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Manipur:- The unending saga

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Manipur is a small state located in the northeastern part of the country. The region has a history of law and order issues since long. Political instability, economic issues, volatile security, ethnic strife, social issues etc continues to dominate Manipur even today.

The year 2017 heralded a change when the first BJP Government came to power in the state. Many expected that the new dispensation will bring about a qualitative change in the life of the people, who were already reeling under a crisis due to an economic blockade, internet shutdown, law and order issue, that was going on in Manipur back in 2016-end. The reason for that crisis was manifold.

Point to be noted here is that the genesis of that crisis was due to the demand by the valley-based community that an ILP(Inner Line Permit to regulate the entry of Indian citizens to Manipur) be implemented in the state which was vociferously opposed by hills-based tribal community. The then Congress government in the state obliged to the demand of the valley-based community and implemented a slew of controversial bills, including one that set a cut-off year of 1951 to identity “outsiders”.

Some unpopular decisions relating to re-organisation of various districts in the state were also taken which angered many in the tribal community. Although the bills were ultimately rejected by the Central Government, a political storm had set-off that resulted in a series of violent events that paralysed the state for many months.

It was after these unfortunate events that the new government under the leadership of N. Biren Singh was sworn in, who took many important decisions during his first tenure, that resulted in finding a solution to many burning issues of the time. Initiatives such as “Go to Hills”, “Go to Villages” were successful in bridging the gap between the hills and valley people.

The issue of territorial integrity in Manipur is an emotive one. It evokes a strong reaction from the valley people whenever there is a talk of partitioning the state. The state has seen violent agitation back in June, 2001 on the issue. Back in 2019 also there were rumours that the Government of India has decided to finally sign a deal with the NSCN-IM that would eventually lead to the creation of a ‘Greater Nagaland’ by carving out Naga-dominated areas of Manipur and merging it with the existing state of Nagaland. It also led to law and order issues in the state back then. However, the government has, till date, not signed any accord with the NSCN-IM or any other Naga political groups.

Come 2023 and we see Manipur reeling under severe ethnic violence which started after ATSUM(All Tribals’ Students Union Manipur) carried out rallies in tribal areas opposing the High Court judgment that endorsed valley people’s demand for inclusion in the Scheduled Tribe(ST) list. The intensity of violence is such(and is ongoing) that the fighting sides are baying for each others’ blood and mercilessly slaughtering civilians on each side.

Hundreds of homes, shops have been burned, thousands displaced from their homes, educational institutions have been shut and economic activity in the state has all but collapsed. Even elected representatives and their residences have not been spared.

The demand by valley-based people for inclusion in the ST list has been going on since long( which has been continuously opposed by hills-based tribal people). Their argument for inclusion is that they are doing it for saving their own race which is on the verge of extinction due to dwindling population. Tribals oppose this and argue that the valley-based people don’t have such a bleak future; that the valley people want to occupy their land, jobs, resources, etc in the garb of obtaining ST status.

Such mistrust and distrust between the hill people and the valley people became the breeding ground for the ethnic strife that the state finds itself in today. The situation has escalated to such an extent that 10 elected members of State Assembly have demanded separate administration for the community which they represent.

Moreover, the government is finding it very difficult to bring law and order into the state. Various valley-based and hill-based civil society organisations are adding political colour to the current crisis based on their own convenience, which is further aggravating the crisis and adding to the woes of common people.

The government is definitely walking a tightrope on this grave situation. Any miscalculation can lead to a totally unwanted outcome. Whatever decision(s) the government may take, it must consult all the stakeholders before arriving at a conclusion.

Government’s current efforts to resolve the crisis have found no takers amongst the masses. It’s time that an out-of-the-box solution to the crisis is brought about which satisfies the aspirations of all sides and brings peace in the region.

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