DISSIDENT political leaders from the Indian State of Manipur on Tuesday said they were unilaterally declaring independence from India and forming a government-in-exile in Britain. Narengbam Samarjit, External Affairs Minister in the self-declared Manipur State Council, said the exiled government would push for recognition at the United Nations. The next morning, a local newspaper ran a clarification by the state’s titular king, Leishemba Sanajaoba, on whose behalf the two men claimed to be acting, and was quoted as saying that he was not part of the rebellion. While this episode could be dismissed by pro-Indian Manipuris as a misadventure, but as a consequence of the Naga peace talks the situation is volatile. Manipur’s merger with the Indian Union in 1949 was not a cordial affair. The princely state’s king was put under house arrest and isolated from his advisors when he signed the merger agreement, ostensibly under duress.
Over the years, this had led to a separatist insurgency, which was met with full force by the Indian security apparatus. Human rights abuses by Indian forces fueled the separatist sentiments, and armed Meitei groups continue to be in operation and at war with India. In fact, they are among the few ethnic groups in the region who have never reached some sort of truce with the Indian government. Besides, the state’s multi-ethnic society over the decades has become a site for competing ethnic nationalisms, each with its own armed groups. As the October 31 is deadline for a final settlement to the Naga political conundrum, tempers in Manipur are running high again over reports that parts of the state’s hill areas will be converted into a Naga satellite territorial area council – governed in some measure by a proposed bicameral Naga Parliament where pro-Indian legislators would be present.
Political analysts presaged that with the abolition of Article 370 of the Constitution, 10 states other than Jammu and Kashmir which enjoy special category status could be more volatile than the Jammu and Kashmir. These are Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura and Uttarakhand. Arvind Kumar, Assistant Professor at the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Jamia Millia Islamia, said, “This (abrogation) might serve as a template for other special category states”. Neera Chandhoke, a former Professor of Political Science at Delhi University, said, “This might set a precedent, but Kashmir has been a priority for the Bharatiya Janata Party. Never before, a state has been downgraded. You don’t do this in a democracy. You don’t go to war against your own people. One can’t have a military solution to a political situation”.
An accord is said to be signed on 31 October with Nagaland rebels, which had an uneasy relationship with the mainland, which was the most volatile state, as promises made in the Naga Peace Accord of 2015 remain unfulfilled due to slow progress of talks, and the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016. However, the writ of the government is said to be confined to state capital Kohima, and the rebels have parallel administration in Nagaland and the Naga-dominated areas in neighbouring Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. Rebel groups have for several decades imposed taxes in the name of “national work”, interfered in politics and elections, and gave verdicts on family and farmland disputes. Though Nagaland has special provisions under Article 371A following the creation of the state of Nagaland; yet it proved as a motive for fresh insurgency under the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN).
In Mizoram, former Chief Minister of Mizoram, Lal Thanhawla, has made his position on the developments in Jammu and Kashmir clear through a tweet on August 5. He tweeted, “It has become a threat to states like Mizoram, Nagaland & Arunachal which are protected by the Constitution. If 35A and 370 are repealed, Article 371G, which safeguards the interests and existence of lesser tribals of Mizoram is under severe threat.” Other political parties in Mizoram have also condemned the move, as the People’s Representation for Identity and Status of Mizoram (PRISM) has sounded the alarm and urged the ‘indigenous people’ of the Northeast to be prepared. Meanwhile, the final Assam citizens’ list was released, leaving out more than 1.9 million Muslims. Some of the significant separatist movements in India include Naxalites or Maoists, which is second major freedom movement after IOK in India.
The seven states of Northeastern India called the ‘Seven Sisters’ are rocked by a large number of armed and violent rebellions. They accuse New Delhi of apathy towards their issues such as illiteracy, poverty and lack of economic opportunities. Tamil Nadu is another area where separatist movements are haunting federation of India. As the Centre was ready to ink the Naga Peace Accord, Nagaland remains tense, with the state bracing for a backlash following threats by the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) faction to derail the peace process, should the Centre proceed without its participation. The NSCN (I-M), a key player in the peace accord, was the primary signatory when the pact was inked in 2015 under the then Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh. Now it demands for a separate Constitution, flag and integration of all contiguous Naga-inhabited areas under Nagalim (Greater Nagaland) which includes parts of Manipur, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Myanmar.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.