By R Chowdhury 3 November 2019
A dissident group of the Indian Manipur State has announced formation of a Government-in-Exile in London on October 29, 2019. Yamben Biren, who designated himself the Chief Minister and Minister of External Affairs of Manipur made the declaration. Mr. Narengbam Samarjit, the Defence Minister designate, was present. They claimed to have done it on behalf of Leishemba Sanajaoba, the Maharaja of Manipur, basing his letter of authority dated March 15, 2013. Earlier in August 2019, thousands of Nagalese gathered at Manipur’s Senapati district and hoisted the Nagaland flag to celebrate their independence.
Details of the exiled government and its immediate impacts are not yet known. Nor do we know the reaction of New Delhi about it. Ambassador William Milam, a Woodrow Wilson Senior Scholar, says in an article in The Friday Times on November 1, 2019 that “Authoritarianism developed defence mechanism” to make such movements fail.
Bangladeshis being in the receiving end of oppression and deprivation for decades–first under the Pakistani overlords and then under the Awami fascism– have a natural sympathy for such independence movements. Afterall, they fought a bloody war to rid themselves of the colonial-type yoke. However, under the spell of a new dictatorial regime that toes India line, the political instability in the region could be pretty different for Bangladesh, may even be disastrous.
Manipur is a small state in the northeastern region of India, across Bangladesh. With an area of about 8600 square miles and 3 million people, it is a member of the commonly known “Seven Sisters” sharing with Arunachal, Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. Lying in the crossroad of exchanges between India, Southeast Asia, Central Asia, East Asia and the Fareast, it has a fusion of people, culture and faith. Though Manipuri (Meiteilon) is the state language, the largely tribal and agrarian people speak a variety of dialects, including Tibetan-Chinese. The literacy in this far flung state is rather high, at nearly 90%. They said to have exported polo game to the Europeans. Rhythmic Manipuri dance is famous. Capital Imphal saw one of fiercest battles between the British Indian Army and the Japanese Imperial Forces in 1943. Ironically, Indians were on both sides of the conflict, as Subhas Bose’s Indian National Army fought along the Japanese. Defeat of the Japanese at Imphal halted its march to India during the WWII. Since 1891, Manipur was a princely state under the British Raj, and in 1949, quickly acceded to India fearing a Burmese takeover. But the people at large remained dissatisfied with this accession and sought independence instead.
Over 100 Separatist Groups
A number of groups have been fighting for independence from India since the sixties of the last century. From the eighties, Indian armed forces stationed itself in the state, under Armed Forces Special Power Act 1958, with a view to fighting the “insurgency.” Under the act, the military enjoys enormous powers and immunity that resulted in the commission of serious human right violations, including death, torture and rape. Thousands of people were killed in the past decade. This has aggravated the situation and intensified the independence movement.
The Seven Sisters have about 115 independent movement groups. Manipur, the smallest and the most troubled, boasts of hosting 39. Prominent among them are the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of Manipur, the Naga National Council (NNC), the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN), the Arunachal Dragon Force (ADF), the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDF), the Karbi Longri NC Hills Liberation Front (KLNLF), the United People’s Democratic Solidarity (UPDS), the Kamtapur Liberation Organization (KLO), the Muslim United Liberation Tiger of Assam (MULTA), the National Liberation Front of Tripura, the All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF), Mizo National Front (MNF). Some of these groups, such as the ULFA, NDF, NSCN, KLO and ATTF maintain bases outside in Bhutan, Nepal, China and Myanmar. Under pressure from New Delhi, Thimphu tried to deny them sanctuary but not always with success.
While some of these groups make joint moments, many of them fight against each other on ideology and domination. At times, they resorted to terror activities and extortion. That make their positions weak. Such inter and intra fights made the union government possible to divide them and negotiate for peace, in most cases succeeding. Observers, however, suspect that such cessation of activities was a strategic pause to gain time to regroup and regain strength. The region remains pitifully underdeveloped. Undercurrents of dissatisfaction among the people remain strong and the situation may explode anytime.
Subir Bhaumik claims of Chinese, Myanmar’s, Pakistani and even Bangladeshi hands in these independence movements in his book Insurgent Crossfire: Northeast India (Delhi: Lancers, 1996). An Assamese and a former BBC journalist, Bhaumik is said to write for the RAW (Research and Analysis Wing, India’s External Intelligence Agency).
Bangladesh Tags India Line
India was largely responsible to install Sheikh Hasina as Prime Minister through a military-manipulated election in 2009 (Army Chief General Moeen U Ahmed’s India connection was no secret). Five years later, India had a direct hand in the voter-less farcical drama in 2014 with a view to ensuring victory for its protégé Hasina and her team, otherwise the most unpopular in the country. In 2018 elections, the scenario was even worse. It was called “the midnight robbery,” in which ballot papers in favor of Hasina’s candidates were stuffed the night before. Opposition parties were neither allowed to freely contest nor come to the polls. The Election Commission, the administration, the law enforcing agencies and the local party thugs were in league. The result: Sheikh Hasina and her criminal goons won 98%, an unthinkable feat that was only possible in a Saddami or Hitlerian system. Political observers thus term the Hasina administration as illegal by any stretch of law and democracy.
Hasina, therefore, remains obedient to the dictates of New Delhi. Much against the wishes of the people of Bangladesh, she gleefully supports the Indian ongoing oppression against its minority communities, particularly the Muslims, Dalits and marginally living multitude in the Seven Sisters. The recent annexation of Kashmir disregarding the UN’s 370 Protective Clause, is well known.
Hasina’s Debt Payment
Hasina had already granted free passage, free transit through Bangladesh and free use of its waters and ports to the Indian forces and military equipment aimed at intensifying its military operations in its northeastern region. To the people of the region, those operations are meant to kill and commit atrocities with impunity. Earlier, she handed over to her sponsors the freedom-seeking democratic leaders from these parts, who had sought political shelter in Bangladesh. Democratic forces in these states consider these as most unfriendly acts; and some of them even vowed revenge. Not a good omen for Bangladesh!
In a recent case, a bright engineering student in Dhaka was brutally beaten to death by Hasina’s Awami thugs because the student criticized her give away policy during her latest visit to New Delhi.
China and Myanmar, two major
players in the area, are not likely to remain silent observers to the plight of
the people, majority of whom are ethnically and culturally close to them. In
fact, these neighboring countries are said to be already involved in the
socio-political activities in the region with a view to safeguarding their own
political, social and strategic interests. Additionally, China continues to
claim parts of Arunachal belonging to its Tibet. The claim keeps New Delhi in
perpetual tension, if its debacle in 1962 is of any recollection.
Ominous Sign for Bangladesh
In case of an open conflict among the parties, including outside forces, in the region, military thinkers and strategic analysts in Bangladesh fear that the county may be sucked into such hostilities much to its dislikes, but thanks to Sheikh Hasina’s pro-New Delhi and RAW induced stance. Over the past decade of Hasina rule, Bangladesh has already lost much of its sovereignty and national interests to India’s hegemony. In any escalation of hostilities in India’s northeastern part, the Chanakyas may find little time to formalize grabbing Bangladesh, a la Sikkim or Kashmir. Without Bangladesh, India cannot win any war in this inaccessible region.
The developments in the Seven Sisters, particularly in Manipur, are danger signals for Bangladesh! People need to watch out, if they care for their independence and identity. They need to ponder if they can continue shouldering the burden of Hasina administration, which remains a stooge of India.
R Chowdhury is a former soldier and a decorated freedom fighter of the war of liberation of Bangladesh. Enjoys retired life in reading, writing and gardening. Writes on contemporary issues of Bangladesh and published a few books so far.