These are bad times for Manipur. Though the danger has still not been put to rest, the state can take some solace in the fact that in the past, even after reaching the edge of hell, and everything seemed lost, the hills and valley have not actually gone to war with each other. This cannot be all about the much hyped fraternal bondage forged over aeons of sharing, but the intuitive understanding of the inherent inextricable geographical and existential common destiny. Sometimes people forget this destiny and rush to the brink of mutual destruction, but realise soon enough certain things are beyond humans to change, and return a little beaten but wiser and humbler to where destiny meant everybody to be. The state is at one of these periodic spells of madness and is now staring at the frightful depthless abyss that can annihilate every fibre of humanity that ever constituted the shared ground on which everybody stood on. As so many times in the past, this time too we are confident good sense will prevail, and like it or not, come to reconcile with the reality that there are little or no option but co-existence. And if co-existence is what it must have to be, why not think of it as a peaceful one as well.
Nobody should need a reminder that for peaceful co-existence to be possible there will have to be plenty of give and take and wherever possible, sharing and accommodation. This would be so even within a family with each member tasked to accommodate each other’s idiosyncrasies. Failure to do this has been the recipe for broken families as all of us also probably know. It would be a disaster to wish for a perfect family or society where none is called upon to make sacrifices. One is reminded of the words of British philosopher Isaiah Berlin in his celebrated collection of essays “The Crooked Timber of Humanity” where he reminds everybody that imperfection is life’s essential predicament, and to insist on perfection alone can only be an invitation to disaster. In attempting to make a perfect omelette, many thousand eggs probably would have to be broken, and after all this damage has been done, in all likelihood the perfect omelette would still be elusive. Peace making therefore will necessarily have to be about starting to accept each other’s failings and imperfections as nature’s precondition and nothing to turn away from. If and when the current problem gets over, it would therefore be very much to the purpose for all who believes in peace and co-existence to begin on this platform of humility and mutual understanding.
What then is the foremost thing that must be shared? Let us have no doubt about this too, that it is our homeland. Let us also have no doubt that the current potentially disastrous problem we are facing is because of the intransigence of certain groups on the reality of a shared homeland, and would much rather insist on exclusive ones. For a far reaching and lasting peace to become possible, this approach will have to change. We cannot live in the past when this was once the reality. We will have to be prepared for the modern times where so much has changed, including the paradigms that define homeland. Take for example the lofty notion of “shared sovereignty” and “shared competencies” that the Government of India and the NSCN(IM) are negotiating. These ideas are beautiful, but on this multi-stake question, there cannot be any bi-lateral answer arrived at between these two parties only. It is rather ironic that the two parties who now pursue a model for this “shared sovereignty” are so averse to any suggestion of “shared homeland” as well. In this inability to see the wider canvas of multiple stakeholders may be the biggest flaw and hurdle before these negotiations. We do hope there is room and willingness for course correction and the peace initiative underway is able to broaden the scope of “shared sovereignty” to cover this larger canvas too, so that what is thus far seen as a bi-lateral matter comes to be treated as a multi-lateral one. Maybe, as we have written before too, this canvas can be bigger than just a state or two. It may be recalled, the British prior to their departure came up with plans for leaving the hills states of the Northeast and Northwest Burma as a Crown Colony, seeing their commonality. This Crown Colony roughly corresponds roughly with James Scott’s famous Zomia. And it is interesting that if the British plan had materialised, Imphal would have become the capital of Zomia. However, seeing the multiple deadly frictions in Manipur today, probably it is our good fortune that this Zomia was still born.