The Naga Peace Talks, after going past the October 31, 2019 deadline set by the government, recently witnessed renewed efforts from most stakeholders to clinch the final deal signed between the Naga rebels and the Centre on August 3, 2018.
Amid talks to finalise the agreement, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN)- IM, in a scathing attack on the interlocutor, N Ravi, issued a statement, accusing him of branding the Naga issue as just a ‘law and order' problem. Interestingly, the Naga National Political Group (NNPG) and a few other groups maintained silence as far as allegation on the interlocutor is concerned. It is worth mentioning that earlier in January 2020, NNPG and KNO (Kuki National Organisation), in a first of its kind between the two communities, signed an agreement to work closely towards resolving differences and respecting each other’s history and culture. As the Naga Peace Accord enters its final stage, the fate of other ongoing talks, especially the Tripartite Suspension of Operations with the Kuki militants, has become a topic of interest for many people.
Kuki Apex Body's Memorandum To Prime Minister
The Kuki Inpi Manipur, the apex body of Kuki community, in its memorandum submitted to the Prime Minister on the Independence Day this year, urged him to seriously consider simultaneous settlement of Kuki and Naga aspirations for self-governance within the Union of India in order to rule out imminent adverse repercussions of a settlement between the Centre and the NSCN-IM that affects Kuki-inhabited areas.
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Even as it reminded the government of NSCN IM's "genocidal" activities against the Kukis in the 1990s, it categorically said that they would not accept any agreement if it involves Kuki inhabited areas, especially the five districts -- Churachandpur, Pherzawl, Kangpokpi, Tengnoupal, and Chandel -- where they are in majority. While clarifying their stand that they believed in peaceful coexistence by resolving to welcome a peaceful solution for any community, KIM requested the government to expedite talks with Kuki groups and resolve the long-pending issue in the best interest of peace and development in the region.
Significance Of ‘Sahnit Ni’
September 13, 1993, was not just any day for the people of Manipur as more than 100 people belonging to the Kuki community were mercilessly butchered. Since then, Kukis all around the world observe the day as Sahnitni or Kuki Black Day. From 1992 to 1996, more than a thousand lives of the Kuki community were lost to what they alleged was the handiwork masterminded by Th. Muivah to grab the lands and lives of the Kukis for its Greater Nagaland dreams. The NSCN-IM on the other hand alleged that it was the Kukis who started the clash and that there are equal victims on both sides. In 2018, a monolith in memory of those Kukis killed in the conflict was erected and a prayer organised under the aegis of Kuki Inpi Churachandpur.
The Kukis are now of the view that they have lost way too much blood in defence of their land -- at the hands of the British, security forces, NSCN IMs and to internal clashes.
Victims of Communal Violence Even in 2020
Chassad village, which has an important place in the history of Kukis, where Anglo-Kuki war hero Pu Pache hailed from, was burnt down to ashes in March 2020 by its neighbouring villagers of Kamjong and Sampui. The reason behind the arson was said to be a land-dispute, which dated back to decades-old misunderstandings. According to Kamjong villagers, Chassad villagers were protesting against the burning down of two huts by Sampui villagers by blocking roads and burning an under construction petrol-pump. The protest turned into a clash which eventually led to the arson of Chassad Village. However, Doungul Lelen, a villager of Chassad, claimed that it was not only because of the protest that led to the arson, but “we have been repeatedly threatened by the NSCN-IM to pay taxes or leave the area.”
“The issue of land disputes and inter-village feuds are just a ploy to frustrate us and cover up their real intention to stake claim to the Chassad as part of their land. We have all necessary land records and copies of court rulings but they have guns,” added Doungul. The NSCN-IM refuted the claims stating that it was just an inter-village clash.
The Historical Basis of Kuki Demands
The Anglo-Kuki war, also recorded as the Kuki Rebellion or Kuki Uprising, in 1917-1919 was fought by the Kukis to protect their ancestral land and freedom. It was one of the most defining moments in the history of the Kukis -- one which makes them hold their head high with pride even today. It was proof that the Kukis lived independently and were ready to face any force, including the Britishers at the peak of their power. Unfortunately today, the once heroic people are tagged as refugees in their own land, the land they have shed their blood and sweat for.
While there exists Nagaland for the Nagas, Mizoram for the Mizos, Meghalaya for the Khasis, Jaintias, and Garos, the Kukis have been denied their right for self-determination for decades now. With almost all the communities in the Northeast having their own different levels of autonomy and self-administration, it is the Kukis who, despite their rightful demands, have been sidelined for quite a while now. It was because of this very reason that several Kukis took to arms to grab the attention of the Central Government.
A hundred years ago, the British with all their might subjugated the Kukis but what they didn't realise was that it was the Kukis who had actually won the war. They might have lost the fight but they fulfilled their sworn commitment to protect their land against anyone. History itself was their biggest win. Today, their bravery and valour in defending their land, which is now part of India, should duly be acknowledged so that the very feeling of alienation and subjugation they fought against is not delivered by a free, democratic and republic nation.
Constitutional Ambit Versus Separate Constitution
The Kuki militants first took up arms to demand sovereignty. Later on, with the agreement to hold talks with the Government of India, KNO and UPF -- the two umbrella organisations of the Kukis -- acceded to drop sovereignty demand. Though the move was not received well by many people initially, the message of the need for a solution within the ambit of the Indian constitution finally convinced the people. The Manipur government on the other hand was hell-bent on any talks that would involve the discussion affecting the integrity of the state. Eventually, the idea of the Territorial Council on the lines of Bodoland Territorial Council was agreed upon to be discussed. For the Kukis, while the demand for Territorial Council was a huge climbdown, several rounds of talks thereafter failed to bring any amicable solution.
In stark contrast to what the Kukis demand, NSCN-IM's chairman on Independence Day speech this year said that separate Constitution and flag were non-negotiable “as the Nagas,” according to him, “already have one and it is up to the Government to recognise it or not.”
Its other demand of integrating the Naga inhabited areas had received oppositions from all the neighbouring states including Assam, Arunachal, and Manipur. In Manipur, 18 youths lost their lives during protest against the inclusion of the State in the ceasefire area in 2001.
Also notable is the press statement on August 28, 2020, by the United Committee of Manipur, a conglomerate of various valley-based CSOs, which strongly asserted that the people of Manipur will not accept the Naga Peace Agreement if it affects the integrity and identity of Manipur. It is unthinkable the consequences that could befall the region, in the unlikely event of the Centre acceding to the demand of integration theory.
Interestingly, many Nagaland-based organisations like NNPGs are not vocal about the integration theory but more focused on the completion of the Naga Peace Accord and the return of normalcy in Nagaland. The idea of integration is now viewed by many as an attempt by the Manipur Naga community in general and the Tangkhul Tribe, to which Th. Muivah belongs to, in particular, to have a larger share and voice in the social and political scene of Nagaland.
Holistic Solution -- The Only Way Forward
Militancy issues in the Northeast have been a stumbling block for the prevalence of peace and development. While Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura, and Meghalaya have by and large overcome the issue, the states of Manipur, Nagaland, and parts of Assam are still far from resolving militancy issues. As such, any proposal for a peace accord is a welcome move that will not only usher in peace in the region but also the much needed economic progress. The Naga issue deserves an amicable solution at the earliest. The Government of India, insofar as its handling of the militancy issues are concerned, deserves applause. It is the sincere hope of the people of the entire Northeast region that militancy issues of not just the Nagas but others, including the Kukis, are resolved once and for all by involving all stakeholders concerned. For a stable, secure and strong India requires a stable Northeast India.
(The writer is the author of the book Hilly Dream - The Story of Aboi. Views expressed are personal.)