The news that the Union home minister, Amit Shah, will be visiting Manipur on December 27, has sparked varied anticipations amongst different sections of the people on what his motive might be, and the consequences this may have on the future welfare of the state. What is adding to the suspense is the fact that the state government has said nothing of significance on the matter. Is the home minister coming as the home minister of India or is he doing so as a party leader of the BJP, for indeed his party is the party in power in the state with many pending issues before it, including that of by-elections to the seats vacated by several Congress defector MLAs who ended up disqualified. Of eleven seats vacated thus, five seats have been filled at the hustings in early November. Another seat was also filled at about the same time because a judgment in a pending court case on the validity of the victory of one of the disqualified MLAs, went against him and his nearest rival was declared the actual winner in the February 2017 elections. Nothing to be surprised about these utterly chaotic surreal developments, for in Manipur absurd theatre of politics, the insane has been normalised as sane. The Assembly elections are also due in just about a year from now, and it is quite likely there are fresh unrests brewing beneath the surface in the BJP, considering most of the ministers in the current BJP state cabinet are from other parties, most prominently Congress defectors who have chosen to support the BJP, leaving original BJP legislators in the side lines of the corridors of power.
While Shah’s visit may very well be an internal BJP matter, speculations are this is rather remote. The norm has been for state politicians to rush to Delhi to pay their obeisance to their bosses and seek intervention to overcome even their slightest hiccups and not for the bosses to come to Imphal to oversee and resolve these irritants. On the other hand, the anticipation is that his trip is in regards of some larger and more vexing public issues. The foremost of these of course is the much talked about and hyped settlement to the Naga issue, currently hanging on a delicate balance on account of some road blocks. The apprehension in Manipur is, the Central leadership may have decided to meet the Naga demands and this may involve compromising Manipur’s territorial integrity. This is despite the fact that the Centre has assured there will be no alteration of Manipur’s territory, but in all likelihood it is going to concede to an autonomy arrangement for the Nagas, probably in the manner and style of the Bodoland Territorial Council in Assam, or Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council in West Bengal. Even if such a demand were to be conceded, the troubling question is, what exactly would be considered as Naga territory in Manipur. This is a contentious issue, for there are many others living in the land that Nagas consider as theirs. These overlaps are even more so because different indigenous communities have different notions of land and belonging. Adding to the intrigue, there are also hints that the Centre may propose three autonomous territories covering the entire state, probably in the hope of allaying fears of disproportionate asymmetry of power handles. If this hint has anything to go by, these autonomous territories will also not be named after any tribe, but simply as North, Central and South. Obviously, as to how much these proposals will become acceptable to the people in the state, will depend on the contents of these new proposed institutions. For the moment, what exactly are in store, remains a matter of guesses.
There is yet another speculation amongst a section of the population as to what important agenda which is bringing Shah to the state. This section thinks that there may be the possibility that some more important underground organisations have shown indication they may want to compromise on their stands and take the path of negotiated settlement. But this too will remain only a speculation with no hard evidence. The fact that the state government has not given any clear indication why Shah is visiting the state is only adding to the tension. Whatever the truth is, the state government should not have kept the people in complete darkness in order that the situation does not get any so stressed and volatile. Or is this yet another case of the state government being taken for granted and also being kept in the dark by the Centre, assuming its servility and that they will take whatever is given? This second scenario of insurgent surrender however is much less certain and probably can turn out to be just a hoax. But even it is just a rumour, it does indicate a collective psychology of the people by and large at this juncture leading them to even imagine the possibility of such an outcome. It is a mindset that at once speaks of fatigue as well as disillusionment that the goals of the myriad insurrections in the land are too far away to be able to promise any tangible benefits for the people for generations, if ever. Even if these speculations are mere rumours, this emerging psychology of the people needs to be taken seriously in formulating any future course of action by all stakeholders, the state as well as those fighting against it.
The question of a settlement for the Nagas however is not in any way farfetched as this one. It is currently a hot and ongoing issue. The likelihood of a solution has been in the air for a long time and the road blocks before it are also well known. At this moment, the biggest problem appears to be in evolving a way to incorporate Nagas outside of Nagaland into the final agreement, and the biggest of these entangles is in Manipur. From all indications, the plan is to have a different solution for Nagaland state and an extended version of the same solution for Nagas in other states. This extension is proposed to be in the shape of autonomous territorial councils, a little of which has already been discussed. If this is the case, then a solution will depend on how acceptable the model is, and the territorial councils are to all stakeholders. Indications are, this matter is unlikely to be a cake walk either, again discussed earlier. Other than just the likely objections by non-Nagas who see the same territory as theirs too, within the Nagas themselves there are reservations. NSCN(IM) chief, Th. Muivah for instance has in an interview to the video channel, made it clear it is sovereignty and nothing less that the Nagas will accept, and this has to come with its definite symbols of a separate flag and constitution. He also said if a territorial council is made part of the solution, this will only be the first step toward the ultimate goal of sovereignty for a unified Naga homeland, already predicating new and complex multi-ethnic conflict scenario to what is proposed as solution. So then, is Amit Shah going to reveal any such plans during his stay in Imphal? The state and its people will get to know only after he is here tomorrow.
Editor, Imphal Review of Arts and Politics and author