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E-Pao! Opinions - It's their turf war, not ours

It's their turf war, not ours
By Ranjan Yumnam *



The crisis at Moreh is a wake-up call for all the communities living in Manipur. There can be no clearer proof of how ethnic armed groups that have gone astray can inflame communal passions and mindless violence not only among themselves but against innocent civilians.

Knowing this, it leaves me a little befuddled why we get worked up so much by the clashes that were purely a fight for turf between two groups which were armed to the teeth. Here's a little open secret: It's their war, not ours.

Of course, when the lives of the civilians are at stake, we can no more remain a silent spectator. In such testy times, we need to initiate a dialogue among the affected parties-this we did- and try to address the roots of the misunderstandings, if any, between the non-combatants.

The only hitch here is whether people-to-people talks can resolve a problem which was the fallout of two UG groups feuding with each other. To put it in another words, can the civil organizations that claim to represent the two communities can actually rein in the warring armed hordes even if peace is arrived at on paper in the talks at the civilian level. This I doubt.

The UGs will do what they are supposed to do. They have an agenda that we the common mortals find it hard to decipher and in all likelihood will go back to what they do best: shoot targets at any venue-battlefield or calm neighbourhood.

Pyrrhic victory

Despite these deep misgivings (or call it cynicism), let's suppose that the two communities' NGOs based in Moreh are able to broker a more or less permanent truce through negotiations. Now, will it be a joyous moment or a premonition of things to come? I am afraid it would be a pyrrhic victory. Pyrrhic victory, because by talking to them we are blurring the distinction between the civilian groups and the armed groups.

We are treating the so-called civil society organisations as if they are the think-tanks of the UGs and so-the thinking goes-persuading them can halt the hostilities between the two UG groups in question. Isn't it pertinent to ask here: if civil organizations could tame the depravities of the armed groups, the culprits in this human disaster, then why they didn't stop the bloodbath earlier in the first place.

There is a reason for this and that is UGicisation (for the lack of a better word). The leadership of our so-called civil organizations is increasingly becoming ugicised and we are at a loss whether the voices of these organizations are really their own or thrust into their mouths by others. At Moreh, for the same reason, we should be cautious when dealing with groups that claim to represent the common people because more often than not we may be talking and breaking bread with the yes-mans of the armed groups in deceptive guises.

Therefore, it should be clear to the government by now that the only way of bringing back lasting normalcy in Moreh is to flush out the UGs of all hues and colours from the troubled area, irrespective of their ethnicity rather than taking the soft option of cumbersome and endless negotiations. After a point, it is plain silly to reason out with them.

The sooner we realize that it is a pure law and order problem that calls for an iron-hand handling, the greater the chances of the crisis being defused. If we dither on this, there is the real danger of a turf war getting out of hand and snowballing into a major communal conflagration that will consume the populace.

Hence it goes without saying that security needs to be beefed up-of course, minus the disgraced Assam Rifles which have landed themselves into a messy conspiracy soup.

Consider this: In conflict studies, there are three approaches to handling conflicts: conflict management, conflict transformation and conflict resolution. The AR, I am afraid, took the second option but ended up propounding an entirely new approach: conflict provocation. Whatever the truth, the muck has stuck on its image that will take a long time and penance to wash off.

Media commendable but...

And finally the role of media during the crisis was commendable save a few aberrations. It did exercise great restraint in reporting the Moreh imbroglio that was ripe with communal overtones, feelings of collective hurt and humiliation.

It relegated the journalistic canons of truth and objectivity to the greater need of maintaining peace and harmony by ignoring and downplaying facts that might set adrenaline running. As one correspondent of ISTV told me, the media reported only about 30 per cent of the actual truth while leaving out the unsavoury rest.

While the media has been sparing with provocative facts, it is not totally free from charges of insensitivity though. AR is being perceived as communal and it is in fact the favourite punching bag of the media now. The same allegation, however, can be levelled against the media.

Reading the newspapers and listening to the electronic media, one can't escape the Meitei-centric perspectives and orientation that is writ large in a majority of articles and stories in the media. There is shockingly little human interest stories from the other side of the fence.

Yet, it would be unfair to paint the media as a perpetrator of gross bias. The area where the media is actually at fault is in the subtle degrees of slant that they colour their news reporting with. Media needs a correction in this regard.

In the end, it all boils down to the security lapses, AR's partisan (in)action and the free rein given to the UGs which led to the undesirable chain of events at Moreh during the last week. Yet there is always a silver lining.

If peace is a process and not just a static end-point, then let's hope that the reconciliation process would make our multicultural ethos and ties firmer and stronger. So let's give a toast to that redeeming prospect.


* This young talented writer is a frequent contributor to e-pao.net. He has recently started a new column in The Sangai Express print version, under the label Whistleblower. He has a weblog in the name of Whistleblower and can be contacted at ranjanyumnam(at)gmail(dot)com
This article was webcasted on June 17, 2007.


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