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No signs of settlement 58 years after UNLF was formed, peace remains elusive


There is not even a hint at resolving the present imbroglio through a negotiated settlement with the Government of India. Till date, apart from speeches from political leaders, there also seems to be no sign of attempting to bring a negotiated settlement with the UNLF from the side of either the central or state government.

By Yambem Laba

The proscribed United National Liberation Front (UNLF) of Manipur which is today the oldest living liberation group alive in India’s Northeastern region – or the Western South East Asia Region to use under- ground parlance – recently observed its 58th anniversary.  It was in 1947-48 that Zapu Ngami Phizo had led the flames of insurgency in the Northeast demanding an independent State of Nagaland from India and parts of then Burma. Then in 1949, Manipur, a hitherto Independent State and the last to be conquered by the British in 1891, which was then existing as an autonomous state with a Constitutional monarchy and an elected legislative Assembly found itself merged with India following the Merger Agreement which was signed by the then Constitutional Monarch Maharaj Bodhachandra in Shillong. It was then made a Part C State of the Indian Union.

In the meantime, the fire began to rage in the Naga Hills District of Assam and in the Naga areas of Manipur during which an Indian Air Force airplane was also shot down. By 1963, the Government of India had brokered a semblance of truce by declaring the Naga Hills District of Assam and the Tuensang area of then North East Frontier Agency (NEFA) (now Arunachal Pradesh) as the 16th State of the Indian Republic. Meanwhile, Manipur had remained as a Union Territory.

Sitting in faraway Pune pursuing his Masters in English Literature, Arambam Samarendra must have been watching these developments very seriously. And minutely. He had observed as to how an independent country with 2,000 years of history was overnight made a Union territory, and how the Naga Hills, was made into a full-fledged State of the Republic thanks to the fact that the Nagas had taken up arms against the Government.

Armed with these thoughts, Samarendra returned home to Imphal and began mobilizing people. Mindful of the reality that Manipur encompasses peoples of different ethnic groups, he formed his first Council and on 24 November 1964, he launched the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) of Manipur. It then had Kalalung Kamei, a Naga as its founder President, Thankhopao Singsit, a Kuki as its Vice-President and he, Arambam Samarendra, a Meitei as its General Secretary. Its other office bearers included Longjam Manimohon, Laishram Kanhai, Nongmeikapam Sanajaoba and Nongmaithem Pahari as members. Its avowed aim was the liberation of Manipur from India and to form an independent socialist state of Manipur.

The UNLF held its fire for many years building up its cadres across the state enrolling hundreds of people who were called subscribers for the fact they would subscribe part of their monthly income to the Front. It also developed frontal organizations to espouse its social goals. It made its first move towards building up an armed cadre when in 1976, R.K. Meghen accompanied by N. Oken and a few others trekked to the Somra Tract in Myanmar and established ties with the Naga insurgents based there.

By the late 1980s, the conditions in Manipur could almost be described as precursive to a revolution. There was rampant runaway corruption, and rapists, looters and murderers were roaming the streets of Imphal and elsewhere in the State. Then one by one they started getting shot dead and included a Director of Medical Services who was involved in purchasing spurious medicines for public consumption. Then the UNLF began making claims to these killings on hand- written, cyclostyled pamphlets mentioning the names of those killed and citing their crimes alongside.

In late 1990, the group ambushed a CRPF convoy at Lamdan in the Loktak Hydro Electric Project area. There-after, they began making their presence felt as urban guerillas ambushing convoys and patrols on the high streets of Imphal and even capturing a truckload of banned cough syrups used by addicts in Manipur. You could then tell an UNLF ambush by the style and result for there would be almost zero collateral damage in the process, except once when an IED they planted resulted in the death of four civilians at Malom near the airport.

The UNLF suffered its formal split in the mid-1990s when Meghen’s trusted lieutenant N. Oken broke away and formed the Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL). The fratricidal killings continued unabated till the KYKL bombed the headquarters of the Pan Manipuri Youth League which was termed as the frontal organization of the UNLF. Finally on 10 June 2000, Arambam Samarendra, the founder of the UNLF was shot dead by two KYKL cadres whilst giving a talk at a public function. Samarendra had by then became an eminent playwright, novelist, and lyricist in the eyes of the public of Manipur. The KYKL however claimed that he was functioning as the Chairman of the Front. Things quietened down after the PREPAK, another militant group operating in Manipur, brokered peace between the two.

Then, R.K. Meghen alias Sanayaima who was till then the General Secretary of the Front took over as Chairman. He then crisscrossed the world from the Hague to Hong Kong and to the bush in Manipur unleashing a media assault on the Indian establishment. He was arrested in Dhaka on the basis of inputs provided by the Indian Army’s 57-Mountain Division located near Imphal. These inputs were handed over to North Block which conveyed it to the Indian High Commission in Dhaka. RAW agents got in touch with the Bangladeshi intelligence and Meghen was waylaid. When arrested, he was carrying a genuine Bangladeshi pass-port to facilitate his movement across the globe. After the BBC broke the news, there was an uproar in Manipur, even forcing then Chief Minister O. Ibobi Singh to write a letter to the Centre to break their silence over the arrest. A month later, the Government of India announced that he was arrested in the Indo-Nepal border area.

Meghen told this writer later that he was taken from a place near Siliguri and driven for two days to the Nepal border in Bihar and shown as arrested there. Convicted by an NIA court, he served 10 years behind bars in Guwahati Jail till his release.

As has been the practice down the years, the UNLF releases its Annual Statement on its Raising day. It highlights its observations over affairs pertaining to Manipur and the region and prescribes measures to correct any misadventures or wrong paths. This year in its statement the Front blamed India for going a step beyond the British colonial policy of divide and rule to divide and destroys.

There was however not even a hint of resolving the present imbroglio through a negotiated settlement with the Government of India. But till date apart from speeches from political leaders, there also seems to be no sign of attempting to bring a negotiated settlement with this group from the side of either the Central or state government.

 (The writer is The Statesman’s Imphal-based Special Representative. The article was first published by The Statesman)

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