Manipur situation, a forewarning to the Nagas: Rev Dr Wati Aier

Says a wake-up call for Naga leaders to be mindful of letting tensions simmer without resolution 

Mongsentong Longkumer 
Dimapur | July 23

The ongoing crisis in Manipur has sparked several conversations about the implications of future conflicts in the region and its people. 

Politically sensitive and ethnically fragile with several fault lines in existence, several states, including Nagaland could draw parallel to the chaos and destruction emanating from then ongoing unrest.   

It is particularly illustrative for Nagaland, the adjacent neighbour of Manipur to its North, with a long history of violence and an elusive solution to protracted political issues 

On this note, Rev Dr Wati Aier Convenor of the Forum for Naga Reconciliation (FNR) in a conversation with The Morung Express regarded it as a wake-up call for the Naga political leaders to be mindful of the implications of letting tensions simmer without finding ways to resolve issues. 

“If we are not mindful, something terrible is in the making,” he viewed.  

Rev Aier, who is considered as a senior Naga figurehead amongst the people, brought together the belligerent Naga political groups (NPGs) through peaceful dialogue and reconciliation under FNR. This began in the year 2008 which led to the signing of the Covenant of Reconciliation (CoR) in 2009.   

Reflections on the Manipur crisis 
Having visited Manipur in the early part of July this year, the FNR Convenor said that the violence, destruction and division were unprecedented. 

Before the state imploded, the people in power be it the Centre, State or even the Intelligence agencies, they knew that something was going to happen, he mentioned. 

However, they did not expect the level of savagery that followed after May 3. “The government could have stopped it but they have not and now they are almost puzzled. They are not able to put a lid on it,” he said. 

He added that the Manipur situation is no longer a law and order issue as hatred has engulfed the people on both sides of the spectrum and such ‘violence is not easily forgotten.’

Regrettably, there has been no political will to resolve it, he added. 

The issue has also become a hot-bed for media houses to capitalise on which in turn was further contributing to its protraction, he observed.  “Many people do not want the story to end.”

Moreover, the hands and influence of global powers cannot be ruled out, he opined. 

This is all the more probable given that Manipur and the 642 KM Patkai range bordering Myanmar is very much connected with the Act East Policy of the Indian Government.

 Keeping this in mind, it needs to be looked at from a greater geopolitical point of view, he opined.    

Legacy of colonialism 
The colonial legacy has left a mess all over the world, not just in India, Rev Aier reasoned. There is always a cause and an effect. In this manner the drawing of arbitrary boundaries at the behest of the British administrators was done without realising the consequences.  

“Because of that, today we are demonising each other. Myth has been created. It has destroyed communities and societies,” he stated.

“You cannot keep on harping about the past and say that they do not have a land as they’re refugees. Well they’re going to be there, where will they go?” he remarked. 

Referencing a book by James C Scott titled, ‘The Art of Not Being Governed,’ Rev Aier explained that the people living in the ‘Zomiya belt’ encompassing, the highland areas of South-East Asia, China and India have always pushed back against state control over their territories. 

“In tribal communities there is a lot of competition in terms of resources. When that community is pushed to the periphery they will be forced to react,” he said.  

‘Therefore what India needs to do is to have the political will so that nobody is a loser in Manipur. It requires an intention to solve and not simply to manage,’ he asserted.  

Lesson for Naga people
In light of these circumstances, Rev Aier wondered whether a similar fate was awaiting the Naga people where tribalism has festered amongst all sections of society. 

“Similar things may not happen but something unique to the Naga people may occur,” he said.  

He further cautioned that if it boils over to others state such as Nagaland or Assam where a considerable number of Kuki and Meitei dominated areas exist, the issue could turn much worse. 

Here (Nagaland) there is no clear-cut jurisdiction or demarcation especially in urban settings such as Dimapur. Similar small-scale incidents of violence have occurred sporadically in the past as well, he noted. 

To this end, he stated that unity in an idealistic form would not work and need practical approach. 

This includes accepting the differences and creating a new form of coexistence. 

 “So, if you look at the bigger picture it is very crucial for the Naga people to put our heads together. They know that we are very vulnerable and fragmented,” he cautioned. 

Where is the peace-process heading towards?  
When asked whether the delay in signing the Indo-Naga political peace talks is contributing to the simmering of tensions, Rev Aier noted that it was not the only factor. 

The cracks have already been in existence.  

Nevertheless, he admitted that the delay in solving the Naga issue was a reflection of the Naga people. “We are magnifying our differences, and in the process we are strengthening others.”

“People think that it is the Government of India which is creating the delay. Let us be more generous to India, I think we are not allowing them to make the decision because of our immaturity,” he said. 

At the same, he pointed out the failure of the ‘Westphalian model’ in the context of the Naga people.  

“The concept of sovereignty in presented in that form cannot be comprehended. It doesn’t give us the freedom to think about other systems of freedom. For the Nagas we need to look at sovereignty from our own context,” he opined. The need of the hour is to deliberate on constructive forms of nationalism and setting aside personal egos.