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Kolkata, October 1, 2023: In a bid to address the ongoing communal strife in Manipur, Professor Sugata Bose, the grand-nephew of the legendary freedom fighter Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, has called for the establishment of a just power-sharing arrangement in the northeastern state. This arrangement, Professor Bose believes, could bridge the divide between the Meiteis, Kukis, and Nagas, bringing these communities together and ultimately fostering peace and unity.
Professor Sugata Bose, formerly a Member of Parliament in the Lok Sabha, underscored the historical significance of these communities, emphasizing that members from all three groups had rallied behind Netaji’s Indian National Army (INA) in 1944. They fought shoulder to shoulder in the battlefields of Bishnupur and Ukhrul districts during the INA’s advance into India. Now, he contends, it’s time to harness this shared legacy to unite the communities.
“We need to draw upon the best legacy of the past armed struggle against the British to bring the three communities together again,” said Professor Bose, who currently occupies Harvard University’s Gardiner Chair in History.
Manipur’s demographic composition consists of the Meiteis, who make up 53% of the population and primarily reside in the Imphal valley, and the Nagas and Kukis, who constitute 40% of the population and inhabit the hill districts surrounding Imphal.
The recent situation in Manipur has been marked by tragic communal clashes between the Meitei and Kuki communities for the past five months. Over 175 people have lost their lives, and thousands have been left homeless, seeking refuge in makeshift camps. The roots of this strife can be traced back to a range of issues, including the bulldozing of villages on forest lands, an Imphal High Court order requesting the state government to forward recommendations to the Centre for Meiteis’ scheduled tribe status (a move resented by tribal communities), allegations of ethnic cleansing, and accusations of involvement in the drug trade from both sides.
Professor Sugata Bose expressed deep concern about the political game being played in Manipur, where one community is pitted against another for short-term political gains. He called for an end to such divisive politics, emphasizing the need for a just power-sharing arrangement to address the grievances of all three communities.
He further asserted that Manipur, along with the rest of the Northeast, should have a voice in decision-making at the national level. He recounted the historical contributions of Manipuri youth from the Kuki, Meitei, and Naga communities who joined Netaji’s INA, with 15 Manipuri young men and two women participating in the retreat to Rangoon, fighting bravely against seasoned British troops.
The INA’s advance nearly 80 years ago was a significant moment in history. Led by Netaji’s commanders, it included the Gandhi Brigade under Col Inayat Jan Kiyani, the Subhas Brigade led by Col Shah Nawaz Khan, and the Bahadur Group led by Col Shaukat Malik. Colonel Shakuat Malik, with assistance from Manipuri freedom fighters M Koireng Singh and Naqi Ahmed Chaudhary, raised the tricolor at Moirang in Bishnupur district on April 14, 1944.
Professor Sugata Bose also noted that there are accounts suggesting that Netaji Subhas Bose himself visited an INA camp near Churachandpur, a predominantly Kuki town, in July 1944. During this visit, he interacted with frontline troops and local villagers.
However, despite this history, the northeastern region has largely remained neglected in independent India. Geographically isolated, with access limited by Bangladesh, and connected to the rest of India primarily through the “Chicken’s Neck Corridor” in West Bengal’s Siliguri, the Northeast has faced challenges ranging from insurgencies and racial tensions to overpopulation and limited employment opportunities. Professor Sugata Bose’s call for communal unity and a just power-sharing pact represents an effort to address some of these complex issues in Manipur, where divisions have had tragic consequences.