Manipur is back in the news. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak Muivah backed United Naga Council of Manipur has raised a fresh demand for 'creating a separate Union Territory or a separate state within the constitution of India,' in the just concluded tripartite talks held on December 3, in the Senapati district of Manipur.
Experts are of the view that this is the handiwork of NSCN-IM to fulfill their long cherished dream of incorporating the entire Naga inhabited districts of Manipur with the Greater Nagaland.
In fact, The UNC members under the leadership of Sword Vashum submitted a memorandum to Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh on September 14 last demanding 'an alternate arrangement' for the Nagas living in Manipur as they alleged that they were a neglected lot under the present Manipur government headed by Okram Ibobi Singh.
The chairman of the UNC also alleged that the present Manipur government was fully responsible for the 'sharp division between the Meiteis and the Nagas within Manipur.'
"We are the victims. There is absolutely no development in the hill region of Manipur. This ill treatment and step motherly attitude of the Manipur government virtually forced us to ask for separation along the ethnic line. We are already mentally divided. Now we want separation on ground. We organised series of protest movements. Finally we went for long economic blockade. But nothing worked to our advantage. Now we will not accept for anything less than a separate Union Territory or a state to preserve and protect Naga identity and culture," Vashum asserted.
The UNC members also met Union Home Minister P Chidambaram and apprised him of the prevailing situation in Manipur. It was due to the direction from the Centre that the first tripartite talks were held in Manipur on December 3. The Centre had dispatched a high level team including the Secretary (Internal security) P K Bansal and the Joint Secretary (North East) Shambhu Singh to represent the Central government.
But Manipur government changed its decision at the last moment and sent only a high level administrative team led by State Chief Secretary D S Poonia.
On November 27, the state government informed the Union Home Ministry in an official communiqué that they would draft three cabinet rank ministers to represent the state's view on the issue of 'alternate arrangement for the Nagas within Manipur.'
But later the state government withdrew its three ministers from the high level team causing chagrin and consternation to the UNC members.
The UNC was furious. Since the administrative team did not have any political mandate to discuss the core issue, 'alternate arrangement for the Nagas within Manipur', the meeting ended without any effective discussion on the core issue.
It was decided that another round of talks would be held soon. Chief Secretary Poonia told the media that he did not have any mandate to express his opinion on any political issue. Only the political leadership was competent authority to talk about the core issue. His team could redress only the administrative grievances.
Union Secretary Bansal, however, asserted that "both sides have been able to understand each other. We tried to understand all the issues. This is a good beginning.''
Another UNC member and former Lok Sabha member from Manipur, Mani Charnemai, also made a positive statement. He told the media that "we have been able to make a breakthrough and convince the authorities about our concern and sentiment. We hope that the next round of meeting will be more fruitful."
The political leadership of Manipur is unlikely to concede any 'alternate arrangement' for the Nagas of Manipur. The state government sources indicated that the elected Autonomous District Councils in the hill region have enough power to develop their hill districts and redress grievances of the tribal people. Instead of raising any demand for separation, the UNC should cooperate with the elected District Councils and involve themselves to fulfill their aspirations.
However, the experts are of the view that this is the beginning of the gradual incorporation of Naga inhabited four districts of Manipur, that is, Senapati, Ukhrul, Chandel and Tamenglong with the Nagaland.
That the Centre has agreed for holding a tripartite talks on this core issue of 'alternate arrangement for the Nagas within Manipur' and the subsequent participation of the state government representatives in the tripartite talks is a clear indication that the process of 'evolving a separate administrative and financial mechanism for the Nagas within Manipur' has begun.
It is pertinent to note here that the peace talks between NSCN-IM and the Centre has made a breakthrough this time barring one issue that is the incorporation of Naga inhabited areas of neighbouring states with the present Nagaland.
A few months back, the NSCN-IM General Secretary Th Muivah backed by the Central government made an abortive bid to visit his birth place Somdel in Ukhrul districts.
Finally, the UNC demand for an 'alternate arrangement' for Nagas within Manipur seems to be a new ploy to achieve the demand of forming a Greater Nagaland. It remains to be seen how the Centre resolves the Naga political problem.