By Ratnadip Choudhury
EMOTIONS ARE running high and rhetoric is thick in the air in state capitals Kohima and Imphal over a new development — the launching of the Manipur state unit of the party that rules Nagaland — Naga People’s Front (NPF). Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio himself launched his party’s Manipur unit in Senapati on 28 May.
Manipur CM Okram Ibobi Singh is among the agitated politicians who feel that NPF’s foray into neighbouring states is a “serious threat” to the territorial integrity of Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam.
Manipur has serious concerns about the NPF’s constitution, which says the objective is “to work for unity and integrity of the people by integrating all contiguous Naga-inhabited areas under one administrative roof and also to provide protection to all the ethnic groups who are indigenous inhabitants of the state”. This article is similar to the idea floated by National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Issac-Muivah) of ‘Greater Nagaland’, which all the neighbouring northeastern states vehemently oppose. The Centre has already turned down this ambitious demand of NSCN(IM), that for 13 years has been in peace parleys with New Delhi.
The run-up to the launch of the party was a virtual cold war between Nagaland and Manipur. “Last year’s prolonged economic blockade by Naga groups had paralysed life in Manipur. That is fresh in the mind of our government, so we did not want a similar situation. Rio’s visit might have created a volatile situation in Senapati where tension still remains,” says a senior aide of the Manipur chief minister.
Last year, when NSCN(IM) General Secretary T Muivah wanted to visit his native village Somdal in Ukhrul district of Manipur, the state government did not allow him. This led to widespread protests by Naga groups. Two students were killed in firing by security forces last year at Mao Gate. The Nagas reacted with an economic blockade.
New Delhi first tried to convince Rio to desist, but he stood his ground. Manipur then pleaded with the Centre to defer the crucial talks with the United Naga Council (UNC) that was supposed to happen on 30 May. At last, New Delhi asked Imphal to take a back seat. The respective media of Nagaland and Manipur joined the fight.
G Gaingam, the president of the Manipur unit of NPF, stresses that Nagas aspire to be under one administrative unit. “The tendency to give a communal tag and term it a threat to territorial integrity should stop,” he says.
‘If Naga MLAs in the Manipur Assembly join NPF, they can ask for the integration of areas inhabited by the Nagas’
But senior journalist Irenbam Arun from Imphal points out, “What NSCN(IM) or NPF says is not final. The Naga MLAs in the Manipur Assembly are mostly independents. If they join NPF, they can build a demand inside the Assembly for integration of Naga-inhabited areas. That is perhaps the politics behind it.”
Now, the underground has joined the chorus. The powerful banned outfit from Manipur, the United National Liberation Front (UNLF), has slammed the NPF’s move, terming it a ploy to advance NSCN(IM)’s agenda of splitting up Manipur. The security apparatus in the Naga-dominated areas of Manipur has already been put on high alert to prevent violence. Will the Centre step in at the behest of its Congress CM Ibobi?
Ratnadip Choudhury is a Principal Correspondent with Tehelka.