SUSPENSION OF OPERATIONS (SoS) AGREEMENT
14th March, 2023 POLITY AND GOVERNANCE
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Context: The Manipur government withdrew from the Suspension of Operations (SoO) agreement with two hill-based tribal insurgent groups, claiming they were fueling unrest among forest settlers.
- The decision to withdraw from the Suspension of Operations (SoO) agreement is the outcome of a long - period of unrest in the Kuki-dominated hills of Manipur, which began with a campaign to remove "encroachers" from forest land, a call for a "peaceful" protest march that turned into violence as Section 144 was implemented, this created a conflict between Kuki tribal organisations and the state government.
- 38 villages in the Churachandpur-Khoupum Protected Forest area have allegedly been labelled "illegal settlements" and their occupants as "encroachers" by various government ministries since August 2022.
- After sending notifications to five villages, the authorities began an eviction campaign in the K Songjang village. It resulted in clashes between the residents and the police authorities.
- The Kuki Inpi, the largest tribal body of the Kukis in Manipur, requested a peaceful march in the state. The authorities enforced Section 144 to curb the demonstrations.
- When the police attempted to put an end to the locals' protests in Kangpokpi, things became violent. Before the situation could be stabilised, at least five demonstrators and a couple of police officers were hurt.
Suspension of Operations (SoO) agreement
- This cease-fire agreement was made with two umbrella organisations, the Kuki National Organization (KNO) and the United People's Front (UPF), which together represent 25 groups: 17 under the KNO and 8 under the UPF.
- This trilateral agreement, which was signed by the state, the groups, and the centre, called for an end to tensions and violence on all sides and the beginning of a political discussion.
- The tribal bodies said that “the Union Home Minister vowed to solve the Kuki demand for a separate ethnic state during the 2022 election, now the questions have been raised as a result of the recent step taken by the state government. The Centre will decide what happens next."
Arguments made by the State government
- The state government claimed that the protests had been organized with an "unconstitutional" motive. They were challenging the provisions of the constitution.
- The Chief Minister stated that the demonstration was organised for a poppy plantation and a drug trade, and people were encroaching on reserved forests, protected forests, and wildlife sanctuaries.
- The demonstrations, according to the Chief Minister, were motivated by the Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA) and Kuki National Army (KNA), two armed organisations with which the state and the Centre first signed a Suspension of Operations (SoO) agreement in 2008 to start a political conversation. It has regularly been renewed.
- The Chief Minister announced that the cabinet discussed the Suspension of Operations agreement, particularly with the ZRA and KNA who are reportedly encouraging the protests after the eviction letters were issued to the forest encroachers.
Arguments made by the Kuki tribal bodies
- The tribal organisations have maintained that the armed organisations had nothing to do with the protests.
- They claimed that it was a "peaceful" protest against the weakening of Article 371 C, which grants the tribally dominant hill regions of Manipur considerable administrative autonomy.
- They stated that the public's outrage was the outcome of the state government's violation of the scheduled Hill Areas and Article 371C of the Indian Constitution; this was the only factor in the peace rally.
- They said that the peaceful demonstration was a result of great disregard and exploitation of tribal land rights in the name of various laws and actions.
- They highlighted that the authorities are evicting us from our homes and destroying our traditions.
- They noted that the tribes of Manipur have always been the "rightful landholders" since colonial times and the villagers have been living there since well before independence, long before the passage of the Indian Forests Act of 1972, the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972, and other Acts the government has used to justify the evictions.
Insurgency in Manipur
- The Insurgency in Manipur is a continuous armed conflict between the government and several separatist rebel groups.
- Manipur's insurgency is a part of the larger insurgency in Northeast India and contains elements of an ethnic conflict and a battle for national liberation.
- Historical background:
- The Kangleipak State was established in 33 AD, beginning Manipur's long tradition of independence. A single power did not rule the entire country before that.
- Following the brief Anglo-Manipur War of 1891, Great Britain seized control of the Kingdom of Manipur and turned it into a protectorate.
- After Independence
- In October 1949, Manipur was integrated into India.
- It became an independent state in 1972 as a response to violent demonstrations.
- Following Manipur's integration into the Indian state, several insurgent groups emerged, arguing that the union with India was forced upon Manipur and calling for the establishment of an independent state within its borders.
- Main insurgent groups
- United National Liberation Front (UNLF), the first secessionist organisation, was established in 1964. However, they didn't start using force until 1991.
- The Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP), People's Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK), and the People's Liberation Army of Manipur (PLA) were all founded between 1977 and 1980 and joined the conflict.
- The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, of 1958 was imposed on Manipur by the Indian government in 1980 after the region was declared a source of instability; the act is still in effect today.
- Manipur-based militants are differentiated from the other insurgencies in the Northeast by a low rate of defections and a well-organized intelligence network. However, they have avoided targeting local police officers to win over the public.
- The primary means of funding for armed organisations continue to be extortion.
- A transparent administration, a just judicial system, respect for the rule of law, and the provision of the bare necessities like hospitals, schools, police stations, etc. are all necessary for the establishment of good governance in the state.
- For the overall state's development, both in the valley and the hills, there must be political sincerity and an equitable allocation of resources.
- Border management is necessary before starting any counter-insurgency operations or policies on the international boundary between India and Burma.
- To promote national integration, greater emphasis should be given to the connections and interactions between the diverse communities of Manipur and mainland India.
Q. Analyze the Insurgency in Manipur and the causes behind it critically. How can everlasting peace be achieved in Manipur?