Dr Malem Ningthouja
Peace is generally perceived as a state of tranquillity marked by freedom from war and conflict or absence of organised violence and disturbances. One of the predominant perceptions about Northeast1 is disturbance, i.e., a situation that acts as obstacle to normal course of integrity, peace, security and growth. Global projection of Northeast as a disturbed area conjures up insurgency2 as enemy to peace. According to this view insurgency stimulates a dissident culture and interplays with communal conflicts, radical assertions, militant agitations and protests. This perception is formulated in a discourse of disturbance. The discourse hegemonises Indian State to act aggressively to bring peace and security. Ipso facto Indian State pronounced its own interpretation of peace and initiated a peace process. The peace process involves both aggressive actions and tactical armistice. Media hype about armistice or ceasefire as peace or peace process becomes a dominant perception.
My paper attempts to go deeper into historicising the peace process in and around Manipur with special focus on the objectives and implications at the receiving end. I make due emphasise on the role of ‘agency’ in engineering historical course and question if the discourse of disturbance can be alternatively interpreted. My argument is that there have been disturbances that had not been revealed by the State and its discourses. What are being marked as disturbances can be differently interpreted as syndromes of a disturbing situation for which the Indian State has been largely responsible. To substantiate my point I have used Marxist methodology and argue for disturbance as integral to the structural crisis inherent in Indian capitalist path. My paper also theorises the driving ideological current embodied in local dynamics of exploitation, misrule, dissent and concludes with an alternative perception of peace.
Indian State, disturbance and peace process
Perception is widespread about Indian State as rational. Its policies are being perceived as constitutional, democratic and axiomatic. Such perception eulogises the Indian State but overlooks its role as an agency subjected to the vested interest of those who directly control it and liable to commit errors, injustice and blunders in the course of actions. The perception about the State as rational becomes axiomatic; many personalise themselves with the State and defend it but fail to mark out any distance between the ruler and the ruled. However, Marxists offer us a different interpretation of State. According to Karl Marx the totality of the relations of production constituted the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arose a legal and political superstructure and to which corresponded definite forms of social consciousness.3 In economically stratified societies the real architect of legal and political superstructures is the dominant class who rule over the rest. The State functions as an agency (instrument). The question is who is the real ruler? According to the Marxists the contemporary Indian State functions within the framework of capitalist political economy controlled by big bourgeoisie. The judicial differential markers that juxtapose rational vis-a-vis irrational correspondingly referring to the State and its enemies have been the artwork of administrative technocrats to underpin bourgeois rule. The critique of contemporary Indian democracy can throw more light on it.
The common perception about Indian democracy is that it is the government of the people by the people for the people. This view is rejected by those who believe that Indian democracy is practically bourgeois totalitarianism. In this regards Engels’ view on modern democratic republic can be referred to for an explanation. According to him, in the so-called democratic republic, wealth exercises its power and state functions in the interest of the economically ruling class, which becomes also the politically ruling class by means of universal suffrage.4 Lenin also believes that democratic republic was the best possible political shell for capitalism, and, therefore, once capital had gained possession of this very best shell, it established its power so securely, so firmly, that no change of persons, institutions or parties in the bourgeois-democratic republic could shake it.5 There is, of course, no denying that popular will (majoritarian consent) or public consent had been crucial in elections, forming government and governance. But several questions can be raised about the sanctity of popular will. Are public consents always formed on the basis of free and fair informed consent of those who would be affected by it? Are public consents immune from influences by networks of corruption, bribery, muscle power, misinformation and misguidance? Aren’t there casual manufacturing of consent for specific issues primarily designed to camouflage bourgeois totalitarianism? Are we in a situation of ‘spectator democracy,’ to borrow the phrase of Chomsky6 who had explained the American context of controlling public mind? At the receiving end, according to Marx, ‘the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas ... (they) determine the extent and compass of an epoch, it is self-evident that they do this in its whole range, hence among other things rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age: thus their ideas are the ruling ideas of the epoch.’7 Therefore, the ideology and objectives of the ruling class require closer scrutiny. The Indian State’s discourse of Northeast disturbance can throw some light on it.
The discourse of disturbance depicts Northeast within the domestic of Indian nationhood. The discourse camouflages bourgeois expansionism but buttresses in construing or obtaining legal sanction of aggression in the name of peace and security. What appears to be legal has been politically framed and the political has economic background. To be more precise, historically, Northeast inhabited by disunited and economically backward tribal and peasant communities, that could be easily occupied by any powerful external, apart from geo-strategic significance for India8 had been important for; (a) labour, resources (water, uranium, oil, coal, precious stones, minerals, plantation, flora and fauna, tourism, carbon credits, and forest products), and market, (b) a buffer vis-a-vis presumed Chinese social imperialism, and (c) a military stockpile and commodity stocked for commercial expansion in South and Southeast Asia. For these reasons the Northeast was taken over. Annexation subjected many to the restructured economic order as primary supplier of labour, raw material, market, and military stockpile for subsequent capitalist expansion. Recalcitrance was expected and Indian State was doubtful about loyalty of Northeast for various historical, racial and cultural reasons. Indian State also had to counter-weight infiltration of communism, pro-mongoloid prejudice and pressure from China and Pakistan (East).
The discourse of disturbance, therefore, was formulated as a propaganda instrument. It had far-reaching impacts. Firstly, the discourse camouflaged bourgeoisie aggression and buttressed the national hype about Indian State as harbinger of ahimsa (non-violence). Indian nation and ahimsa were being shown as integral to modernity, progress and peace. While construing coevalness in time and space respectively corresponding to modernity and national territory, India was being symbolised with peace and integrity. Insurgency was being identified with backwardness, atavism, internal disturbance and disorder. Secondly, the discourse objectified and misrepresented the context and ideology of dissent. It de-contextualised and dehumanised the insurgents by reducing them to a few insistently repeated negative phrases, images and concepts. And since a connection was being conceptually built between Northeast and disturbance, the criminality of the peoples of Northeast was being taken as axiomatic; only the measures for controlling them needed to be worked out in deal. Conversely, the need to police, suppress and control them had the effect of making terrorists of them. The rhetoric about suspect became a pretext of punitive actions that placed the targets of attack outside the perimeter of human rights and democratic safeguarding. Militarisation was upheld, troops were deployed and repressive laws were enforced.9 In the words of the then Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil, it was ‘our bounden duty to see that the morale of the armed forces also is not allowed to be attacked.’10 A soldier could suspect anyone and kill with impunity, thereby, promoted culture of impunity by other law enforcing agents in the long course. The trend has been continued till date.
The discourse of disturbance has been integral to a larger carrot and iron policy, i.e., to tame (domesticate) people or wipe out those who dissent. The policy involves two fundamental strategies of collaboration with loyal sections on one hand and on other hand armed aggression in which the loyal played important roles. Firstly, the Indian State has established a layer of rentier bourgeoisie, i.e., subordinate ruling class composed of landlords cum contractors, commission agents, bureaucrats, traders, etc. that are dependent on the Indian big bourgeoisie for political and economic power. They play a subjective role in the Indian capitalist order, do not directly create capital through investment in industry and capitalist production units but play a managerial role and accumulate wealth through misappropriation of public fund, bribery, corruption, usury and other forms of expropriation and exploitation. They remain authoritarian and deceiving. Secondly, the Indian State adopted militarisation and several Northeast areas were governed through governors and military officials for several years until reliable local regimes were installed through elections. The aggressive policy relies on a collusion of forces that operate in a very complex manner which may be broadly summarised as follows.
Firstly, the Army and paramilitary forces, which operate with impunity under AFSPA, occupy and convert several strategically important hilltops, tourist centres, grazing grounds, communal lands, institutional and religious campuses, etc. into barracks (including those in the residential areas). War hysteria in the operational zones had serious repercussion on the social mobility for economic livelihood. Troops impose typical war economy in the operation zones in the remote rural areas, e.g., forced rationing of supplies on the basis of quantity decided by them and Military Civic Action Programmes. MCAP not only undermines the civil administration but also fails to bring qualitative transformation in economic production. On the contrary there has been militarisation of capitalist project (such as dams, mining, oil drilling, forests, office buildings, etc.) to discourage protests. MCAP has been a mere cosmetic design to cover up military occupation, to divert away attention by creating a clique of beneficiaries who are being used as underpaid covert agents. Secondly, there are hordes of police, rifles, and underpaid auxiliary forces that are being recruited on contract basis (e.g., Village Volunteer Forces, Special Police Officers, Village Defence Forces, etc.) that operate under the unified command structures of the Indian army and who are enjoying a certain amount of impunity. Several educated middle class youths are being recruited through bribery, i.e., normally at exorbitant price paid by selling off or mortgaging away properties. To recover the dues and lured by money and the prospect of promotion to higher rank, they indulge in widespread bribery, extortion, harassment and fake encounter. Thirdly, there are batches of criminal gangs allegedly operating either from jail or under the command of police or army. In addition there are communal warlords and conservative reactions who are stakeholders in the corruption nexus with the rentier bourgeoisie. In this scenario the number of people killed in cold-blooded murder and fake encounter, convicted, intimidated, tortured, jailed, and forced disappeared as result of mistaken identity and for political ideology and dissent has been rampant. The collusion of forces has been responsible for counter-revolution, suppression of democratic dissent, violation of human rights and a state of confusion and disturbance.
Ceasefire and paradoxes of peace
The Carrot and iron policy had some spectacular achievements. Over the decades the policy had rooted out some insurgent parties and some had been brought under truce. The positive aspect of armistice is that it reduces armed conflict and casualty between the State and the concerned insurgent parties. However, some truces are temporary and in the overall analysis there are weak points as well. Firstly, policy of armistice has been selective and many parties are being left out from the scope of it. Secondly, the ongoing armistice does not ensure an end to armed conflict among the parties who had separately signed ceasefire with the State. Thirdly, among those who had entered into ceasefire, disillusionment led to factionalism, if not to growth of new parties. Factionalism promotes different set of conflicts and confusion. Fourthly, armistice does not ensure safety of civilians and terrorising assaults. Fifthly, the peace process in the larger context has been superficial as it does not address the root cause of political dissent and armed resistance. The chronology (1948-2011) listed below not only suggests the number of those that are being left out but also the number of splinters and growth of new parties.
Chronologically, the Communist Party in Manipur (1948-51) was successfully suppressed and the cadres were given general amnesty. Successful repressive steps were taken up against democratic assertions of Revolutionary Nationalist Party (Manipur) in 1950s. Organisations such as Meetei State Committee and Revolutionary Government of Manipur were phased off without leaving much political impact. Naga referendum for independence conducted by Naga National Council in 1951 was not recognised by Indian State. In 1955, in Naga Hills and Tuenshang areas Naga National Council began armed protracted war to achieve Naga sovereignty and it began to spread in certain Northern areas of Manipur in mid 1960s. A peace mission was instituted in 1964 and a ceasefire came into existence. While suppression of or reconciliation with NNC was pursuing, in 1964 the United National Liberation Front was formed to fight for Manipur sovereignty. Mizo independence declared by Mizo National Front in 1966 was invalidated and there was successful military assault using aerial bombing. In Manipur the People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (1977), People’s Liberation Army / Revolutionary Peoples Front (1978/79), Kangleipak Communist Party (1980) were formed to fight for Manipur sovereignty. In 1970s negotiations were carried out with NNC. A controversial Shillong Accord signed between the Indian State and the NNC in 1975 led to the split of the latter and factional war. It had considerably weakened the NNC. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) was formed in 1980 to fight for Naga sovereignty. In 1984 the Mizo National Front was brought to a negotiating table and on the basis of Mizo Accord of 1986 the Front laid down arms. In the subsequent years, dissatisfied with the outcome of the Mizo Accord, several parties such as Hmar People’s Convention, Zomi Reunification Organisation, Hmar People’s Convention-Democracy, Bru National Liberation Front and others were formed. In 1988 NSCN was split into NSCN (Isaac-Muivah) and NSCN (Khaplang) factions. The same year Kuki National Army, Kuki National Organisation and Kuki National Front (KNF) were formed to fight for Zale’n-gam or Kukiland. In 1992 Kuki Liberation Army (KLA) was formed to fight for Kukiland. In 1993 Zomi Revolutionary Organization (ZRO) was formed to fight for Zogam or Zoram. In 1994 Kanglei Yaol Kanna Lup (KYKL) was formed by merging UNLF (Oken), PREPAK (Meiraba Faction) and KCP (Ibo Pishak Faction) to fight for independent Manipur. In 1995 Hmar People’s Convention- Democracy was formed to fight for autonomy and integrity of Hmar people. In 1997 Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA) was formed to fight for Zogam. ZRA became armed wing of ZRO. In 1997 Indian State and National Socialist Council of Nagaland-IM entered into ceasefire, which has been continued till date. Kuki Revolutionary Army (1999) and United Kuki Liberation Front (2000) were formed to fight for Kukiland. In 2004 Komrem People’s Army was formed for integrity of Komrem people.11 In 2005 Kuki National Organisation12 entered into Suspension of Operation with Indian Army. On 23 November 2007 NSCN-Unification was formed by some deserters from NSCN-IM. On 30 April, 2008 United Naga People’s Council was formed consisting of splinter group of NSCN (IM) to establish communal harmony by safeguarding territorial integrity and sovereignty of Manipur. On 20 May Naga based United People’s Liberation Army was formed and it supported territorial integrity of Manipur. On 6 November a faction of PREPAK formed United People’s Party of Kangleipak. The same year Manipur Naga Revolutionary Front was formed to defend the territorial integrity of Manipur. In 2008 Suspension of Operation was signed with Kuki-Mizo based umbrella organisation called United People’s Front. In July 2009 a splinter group of KYKL formed KYKL- Military Defence Force. On 25 February Zeliangrong United Front (ZUF) was floated to protect Zeliangrong interests. In June 2011 a faction of PREPAK started operating under the banner PREPAK (Progressive). The same year Maoist Communist Party, Manipur was formed for national and social liberation of Manipur. Besides separate peace dialogue with the NSCN (Khaplang), Indian State had entered into armistice with selected groups. Between February and May 2013 four insurgent parties viz., United Peoples Party of Kangleipak, United Revolutionary Front consisting of various Kangleipak Communist Party factions, (KCP – Lamphel) and Kanglei Yaol Kanna Lup (Military Defence Force) came forward for peace talks.
As discussed, an armistice has been significant from the tactical military point of view. But there has been no indication of demilitarisation and reduction in the military budget. The number of recruitment to military, paramilitary, police, auxiliary forces and intelligence has been steadily growing and repressive laws remained functional. The failure to effectively address the national question combined with the inability to resolve the structural crisis inherent in the neo-liberal path have not created a conducive peace. The weakness of carrot and iron policy has been exemplified by the continuous cycle of conflicts centred on diametrical nationalisms, e.g., India, Kangleipak or Manipur, Nagalim, Zale'n-gam, Zogam agendas. Whether each of these projected national agendas suffers from theoretical anachronism and objective paradoxes can be discussed separately. But an overview of the situation is necessary to substantiate the argument for ongoing conflicts. For instance India agenda continues with aggressive strategy to wipe out the enemies. On the other side Kangleipak (sic. Manipur) agenda concentrates on: (a) articulation of anti-colonial discourse directed against India and (b) formulation of one nation theory for Manipur that targeted divisive discourses formulated by Nagalim and Zalen'ngam agendas. But some of the parties had also entered into a truce with Indian army. On the other hand Nagalim and Zalen'ngam agendas posited against one another over territorial control. However, they are tactically united against India and Kangleipak agendas. But they are also separately engaged in armistice with India. They are tactically interwoven into one in construing divisive discourses between tribe and non-tribal. They identified Nagas and Kuki-Chin-Mizos with tribes and claimed exclusive rights over the hills that comprise 90% of the Manipur. They identified the Kangleipak agenda with Meeteis who are being referred to as exploiters and oppressors of tribes. Holistically seen, the four sets of agendas are contentious and militarily expressive in consolidating supporters and targeting respectively projected ‘national’ enemies. However, with the exception of India agenda the rest suffered from lack of homogeneity and unified command. Each of the three agendas is composed of different parties that are at times in violent conflicts. During internal conflicts some sought for tactical alliance with others by transgressing ‘national’ agenda barriers. In the overall scenario the dialectic of protracted armed struggle and violent conflicts had affected many economically, physically, socially and psychologically.
Neo-liberal context and people’s desperation
At the global perspective the Indian big bourgeoisie has adopted the neo-liberal path in which the State plays a crucial role in providing security to private property and the reigning market forces.13 Over the decades after the transfer of power certain degree of industrial development has taken place at a snail’s pace which has led to the development of a medium level of capitalist development. 14 However the Indian big bourgeoisie concentrated heavily on accumulation of wealth through collaboration with international financial capital and retarded the development of heavy industry, of the production of machinery by machinery in India. Therefore, India remained predominantly a market and an assembling warehouse of international capital and exporter of assembled commodities and agrarian products. To pave the way to penetration of international capital in assembling sectors, commercial complexes, transports and communications and mega projects such as dams and mining, millions of tribes or rural village communities had been forcibly displaced from their homelands. Disinvestment in agrarian sector and maximisation of procurement of agrarian products to meet imperialist quota had severe impacts on peasants, agricultural labour and urban poor. All these are being carried out with an intensified offensive under the slogans of liberalisation and structural readjustment programmes. In this context the condition in Northeast remains alarming.
In Northeast aggressive policy by the Indian State and penetration by market forces have created an unfavourable situation. Casual cosmetic economic packages and limited job opportunities could benefit a small section of the population but it had failed to address the larger issues of economic underdevelopment and political instability. In Manipur the instability situation is reflected in various levels of contradictions, which may be broadly categorised into three, i.e., contradiction between external and internal forces, contradiction among rentier bourgeoisie and contradiction among oppressed peoples. Firstly, the contradiction between external neo-liberal forces and the oppressed population has not been resolved. With the exception of the rentier bourgeoisie who are in collaboration with external forces, assertions and agitations by desperate sections against the aggressive policy of the State, destructive projects, immigrations and infiltration of outsiders, etc. had been order of the day. Secondly, contradiction among rentier bourgeoisie had been largely centred on the control of political and economic powers. It had been temporarily resolved to some extent through creation of different vertical blocks and horizontal layers of institutions where they could find entry either through election or nomination or recruitment. However, most of them, particularly those competing or unsuccessful or newly emergent sections who posed counter-elites posited against the powerful, indulged in communal campaigns and sectarian assertions in their struggle for power and economic bargaining. Thirdly, contradiction among the oppressed had been predominantly communal, which has been largely orchestrated by the rentier bourgeoisie as discussed above. They invested in communal conflicts to divert away the attention of the oppressed people from exposing their parasitism. To some extents the communal overtones and sectarian rhetoric are being carried forth by certain sections of insurgents, civil societies and assertive intelligentsia. The objective is to become communal leader and enjoy certain degree of personal control over land, labour, fund and resources.
Disturbances or conflicts in Manipur are perpetuated in the context of the overarching neo-liberal political economic practices. Firstly, insurgency has been largely a response to the aggressive national agenda and capital onslaught carried out by the Indian State. It remains unresolved. The carrot and iron policy has been bent on a superficial national integration trajectory without rooting out the system responsible for underdevelopment and disillusionment. Secondly, it has also become apparent that most of the insurgent parties who wage liberation war had been least critical of the existing political economy. They are yet to publicly articulate revolutionary political economic programme. Their confrontation or collusion with different sections of the rentier bourgeoisie remain tactical based on issues but all of them have commonality in sectarianism and communal orientation in certain forms or others. Their polemics and articulations conveyed respectively formulated national euphoria but most are apparently treading on the line of neo-liberalism. The principles of national liberation and social emancipation had not been clearly informed to the public.
To sum up, there has been the clamour demanding basic democratic rights such as sovereignty, security and peace. Firstly, sovereignty has been deprived of in the circumstances when popular consents are being largely manufactured to serve the purpose of bourgeois totalitarianism. Secondly, peoples have misconstrued the State as source of economic, physical, social and psychological securities. These expectations have not been fulfilled. Aggressive offensive by neo-liberal forces have not only unattended to the basic democratic demands on economic, political and social issues but also have caused physical torture, psychological humiliation, restive situation and hysteria at the receiving end. Thirdly, the aggressive peace process, bereft of providing a common democratic platform to spearhead a system of governance to be established on the principle of voluntary unionism, has been counter-productive to the oppressed peoples.
The desperation for a society free from subjugation, exploitation and suppression remains haunting.
Paper Presented at the National Round Table Conference on Peace Process in Northeast India organised by the Department of Social Work, Indira Gandhi National Tribal University (IGNTU), Manipur.
1. A generic term collectively referring to present Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim (since 1975) and Tripura states.
2. Ranging from those asserting freedom from India to ethnic or regional autonomy within India.
3. Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1977.
4. Frederick Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, 1884.
5. Vladimir Lenin, The State and Revolution, 1917.
6. Noam Chomsky, Media Control, Natraj, Dehradun, 2003.
7. Karl Marx, The German Ideology, 1845-46.
8. Statement by Shri Ari Bahadur Gurung and Rev. J.J.M. Nichols Roy in the Constituent Assembly of India, respectively on Wednesday, 23 November and Saturday, 19 November in 1949.
9. Such as the Assam Disturbed Areas Act 1955 and the Armed Forces (Assam & Manipur) Special Power Act, 1958 were imposed. AFSPA interplayed with other repressive legislations such as Land Acquisition Act 1894, Prevention of Seditious Meetings Act, 1911, Indian Penal Code and Criminal Laws, Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967, National Security Act, 1980, Prevention of Terrorism Activities Act, 2002, and etc.
10. Statement by the Union Minister of Home Affairs Shivraj V. Patil in the Lok Sabha, 17 August 2004.
11. Comprising Aimol, Chiru, Kom, Koirem, Kharam and Purum communities.
12. Umbrella organisation of several Kuki-Chin-Mizo insurgent groups.
13. Under neo-liberalism ‘if markets do not exist (in areas such as land, water, education, health care, social security, or environmental pollution) then they must be created, by state action if necessary’, David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, Oxford University Press, 2007.
14. ‘On the Stage of the Indian Revolution’ in Revolutionary Democracy in its Vol. II, No. 1, April-May 1996.