Why Muivah should visit Manipur

Aya A. Shimray *

Manipur is on the verge of collapse on all fronts. 2 students were murdered and more than 100 innocent protestors injured in the Mao Gate mayhem. The all important National Highway 39 which has been barricaded by Muivah's supporters since May 6 continues to be literally sealed. IRBs & Manipur police commandos stationed at Mao Gate are said to be trapped as no re-enforcement or supply of essential commodities could reach Mao gate.

With food-stock running quite low, instances of forcibly breaking shops for essential commodities have been reported. There are also reports of entering, looting and stealing from shops and deserted houses, destruction of other properties, and wanton killing of livestock. Several reports of burning down of Government offices in protest against the Government of Manipur's decision of preventing Th. Muivah from visiting his birthplace have been coming in from all Naga district Hqs. Mass exodus of Nagas residing at Imphal as a result of the position taken by the Meeteis against the wishes of the Nagas are reported; and there are also reports of some valley-based organizations, groups preventing them from fleeing to the hills.

With both the NH 39 and NH 53 blocked, prices of commodities are sky-rocketing within a week; with the price of petrol going up to as high as Rs. 150 per litre and gas cylinders to Rs. 1500 per refill. The common people are at receiving ends.  7 Naga MLAs from Manipur have tendered their resignation. All these developments occurred in quick succession soon after Ibobi's government decided to bar the Naga leader Th. Muivah from visiting his birth place, Somdal village in Manipur's Ukhrul district. There is anxiety among the public that undesired developments could arise in the coming days with this issue snowballing into a major issue. 

Spirits ran high in the Naga Hills and full preparations were underway to accord a hero's welcome to Mr. Thuingaleng Muivah, General Secretary, NSCN soon after the Government of India gave him the green signal to visit his birthplace, Somdal village from 5-8th May, 2010. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had sent a directive asking the Director General of Police, Manipur to give full security protection to the visiting Naga leader.

However, the Government of Manipur (GOM) perceived this MHA endorsed itinerary as a threat to its "territorial integrity" and going directly against the directive of GOI, instead sent hundreds of IRB & Manipur police Commando personnel  to Senapati and Ukhrul district Hqs, placing them at strategic points including Mao gate and Jessami village aside from Ukhrul & Senapati Hqs. The Manipur security personnel were led by a number of battle-hardened police officers: Radheshyam, IPS, L.Kailun, IPS and Clay Khongsai, IPS under the direct supervision of V. Zathang, IPS, IG (Law & Order).  They were told to have initially informed the Naga public that they were there to look into the security arrangements for Mr. Muivah's impending visit.

On 2nd May, 2010, prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Indian Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) was clamped in Senapati, Ukhrul and Mao gate. This was seen as directly against the wishes of the Naga people to welcome home Mr. Th. Muivah, and people defied the order coming out in large numbers to hold huge public rallies decrying the cabinet decision and the clamping of CrPC 144.

The suspicion of the Naga people regarding the deployment of so many Manipur security forces and the application of S. 144 CrPC was confirmed and the true intention of the Ibobi government came to light when it's Pangei trained police forces started dismantling the traditional Naga Welcome Gate at Mao, hurting the sentiments of the local people. Threats and intimidation of the locals followed.

On the evening of 5th May, an old Mao local was assaulted and beaten up badly by the IRB and Police commandos deployed at Mao. To decry this savage act of the police forces, a peaceful rally was organized at Mao town. In what may go down as another black day in the annals of Naga history, the police forces fired indiscriminately upon the innocent protestors, claiming the precious lives of two students, Chakho and Loshou and injuring over 100 peace marchers.

Clear battle-lines were been drawn. Anything could have just blown out into a catastrophic confrontation. People feared Muivah could retort back with a heavy reprisal. The consequences could have been disastrous. The current Indo-Naga peace process could have suffered the biggest jolt. Almost anything could have happened. But the Naga people, committed to peaceful approaches to solve the issues, chose to maintain its patience. Visibly surprised by such confrontationist move of Ibobi government, Muivah said, "We didn't expect anything as such will take place...Naga's sentiment have been hurt. The Nagas can react, but Nagas are patient". Muivah also chose to wait for GOI to prevail.

At the time of writing this, Mr. Th. Muivah is still said to be based at Viswema village in nearby Nagaland meeting Naga civil societies and is determined on embarking his maiden visit to his native village after 47 long years. The Union Home Secretary G.K. Pillai who met the Naga leader at Viswema is reported to have bargained for more time to prevail on the situation.

The question remains, why is Ibobi barring Muivah from visiting his native home and other Naga areas in South Nagalim?

Some political watchers attribute such decision to his personal political insecurity and not because of what he said was a threat to the territorial integrity of Manipur. Already, Ibobi's prospect of clinging to the CM post appears to be in jeopardy with all employees of the state up in arms for 6th Pay Commission arrears and the tribals of Manipur demanding for re-amendment to Autonomous District Council Act. All developmental works in the state has come to a grinding halt due to these protests and a change of political leadership was quite imminent.

This rhetoric of probing up the issue of 'Muivah's visit' is seen by many as trying to divert the attention and consolidate his political chair by drumming up the issue of territorial integrity. Initially, even the UCM and other valley-based organisations expressed their views that minus any 'hidden agenda', Muivah has every "right" to visit his home state. However, that "right" became an offence in an overnight.

Obviously, the Meetei people were trapped in the cauldron of Ibobi's imagined apprehension. Such move is but seen as a big political blunder for Ibobi because he apparently failed to realize that he is playing a communal card and that he is contemplating a dangerous political gimmick with Naga sentiments, which has every possibility of taking a communal tone. And because he chose to intimidate and suppress the Naga aspiration with IRBs & Commandos, an unviable move that never actually impact on the Naga people, unlike the many instances of success stories dealing with law & order situation in the valley. Above all, he dared to provoke and take on the man who posed the biggest threat to India for over 50 years, militarily.

Muivah Gains, Ibobi Loses, Manipur Suffers

Ibobi might have successfully convinced his cabinet and about the threat on its territory posed by Muivah's visit to Manipur. He might have flexed his power to the maximum by deputing almost 1000 of its best combat fighters (IRBs & Commandos) to the hills under the leadership of Imphal valley's most dreaded Police officers.  He might have garnered supports from opposition parties and valley based organizations like AMUCO and UCM.

Above all, he might have delayed Muivah's visit for a while. However, at the end of the day, it's the Naga political movement that has gained the most. The movement has reconsolidated again. From Chandel to Ukhrul, the cabinet decision has woken up the consciousness of the Nagas again. The biggest winner of this impasse is Mr. Th. Muivah himself. Over the years, the Nagas have felt jaded by the slow pace of the Indo-Naga peace talks and have felt disillusioned by the interference of some "national workers" in Indian elections and developmental works.

However, with the news of Muivah's visit to his native village and Ukhrul Hqs spreading like wildfire, people's disappointment turned to that of anticipation which turned into allegiance. Further, with GOM barring him from coming home, a strong feeling of sympathy and solidarity was created. Even people who didn't necessarily toe NSCN's line jumped into the bandwagon of believers that he has every right to visit his native village. From Mumbai to Delhi, civil societies including Indian intelligentsia termed the Manipur cabinet move as irrational and called upon GOI to adhere to its commitment and make way for his safe passage. A series of rallies took place in the Naga hills demanding GOI's intervention.

However, the most important aspect of his proposed visit is the 'Viswema Impact'. Viswema or the adjoining northern Angami villages with a large population is considered an ideological base of the NNC since its inception. No ordinary Naga would ever imagine that Viswema would accord such a rousing reception to Muivah. From a temporary 'stopover' itinerary, Muivah is said to be happily camping at the village since the Mao Gate incident, meeting a cross-sections of Angami civil societies and his old comrades during the NNC period.

A prominent Ukhrul-based Naga social leader stated, "What Muivah would take months to win their (Angami) hearts, he's already winning in matter of few days." During his more than 50 years of involvement in Naga Political Movement, he was closely associated with Angami compatriots. It was Phizo, the architect of Naga nationalism who inspired and personally handpicked Muivah.

Ever since Muivah left the village as young post-graduate student from NEHU with Masters in Political Science to join the Naga political movement, he had visited his native village just once soon after his Chinese visit, way back in 1962. During the Centenary celebration of Somdal Baptist Church (his native church) held in December 2009, many anticipated he might come to join. An old friend said then, "Ever since he last left, we have seen him only in the newspapers and TV. We often hear his voice but it's been a really long time we haven't seen him face-to-face. We miss him a lot. I am sure he too misses us, especially in moment like this. But we remember him in our prayers".

A huge larger than life poster of Mr. Muivah was hung at one of the main entrance gates of the Centenary Hall, along with other luminaries from the village. What Che Guevara is to Bolivians and Chileans, Muivah is to the Nagas. He remains not only its leader but remains an idol and an object of hope to many Nagas. Every Naga in this part of the region see him as the man who will bring about lasting peace to the 6 decades long era of violence and turmoil in Naga lands.

At Camp Hebron, soon after the Manipur cabinet decision, he issued a bold and clear statement: "I have my birthright to visit my birthplace... and there is nothing unnatural about the proposed visit. As a human being there is a lot of emotions attached to the place wherein he was born and brought up." It's difficult to comprehend why CM Ibobi, UCM or anyone in the likes of RS. Jassal, a professed Naga baiter see red in this statement.

Some school of thought would prefer to attach an element of 'extreme insecurity and jealousy' to their apprehension. If at all, Muivah's visit is to do with any 'hidden' agenda, he could have easily sneaked into Ukhrul or any part of Manipur several times and stay for weeks unannounced and unnoticed. If the slated itinerary of Muivah's visit was to go as per scheduled and as announced, not only Nagas but perhaps Meeteis and Kukis alike could well be part of the fasting prayers at Somdal and public meeting at Ukhrul. Shri Ibobi, Hon'ble CM Manipur could also have come and witnessed with all his cabinet members and legislators, and even UCM members and the likes of RS. Jassal etc could have been a part of the occasion.

Under any parameter of International law, he has every right to visit his birthplace. He was born at Somdal village, grew up there and he remains its citizen since. He's not somebody who came all the way from Nepal or Burma and took citizenship here. He belongs to the land. He's the true son of the soil. If Muivah has no right to be in his own land, all other Nagas definitely don't have the right to live in their own homeland.

The ancestral Naga land belongs to Nagas alone and it is their exclusive right to welcome who they want to welcome. No other community has the right to say to the Nagas what to do, who to welcome home and who to bid farewell. Nagas have every right to decide what is best for its land and its future. If Muivah is a criminal, all Nagas are criminal as well because the Naga political movement is a people-based movement and Muivah is not a leader by chance or on his own volition.

He is the elected leader of the Naga people, representing the voice of the Nagas, whether at Hebron or Geneva or Bangkok. In a recent interview to mediapersons at Viswema, he said, "It's not a problem...this is my land. I can go anytime. Am I to take permission from Meiteis to visit my own land?...As a human being, I felt I should visit my native village which I've not visited for the last 47 years and Government of India has been gracious to agree to my request and rather appreciated it and the government had arranged security. It is not my intention to create problem, we've given commitment and why should we betray them? It's equally my commitment to respect the prime minister's commitment".

If at all, Ibobi government is serious about the illegality of his visit in the wake of what they term as criminal cases pending upon him, why is it not taking the issue to the highest court of the country challenging the Centre's decision allowing the Naga peace representative to visit his own native home? Perhaps, the Naga people have equal right to see this man as much as he has the right to visit his homeland. 

* Aya A. Shimray wrote this article in The Sangai Express . This article was webcasted on May 20th, 2010.

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