By : H. Ibotombi Khuman
The states comprising Northeastern region of India are inhabited by people who share similar physical attribute and speak different language. In early precolonial history, they are all self-determined people and have resided in self-governed territories. After colonization by the British, Naga Hills, Lushai Hills and Khasi Hills were created as a district within the state of Assam. Manipur had existed as an independent Asiatic sovereign. Manipur became a ‘British Protectorate’ following her defeat in Anglo-Manipuri War of 1891. Manipur became independent following the lapse of British Paramountcy on the intervening night of 14 August 1947 [N. Sanajaoba, 1997: 8].
Under Manipur Constitution Act, 1947, elections were held for 52 Assembly Constituencies (ACs) in the month of June and July, and for Mao AC where election could not be held, it was represented by a nominated member. On 21st September of the same year, all the members took oath of office and the assembly was inaugurated by the titular king of Manipur, His Highness, Maharaja Bodhchandra. The Merger Agreement of Manipur to India was signed between Maharaja of Manipur and Government of India on 21 September 1949. It came into effect on 15 October 1949. Following Merger, Manipur became a Part C State of India. Manipur then had to go through a status of territorial Council and afterwards the Union Territory before attaining statehood. It was only in the year 1972, Manipur was granted a full-fledged statehood.
In the year 1953, Manipur National Union under the leadership of Sagolsem Indramni, in a mammoth gathering attended by thousands, at Pologround declared that Manipur should be a ‘Buffer State’. For declaring so, he was and put into prison. In the year 1954, Praja Socialist party, also launched the agitation for demanding responsible government in Manipur [Ibid., 10]. Many organisations and political parties also launched an intense agitation demanding the installation of full-fledged assembly [Ibid.]. There was also a prolonged movement for demanding statehood by the Manipur State Demand Coordinating Committee. In the case of erstwhile Naga Hills and Lushai Hills, with the rising armed violence by the Naga National Council (NNC) and the Mizo National Front (MNF), two new states, Nagaland (1963) and Mizoram (1987) was created to appease and pacify the rising armed insurrection.
In the case of Manipur, Manipur was granted statehood after the emergence of Meitei State Committee which was founded in 1960 and remained active till 1969, and United National liberation Front (UNLF) which is still a force to reckon with since its inception in 1964, and Revolutionary Government of Manipur founded in 1968. Thus, history is a witness that without resorting to armed violence, likelihood of getting regional aspirations fulfilled through democratic means is remote and almost ruled out.
Manipur’s unrepresented ‘Fourth World State’ armed liberation movement’ which continued uninterrupted from the last decade of the Twentieth Century to the present Twenty-First Century had started to gain recognition in the international arena. This important phase in the history had also started reflecting in Manipuri literature.
Non-State Armed Insurgent Groups in Manipur: Profile and History
Manipur has a more than 2000 years old recorded and documented history. Its existence as an independent East Asiatic sovereign power and the precursor effort for the regaining of its lost political status through armed revolution was made by Hijam Irabot by founding ‘Manipur Communist Party’ and ‘Armed Red Guard’ in 1948 and continued the movement till 1951. An assembly constituted by the duly and democratic elected government had by taking a resolution denounced the Merger Agreement signed between the Government of India and Maharaja Bodhchandra on 21 September which came into effect on 15 October 1949 as null and void.
Accordingly the resolution of denouncing the Merger Agreement was let known to the Dominion Government of India by sending a signed statement.
Subsequent to it, in the year 1960, Meetei /Meitei State Committee under the leadership of Wangkheirakpam Tomba actively carried out violent armed struggle till the time their President, Secretary and other leaders got arrested and imprisoned in 1967 and accordingly waned down [ Ibid., 11].
On 24 November 1964, the United National liberation Front (UNLF) was founded under the leadership of Arambam Samarendra and started the revolution struggle. After assuming the charge of leadership by Sanayaima aka Meghen, the movement of UNLF gained prominence and became more and more in the limelight. As of now, Sanayaima aka Meghen was arrested by the security forces from Bangladesh and after handing him over to India, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) had prosecuted him and accordingly imprisoned by awarding 10 years imprisonment. At present, UNLF is under the leadership of Mr. Pambei. UNLF, as a constituent member of Co-ordination Committee, a conglomeration of Underground groups of Manipur, better known by its acronym CorCom, have been relentlessly engaged in a joint revolutionary struggle under the banner of CorCom.
Some of those who wanted to accelerate the pace of the revolutionary movement deserted the UNLF and join the Consolidation Committee Manipur (ConsoCom) under the leadership of Oinam Sudhir [Hanjabam, 2011: 102]. ConsoCom, started the ‘Manipur liberation struggle’ by forming a Government in Exile in the year 1968. The activity of this revolutionary group continued till 1972 but after most of its leaders got arrested in Tripura and Manipur, and imprisoned accordingly, it no longer continued.
Sequel to it, on 9 October 1977, a People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK) was founded by RK Loyataba aka Tullachandra. The party launched the armed Self-determination movement of Manipur with a hoisting of flag. The founding leader, Tullachandra, was killed in an encounter with the Manipur Rifle’s security personnel at Kabow Wakching on 12 November 1985. At present, the party is led by Sathi aka Heera. This party, also, as a constituent coordination member of CorCoM, is actively engaged in joint armed struggle.
PREPAK – Progressive, another faction from PREPAK, under the leadership of Longjam Suresh aka Paliba has also been very active and still continuing the armed struggle as constituent coordinating member of CorCom.
On 25 September 1978, People’s Liberation Army (PLA) under the leadership of Nameirakpam Bisheswar was founded. In the subsequent year, on 25 February, 1979, its political wing, Revolutionary People’s Front (RPF) was set up. RPF claimed itself as conforming to the United Nations’ Indigenous People’s Charters in their sustained armed struggle for right to national self-determination for the complete decolonization of Manipur representing the Meitei and the Meitei cognates viz, the Nagas, the Kuki-Chins from the present ‘colonial administering power of India which has occupied Manipur, since 15 October, 1949 till today. At present, RPF is taking a big role in the joint struggle as Coordination member of CorCom [Ibid., 104].
Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL), another potent armed revolutionary group was formed on 24 April 1994 under the leadership of Namoijam Oken and Achou Toijamba, by those who parted from UNLF owing to differences in the ideology and style of working. The party also had been carrying out sustained armed struggle for the stated cause of liberating Manipur and regaining her lost independence without retreat. After the demise of Achou Toijamba, KYKL, under the leadership of Namoijam Oken had tied up and joined hands with Kangleipak Communist Party – Noyon (KCP–N). Both the two parties have earlier been constitutent members of the conglomerate groups, Revolutionary Joint Committee (RJC), Manipur People’s Liberation Front (MPLF), and CorCom. At present, both the parties have joined hands with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K) and continue with the armed uprising.
Narratives by the Non-State Armed Insurgent Groups in Manipur
As per the press release and handouts issued by the armed revolutionary groups to media from time to time, it consistently maintained that they are not separatists, but they are waging armed movement for the regaining of lost independence and lost sovereignty of Manipur, which led to conflict situation between two nations. The issue of armed conflict cannot be solved militarilyIt should be solved with the involvement of credible and impartial third party mediator, like the United Nations’ Organisation (UNO). The issue cannot be taken lightly as simply a ‘law and order’ problem. It is worth mentioning for knowing together that, the Merger Agreement of Manipurto India, 1949 was signed under duress and coercion. It, therefore, cannot be a valid legal document and should be taken as a clear case of annexation.
The lucid example of it is the telegraphed letter on 18 September 1949 by Shri Prakasha to Sardar Patel proving beyond doubt that Maharaja Bodhchandra was kept in house arrest before the signing of merger Agreement. The Maharaja who signed the agreement was only a nominal and titular head and the Government of India was represented by the Dominion Government. So, there arises the logical question of whether the Dominion Government can represent the GoI in signing the said agreement.
In the book, ‘Annexation of Manipur 1949’, it was very categorically mentioned that Manipur was annexed at gunpoint. The National Convention on Merger Issue (28-29 October 1993) held at Gandhi Memorial Hall, Imphal after two days deliberations and threadbare discussions, considered the socio-political process and the constitutional-legal process that prevailed at the time when Manipur State Constitution Act, 1947 was in operation and popular responsible government with an elected people’s legislative assembly was constitutionally functioning prior to the signing of Manipur Merger Agreement on 21 September 1949 in between Manipur’s constitutional figurehead, the Maharaja and the representative of the Dominion of India. In its concluding day, it took the resolution jointly signed by Gangmumei Kamei (Eminent Historian), Dr. N. Ibobi (First Ph.D of Political Science in Manipur), Dr. N. Sanajaoba (Faculty of Law, Gauhati University), resolving that the Manipur Merger Agreement signed by and between the Maharaja of Manipur and the representative of the Dominion of the Government of on the 21st September 1949 did not have any legality and constitutional validity.
In the case of Sikkim, a plebiscite was conducted on 16th May, 1975 at a time Sikkim merged to India. But in the case of Manipur when it merged to India, it not only bypassed the people but also the duly democratically elected Manipur legislative Assembly. Even the decisions taken by the assembly were not honoured. The armed struggle of Manipur launched to regain its pre-merger status had been continuing for more than 60 long years. Considering it, the ‘Fourth World’1 Status of Manipur should be acknowledged and be given due formal recognition. Why because, Manipur was an Asiatic sovereign quite before the Anglo-Manipuri War of 1891.
The Treaty of Yandaboo signed in 1826 recognised Manipur as an independent country. In the year 1865, British Government prosecuted one Keifa Singh at Cachar for having committed an offence against the Manipur Raja. This case furnishes evidence of the fact that the British Government in prosecuting, and English Courts in convicting the prisoners have dealt with Manipur as an Asiatic sovereign power [N. Sanajaoba, 1998: 428].
When Jammu and Kashmir merged to India in 1949, the Constituent Assembly of India incorporated Article 370 which gives special autonomous status to Jammu and Kashmir under part XXI of the Indian Constitution. In the case of Manipur, one Guha from Tripura represented Manipur in the Constituent Assembly of India and have said nothing about the Constitutional protection that will ensure the legacy of continuing tradition of self-governance in the eventuality or any likelihood of Manipur becoming an integral part of India. While signing the Merger Agreement of Manipur to India, apart from appeasing Maharaja by giving some personal entitlements and privy benefits, nothing substantial was talked and discussed about the future political fate of Manipur. Consequently, when Manipur merged to India, Manipur became its integral part with a very low political status as a Part C State.2
The history of Kangleipak Manipur stands as solid testimony to the utmost concern for the native soil and the selfless sacrifice displayed by our brave fore-fathers. In its foregone days, Manipur had experienced many tumultuous times past including the ‘Seven Years devastation (1719-26) following Burmese Aggression and Anglo-Manipuri war of 1891. In both the occasions, our forefathers, in order to protect the freedom of the land have sacrificed and shed their sweat and blood at the cost of their life without any concern for personal safety. However, in the case of merger of Manipur to India in 1949, Manipur was annexed without any bloodshed by deceit and treachery due to the involvement of local collaborators. Today’s generation cannot just remain mute for the treacherous and deceitful event of merger merely by just repenting. So for the posterity to come, it is duty-bound for them that they are conscientiously waging the armed uprising to restore and regain the lost sovereignty and independence of Manipur.
Manipur is a pluralistic society inhabited by about 40 different communities. Owing to their common physical traits and appearances, and common genesis, and with many cases of inter-marriage, they all have been harmoniously livingin peaceful co-existence. But unfortunately, in the recent trend, there have been an upsurge of preference of exclusive ethnic identity overriding the collective pluralistic identity. Assertions for exclusive ethnic homeland by the Kukis and the Nagas have started threatening the holistic and pluralistic identity and integrity of Manipur. It is, in fact very timely, that Government had entered into some sort of peace arrangement with armed insurgent groups, either in the form of Suspension of Operation (SoO) or some other. Let it speedily arrived at solution and restore peace to the society and state of Manipur.
Armed Forces Special powers Act (AFSPA), 1958, was imposed in the Northeastern states of India to contain and suppress the armed insurgent uprising arising out of the discontentment and wrongs that happened in India’s post-independence. It led to rampant human rights violation in the form of combing operation, atrocities, human degradation, extra-judicial killing, physical disappearance, custodial death, molestation, rape, fake encounter killing, massacre, village collective fine etc. In the year 2004, Thangjam Manaroma, after being arrested from her home, was raped in custody and brutally murdered and later found her bullet-ridden body abandoned in a field. It led to intense protest. Consequently cases of human rights violation were to some extent scaled down. The Supreme Court also intervened by obliging the army headquarters to issue “List of Dos and Don’ts while acting under the AFSPA, 1958". But not only the common people, even the Ministers have suffered due to non-compliance to dos and don’ts by the Armed Force personnel who are here in the state of Manipur to aid and assist the civil authority.
So many intense agitations, conventions, sit-in-protest, so far held and organized, alongside with submission of many representations and memorandums to the competent authority have been done to repeal the AFSPA, 1958. Irom Sharmila had also completed her 16 years fasting demanding the repeal of AFSPA. All these efforts proved futile bearing no consequence. However, AFSPA, 1958 was lifted from the seven assembly segments of Imphal Municipal area following the removing of ‘disturbed area’ tag from the said area. Following people’s demand, the Ministry of Home Affairs, GoI instituted theJeevan Reddy Commission to review the AFSPA, 1958. The committee recommended to either amend the provisions of the act to bring them in consonance of the government towards protection of human rights, or to replace the act by a more humane act. But nonetheless, with the armed forces insisting for continuing AFSPA, 1958, nothing happened as the government had maintained stoic silence. On the other hand, instead of AFSPA, 1958 containing insurgency, more and more mushrooming and proliferating of armed insurgent groups had been witnessing in post AFSPA, 1958 Manipur and Northeast.
Manipur came under British colonialism following the defeat of Manipur in the Anglo-British War of 1891. During the long period of British rule in Manipur from 1891 to 1947, the administration in the hills of Manipur was done directly by the British.
The British administrators at the threshold of leaving formulated the Manipur Constitution Act, 1947 and the Manipur Hill Areas Regulation Act, 1947 with the objective of putting it to practice after their departure. Because of that legacy, when Manipur attained statehood, the State Legislative Assembly existed alongside with Hill Areas Committee. As its outcome, the colonial practice of divide and rule policy continued with the implementation of respective dual system of administration for the hills and the plains. For instance, Panchayati Raj in the valley, district council in the hills, Patta system in valley and house tax in hills for land revenue and settlement, allowing of people from any communities to settle in the valley areas while prohibiting non-tribes from settling in hill areas, etc. In the light of such continuing colonial legacy of divide and rule, we need to realize to remain united as one against such adversary forces that attempt to divide us. Any force on earth will not able to divide the brethren communities in Manipur who belonged to the same racial stock having similar physical features, sharing the fraternal bond with a long tradition of inter-marriage. In this age of globalised world with development reaching its zenith, northeast seems still in the grip of under-development. In fact, development is found lagging in all fronts as infrastructure is found wanting. Many smaller communities are in a fear of becoming extinct or getting submerged by the larger community. As they remain unrepresented in the decision-making bodies, they don’t have any means to raise their grievance. If the existing system continues, these people belonging to smaller community will not be able to have their representation even after thousands of years. Addressing it requires commissioning a bicameral system having legislative council with representations from all the brethren native communities irrespective of the population size. By doing so, there will be peaceful co-existence and future generations will benefit from it in the form of even development, mutual empathy which in turn would ultimately result to unity and oneness. (Concluded)