Is Sri Sri Ravi Shankar the Messiah of Manipur?
Sri Sri wants to mediate between insurgents and civilians in the state, but will he be accepted as a go-between?
- Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is breaking away from stereotyping Manipur’s problem.
- He has emphasised on communication between insurgents and civilians rather than unemployment.
- Sri Sri thinks he is the right candidate for mediation between insurgents and civilians.
- He aims to gain trust of both civilians and of the insurgents.
Can Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the founder of the Art of Living Foundation, be the Ambassador of Peace for Manipur? This query gains significance after the spiritual leader offered to be the mediator between the insurgents and the government of India on his second visit to the restive state.
Breaking Away From Stereotypes
Judging by his rhetoric while addressing the press in Imphal, as he wrapped up his 3-day tour of the state on 19 April 2016, the global icon of peace distanced himself from the stereotype of blaming unemployment as the core factor for the insurgency and went on to say he admired them for their sacrifice and saluted them for their commitment to the cause.
It is tapasya, it is sacrifice. I appreciate them and they need to be saluted for their bravery. I would like them to come forward and sit with me and work out the modalities for peace. Being an insurgent, fighting in the jungle for what he/she believes in speaks volumes about the leadership and commitment of the Manipuri youth. They are intelligent, spiritual, good hearted, extremely talented, and strong. They essentially want sovereignty to see the people prosper and be happy.Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
“Gurudev” Seeks Peace in Manipur
In fact, Gurudev, as he is fondly called by his followers, asserted categorically that he is the right candidate to mediate as he understands the insurgents’ aspirations and sincerely wants to work for peace in the state.
Let’s come out from the jungle and sit together and try to resolve our conflict. I know they are fighting for equal opportunity and justice for the people. Fighting in the jungle will not achieve this. We must have dialogue and I really want to facilitate this to bring peace and prosperity in Manipur.
Even if one was not paying attention, one could not have missed the fact that the humanitarian was not making a hollow proposal. The fact that he meant business rung out clearly when he masterfully laid out the premise of his peace proposal to the 50-odd armed groups operating in the state.
While I understand their point of view, I want them to appreciate my viewpoint too. There is a paradigm shift in the world in the concept of sovereignty and independence in international politics. There is a realisation that not independence but inter-dependence can bring real happiness and prosperity.
The spiritual leader went on to equate Manipur to a ‘catch-22’ situation, saying:
While the Government of India insists on peace first to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, the insurgents want sovereignty to achieve peace.
Although a few former militant leaders have been taken into confidence and are said to be ready to do the spadework for conflict resolution in Manipur, the looming question is how acceptable is Sri Sri Ravi Shankar as a go-between to the hard core militant leaders?
Despite his commendable role in conflict resolution in Columbia, the Middle East, Syria and Russia among others, will his credentials as an unbiased, independent third party hold ground with the rebels?
Significantly, Sri Sri’s peace project comes at a time when militancy in Manipur is on the wane, with more leaders fighting disillusionment amongst the rank and file over the direction in which the struggle is going, and the achievability of the cause, however justifiable.
Residents of Manipur Are Fighting Back
Of late, Manipur has also witnessed a Punjab-like situation, with civilians in the state willing to confront insurgents frequently.
While this may be a well-planned counter-insurgency move of the government to incite the masses against insurgent groups, what really counts is the reality on the ground.
There have been a number of incidents where residents have taken to guarding themselves against the terror tactics of armed miscreants, as well as thrashing extortionists and bomb-lobbers and handing them over to the police.
Interestingly, at least two prominent rebel groups have reiterated their conditional stand for peace negotiation.
Oldest Rebel Outfit of Manipur Ready to Lay Down Arms
Manipur’s oldest rebel outfit, United National Liberation Front (UNLF), has repeatedly stated that it is willing to lay down its arms if a plebiscite is conducted with a third party mediation like the United Nations, on the question whether Manipur should remain with India or not.
The Revolutionary Peoples’ Front – probably the most potent rebel group of the State – on the other hand, has been insisting on sovereignty as the key agenda for any peace engagement with the government of India.
A former militant leader, speaking on condition of anonymity said:
While the government – both the State and the Centre – is insisting on peace negotiations, nobody really cares for peace. Because maintaining the status quo is beneficial for all concerned. The politician, the bureaucrats, the police and security forces, the contractors and even some of the so-called civil society organisations are all taking full advantage of the situation. So nobody wants to disturb the equilibrium? If a person of the stature of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, well-known throughout the world for his philosophy of ‘one world family’ and peace and love and with a lot of commendable humanitarian work under his belt, offers to mediate, it is definitely an opportunity.
In his own words, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar said, “There is definitely a trust deficit here. I want to help overcome this deficit.”
But can he actually earn the trust of the rebels simply by saying he dreams of a peaceful, prosperous Manipur and that he is willing to work towards facilitating peace?
To his credit, the spiritual leader has initiated a number of welfare projects in Manipur. Besides running a free school for the BPL community, a number of solar lights have been distributed. Tapping into the huge wealth of medical plants, a herb collection centre has been started, which employs a large section of Manipur’s youth, and a multi-crore, Art of Living Centre will soon be opened at Takyel in Imphal east, where a number of skill development programs will be conducted.
He also appealed to the farmers of the state to turn to organic farming and to compete with Sikkim.
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