|#1701||946||February 03, 2017||By Shivangi Dwivedi|
The Chief Minister of Manipur, Okram Ibobi Singh, recently visited the nation’s President on 4thJan 2017 as rumours of President’s rule being imposed in Manipur prior to elections surfaced. The precursor to this visit was a report submitted by the MHA to the election commission of India highlighting the unstable situation in the state in the wake of demands by the United Naga Council (UNC) for the imposition of President’s Rule as the situation turned volatile owing to the blockades implemented in Imphal and other cities by the UNC.[i]
It all began with a fight for dominance of power between various factions of society as they kept enforcing blockades and counter blockades. The end result – intensified suffering of the people of Manipur. An already economically backward state has been further crippled due to these prolonged blockades on NH 2 and NH 37, as they leave the affected populace deprived of basic amenities. Manipur, experiencing such violence for so long, with no overt move from the Centre, raises a few eyebrows as to why there has been no action to stem the violence. While reports suggest the paramilitary forces have been mobilised, there hasn’t been any discernible change in the situation. Societal tensions are running high, violence is on the rise and the black market is thriving while the state government continues to remain a mute spectator.[ii]
It all leads to a fight for dominance in the state among various political parties as the situation has further meta-morphed to an explosive level due to the power politics and refusal to step back from stated positions adopted on various contentious issues. The recent announcement of elections schedule in February-March 2017 has brought out even the dormant issues to the fore in order to mobilise the loyal voters and the swing population.
The Manipuri Nagas’ (Thangkhul Nagas) distress with the government originated almost as soon as their territory integrated with the Indian polity in 1949. It started with demands for a greater Nagalim and further stewed resentment with the deficiencies in the land acquisition bill and alleged biased political representation. The latest in the line of conflicts is the UNC’s opposition towards the creation of additional seven new districts in Manipur out of the existing nine by the Congress-led State Government, despite prior oppositions. One of the newly constructed districts is Kangpopki, the long standing demand by the Kuki’s for a separate Sadar Hills district.[iii] This new district overlaps the territorial claims of the Nagas with those of the Kukis in Senapati district. Kangpopki district, which is dominated by Kukis, also constitutes certain areas which are claimed by the Nagas as a part of their demand for a greater Nagalim. While the decision to create new districts appeased the Kukis, the Nagas took an affront to it, accusing the Congress-ruled State Government for its blatant political motives behind the creation of these districts prior to the upcoming elections. The UNC also accused the State Government of sponsoring the mob violence which took place in the Khurai region of East Imphal during the blockades. While, the Congress has lost major support from the Nagas following this move, it has gained that support from the Kukis.
The call for tripartite talks suggested by the Naga Political Leaders’ Forum Manipur (NPLFM) to be held between the Centre, State and the UNC, to end the blockade has been further delayed and was expected to transpire post Republic Day celebrations, 2017, however a date has yet not been finalised. The first round of talks between Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, the UNC and the state CM Ibobi Singh saw no fruition as the UNC is unwilling to back down and rescind the call for the blockades. The delay has continued since its incipient stages regarding the decision of the venue for the meeting. The UNC demanded for the meeting to be held at Senapati, the headquarters of its organisation, while the Centre refused to hold it anywhere else except Imphal or Delhi.[iv] The Centre had reservations of other factions making similar demands and so it decided to host the meeting in Delhi, after the UNC denied attending if it was held in Imphal. The Centre and State desperately seem to be vying for a solution to the state of affairs ahead of elections; however the continuous rebuffing by the UNC might lead to the Centre adopting an even stronger stance against their cadre imposing the blockades in the state
The Northeast: March Ahead by Central Party
The BJP aims to win in Manipur as it will then have formed a government in three of the major states in the North East, having already formed a government in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. They seem confident that they will form the next government owing to the clashes between the UNC and the Congress Chief Minister of the state as well as the resignation of two MLAs from the Congress.[v] The BJP has been canvassing continuously appealing to the people’s plight and highlighting the inaction of the state government regarding the blockades. BJP leader Prakash Javedakar has even mentioned that “the Centre can end the problem in three days, but the Chief Minister and Congress-led government need to allow deployment of central forces in the state."[vi] On the other hand, the Congress too remains optimistic about retaining power in the state owing to the support by the Meitis and the Kukis and the unease among the Nagas with the BJP regarding the inconspicuous nature behind the Framework Agreement. Both the parties have seen the blockades as an opportunity to politicise the elections and garner maximum support. The two parties have been condemning the actions of each other with regard to a resolution to the increasing strife within the public sphere in the state.
The Political Fault lines
The policy of the government in Manipur as well as the centre in dealing with the state has been a continuation of the British policy of Divide and Rule or even exclusivism as and when it benefits them.[vii] Even the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) (NSCN-IM) has been using the varied historical roots and dissent between tribal factions to their advantage so as to assert their dominance in selected areas of Manipur. The State and the Central administrations need to understand that the upcoming elections coupled with the heightened tensions in the state leave it in their interest to be cautious and leave petty vote bank politics out of the fray. The state administration has often been condemned for its half-hearted response to the aggravating situation owing to the disconnect of the region from the nation’s capital.[viii] What is imperative now is an integration of efforts to arrive at a solution before the situation worsens in the state.
The security measures within the state have already been tightened to ensure that the elections take place without any glitch. While both BJP and the Congress are at loggerheads to try and convert the current situation into a befitting political agenda, the Nagas, on the other hand feel that their demands are being dismissed. Which is why, the Congress’ claim that the blockades imposed by the UNC have the support of the NSCN(IM) does not come as a surprise. The delay in the gratification from the Framework Agreement has eventually led to a sense of unease among the community. The Centre may also have inadvertently recognised NSCN(IM) as the dominant group within various Naga factions by signing the Framework Agreement with them, causing discontent among rest of the Naga underground outfits, leading to the blockades. Civil Society Organisations also denied invitations to talks called by Mr R.N. Ravi, the man responsible for the Framework Agreement, on the grounds that they will not participate in any talks till the blockade is lifted by the UNC.[ix] The UNC however, is unrelenting in its contention, leading to an impasse. With the focus of the elections contingent to the resolution of the blockades and economic crisis in Manipur, the primary interest remains to stabilise the situation while attempting to establish a blueprint for enduring peace.
[i]Manipur CM OkramIbobi Singh in Delhi to share state’s concerns with President, Economic Times, Jan 03, 2017http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/manipur-cm-okram-ibobi-singh-in-delhi-to-share-states-concerns-with-president/articleshow/56316131.cms
[ii]Manipur: Shutdowns, blockades continue to hit life, The Indian Express, Nov 06, 2016, http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/manipur-shutdowns-blockades-continue-to-hit-life-3740249/
[iii]Simply Put: Seven New Districts that set Manipur ablaze, The Indian Express, Dec 20, 2016, http://indianexpress.com/article/explained/manipur-violence-new-districts-okram-ibobi-united-naga-council-4436039/
[iv]No side budging, no solution in sight to Manipur’s economic blockade, Hindustan Times, Dec 31, 2016, http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/no-side-budging-no-solution-in-sight-to-manipur-s-economic-blockade/story-pzjqWbZBjqczsfmBD4WW9I.html
[v] Two Congress MLAs quit to join BJP in Manipur; BJP list has 31 candidates, Economic Times, Jan 25, 2017
[vi] BJP will win comfortably in Manipur Assembly polls: Prakash Javadekar, EconomicTimes, Jan 15, 2017, http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/bjp-will-win-comfortably-in-manipur-assembly-polls-prakash-javadekar/articleshow/56569839.cms
[vii]DhanabirLaisharam, Ch. Rupachandra Singh and Ng. Jasantakumar, The Stitch: Ethnicity, Insurgency and Development of Manipur, 2009, 3; 82-83
[viii]Lt Gen Ajai Singh, “A Blueprint for Integration of North-East India,” Indian Military Review, November 2016, 57
[ix]Manipur Civil Society Organisations Refuse to Participate in Consultative talks with R.N. Ravi, NorthEast Today, Jan 18, 2017, http://www.northeasttoday.in/manipur-civil-society-organisations-refuse-to-participate-in-consultative-talks-with-rn-ravi/