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IDSA COMMENT

State of militancy in Manipur

December 09, 2006

India's "troubled Northeast' has become a catch-all phrase for the region, and leads to the perception that the entire region is in a state of near-anarchy. The reality is otherwise; analysis shows that patterns of violence have been showing continuous decline in the region as a whole over the past few years and, more significantly, that the current violence is now substantially concentrated in the states of Manipur and Assam.

According to publicly available databases, there have been recorded in the current year (till November), 586 militancy-related fatalities, including 208 civilians, 88 security force (SF) personnel and 290 militants in five States of the region [Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura]. Of these, Manipur has recorded the maximum casualties with 261 (44.53 per cent) people killed (95 civilians, 35 SF personnel and 131 militants)

Casualties of Militant Violence in Northeast India - 2006 States Civilians Security Force Personnel Militants Total
Assam 86 33 39 158
Manipur 95 35 131 261
Meghalaya 7 0 17 24
Nagaland 9 1 74 84
Tripura 11 19 29 59
Total 208 88 290 586
* Data till November, 2006. (Source: Institute for Conflict Management)
Militancy in the state acquired a new impetus on August 16, 2006, when unidentified gunmen bombed the crowded Krishna Janmashatami celebration (a festival that marks the birth of Lord Krishna) being held at the ISKCON temple complex in the capital Imphal, killing six civilians, including two children, while over 50 others, including five Americans and two French nationals, were wounded. This was the first major attack on places of worship in the history of militancy in the State.

The cumulative impact of the activities by the various militant groups has been a breakdown in law and order and the administrative machinery of the state. Large proportions of the State's resources are both directly and indirectly siphoned out by the militants' extortion campaigns, even as the delivery mechanisms for the developmental and relief services of the State collapse, bringing planned developmental activities to a standstill. Over the years, Government departments in Manipur have regularly paid out a fixed percentage of their revenues to various militant groups. Further, the militants also directly interfere in the award of Government contracts and execution of developmental projects, which essentially are reduced to largesse that they come to control, rather than projects to be executed on the ground. In such an environment of rampant extortion, compounded by widespread corruption at every level of the State administration, development activities have languished. Basic infrastructure facilities like roads, communications, health care and education, all show visible signs of decline. The situation has reached a stage where government employees have begun to protest the state's inability to protect them in the course of their duties. On February 8, 2006, employees of the fisheries department went on a general strike at Lamphel in the capital Imphal, in protest against extortion notices issued by unspecified militant outfits. Similarly, the taxation wing of the Manipur Government ceased to function after all the employees, barring the Head of Department, took leave en masse on August 25, 2006, following threats from various militant groups. At a function in Imphal on June 2, 2006, the Chief Minister noted, "No outside firms take interest in working in the State due to huge extortion demands. Underground groups, irrespective of whether they belong to the Hills or Valley, have been demanding their percentage from any development project taken up in the State".

The militant groups are also issuing diktats on social and cultural issues in order to show up the administrative machinery as irrelevant and ineffectual. On August 7, 2006, the Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL) imposed a ban on all open debates and meetings on the controversies relating to Meitei script, contending that such arguments would derail the move to replace the existing Bengali script with the Meitei script. The ban, according to them, will remain in force for the next 10 years. Likewise, since September this year, three militant groups - United National Liberation Front (UNLF), People's Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK) and KYKL - have jointly imposed a complete ban on the import, manufacturing, sale and consumption of all kinds of narcotic drugs and intoxicating substances in the State.

Meanwhile, the Union Government managed to arrive at cessation of hostility accords with eight minor militant groups in September 2005, pursuant to the policy of engaging with any group that abjures the path of violence and seeks resolution of their grievances within the framework of the Indian Constitution. However, none of the major militant groups like the UNLF and the People's Liberation Army (PLA) have shown any intent to engage in negotiations. Indeed, the UNLF Chairman, R.K. Sanayaima, in an interview with Reuters in Hong Kong in September 2006 ruled out negotiations with the Union Government without United Nations mediation. Sanayaima asserted, "Whether we remain with India or whether we become a sovereign, independent nation, let the people decide. Considering India is the largest democracy in the world, I think they should accept the challenge." He also cited the ongoing talks between Government of India and the NSCN-IM as a 'useless' negotiation process. Rather, the rebel leader said that a plebiscite is the only way to go if Delhi wanted insurgency in Manipur to end. Similarly, PLA President Irengbam Chaoren ruled out accepting the Government's offer for peace talks, saying that entering into a dialogue with New Delhi would not 'restore freedom'.

While peace prevails in the rest of the North-East with the decision of many of the militant groups such as the National Socialist Council of Nagaland - Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) and National Socialist Council of Nagaland - Khaplang (NSCN-K) in Nagaland; Dima Halim Daogah (DHD), United People's Democratic Solidarity (UPDS), National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) in Assam; and Achik National Volunteer Council (ANVC) in Meghalaya, to suspend their operations and enter into negotiations with the Union Government, the Manipuri groups have proved to be the exception. The tardy progress of the ongoing negotiations between the Union Government and the NSCN-IM, may perhaps, is the major reason, why the Manipuri groups are not coming forwards for talks. Besides, the successive governments, both in Imphal and New Delhi, have never made serious efforts to bring them to the negotiating table. Nevertheless, Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh is optimistic of bringing the rebels to the negotiating table: "We believe that one day the leaders of these armed groups will realise the futility of violence. It may take some time but they will surely accept our offer for talks" added the Chief Minister. No doubt, it is time now for the government vis-à-vis the civil society groups to initiate steps to bring the rebels to the negotiating table.