What Irish song writer and singer Paul Brady sang 20 years ago in his song titled “The Island”, tormented by the increasingly mindless violence with no seeming hope for a conclusion in his homeland at the time, rings loud in considering the situation in Manipur today. Amidst the sombre mood of the song comes the stabbing line which should make everybody sit up and rethink: “Up here, we sacrifice our children for worn out dreams of yesteryears.” So much water has flowed down the rivers of Manipur in the half century of conflict, it is time now to reassess and re-evaluate the dreams of yesteryears so that they are not out of sync with the needs as well as aspirations of the changed times. Needless to remind anyone that times keep changing, and it is imperative for all to also change with it and remain relevant.
The half century of conflict however has not been of any waste. It served its purpose. The resistance had a driving logic that is why it came up. Had it not been there, it is quite imaginable that Manipur would have lost its will and inner fire long ago, and become content to simply surviving and not living. To all the sacrifices that have gone into this struggle, we all owe our gratitude for making us what we are today, or more relevantly, sustaining in all of us the will to live and be independent in spirit. Nothing, not a single life lost in the revolution that has been raging has gone waste. They all served a grand purpose of saving the soul of the place. Yet, the times have changed, and changed dramatically too. The fight is no longer the same, the fighters are no longer the same and so indeed the enemies are no longer the same. All these dramatis personae, and the valour or villainy associated with them, were determined by circumstance and circumstance alone. Nobody is born hero or villain, it is the given situation that categorises them in their respective moulds. Today’s enemies can be tomorrow’s friends and today’s friends can be tomorrow’s enemies. We have all seen this happen right before our very eyes in so many conflict theatres. It would be sheer obduracy and linearity of vision which would make anybody believe our situation is any different from this.
It is therefore vital for all the various political dramatis personae in our own conflict theatre to be open to self assessment and consequently self renewal. This is the only way to remain relevant. For this to happen, a constant dialogue and vigilance to be in touch with the pulse as well as the aspiration of the public at large, and with this knowledge as the lode star seek to understand the self better, is absolutely essential. Leaders of the people, both underground as well as those in the establishment must be willing to accept this onerous challenge, for this is of vital importance to the future and current welfare of the public they serve. This can happen best if communication channels are always open between these leaders and the public. Manipur is at a very crucial juncture now. It can either chose to be condemned to another one hundred years of solitude or else decide to integrate with the world and give itself a new and modern soul. This is also a crucial juncture because of the proposal from one of the most powerful underground organisations, the UNLF, for a settlement either through a UN supervised plebiscite or else by any other honourable means. We hope similar proposals for a just resolution also come forth from other groups so that a synthesis can be looked forward to and a common programme for a lasting solution to Manipur’s problems can come into sight. For a start, at least the UNLF chairman, who is now in custody, must be facilitated to be in closer touch with the people. This could be by arrangement with the state government. There have been models by which this has been done, some of which seem applicable in the current situation in the state in a realistic way. The ULFA model in which arrested ULFA leaders were released on bail is one. This one seems a little farfetched. The Dima Halong model seems a little more suitable. Here the state declares a house as jail and keeps the organisation leaders under house arrest there. In the case of the arrested UNLF leader too, such an arrangement could be made so that he can be in closer touch with representatives of the people on the ground. This model is also being played out in the case of Irom Sharmila, whereby the state government declares a section of the JN Hospital as jail premises and keeps the hunger striking, gritty, lady there. If it is for the sake of arriving at a solution to Manipur’s vexed problems, there is no reason why the state government cannot think of doing the same again.
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