From SoO to Dialogue to Negotiation: Time for serious business

From SoO to Dialogue to Negotiation: Time for serious business.

Ninglun Hanghal


At an interaction in Lamka with tribe based organization representatives last month, Mr AB Mathur, interlocutor for peace talks with UPF – KNO said “the center government, state government are sincere” he went on to add “do not doubt their sincerity”. In-fact the interlocutor must be emphasizing on “sincerity” since it may well be one of the stumbling block in the progress of the dialogue - if at all a dialogue in it true sense is seriously going on. Talking on the part of the CSOs/ Tribe Based Organizations Mathur appealed “play your part sincerely”. In-deed there can be no serious discussion or talks without mutual trust. Sincerity is no doubt one key factor for progress of dialogue and that sincerity must come from all sides.

There could also be reasons why Mathur dwells on “sincerity”. It is obvious that tribals in Manipur or north-east India at large do not (mostly) trust the government. Specifically, Tribals in Manipur has and always distrust the state government and its intentions, even as the state government would claim their actions are with good intentions. Does the government on the other hand trust the Tribals ?, is also another question. Moreover, take the case of the Nagas who after more than 20 years still talks about ‘sincerity’ and seems to still doubted the government’s sincerity and perhaps vice versa too.

The UPF-KNO dialogue was initiated after a long haul of more than 10 years after the Suspension of Operation was signed. Though a slow progress, appointment of an interlocutor cannot but be said of one progress. Moreover, a series of public consultation are being held – this is another major milestones considering the secretive nature of ‘peace talks’, even as there are closed door’ discussions with rebel groups that remain a secret.

Like any of the other interlocutors for dialogue with rebel groups in north-east India, Mathur too was positive. Perhaps as an interlocutor he has to be. True to the optimism of the interlocutor, a positive attitude is one aspect which every party / individuals in peace dialogue should bear. If a party to peace talks or the general public – the key stakeholders, hold pessimism that no good would come of such dialogue, the talk process itself is already a failure.

Mathur talks of key stakeholders in the peace dialogue – the center government, state government and the CSOs - here Traditional Tribe Based Organization would be the ideal term than “civil society”. This tribe based organizations - representative of the general public holds a strong role and contribution in making peace dialogue a success. Some may argue on such “representations” but in the case of Lamka based tribe organizations - they hold tremendous control and influence on the public they represent – thus, their role and influence in peace talk processes. Perhaps the government too recognized this and possibly had insisted that tribe based organizations be engaged in consultations.

As far as Lamka people ( the Kuki – Chin- Zomi People) are concern, there seems to be pessimism all around as far as peace dialogues are concern. Opinions, remarks, comments particularly on social media is indicative of such pessimistic cynicism and skepticism. Moreover, the tribe based organizations too do not seem to be proactive in regard to such processes. On the one hand it could also be said that these tribes based organizations were involved only when it suits the parties in the “tripartite talks”, that is they are involved only when the center (represented by the interlocutor) the state government and the rebels feels the need and that too in terms of “public consultation or public interactions” or as a mere ‘process’. This is evident at the interaction at Lamka College, when the facilitator for the event suddenly announced to the gathering of tribe representatives “to ask questions to Mathur”. Surprisingly or unsurprisingly, there was no response- no questions for Mathur. This is indicative that the tribe based organization have no clue of the process or the progress, if any. Though later some queries such as time frame had come up. Even if there are hundred queries, will there be any answer?

Public consultations, interactions are one way of engaging with the public, but this must go beyond mere ‘discussions’. It must not be a mere formality as a process in the “dialogue”. Consultations/ Interactions must not be conducted under pressure either.

Meanwhile Mathur had mentioned about other dialogues/ peace talks such as the Bodos in Assam, that seemed to be considered a “model” for the UPF-KNO dialogue. Much as there had been critique and analysis about the failure of “Bodoland territorial council” and that the Bodos had gone on to demand for ‘statehood’, it is crucial to look at other ‘peace processes and peace talks that are ‘successful’ in other parts of north-east India rather than consider the ‘complicated and complex’ ones, as Mathur himself puts it. Say for instance, why not study the just concluded peace agreement/ Peace Accord between the HPC(D) and the Mizoram government? and see whether there can be any learnings from it? Mathur who also happens to be interlocutor of the “Bodo dialogue” need not take in the “Bodo model” which may not necessarily be suited for UPF-KNO turfs. Problems and issues should not necessarily be made “complicated and complex”.

It is time now that the UPF-KNO dialogue process should move on towards a ‘negotiation’. This “peace negotiations” should be “business like” negotiations to come to an agreement. This business negotiation, a “give and take” concept must be internalized and applied for coming to a conclusion for a ‘settlement’ for mutual concern and mutual benefit. Like Mathur had stated about the need for development, which is one key aspect in the hills of Manipur one must keep in mind the economic aspect of development and this is where the business negotiation is crucial – for, politics is all about economy and vice versa.

Most importantly there should be no room for emotions and cynicism. Democratic process– in terms of bringing all people on board - or all stakeholders on board, may not necessarily be ideally possible nor productive. It is time and energy consuming and complicated matters along the way. Most crucial is the seriousness and sincerity of the two side – the UPF-KNO duo and the government. It is time for UPF-KNO duo and the government (representatives) to get down to ‘business’. Traditional tribe based organizations and representatives of the general mass can ideally serve and contribute as a “pressure group”, give moral support for collective good.

As typical of the Kuki-Chin-Zomi people – there seems to be serious issue over nomenclature. What is in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Even as we seem to be already some way (half way?) ahead in the peace process, like it or not this historical nomenclature blot continues to play a major drawback. If UPF-KNO (and the general Kuki-Chin-Zomi people at large) can trash this out, the peace talk will be half done.