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Millennium Post

A state for the Kukis

Yet another problem in the Northeast awaits the Centre. It will have to take this up after the end of the monsoon session of Parliament: the demand for a Kuki State. The demand for creating ever-new states continues to be made – Telangana today, Gorkhaland tomorrow, Vidarbha another day. The latest in this line is the demand for carving out a Kuki State in Manipur.

The demand has brought them in direct confrontation with the other major tribe in Manipur – the Nagas. The Kukis have been demanding for a long time that the Sadar Hills Sub-division of Senapati district should be made a separate district. The Nagas have been opposing it from the beginning. The United Naga Council (UNC) of Manipur has held protest meetings, demonstrations, sit-ins to articulate their opposition.

For its small size (22,327 sq.km), Manipur has a bewildering number of tribes and sub-tribes. There are 33 Scheduled Tribes, all living in the hills. The Meiteis, commonly called Manipuris, live in the Imphal Valley and constitute the bulk of the population. They are Vaishnavite Hindus. They have seven clans inhabiting the hills of Manipur. The Kukis are allied to the Mizos of neighbouring Mizoram.

The Nagas are dead opposed to a Kuki State. Last month, the Chandel Naga People’s Organization (CNPO) expressed its ‘shock’ at the Kukis showing ‘Naga ancestral territory’ in Chandel district in the map of the proposed Kuki State. The map was released recently by the Kuki State Demand Committee (KSDC). It shows the whole of Churachandpur and Chandel districts, the Sadar Hills sub-division of Senapati district and large tracts of terrtiory in Tamenglong and Ukhrul districts. In support of its demand, the KSDC had called for an ‘indefinite road blockade’ in the Kuki-inhabited areas of Manipur from 17 November. But the administration intervened and succeeded in persuading the Kukis to ‘suspend’ the blockade five days later, after the State Government and the KSDC signed an agreement. In the talks preceding the agreement, the state government was represented by deputy chief minister Gaikhangam, while representatives of as many as twenty-six Kuki militant organisations took part. The consensus was that a ‘political dialogue’ would begin after the winter session of Parliament. A team of central government officials would come to Manipur to work out the modalities for the talks.

Meanwhile, the two communities have hardened their respective stands. The Kuki National Organization (KNO) has stated it will not tolerate ‘any attempt by the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) to forcibly include Kuki-inhabited traditional areas into any form of Naga administrative entity, primarily because of the antagonistic and ethno-exclusivist chauvinism of the NSCN-IM ideology.’ To drive home its point, the KNO recalls what it says was the ‘Kuki genocide’ of the NSCN-IM between 1992 and 1997 in which about 900 Kukis were allegedly killed by the Nagas.

As against the Kuki demand, the United Naga Council (UNC), of which the CNPO is a constituent unit), is demanding the creation of a separate administrative of the Nagas in Manipur. They have vowed to ‘defend’ their land at any cost. The UNC is spearheading the movement against the carving out of a separate Sadar Hills district from the Senapati district. Late last month, the NSCN-IM aserted it had taken ‘strong exception’ to the ‘mischievous propaganda’ being carried out by the ‘so-called KSDC’. It accused the KSDC of intimidating the neighbouring Naga villagers to support the demand for a Kuki State ‘or face consequences.’

The Kukis claim that the ownership of their ‘traditional lands’ dates back to 33 AD when the coronation of the first Meitei king Chothe Thangvai took place and that their chieftains possess the pattas or legal land ownership rights. The KNO claims it has never been against the aspirations of the Naga people as long as such aspirations ‘do not infringe on the rights of the Kuki people.’ It says that a healthy relationship with the NSCN(I-M) can be built only on the basis of mutual support on a territorial understanding. Without this understanding, there can be no basis for mutual relationship.

The Manipur government is against any dismemberment of the State – whether for creating a separate state for the Kukis or for the Nagas. The Kukis are against a Naga State. The Nagas are against a Kuki State.

 The situation is, indeed, tricky because the demands are mutually exclusive and, on the face of it, irreconcilable. As no militant group in Manipur suffers from dearth of arms, failure to arrive at a mutually acceptable solution has the danger of creating a situation surcharged with inter-tribal violence and bloodshed.

The Centre has to act as an umpire in the three-way dispute between the Meiteis (that is, the State Government), the Kukis and the Nagas and come out with a formula that will the pave the way for an amicable settlement.  (IPA)
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