ON Tuesday, when Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh received his Nagaland counterpart Shurhozelie Liezietsu in Imphal, the two leaders opened a new chapter in the history of their states. Their meeting also underscored the dichotomy of the two states staying so far apart despite sharing borders.
Shurhozelie, 81, spent a little over 4 hours in the Manipur capital, during which he discussed with Biren Singh a range of issues that have been pending for decades; they also announced their resolve to find lasting solutions.
For years, both states have seen street protests against the other, with the mere mention of the ‘other’ state triggering road a blockade or bandh by some or the other group. The 105-km stretch of National Highway 2 (the erstwhile NH39) leading to Manipur had mostly remained shut or disrupted for more than a decade.
But on Tuesday, as Shurhozelie’s chopper landed inside Imphal’s Kangla Fort, hundreds of Manipuris held up posters of the Nagaland CM alongside that of Biren Singh, and raised slogans wishing them both a long life.
Before his departure for Kohima, Shurhozelie told reporters, “We are all aware that there were several crises in our two states. But with the change of guard here in Manipur, people have begun to see a ray of hope and a new dawn of peace is being heralded between the two states and the different communities in the region.”
It was only on March 20, five days after the first BJP-led government took charge in Manipur, that the most recent road blockade — imposed by the United Naga Council, the apex body of the Nagas of Manipur, and lasting 139 days — was called off.
Shurhozelie’s predecessor T R Zeliang — who on Tuesday accompanied the CM in his capacity as chairman of the ruling Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN) — had, in fact, visited Manipur more than once in the past two years, his last visit having been to Senapati district in October 2016. Going by local media reports, however, on both those occasions, his focus had been more on the Nagas and tribals of the Manipur hills rather than the entire people of the state.
Both Singh and Shurhozelie emphasised on learning to live together. Shurhozelie did, however, lament that “certain leaders had in the past manipulated and made use of the circumstances for their own selfish ends”. But he also said that “a new era has dawned” now.
“We have to learn to live together in peace and harmony as our ancestors had done for ages. We shall continue to be good neighbours for ages to come,” the Nagaland CM said, recognising the fact that the Meitei community were among the most advanced people in the Northeast. “The Meitei people should come forward to play the role of the big brother to other communities in the region. Learned scholars and intelligentsia from the Meitei community should also come forward and create a conducive environment for the return of lasting peace and harmony,” he said.
The CMs underlined the potential win-win situation once they started working together, with the Centre’s Act East Policy holding out the promise of bringing economic benefits to the two states that share international boundaries with Myanmar.
Shurhozelie and Singh sharing the dais itself sent out positive signals; although no effort has been made yet to quantify the suffering that years of bitterness has brought to the common Naga and common Meitei, the fact is everyone wants an end to it.
The day after the visit, an Imphal newspaper wrote: “The governments of the two neighbouring states seem to have woken up to the need to foster better ties between them, and it is only right that people on either side reciprocate and see how they can make the new initiative more meaningful. One cannot choose one’s neighbour and the right way forward should be to move closer together.”