghese seems to have thought that the Dimapur model, in some ways, provides a way out of the impasse.

The hard lesson that Nagaland and the rest of northeast India must draw from the events in Dimapur is that the region must find a way of bringing in a politics that is based not just on the memories of shared ethnic pasts, but on the vision of a common future for those who live in the region today.

The writer is professor of political studies at Bard College, New York
12 March 2015

Myanmar Needs Help of Both China and India

By Ding Gang

India has been actively mediating peace talks to end clashes in northern Myanmar recently. According to an Indian Express report on Monday, New Delhi has agreed to arrange Myanmar ethnic rebel leader's visit to India and sent representatives to negotiate with the Myanmar government and ethnic armed rebels.

India enjoys favorable geographical conditions and a shared ethnic heritage in helping northern Myanmar's reconciliation. Northern Myanmar lies between India and China, connected by the Stilwell Road, which was built during World War II.

The road is still a significant transportation channel until today. A large number of Chinese products are transported to the port markets of India-Myanmar border through this road.

Ethnic minorities in this area span all the three countries. For example, Kachin, the main ethnic minorities in Myanmar's Kachin state, could also be found in India's Assam state as well as China's Yunnan Province.

Of course, self-interest is one of the main reasons why New Delhi is willing to push peace talks in northern Myanmar, because stability in this area is directly related to stability in northeast India.

In recent years, India has often suffered from Myanmar's ethnic conflicts in the country's northeast. In 2012, an estimated number of 100,000 Chins seeking refuge flocked to the Mizoram state of India.

Besides, India itself also faces severe challenges from the separatist activities of minority extremists in the northeast. If northern Myanmar could be secure and stable, it could help strengthen security cooperation between the two countries.

Moreover, if India could play an important role in maintaining stability in Myanmar, it can encourage China to make more efforts in this field, and enhance mutual trust between China and India.

The negotiations over Sino-Indian border dispute are struggling forward, and the main factor that affects the process is the low-level of mutual trust.

In this context, if the two countries could coordinate to make some progress in the northern Myanmar peace talks, mutual understanding between Beijing and New Delhi will be increased, which could benefit the negotiations over border disputes between the two.

China and India are not only close neighbors, but also fellow member states of BRICS. Now that the two have already established some cooperation mechanisms, and further enhancing collaboration under the framework of BRICS is also under way.

However, both China and India still need to play a bigger role in regional affairs, which requires the two sides to enhance their coordination. In such circumstances, promoting the peace talks in northern Myanmar is an exploration for building up cooperative mechanisms.

India's ability at mediation is probably weaker than that of China. But as long as India is willing to make efforts, China should respond positively by creating conditions and increasing information exchanges with India.

China is carrying forward the "One Belt, One Road" initiative, which includes the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor. The initiative is not only an economic task, but also a diplomatic mission.

To achieve the goal of implementing this project, there is lots of concrete and detailed diplomatic work to do, including enhancing communication and coordination in the region, in order to solve problems and build a stable and peaceful mechanism based on consultative democracy.

India chooses to mediate the clashes in northern Myanmar at this point, not only for its "Look East" policy, but also that India has realized Myanmar's intent to strengthen ties with India.

An enhanced relationship between India and Myanmar should not be regarded as a constraint on China-Myanmar relations, even if the Myanmar government is considering balancing China's influence.

We should have the self-confidence that small and medium-sized countries in Asia, such as Myanmar, need China in their development. China should learn to adapt to Asia, which is constantly looking for a new balance with the rise of China. For example, gradually eliminating India's mistrust about cooperating with China is a wise move.

The author is a senior editor with People's Daily. He is now stationed in Brazil. Follow him on Twitter at @dinggangchina

Source:Global Times Published: 2015-3-11 23:58:01 
10 March 2015

Identity and Crisis: Nagaland Lynching Reflects Northeast's Fissures

By Abhishek Saha

Activists of All Assam Minorities Students Union shout slogans during a torch protest against the lynching of a man accused of rape. (AP Photo)

A few days before the lynching of rape accused Syed Farid Khan in Dimapur, my mother, who lives in Guwahati, called up to share something that had disturbed her.

That day, my mother said, the vegetable vendor at the bazar had a tiff with some customers. The men, she said, slapped the vendor and warned him, "You miyas (a pejorative used for both Bangladeshis and Bengali-speaking Muslims) better learn to behave in our land."

When my mother accosted the men and asked if they knew for sure the vendor was a Bangladeshi, they dismissed her query and claimed it was obvious - their reason being he was a Muslim and spoke Bengali.

Initial reactions to Khan's lynching were no different: several political groups, the media and even a top police officer of Dimapur claimed the lynched man was a Bangladeshi without verifying facts. By Saturday afternoon, however, the air was cleared and it was confirmed Khan belonged to a family of soldiers, leave alone being a foreigner. He was a Bengali-speaking Muslim whose family had lived in Assam for generations.

This kneejerk reaction reflects the vulnerability of identities in the Northeast, where communities have been involved in ethnic and communal clashes born out of perceived socio-cultural threats.
"The initial reaction shows how simplistic and narrow the understanding of identity is here. A person's religion and his language is enough to make assumptions about his nationality, without caring to analyse any further," says Thangkhanlal Ngaihte, a former Manipuri journalist.

"There is fear regarding the people perceived to be 'Bangladeshis', the fear of losing out on resources and opportunities. And a lot of it is politically motivated."

The history of the migration of Bengali-speaking people, both Hindus and Muslims, into the Northeast is an old one, ranging from the Treaty of Yandaboo in 1826. Socio-political debates continue on the issue, even as analysts argue it is more a "political bogey" than a serious large-scale threat to India.

Growing up in Assam in the 1990s, I was often called a 'Bangal', a derogatory reference to Bengali speakers and a remnant of the anti-Bengali sentiment stoked during the Assam Movement. I have also witnessed chauvinistic crowds rough up working class men from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh on the streets of Guwahati.

Parallel to that, I saw the identity movements of the Bodo, Karbi and Rabha tribes grow and often turn violent. The Bodoland movement, over the years, has claimed thousands of Assamese and Bengali lives, both Muslims and Hindus, while separatist movements have raged in Manipur and Nagaland.

The Northeast, in addition to its original, highly heterogeneous ethnic composition, has experienced a series of migrations - Ahoms from South Asia who came in 1228 and ended up ruling for six centuries, Bengali Hindus and Muslims from erstwhile undivided Bengal, Bengali Muslims from Bangladesh in several phases, Nepalis and Marwaris.

Because of these migrations, indigenous communities always voiced their fears of losing their identity along with their land to "outsiders". And this fear of the "other", laid bare to the manipulation of sectarian and identity politics, has led to the worst of consequences.

"Though many identity movements in the Northeast started historically as resistance against different dominant hegemonies, over time, most of these have degenerated into exclusivist notions of identity, where all sense of solidarity between different oppressed groups have given away to a sense of mutual suspicion," says Kaustubh Deka, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Delhi.

"The overall overarching backdrop is the crumbling resources that all are fighting for. Phobia for the outsider is born out of that insecurity. A community always evolves through contestations and uncertainties, forcefully trying to change this course leads to violent outcomes," Deka adds.

Khan's lynching isn't merely a case study of how awful vigilante justice can be, or for that matter of reverse racism by the tribes of the Northeast. It is, to say the least, an indication of the highly complex demographic processes that are underway in the region.