KAPIL ARAMBAM • In Pursuit of Freedom •

Nationhood: A Reflection on Ethnic Hostility in Manipur

Ask any Manipuri, someone who belongs to Manipur regardless of whose nationality s/he wants to be and it will not be a surprise if the answers vary as many as the number of individuals you ask. We are a confused lot and our lives are riddled with contradictions (The Generation of Contradictions). Amongst us the most vocal will be two groups: those who root for India and those for Manipur or Greater Nagaland or Zale’n-gam.

If we look back into our history, Manipur never existed as a nation but rather as a kingdom. So much is at stake here in differentiating between these two concepts. One of the most visible consequences of using these concepts interchangeably is in our inability to understand the rising ethnic hostilities between the valley and the hills. The Meiteis of general category in the valley have a romanticised version of Manipur, an erstwhile kingdom with a civilisation of two thousand years. The Naga and Kuki tribal categories of the hills, however, do not buy this story. For them, the hills have always been a part of Zomia, a region in Southeast Asia which had mastered ‘the art of not being governed’—a few concepts which were popularised by Dutch historian Willem van Schendel not too long ago.

Now, an understanding of the two terms, kingdom and nation, can shed some light on these contestations between the hills and the valley. It will explain as well why we assert that Kabaw Valley belongs to Manipur and that once the territory of the erstwhile kingdom extends from Surma Valley to the Chindwin and from Arunachal to Mizoram.


The concept of a nation is subjective yet three common elements that define a nation are its sovereign power, a clearly defined territory and population. The last two elements make clear why cartography and political geography are essential in assessing a nation. In a nation, the political State or the sovereign government is the supreme. Benedict Anderson succinctly describes a nation as an ‘imagined political community’ with people who would not even know each other.

On the other hand, if we begin with a dictionary definition, a kingdom is ‘a domain in which something is dominant’. Alternatively, the monarch is the sole supreme power. It has no clearly defined territory, for example, if Meidingu Pamheiba aka King Garibniwaz (1709–1754CE) could go as far as the Kaunghmudaw Pagoda in Burma and through a process as simple as marking a symbolic line with his sword, he can claim that his kingdom extended from Kangla to Sagaing and it was completely legitimate.

If democracy and citizenship are the rule in a nation, then monarchy and subjects are the order of a kingdom and here we are referring here to absolute monarchy that is hereditary in nature.

Over the last few decades, with the rise in resistance movements and the politics of identity, a new expression has entered in our vocabulary: that of the Manipur nation, which might be technically correct but the existing conditions present a contrasting idea. As mentioned from certain corners we hear that the hills were never a part of the Manipuri kingdom or to be precise, that the Nagas and Kukis who reside predominantly in the hills were never a subject of Manipur, while there are records of a yearly tax, which they had to pay to the king who mostly resided in the valley; King Pamheiba who grew up in a Naga village; King Taothingmang (264–364CE) of being a Kuki and so on.  

Manipur in 1AD and 600AD

According to 2011 Census records, the present-day Manipur covers a total area of 22,327 sq km, in which 92% of the territory is hills and merely 8% valley but the valley accounts for 90% of the population. It is divided into nine districts, again five in the hills and four in the valley that are further separated into 37 sub-divisions and 38 community tribal development blocks. It had lost its sovereignty when it was merged into the union of India through controversial agreements. So, it is a sort of problematic to study its existence as a nation.

In the modern sense it existed as a nation or a nation-state for hardly two years after the conclusion of the British rule. If we consider global politics, the term itself is so subjective that some scholars opine nation or nation-state is merely a notion than an actuality and several governments, despite their political structures, call themselves as a nation-state for the sake of convenience. The contested nations of the Meiteis or Nagas or Kukis, as such, are no different from those of the Ainus and the Catalonians in Japan and Spain respectively. 

Another consolation is that we can assume the nationhood, a concept independent of contemporary politics and history, because it had always existed as a sovereign till 1891. The same is not true for modern India which was divided into hundreds of kingdoms and princely states, all of which were directly under the British rule for two centuries. In another word, Manipur as a nation is only an assumption but nevertheless a nation if we consider the existing rhetoric and the struggle for the right to self-determination. It becomes sticky just when we say that these are the process of re-claiming nationhood. The first Meitei rebel outfit called itself the United National Liberation Front that was established in 1964.

Somehow, all of these can be attributed to the factor of ‘time-hopping’. For example, during the World War II, we had scarcely seen a car when those monstrous flying metals hovered over our skies and created mayhem. Also, from a tedious traditional economy we were plunged into the cut-throat world of globalisation during the British rule sans any transition phase. The same happened with our limited ideas of nations and kingdoms when we became a pathetic Part-C state in a union. The condition has hardly changed today:

One of Manipur’s most problematic issues awaiting a resolution is a general mindset entrapped in the pre-modern time frame, when the rest of the world has moved into the postmodern era. ... while many societies are already in advanced and sophisticated economies, political systems, art, literature and aesthetics etc. many others who come under the broad category of the Fourth World, are still on the edge of the Pleistocene epoch, with even settled agriculture still an alien occupation, subsisting on primitive economies constituting of hunting and gathering food. The paradox is, these communities live in two different time frames. In evolutionary time they are midway between the Ice Age and modern civilisation, but in chronological time, they live side by side with postmodern societies. – Futility of Past as Model for Future; The Imphal Free Press, Editorial, 9 Feb 2016

This will be too hard to digest especially for Meitei nationalists but it is a fact that we can understand from time-hopping. We claim about belonging to a 2,000-year old civilisation but the realities are too harsh, thanks to our ‘progress’ over two millennia and also to the expansionist plans of outsiders, read as Britain and India. Albeit, whatever we were, we are confident of what we will be. In this circumstance, the gun is too inept to articulate the ideas.


During one such time-hopping, we have skipped a lesson on kingdom and nation. This is also why democracy is seemingly too inappropriate for us at times. Perhaps, what is actually missing is an elaboration on ethnic nationalism that has never been done before. The Nagas have been narrating their unique history while crossing the lines of sheer absurdity. The joke goes that you are unique just like anybody else while people are telling us that we have been ‘peoples’ without history. The Meiteis are at the receiving end on transgressing into the tribal territories and the list of farces goes on.

Recent politics in general or the clandestine Framework Agreement in particular between the NSCN IM and the Government of India have also given fresh hope to the Kukis. This does not imply giving in to the so-called dominant Meitei narrative but rather it is a reflection on contemporary political development. Naga writers like Kaka D Iralu says that ‘Nagaland is not in India, but India is presently in Nagaland by invasion and subjugation’ and it is not a secret that the feeling is widespread in the region.
We belong to the same race but we are of diverse ethnicities and this difference is the trouble number one. Stoking the embers of Freudian collective narcissism, we are deeply ethnocentric to see beyond our narrow parochial interests at the cost of reason or deliberation. This reminds us of the Korean idea of ‘Sojunghwa’, which literally means ‘Little China’. Long ago, China used to believe that it was the centre of the universe. In those days, Korea was a tributary state (a kind of pre-modern state under a dominant state) to China—and when the Qing Dynasty defeated the Ming Dynasty in the 17th century, Korea considered that it had become the Sojunghwa and the new centre of the universe. 

(Incidentally, Manipur/Kangleipak had existed as a tributary state to the Ava twice in history: the last during the reign of Konbaung Dynasty around 1750s and during the Toungoo Dynasty around 1560s; and in the first instance it culminated with the historic Seven Years’ Devastation, or locally known as the Chahi Taret Khuntaakpa, between 1819–1826.)

All the developments point to a statement made by the UNESCO nearly four decades ago. In the UNESCO Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice, it was mentioned:

All peoples of the world possess equal faculties for attaining the highest level in intellectual, technical, social, economic, cultural and political development…The differences between the achievements of the different peoples are entirely attributable to geographical, historical, political, economic, social and cultural factors.

However, the problem is our steadfast clinging to the new waves of ethno-nationalism. Instead of talking it out, we are more concerned about how the mainland views us or in most cases, feeling alienated while the elected representatives are robbing us in broad daylight. These ideas might help little in subduing the increasing ethnic hostilities but we can surely know we are not depending on others, like we always do, to solve our problems.


Over the years we have been stuck in the idea of unique homelands that ironically overlap each other. In this context it will be worthwhile to remember what Rudolf Rocker wrote in Nationalism and Culture:

The so-called ‘national consciousness’ is nothing but a belief propagated by considerations of political power which have replaced the religious fanaticism of past centuries and have today come to be the greatest obstacle to cultural development. The love of home has nothing in common with the veneration of an abstract patriotic concept. Love of home knows no ‘will to power’; it is free from that hollow and dangerous attitude of superiority to the neighbour, which is one of the strongest characteristics of every kind of nationalism. Love of home does not engage in practical politics nor does it seek in any way to support the state. It is purely an inner feeling as freely manifested as man's enjoyment of nature, of which home is a part.  – Chapter XIII, Nationalism and Culture (1937)

Elsewhere, people found state and nation out of a necessity. To cite an example, the scientific advancement that coupled with socio-political and economical developments gave rise to concepts and ideologies that would help them fight against the divine rights of the kings. It is entirely a different story for us. But we should not go further into it.

If we talk from a historical perspective, there are certain definitions for the kingdom of Manipur, though this is more of an assertion than an act of confrontation. The idea of this province is now as fragmented as the number of armed organisations in struggle for the right to self-determination. The lack of a collective vision is disgraceful but we should at least see what was in the past and is in the present rather than be too preoccupied with ‘imagined communities’ to see the future. Nationhood is just a bluff. Just consider India (Nationalism: Destruction of a Nation).

Before conclusion, I’d add that if you’d care to ask, all these political charades must stop; the sooner the better. Neither have we wanted a nation of people nor a kingdom of gods but a society where justice and peace prevail rather than existing as mere aspirations.

Fab Five - Rock & Roll in My Town

Tapta | Rewben Mashangva | Eastern Dark | Imphal Talkies & the Howlers | The Koi

Without music life would be a mistake. 
- Friedrich Nietzsche

Some play the game as hard and passionately as usual; while some change the rule of the game and make all the difference. This is about those who dare to change the rules. We have five bands/singers with their distinctive, inimitable styles, which have entirely redefined the meaning of music.

So many of us have so many philosophies about music; and there are so many choices, about this and that kind of genre, but music in my town will be incomplete without these guys on our playlist. A few of them are singing and reminding us to get back to our roots and some others are ready to defy what the most sophisticated armed forces cannot even do. This is just a list of my five favourite bands/musicians and you will be disappointed if you don’t find here a textbook approach to study music, an analytical study of style or lyrics and so on.

Here it goes.

Tapta’s Master’s Voice

Tapta is the real star of Manipur. The group arrived on the scene with a bang, with the Power of Attraction, around the mid 90s. Since then, as we say, there has been no looking back. If there is any singer who croons with the ethos, pathos and logos, that’s Tapta and if there is anyone who can come closer to its position, it’s only the man behind the shows — Loukrakpam Jayenta, one of the greatest entertainers of all time and the first musician to introduce concept albums in the region. Though, sometimes, Tapta gets too much with its ‘dhol-dhulki’ music and male chauvinism I cannot help but love its songs. Of late, it has run out of experiments but I do believe, somehow, they will come out with something new, as always.

Rewben Mashangva – the Folksy Gentleman

“Blues had a baby and they called it rock ‘n’ roll” and all the people rushed in to cuddle the baby. There is one man who has nurtured not the baby but the mother with soulful Tangkhul folk tunes—and here he is, the father of Naga folk blues: Rewben Mashangva. His music comes from conviction, innovation and love, not necessarily in that order. In our town, a band covering a Led Zep or a Lamb of God makes a more popular style statement but Rewben has made it clear that music is more than making a statement. His name has been prefixed with a ‘Guru’ officially but he can do much better than that.

Lights On for Eastern Dark

When the news last came in, Eastern Dark has become Eastern Doc with a new line-up but its legacy continues to exist. The band has members who are old timers in the local rock ‘n’ roll scene but apart from their experience the band is well known for its political music. According to the Eastern Dark, our leaders have mortgaged the land while the rebels are hurling grenade in private residences. The sentiments of our lived experience are captured succinctly in its songs. I love its anarchist standpoint and outspokenness, in addition to the world-class compositions but not its sporadic music releases.      

First Day, First Show with the Imphal Talkies

Imphal Talkies N’ the Howlers was made in India, in New Delhi, many a year before PM Modi initiated the Make-in-India crap. With their thought-provoking lyrics—that are indistinct from free verse poetry, punctuated by folksy compositions and that generate songs of the Real: the bleakness that we are so accustomed to—the band has made quite a fan base. Fronted by Dr Ronid Chingangbam aka Akhu, who has a PhD in physics, the band has so far released two albums and a score of singles. Despite its monotonous music, no one can miss a beat from Imphal Talkies, which is currently based in Imphal and has craftily used its music as a weapon to show that art has utilitarian values.

The Poets, the Koi

Even if it is the youngest of the lot in the list, The Koi has shown us that age is just relative when it comes to producing high-fidelity music. In an approach not so different from that of western music, the band has a trace of the alternative-music mode—which has prompted me to experiment with this genre that I had little regard in the past. However, its strength lies in composing original melodies that are heart-wrenching and technically very sound. If I’m not wrong most of its songs are poems written by Arambam Somorendro. Original and hi-fi doubtlessly, yet I believe they will produce more high quality recordings in the days to come. 

PS: I had written this piece in 2011 with just four bands as Fab Four. The Koi was not around that time. Now with a little tweaking here and there, plus a new collection of full B&W graphics, I have decided to post it.

A Brief Story of Rebellion

We live in a world of confusion thanks to state terrorism, non-state actors’ coercion, killing, violence and all sorts of things that at their best should be ignored. This write-up is a reflection on rebellion from the personal to the political—to shed some light on its fundamental nature and why it is essential for human existence as a whole and for Manipur in particular. 

A rebel, for Albert Camus, is a person who says ‘no’. 

We are more concerned with his relation with the individual-writ large, or the society and their connection with rebellion as a whole. Was it a society that says no for the first time that heralded this unique quality? Are there enough evidences to show how it has taken its shape over the centuries and millennia? Rebellion, in essence, is posing questions against injustice and unfairness. We can start about its narrative without a revolting question but how it has been perceived to have its origin from available literature.

The term ‘rebellion’, in a dictionary, denotes ‘uprising, revolt, insurrection, mutiny and revolution’. Theoretically, it could be lesser forceful when compared with a concept such as ‘social revolution’ or ‘political revolution’ but nevertheless, the terms have been used as synonyms for we are considering all forms of defiance, from the level of an individual to that of a society and from non-violent resistance to armed movements. For the sake of convenience there will be also considerations only on a few incidents throughout history yet those from across the globe. A reflection on revolutions, as an ultimate form of rebellion, might explain better.

A Consideration of Skocpol’s Interpretations of Revolutions

A caveat appears here because this kind of study can generalise rebellions. However, to remove sweeping statements the emphasis will be on the fundamental causes. In States and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia and China, Theda Skocpol did club together the revolutions of France (1787–1800), Russia (1917–1921) and China (1911–1949) while focusing on the overall changes in the lives and worldviews of the respective ‘peoples’ of these countries.

Skocpol elaborated how the inefficiency of old regimes, exploitation and other crises and conflicts had led to the ultimate rebellion. But what was the primary cause that led people to believe that resistance can bring out a change? When did we start believing that we can fight for our rights? Was it an inherent quality of human beings or something else? In her book, Skocpol elucidated that other elements such as social structures and class relations played a crucial role in both the pre- and post-revolution years yet those can be merely symptoms. How had these elements came into being in the first place?

The author starts with four existing theories on the origin of revolution:
(1) the Marxist’s view of conflicts that are a result of structural contradictions in state that give rise to class-based movements for social–structural change and transformation;

(2) Ted Gurr’s aggregate-psychological theory (from Why Men Rebel?), in which he says: ‘Men are quick to aspire beyond their social means and quick to anger when those means prove inadequate, but slow to accept their limitations’ and that ‘they believe that they stand a chance of relieving some of their discontent through violence’. Gurr also notes that frustration, if it is extended, can result in anger and violence;

(3) Chalmers Johnson’s systems/value-consensus theory (from Revolutionary Change), which explains revolutions as a violent attempt to bridge the gap between the values and environment of a society. For Johnson, a revolution cannot be a dinner party, just as Mao had shown in China; and

(4) Charles Tilly’s political-conflict theory (from From Mobilization to Revolution), which describes revolution as the conflict of power between a government and an organised group—for sovereignty as both the groups claim to fight for common welfare of the people.

Social revolutions, for Skocpol, are based on state social structures, international competitive pressures, international demonstration effects and class relations. However, she focuses on the state at the cost of individuals and ideologies but we will leave these issues to the reviews of her book.

Aggression and Revolution

Further differentiation of the concepts such as social and political revolutions will only complicate the study. So, we should rather gather the gist from various disciplines before the problematic nature of the very terms hammers our whole purpose. In this regard, we can see the relevancy from the excerpt of a book by Sigmund Freud in which he used a Latin proverb ‘Homo homini lupus’, which can be translated as: ‘A man is a wolf to another man’. In the book, he wrote: 

Men are not gentle creatures, who want to be loved, who at the most can defend themselves if they are attacked; they are, on the contrary, creatures among whose instinctual endowments is to be reckoned a powerful share of aggressiveness. As a result, their neighbor is for them not only a potential helper or sexual object, but also someone who tempts them to satisfy their aggressiveness on him, to exploit his capacity for work without compensation, to use him sexually without his consent, to seize his possessions, to humiliate him, to cause him pain, to torture and to kill him. Homo homini lupus. Who in the face of all his experience of life and of history will have the courage to dispute this assertion?

Civilization and Its Discontents (1930)

Rebellion for a hope by Mexican artist Mauricio García Vega 
A public domain pic

Somehow rebellion is a call for fairness and justice that removes the factor of our animal nature in it and Freud cannot be entirely correct. Then, on one hand, there are people as well who preach about love, hope and seeing only the good things in life; and on the other the issues of terrorism which is a kind of rebellion in its extreme form.

However, Freud cannot be wrong if we consider another remark made by Thomas Hobbes three centuries earlier. In his magnum opus, Leviathan or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Common Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil, Hobbes wrote that in the state of nature, or our natural condition, our lives were ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’ with ‘no knowledge of the face of the earth, no account of time, no arts, no letters, no society, and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death’. Incidentally he also used a Latin phrase, bellum omnium contra omnes, which implies ‘war of all against all’.

Alternatively, rebellion is an instinct that we have adapted with a bit of our own conditioning, as in a teenage using it to demonstrate his identity, or on a larger scale a society to polish and pursue its common good. Such an adaptation can be attributed to our intelligence regardless of its depth or shallowness. This fine alteration can be described as the first cause of rebellion.

Aspirations and Deprivations

Anywhere in the world, it is commonly observed that rebellion rises when the people aspire for rights and privileges, which are in its rudimentary forms a natural dispensation that they are supposed to have or enjoy. However, in a society where this is not only provided but also suppressed, then the ground of rebellion becomes a fertile area. It can be illustrated with the example of Manipur, where people have been led to believe that the rights should not be requested but snatched from the state, where there has been armed struggle against the union of India for the right to self-determination.

Hundreds of reasons underlie the circumstances; still we can safely say that rebellion is the effect of an ‘ineffectiveness’. Obviously we have both the peaceful and violent forms of resistance, which in both cases if the means of plan A are not feasible, the plan B of resistance pops out naturally.

Conservatives will surely see the defect in this kind of thinking but not in the duality of our existence. In this way, a rebellion is just the antonym of a nonfunctioning ‘un-rebellion’ approach to meet our aspirations and get rid of the deprivations. For, ‘Man is the only creature,’ according to Albert Camus, ‘who refuses to be what he is’ it becomes even more expected that he rebels and rebellion is his forte.

To put it briefly, man is a political animal. So thus the great Aristotle declared in his Politics. If we speak in this context, a rebellion is the politics of resistance against discrimination and violation.

In The Rebel, Camus explains that there are two broad reasons on the cause of rebellion: (i) it occurs when we become discontented with a justice system that lay stress upon objectionable and generalised procedures; and (ii) it results from a conflict between our intellect that seeks explanations of the universe and our absurd existence that has no apparent meaning at all. This pretty sums it up but we can look further.
‘Let them call me rebel, and welcome; I feel no concern from it. For I should suffer the misery of devils, were I to make a whore of my soul.’ Thomas Paine wrote in The American Crisis, No 1. The image is cropped from an original digital copy accessed from the Library of Congress (http://www.loc.gov) 

Biology, Conformity and Society

If there is any system for rewarding the rebels, the teenagers will surely be the dominant winners. According to the ‘head’ experts, teenage is the time when we have a developing prefrontal cortex or simply the area where we get reasons and explanations from. It is also the time when we see for the first time the incongruence between dreams and reality, but not necessarily accepting the difference.

Such an age of immaturity is the time for experimenting with drug, sex and rock n’ roll as well. Again this does not imply all the teenagers are into the charade, else it will be a myth. Most of the time, it is the assertion of independence and power.

Then we have the universal phenomenon of generation gap. Young people want to do what they want to while the old people want them to do what they want them to. In such a conflict the former sees they are right because they are grown up or at least they believe so. Similarly the latter, albeit they reason the same because they ‘are’ old and experienced, they lack the energy which is found abundant among the former. It is a power play and so far the younger lot has been doing what they want to and not what the other wants them to—either in the form of non-compliance or non-conformity.

In another environment, the threat of such non-compliance or non-conformity was succinctly captured by Henry Miller in The Books in My Life: ‘Every genuine boy is a rebel and an anarch. If he were allowed to develop according to his own instincts, his own inclinations, society would undergo such a radical transformation as to make the adult revolutionary cower and cringe.’

Generally this kind of rebellion induced by biology is temporary or in short, the adults grow out of their literal teenage angst. But how do people grow into compliance and conformity as they age? This is essential because they might grow ‘up’ but rebellion does not cease when they do so. All the present rebel leaders of the armed organisations in Northeast India, for instance, are past their prime!

The first thing that comes into mind is the Milgram Experiment (http://kapilarambam.blogspot.in/2011/06/milgram-experiment-pale-blue-dot.html). The socio-psychological experiment, devised by Stanley Milgram at the Yale University, was considered unethical but it showed a result: A person readily accepts an authority figure and the presence of such a figure bolsters obedience (to do something that has been told) and compliance (to a certain norm simply because it is ‘the’ norm). For more information on the experiment and the topic, read Philip Meyer’s If Hitler Asked You to Electrocute a Stranger, Would You? at Simply Psychology (www.simplypsychology.org/Milgram%20-%20Obedience.pdf).

On one hand, people want to live in their comfort zones so much so that even political oppression is sometimes considered as natural that we can hardly do anything about. This acceptance of the tide and the denial of reality are indeed one of the root causes of a rebellion. On the other, obedience is a moral virtue, a personal value, a religious obligation, a social order—all of which accentuates acceptance, recognition and a sort of stability in a society. In the same degree conformity is the pinnacle of our social mindedness, a factor that makes us an intelligent animal.

But then we live in a world of duality. No matter how much a person gains power and status—which are indeed the goals of obedience—through obedience and conformity there comes a time in an individual’s life or a society when these very foundations of power, status, obedience and conformity are eroded so much that the only option left is rebellion just like it is happening in today’s Manipur. Remember the psychological frustration-aggression theory of Ted Gurr. Therefore, a rebellion is not a chaos but an intrinsic motivation of putting things into perspectives.

Return of the Rebels

Majority of us would want to obey and conform because that is more desirable and comfortable, regardless of the existing conditions around us. However, there are a few facts that show rebellion is the solution to the ills and impotency of our lives. This is best illustrated by the rise of the Afro-Americans in the field of music and sports. They have been the pioneers in every form of popular western music in each era over the last one hundred years and more: blues, jazz, rock and roll, ska, hip-hop, reggae, gospel music and contemporary rhythm and blues. These are not simple leisurely pursuits but products of their rebellion.
In the 1949 movie, The Third Man, there is a speech that describes the blessings of rebellions tersely:

‘In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace—and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.’

Lastly, again from Skocpol’s States and Social Revolutions we can see that France, China and Russia were fully functional states albeit with conflicts and the collapse of institutions before the revolutions. However, there were two common outcomes of these revolutions: these three countries become powerful states in the post-revolution age and inspired a horde of states to undertake such socio-economic and political revolutions. They also formed a common and new political order in the place of previous defunct regimes. A variety of transformation also was also observed ranging from the formation of a hierarchical state to their new ability of controlling national economies. These states, in fact, enjoy an advanced economy today.

Regarding the results, it is noteworthy in Manipur that the political goal of contemporary armed movement is regaining the lost sovereignty. Alternatively there is no extrinsic motivation for the struggle. When East Timor achieved their independence from Indonesia in 1999 and became a sovereign state three years later, it became a sort of legend in Manipur. This is with the full awareness that there were further goals to accomplish for this underdeveloped country than what it had achieved through political independence.   

Kafka said that every revolution evaporates and leaves behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy. Here, it is significant to note that a true rebellion is not an end but a means to an end, that is to say, it does not end with politics. That’s political revolution and that’s how all political revolutions are a rebellion but all the rebellions are not a political revolution.

That is perhaps why Camus says that a rebel does not simply say no and that his refusal does not imply a renunciation and that: ‘He is also a man who says yes, from the moment he makes his first gesture of rebellion.’

- Concluded.

Cited Works


The Essential George Carlin

George Carlin (1937–2008) was an American stand-up comedian, actor, social critic and author. He was noted for his black comedy and his thoughts on politics, the English language, psychology, religion and various taboo subjects.

1/3 Of Duality and Conflict

We, all who live, have
A life that is lived
And another life that is thought,
And the only life we have
It’s the one that is divided
In right or wrong.
Fernando Pessoa

2/3 Of Duality and Conflict

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.
Friedrich Nietzsche 

3/3 Of Duality and Conflict

If only a world-wide consciousness could arise that all division and fission are due to the splitting of opposites in the psyche, then we should know where to begin.
C.G. Jung

A Brief Story of Political Conflicts in Modern Manipur

The less said the better is about the conflict situation in Manipur today. The province is home to numerous armed organisations fighting for issues ranging from sovereignty demands to the formation of autonomous districts. For the government all these issues just boil down to problems of unemployment, bad law-and-order condition or at worst, domestic issues of the union. Such an approach, without the consideration of political and historical standpoints, is utterly ineffective, which is quite apparent from the fact that the region is also home to some of the oldest armed movements in the whole world today.

We can start with some facts. After the British Raj finally decided to return to its cold storage, Manipur as an old Asiatic kingdom became an independent and sovereign state. It existed as one for two years. Before the Union of India drafted its omnipresent Constitution, Manipur had had its own constitution and elected its representatives in one of the earliest democratic elections held in Asia. However in 1949, King Boddhachandra was coerced to sign the controversial Merger Agreement after he was kept under house arrest in Shillong.

Born Supreme But Live on Ultimatum

Once a proud kingdom, it was reduced to a part-C state, a province administered under a chief commissioner in the Indian polity. That was 15 October 1949, which is still remembered as the Black Day in the province. First, the forced agreement and then this humiliation blended as the perfect ingredient for resistance movements in the months and years to come. A leader such as Hijam Irabot had foreseen the political implications but ignorance was proverbially blissful in those days with regards to the general public. The province became a union territory in 1956 but this new administrative concept of UT was an amalgamation of Part-C and D states, in accordance with the then newly enacted State Reorganisations Act of the same year. Finally, after years of grievances and demands, Manipur became a state in 1972 and apparently it was too late and too little.

By then, indeed in 1964, India had initiated one of the first ceasefire agreements with the Naga National Council (NNC), which later become the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN), and Manipur saw the birth of the United National Liberation Front (UNLF), under the leadership of Angami Zapu Phizo and Arambam Somorendro respectively. When war broke out between India and Pakistan in 1971, which resulted in the formation of Bangladesh, many members of the resistance groups were using the erstwhile East Pakistan that became Bangladesh as their safe haven. The war displaced them and the militants had to shift their bases or turn to other safer zones for their survival.                  

So a year before the death of Mao Tse-tung, some of these Manipuri rebels reached China and got in touch with the Chinese military. One of the outcomes of the visit and subsequent return was the formation of People’s Liberation Army, which started an intense armed campaign and propaganda against the union of India. The PLA was formed in 1978 with Nameirakpam Bisheshwar as its chairman. Around the same time, armed movement finally found its permanent root with the establishment of the People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK) and Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP) in 1977 and 1980, and under the direction of Rajkumar Tulachandra and Yendrembam Ibohanbi respectively. Soon, exactly as the official reports go by, the region saw a steep decline in the law and order situation.

The best thing the governments in New Delhi and Imphal initiated was the imposition of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) in 1980—which the Human Rights Watch refers it to as a ‘tool of state abuse, oppression and discrimination’. This act was an offshoot of a British ordinance that the colonial masters employed against the Indian freedom struggle in the wake of Quit India Movement in 1942. The act was imposed in September 1980, apparently after 38 years of Indian ‘masala’ conditioning in Manipur. One month later in the same year, the state also saw the establishment of Tactical Headquarters Manipur Sector of the Indian army, which has now been transformed into, from its façade, Hollywood-inspired Leimakhong. More military battalions and divisions of the establishment were further set up in, amongst others, Mao Maram area, Thoubal and Koirengei. Overall it was the beginning of the end of sanity in the region.

Now they are all over the hills and mountains and strategic areas and their number is swelling so much that they are literally leaving no hills or mounds ‘unturned’ to set up their bases.

On one hand, several leaders of the Meitei-based groups in and around the Imphal valley were either captured or killed in alleged encounters and attacks; and so was the rising toll of the civilians. In the Eighties, the incidents at Tekcham where N Bisheshwar was nabbed; Kadampoki where his successor, Thoudam Kunjabihari along with nine PLA rebels were killed; and Oinam where mass-scale human rights violations by army and paramilitary forces were first reported had almost become a folklore. Many more stories had been submerged in the sands of time. On the other, in the hill region, the NSCN that was formed by the anti-Shillong Accord group started creating their bases in Senapati, Ukhrul, Tamenglong and elsewhere.        

The later part of decade also saw the rise of PLA’s political wing, Revolutionary People’s Front and the UNLF’s armed unit, the Manipur People’s Army. If the constant fight between the state and non-state actors was one side of the coin, the other was the emergence of fratricidal and factional killings as well as ethnic hostilities.

Ethnic Antics

The Naga rebels’ penchant for imposing tax resulted in the bloody Naga-Kuki clash in the early Nineties with a heavy casualty on the latter’s side. It created a humanitarian crisis while a mainland bureaucrat in one of her writings on the then ongoing conflict, mentioned that the two groups are ‘war-like’ people in a style no different from how the British employed the Indian subjects in anthropological studies. Soon the period saw the foundation of the Kukis’ movement for their homeland and districts, further making the ethnic matrix as complex as the origin of universe.

It is certain that many Kukis will disagree with the couple of points mentioned above because their consciousness has been developing ever since the outbreak of the Great Kuki Rebellion of 1917–1919 — or possibly, way, way back in 1777, as some of them claim so. In 1960 on the record, some of its representatives under the aegis of the Kuki National Assembly had submitted a memorandum to Jawaharlal Nehru for creating a separate Kuki state under the Indian Constitution.

The Meiteis have a two-thousand-year-old civilisation of Kangleipak; the Nagas have a unique history of Nagalim and the Kukis have, perhaps, become Old and New Kukis of Zale’n-gam, regardless of contradictions and logical deprivations. Only a kind of Dostoevsky can write our tales of gloom and doom. A common concern is probably our ‘interference’ in Burma because all of us claim to have our territory in this country while simultaneously we play victims in India. For that matter contemporary studies also show that the so-called region of Northeast India is an extension of conflicts that run all the way from Burma to Indonesia.

In one of his essays, The Myth of Ethnic Conflict in Manipur, Sanatomba Kangujam put it succinctly on the confrontation between these groups:

The Meiteis, the Nagas and the Kukis are identified as the struggling communities in a sense that they have been struggling against feudal oppression, colonial subjugation and class exploitation in one way or the other. But the absence of a sustained effort to resolve the basic contradictions between different communities through mutually acceptable political process has gradually transformed the struggling communities into conflicting communities.

Insurgent organisations are set up by the contesting elites as a political technology to be deployed for realising their imagined political space. The establishment of insurgent machineries and infrastructures led to intensification of the conflict. It needs to be clarified that conflict was already in existence much prior to the establishment of insurgent machineries. Insurgency emerged only when attempts to resolve the basic incompatibility underlying the conflict met with a failure.
(Source: The Sangai Express / Matamgi Manipur, September 2011)

All of us have further sub-groups who do not see each other eye to eye. Observers noted that the Nineties’ clash between the Nagas and Kukis was a result of turf war in drug smuggling involving the militants of these two groups, particularly in the border trade town of Moreh in eastern Manipur—this is the same town which many stakeholders want to be a municipality and which the Kukis see it as an encroachment on their ancestral terra firma. (Footnote: The legal security establishment is perhaps not interested in territory but it has been making ground in drug smuggling.)

Another outcome of the feud was the formation of a few Kuki resistance groups, which long after years of demanding for a separate state of Kukiland started the armed movement for sovereignty or the formation of Zale’n-ngam. Their spokespersons, as a rejoinder to the never-ending Naga arguments, contend that real Manipur is just the valley region. Rightly so; because at the drop of a hat, both of them have the power to cut off the valley by imposing economic blockades on the two highways that connect the province to the rest of the world.

We are intentionally ignorant of history for cheap political goals but ignorance is not always blissful. To quote Martin Luther King, Jr: ‘Nothing in the entire world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.’

There’s also a caveat—just like the Nagas have different demands from its subgroups, the case is no different from those of the Kukis. In fact only a few years after the Naga-Kuki ‘semi-final’, the Kukis played the final match with the Paites or Zomis. The ethnic clash that went on for nearly fifteen months in 1997–98 resulted in the death of a thousand more civilians and the outbreak of another humanitarian crisis. In this kind of situation it is an easy pie for the government and the numerous self-styled authorities to play the ‘master-monkey’ who mediated a fight between two cats.

Change of Hearts

The first decade of 21st century started with a full-blown ethnic tension. From the beginning the armed struggle was against the union but suddenly the language of resistance changes—the conflict became an issue of territorial pissing and a clash between the natives while the union takes a back seat. It was a delightful moment for the Indian establishment and in its excitement, agreed to the Nagas’ demand that the ceasefire agreement should extend to the hill districts of Manipur. In the valley the indifferent approach of the union resulted in the death of eighteen people in 2001 during a series of street protests and objections against the ever-nonchalant government. Unsurprisingly the Nagas, so do the the Kukis as always, blamed the Meiteis for the latter’s interference in solving their problems. The government was left with no option but to drop the controversial phrase ‘without territorial limit’ from the ceasefire lexicon that it has developed from its engagement with a sole Naga group in this land of 1,000 revolts.

As much as the Naga groups are legendary for their tax collection on the highways, the rebel groups in the Manipur valley are known for their demand letters. Even the chief minister is not spared from extortion as newspaper and Wikileaks reports had exposed some years ago. The Meiteis are a dominant group and have a superiority complex, enjoying a ‘general’ category with natural socio-cultural privileges than the so-called tribes of Nagas and Kukis, who have the benefits of most of the government’s material privileges. (Manipuri Muslims are also in the general category.) Still it is noteworthy that these privileges have created nothing—nothing else but only an elite class in each group.

We, the Meiteis, are very melodramatic and sentimental people too. We sing our songs of hill-valley fraternity on our lips while in our heart we are supremacists, though this does not imply the Nagas and Kukis are angels. We cannot simply accept the fact that Manipur was underdeveloped because of our attachment to the concept of Kangleipak, a formidable, ancient Asiatic kingdom and that the hills were not part of the erstwhile Meitei sovereignty because there are not a ‘unique’ but a ‘written’ history of our civilisation in our own language and script as well as studies documented by credible historians.

Prof Gangmumei Kangmei classifies the history of Manipur into certain categories such as traditional Meitei historiography, colonial historiography, post-colonial historiography and tribal historiography still we know that any kind of assertion and argument will only aggravate the already deteriorating conditions. That’s the tragedy.

Of Swords, Daggers and Spears

The Nagas and Kukis have a tendency to believe that all’s well with the Meiteis but it is a universal truth that we do not need to trample on others to put our point across the table. This statement will, well, set again another round of countercharges, but what is important here is an objective view of the existing realities.

As mentioned the less said the better about the conflicts; still for a hint, the valley has been protesting against state terrorism; more than a thousand of people that had been killed in fake encounters are making to the latest headlines; the government is chronically diseased with corruption; institutional breakdown has pushed us towards savagery; security agencies along with their armed antagonists have created a mayhem; the government is in a threesome with contractors and militants on one hand and with the bureaucrats and contractors on the other; social revolution has been redefined to imply extortion from the public and hurling grenades at private residences against noncompliance; certain smugglers have left the drug and arms trade and they are into petrol and essential commodities these days, and the list goes on. As a reminder, this list does not even include the mother of all crises, the Merger Agreement or the overall socioeconomic and political underdevelopment or the daily tragedies.

A scan of the number of protests on the streets of Imphal on any given day should be revealing for anybody sensitive enough to notice this emerging frightening confusion. If there are a group of people staging a ‘sit-in protest’ on the side of an Imphal street against the growing menace of kidnapping government officials for (astronomical) ransoms, in another corner of the city there would be another group protesting against an equally frightening and seemingly officially sanctioned campaign of custodial executions under cover of (fake) encounters.

Elsewhere there would be another group calling for the total repeal of the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act, AFSPA, but there would also at the same time be others wanting a highway protection force as the highways are now no longer under the control of the state authorities but in the hands of coercive underground ‘taxmen’ and more often uncommitted fulltime extortionists.
(Insane Manipur, Editorial, Imphal Free Press, 16 March 2014)

Again, the only intervention from the authority is in sending and ‘manufacturing’ more security personnel, while ‘sectarian’ civil and students’ organisations are neck-deep immersed in governance and administration. To cut it short, what has been experiencing in the five hill districts of Chandel, Churachandpur, Senapati, Tamenglong and Ukhrul are no different in the four valley districts of Bishnupur, Imphal East, Imphal West and Thoubal. The slightly different element is the distortion of histories or pre-histories to fit one’s ideology.

If these are insufficient, consider the tragedies of Tera Bazaar on 25 March 1993, Ukhrul on 9 May 1995, Bashikhong on 19 February 1995, Tabokpikhong on 12 August 1997, Nungleiban on 15 October 1997, Churachandpur on 21 July 1999 and Tonsen Lamkhai on 3 September 2000. If these incidents of death and mayhem do not show we are on the same sinking boat, nothing will. Never in our narratives have been there a nationalistic struggle, of any group, and this fact makes the complex issues more complicate.   

Provisions like the imposition of AFSPA were supposed to contain insurgency, yet it is an open secret how the trends of violence have rather intensified and the number of active armed organisations and their factions have increased every few years. We are in a multiple layers of conflicts and crises and going by these tendencies we are still pathetically short of any sensible solution in the near future, leave alone the dreams of peaceful coexistence. The ethnic hostilities in this condition are anything but an insult to the injury, rendering the idea of Manipur as complete only in the political map while on the ground it is as fragmented as our unique histories and memories—though already it is, in the name of identity and self-image.

This fragmentation was exposed again in the wake of anti-ILP protest in Manipur last year. The protesters (read the Kukis of Churachandpur) presented a counter-argument to the Meitei’s desperation to put the Inner Line Permit System in place and check the unrestrained flow of outsiders in the interest of indigenous societies in Manipur. The Kuki’s contention is that such a campaign will only serve the Meiteis while discriminating the Kuki and Naga tribals. For the latter, the Protection of Manipur People Bill 2015 relating to the ILP System is nothing but the whims of the Meitei hegemonic power that will eventually compromise the tribal’s identity and territory.

Nowhere, however, it was mentioned that many Kukis have infiltrated Manipur in droves from Burma sans any legal procedure over the last few decades. Sometimes it is too ridiculous to be true but sadly it is. The Meiteis have no issues with the Nagas and Kukis in this regard. To take a direct reference, that we fear is a Tripura-like condition where the original natives have become a minority with the mass migration of mainlanders.

Today, the ILP issue has simmered down with no resolution like most of the issues do (currently we are occupied with a 2009 fake encounter case after an exposé by the Imphal Free Press). Yet the issue will re-explode and the authority will be caught with their pants down again. Historically the system was in place in Manipur but it was scrapped one year after the erstwhile sovereign country was forcefully annexed to the union of India. The rationale for scrapping the permit system was to accommodate refugees in the aftermath of Indian partition. To reiterate, this kind of issues on ethnic confrontation was unheard of prior to the 90s and now the union must be delighted to see that its job of separating the people has been done effortlessly without its involvement and that it has inherited the colonial legacy of divide and rule so well.

India had successfully annexed Manipur in those days of almost non-existent transportation and communication system. It is still not fully developed but India simply cannot afford to redraw the boundaries. The union has never acknowledged the Indo-Manipuri political conflict nor ever tried to solve the problems honestly or logically. From day one, for instance, without any sense it agreed to incorporate the phrase ‘without territorial limit’ in the Indo-Naga ceasefire agreement way back in 1997 but it had to retreat so absurdly. It has been still repeating the same kind of blunders over and over again. 

We live in a world of contradiction where everybody is guilty yet nobody is in the wrong and everything is possible still nothing is feasible. The sole essential proactive action will be to talk to each other—not brandishing swords, daggers and spears but coming together with an open mind. Revenge and resentment come easy but these will hardly solve the issues. It is also only easy to suggest that initiatives should come from both individual and community levels yet we are out of option in our present society but to reiterate the necessity of taking those initiatives that will be mutually beneficial. Precisely what we need is to take a couple of steps back and make a middle ground.

The Last Word

The weak Indian political institution is neither going to help us so the onus is on our collective lives. In a way, the societies of different ethnic groups are interpreting their stories in accordance with the realisation of modern state, though an entity like Manipur is diagonally opposite to this kind of new-found political consciousness. The issue is more about neocolonialism and about appropriating land and resources for state-supported expansion of influence and control. Alternatively, Manipur, according to its dominant group prefer to explain history with the concept of a kingdom, when by a simple ceremony of unfurling a flag in a particular region, a ruler can claim it as his territory. This is also why the Westphalian concept lacks its credibility tragically, because even before we can define a kingdom, we have to face the monster of a modern state where there are a specific boundary and a population, in addition to the monkey business of the Indian union.

Now, in this brouhaha, who is going to be responsible for carrying the message to New Delhi that we are facing a political conflict and that it needs a political solution to end it and that a military intervention will never work?


•    Bleeding Manipur by Phanjoubam Tarapot (Har-Anand Publications 2007)
•    Colonial and Post-Colonial Historiography of Manipur, a paper by Professor Gangmumei Kamei (from the the author’s National Fellows Lecture series entitled ‘The Philosophy of History and the Historiography of Manipur’ presented at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study at Shimla in September 2010; Kangla Online http://kanglaonline.com/2010/10/colonial-and-post-colonial-historiography-of-manipur/)
•    Ethnic Relations Among the People of North East India edited by Naorem Joykumar (Chenara Publications 2008)
•    How History Repeats Itself? an article by Angomcha Bimol Akoijam (Economic & Political Weekly http://www.epw.in/journal/2001/30/commentary/manipur-how-history-repeats-itself.html in July 2001)
•    Insane Manipur, Editorial, Imphal Free Press, 16 March 2014, http://ifp.co.in/
•    Lost Opportunities: 50 Years of Insurgency in the North-East and India’s Response by Brig SP Sinha (Lancer International 2009)
•    Myth of Ethnic Conflict in Manipur, The, an essay by Sanatomba Kangujam (The Sangai Express/Matamgi Manipur http://matamgimanipur.blogspot.in/2011/09/myth-of-ethnic-conflict-in-manipur.html 2011)

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