New Delhi, Sep 16 (IANS) As Manipur continues to simmer over the passing of three landmark bills by the state government in a special assembly called by Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh, tribal parliamentarians from the Northeast have suggested that the “creation of two union territories” out of existing Manipur is the only solution for the prevailing impasse that has claimed the lives of eight civilians in the recent clash.
The parliamentarians, who are considered to be veteran tribal leaders of the Northeast, have also stated that if the governor gives the assent to the bills, then the clashes that Manipur will witness will be far more extreme than what it has witnessed in recent times.
“It has been proven that the tribals and the Meiteis of Manipur cannot co-exist peacefully in the same state. If the governor gives the assent for the bills that have been passed, the tribals, including Kukis, Hmars and Nagas, will start revolting, which will be far more extreme than what Churachandpur has witnessed recently. However, if the government doesn’t give the assent for the bills, then the Meiteis will go on hunger strike and commit suicide. So, it’s a complete deadlock for the government,” Khekiho Zhimomi, veteran Naga leader and the lone Rajya Sabha member from Nagaland, told IANS.
The 70-year-old leader who has fought for the cause of the Naga tribes residing in the northeastern states has asserted that by creating two union territories out of Manipur the central government can look after both the territories directly.
“In the form of good neighborhood the three laws can be appreciated or else the three bills will become the bone of contention in case the two communities are asked to stay together. This is for the satisfaction of both the groups. The solution needs to be balanced and concrete,” Zhimomi said, and added that the tribal communities and the Meiteis being compelled to stay together would be an artificial solution.
The tribal belts of Manipur comprising five districts — Ukhrul, Senapati, Tamenglong, Chandel and Churachandpur – constitute 75 percent of the state’s area and have a population of 500,000 to 600,000, while the valley part of the state dominated by the Meiteis has a population of more than 1.4 million and an area of only 5.5 sq km.
The rift between the Tribals and the Meiteis has existed for decades. However, it intensified on August 30 after the Congress-led Manipur Government passed three bills — Protection of Manipur People Bill, 2015, Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms Bill, 2015, and Manipur Shops and Establishments Bill, 2015 – of which the tribal population has taken exception to the Manipur Land Reforms Bill which ostensibly brings all land under the Manipur government and makes sale to outsiders difficult.
Even if the dominant Meitei community of Manipur has been demanding the implementation of the Inner Line Permit (ILP) to restrict the entry of outsiders or “mainland Indians”, the tribal population of the state has not been a part of this agitation considering that the ILP agitation is a Meitie ploy to gain Scheduled Tribes status, setting the already marginalised tribal population back further.
The fear is also that the land will be taken away by the state, that the chieftain’s power (the custodian of tribal land) will be eroded and made redundant, and that the tribal population will be pushed out and marginalised further.
Speaking over the issue, Thangso Baite, MP from Manipur, told IANS: “Creation of two union territories out of Manipur definitely can be a possible solution; however, the sequence of events happening in the states needs to be observed a bit more closely before making the final decision.”
“I will take up the issue with the central government very soon and let’s see what the central government has to say about it. Commenting on all this at such an initial stage might be problematic for the state, but let’s see how things can be taken up,” Baite told IANS.
Baite, who happens to be a Kuki, became a victim of the recent violence when his house in Churachandpur was burnt by the protesters after the three bills were passed.
(Rupesh Dutta can be contacted at Rupesh.email@example.com)