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Regionalism: Demand For Kuki Homeland

Context: The recent clashes between Manipur’s Kuki-Zomi tribes and the majority Meitei community, has resulted in a number of casualties.

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  • Following the clashes, the Kuki-Zomi Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) in Manipur have demanded a separate administration under the Constitution.
  • Despite emphasizing on the protection of Manipur’s territorial integrity, the ethnic clashes have reignited the demand for a separate administration, which had previously subsided after peace negotiations between Kuki-Zomi insurgent groups and the government.

Background: Demand for a Kuki Homeland

  • The demand for a separate Kuki homeland, often referred to as “Kukiland,” dates back to the late 1980s when the Kuki National Organisation (KNO), the first and largest Kuki-Zomi insurgent group, was formed.
  • In 2012, the Kuki State Demand Committee (KSDC) initiated a movement for Kukiland, claiming a territory of 12,958 square kilometers, which accounted for over 60% of Manipur’s total area.
  • The proposed territory included areas such as Sadar Hills, Churachandpur, Chandel, and parts of Tamenglong and Ukhrul, which have significant Kuki-Zomi populations.
  • The KSDC and sections of the Kuki-Zomi community have argued that these tribal areas were not part of the agreement when Manipur became a British protectorate after the Anglo-Manipur war of 1891.
  • However, the demand for a Kuki homeland seeks a separate state within the Indian Union, rather than a separate country like the Naga demand.

Concept of Zale’n-Gam, or ‘Land of Freedom’

  • The idea of Kukiland, or the Kuki homeland, is based on the concept of Zale’n-gam, which translates to “land of freedom.”
  • According to some Kuki-Zomi people, their ancestors were brought from the Kuki-Chin hills of Burma (now Myanmar) by the British political agent and settled around the Imphal valley to protect the Manipur kingdom from Naga raiders.
  • According to the Kuki National Organisation (KNO), under the Treaty of 1834, the British ceded a substantial portion of this land to Burma as a means to appease the Ava or Burmese king.
  • The Kuki homeland, as envisioned by the KNO, included areas up to the Chindwin River in Myanmar, bordering regions of India, areas around the Nantalit River in northern Myanmar, stretching to the Chin state in the south.
  • In India, it encompassed the hill districts of Manipur, including Naga areas, Kanjang, Akhen, Phek, parts of Dimapur in Nagaland, Karbi-Anglong, North Cachar Hills, Halflong in Assam, and Tripura, as well as parts of the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh.
  • However, over time, the conception of the Kuki homeland has contracted to the idea of a state formed from the hill areas of Manipur.

What is Regionalism?

  • Regionalism is a political ideology that focuses on the interests of a particular region or group of regions, rather than the interests of an entire country.
  • Forms of Regionalism in India:
    • Secessionism: 
      • It is an extreme form of regionalism in which militant and fundamentalist groups advocate for the separation of a particular region from India on the basis of ethnicity or other factors.
      • Examples of such groups include the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM), Islamic fundamentalist groups in Jammu and Kashmir, and the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) in Assam.
    • Separatism:
      • It involves demanding separate statehood within the Indian Union.
      • This often occurs when linguistic or ethnic minorities within a state unite against the majority community.
      • Examples of separatist movements include the formation Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and Telangana.
    • Demand for full statehood:
      • This is another type of regional movement in which union territories demand to be recognized as full-fledged states within the Indian Union.
      • This demand has already been accepted for several former union territories, including Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Tripura, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, and Sikkim.
    • Demand for autonomy:
      • It involves the demand for more power and decision-making authority to be given to the states.
      • This demand has been gaining strength due to central political interference.
      • Several regional parties in states like Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, and West Bengal have been demanding greater powers for their respective states.
    • Demand for regional autonomy within a state:
      • This demand is often fuelled by regional imbalances resulting from inefficient planning.
      • For example, Ladakhis in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir have demanded regional status to address their unique needs and concerns.

Causes of Regionalism

  • Isolation: Historical and geographical isolation, insider-outsider complex that nurtures nativism and son-of-the-soil ideology.
  • Uneven development: Uneven development, continuous neglect of a region and internal colonialism, despite being rich in natural resources some regions remain economically underdeveloped.
  • Centralisation of power: Ill-conceived top-down approach for development or survival of one region at the cost of the other region.
  • Imposition of ideology: Imposition of an ideology that might be in conflict with the ideology that people of a particular have been possessing for a long time.
  • Cultural and linguistic aspirations: Linguistic aspirations and expression of ethnicity have long remained a formidable basis of regionalism.

Impact of Regionalism in India

Positive Impacts:

  • Preservation of local culture and identity: Regionalism helps to preserve the unique cultural and linguistic identities of different regions.
  • Development of regions: When regions demand autonomy or separate statehood, it often leads to a focus on the development of that region.
  • Representation of local interests: Regionalism can ensure that the local interests of a particular region are represented and addressed by the central government.

Negative Impacts:

  • Threat to national unity: One of the biggest negative impacts of regionalism is that it can pose a threat to national unity and integrity.
  • Rise of extremist groups: Regionalism can also give rise to extremist groups that use violent means to achieve their goals. This can lead to political instability and social unrest.
  • Impediment to economic growth: When regionalism leads to demands for separate statehood or autonomy, it can lead to the fragmentation of the country and create barriers to trade and commerce. This can impede economic growth and development.
  • Discrimination against minorities: In some cases, regionalism can result in discrimination against minorities who may not belong to the dominant linguistic or cultural group in a particular region.

Measures to tackle the growing Menace of Separatist Tendencies

  • Constitutional Provisions: The Constitution of India provides for a federal structure of governance, which ensures the representation of regional aspirations and interests. The formation of states on linguistic and cultural basis is also enshrined in the Constitution.
  • Administrative Measures: The government has set up various bodies such as the Inter-State Council, which acts as a platform for discussion and resolution of inter-state issues.
  • Dialogue and Negotiations: The government has initiated dialogue and negotiations with various regional groups to understand their concerns and find amicable solutions.
  • Security Measures: The government has taken strict security measures to deal with separatist and militant groups. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 has been enforced in some regions to maintain law and order.
  • Economic Development: The government has focused on economic development of regions to address the root causes of regionalism. Various schemes and programs have been launched to promote economic development in underdeveloped regions.
  • Political Measures: The government has encouraged the formation of regional political parties to provide a platform for regional representation. The National Integration Council has also been set up to promote national integration and communal harmony.

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