UPF wants creation of an Autonomous Hill State within Manipur: UPF gen secy
LAMKA, July 31: On the heels of the resentment against Indian army excess and the government’s reluctance to hold talk with SoO signatories particularly the United People Front(UPF) and Kuki National Organisation( KNO )of Manipur Hills, this IFP correspondent with some other media correspondents interviewed the general secretary UPF, Thanglianpau Guite on issues ranging from the group’s ideology, relationship with other UG groups, their alternative demand if the present demand fails, on their goal/aspiration to the pragmatism of their demand . The following are excerpt from the interview:
Q: Is the UPF satisfied with the attitude of the Indian Government and its arm forces like the Assam Rifles (AR) who crossing all norms had raided the residence of a top UPF leader?
T Guite: Both the Government and the concern Organizations including their respective armed forces have collective responsibility to maintain peace and carry forward the peace process to its logical conclusion. If there is any violation of Ground Rules from both parties, it should be addressed at the appropriate forum like, the Joint Monitoring Group (JMG). Any move to sabotage the peace process should be condemned and befitting action taken accordingly.
Q: Provided political dialogue is held, what will be the UPF’s reaction if the govt is evasive about its intended Autonomy for the hill people.
T Guite: Let’s first see the reaction of the Government. If the need arise, we shall consult the people and decide our stand accordingly. We are hopeful that the Government as well as any sensible person in Manipur will realize the urgent need for durable peace and development in the State. It is also important to realize the fact that 40 or more years of our experiment with District Council and Hill Area Committee in Manipur has miserably failed to deliver desired development at the desired pace. Perhaps, the opportune time has come for all of us to think-out-of-the-box and change our parochial mind-set in the interest of our collective survival. The people of Manipur-both the hills and valley-must equip themselves if they want to survive in the midst of the inevitable changes in near future.
Q: Do you think that by signing the Suspension of Operation (SoO) agreement with the Government of India (GoI), your political demands will be conceded?
T Guite: If peaceful process do not lead to any solution, is violence means a better choice? Indeed, tripartite SoO agreement is the means to an end, never the end in itself. We have shunneed violence means and chosen peaceful process to settle the hill people’s long standing political aspiration in Manipur, which we believe, are equally appreciated by the Government. The UPF’s demand is pragmatic and achievable through peaceful dialogue, but much will depend on the sincerity of the Government, particularly the Government of Manipur who is also a party to the tripartite agreement.
Q: What is your exact political demand and how far have you been successful?
T Guite: The United Peoples’ Front (UPF) demands creation of an Autonomous Hill State within Manipur by extending the provision of Article 244-A of the Indian Constitution.
We have arrived at this idea after series of consultation with the public, taking into consideration the volatile conditions of the state and the need for maintaining territorial integrity of present Manipur state. The socio-economic, cultural, historical, developmental and political condition of the then Assam state is similar with the conditions of today’s hill areas of Manipur in all respect. The government as well as the people of Manipur has to understand the viability of our demand. So far we have successfully created awareness about its soundness.
Q: Since UPF and Kuki National Organisation (KNO) have signed the SoO agreement together, is your political demand similar?
T Guite: The approach of UPF is non-violence, non-communal and issue-based; our demand is inclusive, pragmatic and achievable within the parameters of the SoO agreement. The UPF demand area coincided with the existing 6 (six) District Councils in hill areas of Manipur which covers the entire hill people, irrespective of tribal or non-tribal. Perhaps, the creation of Autonomous Hill State in Manipur is the surest means to protect Manipur’s territorial integrity and develop both the hills and valley in the State in equal footing.
The demand of the KNO and Kuki State Demand Committee (KSDC) for a full-fledged statehood is outside the agreed SoO preamble as it requires re-drawing of Manipur State boundary for a particular community which, we believe, is impractical in a multi-ethnic state like Manipur. There are thousands of Meitei, Bihari, Bengali, Nepali, Tamils, etc living in Moreh, Kanggui (Kangpokpi), Senapati, Ukhrul, Lamka (Churachandpur), etc and drawing a communal boundary would simply invite more troubles than solve our problems.
Q: In the light of recent development like students demanding that talk is initiated by Governrment of India (GoI) with the SoO groups, it is clear that political talk was not taking place even after 7 years. Do you think being in SoO is helpful in making your political demands granted by GoI?
T Guite: The creation of Autonomous Hill State (AHS) in Manipur is the hill people’s demand. We will negotiate with the Government on the basis of the agenda already identified by the people. It is natural that they are impatient at the very slow progress on the side of the government. Both the Government and the SoO groups have to fulfill their respective responsibilities in order to make the SoO agreement meaningful. It take some years for us to study, conduct public consultation and frame our Charter of Demands; likewise, the Government take time in construction of designated camps, appointment of Interlocutor, etc. We are confident that the Government of India, particularly, the Ministry of Home Affairs is seriously trying to solve Northeast problems, including the problem of Manipur hill areas. Though political dialogue has not been initiated, we are hopeful that it will be started sooner than later.
Q: According to you, what is the reason for the GoI’s disinclination to initiate talks with SoO groups so far?
T Guite: It may be premature to say that the Government of India is disinclined to initiate talks with SoO groups. We have to be patience till certain formalities are completed. Nevertheless, the very slow progress is disheartening and if such delays persist without an acceptable explanation, it could be interpreted as a sign of the Government’s insincerity. Under such circumstances, we shall react accordingly.
Q: In case the GoI continues to refuse in holding talks, what will be your course of action to ensure the talks take place?
T Guite: If the delay is intentional, we will decide according to the needs of the situation. They can delay or refuse for sometimes, but they can delay forever.
Q: Are you and your guerillas ready to go back to forest and fight for your demands if GoI fail to grant your demands?
T Guite: We are neither guerillas nor terrorists. It is circumstances that compelled us to arm ourselves for self-defence. Nevertheless, we have committed our lives for the people and are ever-ready to face any eventualities.
UPF cadres posing for the lens
UPF wants creation of an Autonomous Hill State within Manipur: UPF gen secy
(contd from last edition)
Q: You are demanding for talks, but do you think such talks will bring final solution to your problems because we see that the National Socialist Ccouncil of Nagalim (IM) etc are having so many rounds of such dialogue yet the solution still is not in sight.
T Guite: Who says that UPF is demanding talks? We demand AHS in Manipur and are waiting for political dialogue. The duration of talks must be understood with the nature of the demands. The All Party Hill Leaders Conference (APHLC) hardly take three years to arrive at an agreement for AHS in Assam; there are groups in Assam which signed an agreement within five years; Mizo National Front took about 15 years and the Indo-Naga talk continues for over 15 years now. We are hopeful that a viable agenda like Autonomous Hill State (AHS) which surely is for the betterment of all communities in Manipur as well as the Government of India will not take much time to ink a solution once political dialogue process start.
Q: How many groups are there under UPF?
T Guite: The are seven seven groups under UPF:- Kuki National Front (KNF), Hmar Peoles’ Convention- Democtatic (HPC-D), United Kuki Liberation Front (UKLF), Zou Defence Volunteer (ZDV), Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA) and Zomi Revolutionary Front (ZRF).
Q: Do you think the UPF alone is in a position to get the desired Hill state without other major constituent of the Hill people especially the Kuki and Naga?
T Guite: Let me clarify. When we say, “Hill People” it is inclusive of all communities living in hill areas of Manipur – both the Tribal and Non-Tribal and UPF’s demand is not a full-fledge “Hill State” but an “Autonomous Hill State (AHS) within Manipur”. We envisioned that, once AHS in Manipur is created, all communities living in Hill areas of Manipur will enjoy the benefits of an Autonomous State and every community, whether big or small, shall have their share in the administration. Furthermore, the parent State, Manipur will develop hundred times more than the current pace of developments since it will shred the burden of managing or mismanaging the hill areas with limited fund being received from the Government of India.
It will be unrealistic to expect hundred percent unity amongst the hill people to arrive at a solution; but as we are aware, in democracy, majority voice is the voice of the people. Towards this end we have been in touch with the KNO, the Naga frontal organizations and representatives of Meitei society. It is very encouraging to learn that all the hill people, irrespective of their community affiliation, shared common grievances, dreams of a better political status, yet they are unable to arrive at a common goal. The viability of different demands (Kuki State, Autonomous Hill State or Alternative Arrangement) shall be debated upon during the process of political dialogue. It is a matter of time for other to realize the geopolitical reality and accept the most pragmatic choice.
Q: The fact that the UPF had signed SoO with the Govt. under Kuki banner, then what is the different between the KNO and UPF in its ideology and goal?
T Guite: The impression, ‘under Kuki banner’ or ‘Kuki arm groups’ is artificially created by some section of the media community, perhaps for convenience sake. The UPF was formed on issue base, leaving aside our smaller differences and pursuing a non-communal political goal. Unlike KNO, UPF is not a military alliance but an issue based grouping of like-minded organizations. The approach of UPF is non-violence, non-communal and issue-based; our demand is inclusive, pragmatic and achievable within the parameters of the SoO agreement. In our viewpoint, the creation of Autonomous Hill State in Manipur is the surest means to protect Manipur’s territorial integrity and develop both the hills and valley of the State in equal footing.
On the other hand, KNO and KSDC stand for nomenclature based demand which is outside the purview of the agreed SoO preamble as it requires re-drawing of Manipur State boundary. It is an exclusive demand for a particular community which again is impractical in a multi-ethnic state like Manipur.
Q: What is the UPF response from the open invitation by the President of KNO that they had no problem to have the propose state as Zo State instead of Kuki State? Will it not had cut more ice if the two unite?
T Guite: The ideology of UPF is inclusive and based on issue sans nomenclature. It does not demand political status for a particular ethnic group. We do have a couple of meetings with KNO in order to arrive at a common political demand. The process is still going on. It is our dreams that, not only KNO, but United Naga Council, Meitei and other non-Tribals come together and join our struggle for a developed Manipur. Any person who undergoes objective study of AHS demand will surely understand the soundness of our proposition for ushering in an equitable development in Manipur while maintaining its territorial integrity.
Q: The “Demand and desire” don’t withstand its hype as shown by the Naga issue, in case your original demand is rejected do you have a backup plan or alternate arrangement or mechanism in place to response to the rejection of your demand.
T Guite: UPF never have original or duplicate demand. Our demand for AHS is workable and pragmatic.
It is also unrealistic to compare the AHS demand in Manipur with State demands in different parts of India. In a democratic country like India, every community, groups or region has the legitimate right to demand any political status, but the merit of such demands should be the basis of a solution. For instance, in case of Manipur, further fragmentation of the state into 2 or 3 more full-fledges state is not pragmatic; however, in view of the uniqueness of hill areas administration and the inefficiency of the present local-self government to ensure all round development of the hill people, it is important for us to look for a viable options. It was for a unique situation like this that Jawaharlal Nehru came out with the idea of an ‘Autonomous State’ or ‘State within a State’, giving fullest autonomy (internal) without disturbing the existing State (parent state).
What we need in Manipur is a workable system of hill areas administration. A mere symptomatic treatment to the problem or lollipop-typed developmental packages is unlikely to bring durable solution until and unless the inadequacy in administrative set-up is addressed adequately. All other options, other than AHS, shall also be judged on the basis of this principle and if the need arises, at any point of time; the UPF will consult the hill people before taking final decision.
Source: Imphal Free Press (31st July & 1st Aug Issue)