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Enigma of Unique Histories

This article is an excerpt from the article “Reflections on the Conflicts of our Times : Attempt at Common Sense reading of the Manipur Experience” written by Lokendra Arambam

As for the issue of the
    GoI’s decision to
    recognize the unique history, culture and situation of the Nagas, the people in the valley have other fears. Because the demographic situation of the Manipur state is composed of a plural spread of some thirty four ethnic communities all over the hills and plains and certain smaller ethnoses had been converted into the denomination of Nagas, like earlier anthropological understanding of some old-Kuki communities like the Moyon, Monsang, Anal, Maring etc. have identified themselves as Nagas, and there are resistances to this programme. The Aimol community had refused to be recognized as Nagas. They wanted to remain Aimol, and some other smaller communities like Chothe also refused to be incorporated into larger tribes. When the NSCN (IM) submitted their demands for the settlement of the Indo-Naga Peace Talks, they surely must be presenting to the Centre a history of the Nagas as they claimed to be unique, and one is not sure what is the representation of the Manipur Nagas, apart from their solid history of the Nagas in Nagaland and Burma, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. When the civil representatives asked for a White Paper from the GoI to produce the documents of the Indo-Naga Peace Talks since 1997, Mr. Ravi was reported to have brushed aside the idea curtly, saying that he didn’t bring any ‘baggage’ of the past, meaning GoI had rejected the earlier 17 years old non-settled ambivalences of the UPA Government of the Congress, that the Modi Government was starting afresh on the issue. This means that the Modi Government had also rejected certain decisions reported to have been communicated to the Naga representatives by Mr. Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister that the idea of sovereignty of the Nagas shall not be recognized and that Naga integration of territories and people in neighbouring states are also ruled out. This sudden turn-about in the policies of the Centre, and recognition of the History of the Nagas as told by the Nagas only, not the history of ethnic components of neighbouring states, which are as yet not invited by the Centre from them. Here lies a complex bind on the case!
It is feared that the case of the Manipur Nagas, and their history in Manipur could have been wrongly reported by the NSCN (IM) to the Centre. It had been widely circulated that the Nagas of Manipur had never been conquered by any other power other than the British in Manipur history. It was circulated that the Meetei kingdom before they came under British rule in 1891 was only in the valley of Manipur. The Nagas of Manipur were therefore represented as being ‘independent’ in the hill regions of Manipur till the advent of the British.
It looks like the history of the Nagas in Manipur were being presented to the Centre in a one-sided version. The history of pre-colonial Manipur was not much studied as public knowledge, and not much of studies had been done on ethno-history, the issues of authority relations in the pre-colonial polity, the ritual relationship amongst communities with the state, and the facts in history about progressive awareness of self-hoods amongst pre-colonial ethnoses as against others, the development of the in-group consciousness of solidarity and out-group hostility being only a late phenomenon in our lives. The Indo-Naga Peace Talks, which was freshly started by the Modi Government, with Mr. R.N. Ravi’s perceptions of having carried no baggages from the past, was based on mistaken paradigms of conflict resolution exercises. Mr. R.N. Ravi himself was carrying a baggage of severe mistaken notion of Naga history, a discourse of unique history and situation of the Nagas, told by the NSCN (IM) and accepted by the NDA Government under Atal Bihari Bajpayee since the Amsterdam Conference of 2002. No other neighbouring states in Northeast India, which have Naga citizens in their territories, had ever been invited to relate their ethnic histories and cultures.
The civil societies in the Manipur valley have a relevant point to demand a White Paper of the GoI-NSCN (IM) negotiations since 1997, for the very issues of the Manipur Nagas could have been wrongly represented in the context of the negotiations. A correct perspective of history must be established about Naga uniqueness, if ever that too was reflected in Manipur history. There would be another uniqueness of Manipur history, if the pages of pre-colonial Manipur are opened. For it will be discovered that the hill tribes were participating as voluntary components of the pre-colonial Manipur polity since the tenth century of the Common Era. A ritual of mutual relationship with collective solidarity in tow known as Mera Haochongba (Dance by the Hillmen in October) was established during the reign of King Irengba (984-1074 C.E.). Both the lowland and highland dwellers fought together in Manipur’s wars against foreign powers like the Burmese and the English. The hills and the plains had a symbiotic relationship, forged by the geographic, ecological and economic inter-dependencies of the natural environment. The Manipur Nagas were not being understood as Nagas, which was a British invention. The Manipur polity recognized them in their ethnonyms, their original ethnos names like the Tangkhuls, the Mao, the Maram, the Thangals etc. The spread of the idea of Naga consciousness was a fairly recent phenomenon, a post-Phizo development. Even the legendary sacrifices of Jadonang and Gaidinlieu from the Manipur hills against the British imperial power, as interpreted as forbears of Naga nationalism was found to be an incorrect interpretation. For the two leaders fought for kingdom of the Makam people, which now is represented by the Zeliangroung people. Such critical nuances in the interpretation of historical events did create a lot of misunderstanding in the study and analysis of conflict. The story of the actual participation of the Nagas of Manipur in the overall Naga ethno-national movement should be dispassionately debated in the Naga inhabited areas, understood by the neighbouring communities so as to encourage proper treatment of the subject of their dignity, status and autonomy appropriate in context.        
The suggestion would however remain as wishful thinking since the issue of Naga integration under one administrative roof is a very strong demand of the NSCN (IM) and their supporters. Naga civil society groups in Manipur believe it as an act of faith that the Naga National movement is inexorably connected with the unison of territory with identity. Sanjib Baruah, an Assamese intellectual once remarked on ‘The emerging inclusivity of Naga identity with geography coming into clash with the territorially embodied identities of states like Assam and Manipur! For the Nagas, to bring together all the Nagas and the areas inhabited by them under one political roof is a driving force of the Nagas (Now there are opponents of this idea in Nagaland itself). The fundamental rights and aspirations of the Naga people as expounded by their leaders incorporate this fond belief. The constitution of the Naga National Council, the initiator of the Naga political struggle endorses this principle. Many prior agreements between the representatives of the Naga movement, and the officials of the Dominion of India in the wake of the Independence of India reflect this possibility.
“Naga integration implies explicitly that it is an issue of removing all the arbitrary boundaries created without the free and informed consent of the Naga people by the Government of British India, Burma and India. Therefore, for the integration of all Naga areas, under one political roof, the partition made in the past must be removed. The total geographical area of the land which is desired to be integrated is approximately 1,00,000 sq. Km. The division of their territory is one of the greatest wounds that has been inflicted on the Naga people by the power that be including the Naga opportunist elements who have more faith in the dominant system than the Naga people. It is clear that the Naga people did not decide to be part of Assam or Arunachal Pradesh or Manipur”. (White paper on Naga Integration by Naga Hoho 2002).
Civil society groups of Nagas in Manipur and Nagaland expressed deep sense of hurt when mass movements in the plains of Manipur were organized to oppose threats to the disintegration of the state, which they feared was being negotiated in the ongoing talks between the GoI and the NSCN (IM). In 1997, Nagas derided the Meetei rally, ‘as it was purportedly organized on apprehension of the Manipur Territorial disintegrity in the light of the ongoing talks between the Government of India and the NSCN (IM). The Nagas of Manipur along with the rest of other Nagas have been combating the mighty India for the last 50 years for Naga sovereignty and this long struggle by shedding blood of thousands of men, women and children cannot be easily sacrificed for the sake of Mammoth territorial integrity. The Naga political struggle is not without historical facts. The voice of the Meiteis should not be allowed to prevail upon the settlement of 50 years long political struggle of the Nagas in any manner’. (M. Dili et al – Naga Territorial Integrity Vs Manipur Territorial Integrity 14-9-97).
The tense dynamics of the ethnic relationships in Manipur and its contours are often defined by their very relationships with the Indian Government, for the Indian state is the ultimate arbiter and dispenser of ethnic justice. The future of the ethnoses in Northeast India seem to heavily lie with the decisions being made in the corridors of power in New Delhi. The equations of the proximity with and distance from the Centres of power therefore were critical factors in assessing the environment of distrust and mutual suspicion over moves and manoeuvres being made by the representatives of Indian authority, their nearness with respective political groups, and the very secrecies and hush-hush methods of the intent and actions of their higher officials. There seems to be no room for transparencies where the Central authority could be seen as being impartial and just in the eyes of the contending groups or ethnicities. Ethnic suspicions or distrust amongst themselves were thus heightened by the seeming behaviour and actions of the Central Government. This moral universe which is being tensely watched by the ethnoses in NE-India does not seem to impact on the national political parties vying for power in the five yearly exercise of electoral politics. The rivalries between the Congress Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party, and their opposing views and attitudes over the peripheral others of the Northeast does not portend any kind of democratic justice over conflictual issues in the Northeast. For the North-easterners view themselves as equals in their relationship with the Centre, and a slight tilt in favour of one ethnos against other ethnoses is regarded as sheer favouritism. The NDA government is mistrusted as being nearer to the Nagas than to the others in the Northeast.

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