Last week, Nagaland Chief Minister Shurhozelie Liezietsu travelled to Imphal, the capital of neighbouring Manipur, to discuss inter-state matters with his counterpart N. Biren Singh. They agreed to resolve a range of issues, pending for years. Liezietsu reportedly said, “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”. Such bonhomie is unprecedented and marks a “new dawn”, to borrow Liezietsu’s description, in relations between the two border states. Liezietsu and Singh, unconventional politicians in many ways, deserve credit for looking beyond the set patterns and frameworks of politics in the region.
Manipur and Nagaland have been held hostage to entrenched ethnic and tribal loyalties and rivalries, which flare up at regular intervals. If both governments agree to sit across the table and resolve inter-state matters, which range from travel and trade to territorial issues, the outcomes will be truly transformational for the region. In fact, the impact of Liezietsu’s Imphal visit was evident the very next day when the Naga tribes of Manipur’s hill districts agreed to bury the bodies of eight activists who had died in the agitation against the three laws the then Ibobi Singh government had introduced in the assembly.
For 18 months, they kept the bodies in a morgue in Churachandpur, the burial awaiting resolution of the issues that triggered the agitation. The government and the Joint Action Committee Against the Anti-Tribal Bill have now reached an agreement, whereby the government will compensate the families of those who died in the protests in 2015, set up a memorial for them, and engage with tribal opinion in all future action. The Naga tribes are not domiciled strictly within the state of Nagaland and those living in neighbouring states, like Manipur, harbour trans-state solidarities. Liezietsu’s decision to reach out to Meiteis while in Imphal can help to remove mutual suspicions among the two influential communities.
The present bridge-building is also the outcome of the political churn in the region. Since the 2014 general election, the BJP has courted parties and politicians in the region by floating the North-East Democratic Alliance (NEDA). The alliance holds office in both Manipur and Nagaland: Liezietsu’s Naga People’s Front leads the NEDA in Nagaland and is part of the BJP-led government in Manipur. The alliance has a historic opportunity to leap above the old faultlines and realise the Act East Policy of New Delhi, which holds the potential to transform the region.
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