Manipur plagued by insurgencies and blockades over tribal land tussles

By Col. (Retired) Anil Bhat New Delhi [India], Jan.31 : For several years, bitter conflict has been brewing in Manipur between the Meiteis, historically predominant in the valley and the Naga tribes inhabiting the hills, over the demand of Naga insurgent group National Socialist Council of Nagaland headed by late Issac Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah) (NSCN-IM).

Converting Nagaland to 'Nagalim, which denotes all areas in Manipur and even Assam and Arunachal where Nagas reside, NSCN (IM) demands 'Greater Nagaland' by slicing off the mentioned areas.

NSCN (IM), whose members hail largely from Manipur and from Nagaland also, has been in a cease fire mode in Nagaland and involved with peace talks with the Central Government since 1997.

While the Central Government has been assuring that slicing off of Naga residential areas mentioned, will not be accepted, the NSCN (IM) keeps popping up with this demand.

If the Centre gives in to this demand of NSCN-IM, it will reduce Manipur by more than half of what it is today.

As it is, the state of Nagaland was created by carving out a substantial chunk of the erstwhile Manipuri kingdom, Kangleipak, which, included Kohima and Dimapur.

The other tribal residents of Manipur are the Kuki-Hmar-Chin groups. In October 2016, the Manipur government decided to upgrade sub-divisions Sadar Hills and Jiribam to full-fledged districts.

This was followed by a decision to create five more districts. The Nagas are annoyed that the government took the decision on Sadar Hills and Jiribam without consulting them.

They claim the government had committed in writing earlier that it would consult all stake holders, including Nagas, before taking any decision on Sadar Hills.

The Kukis have for long been spearheading a movement demanding Sadar Hills' elevation to a district. Chins-Hmars-Kukis are Manipur's third largest community after the Meiteis (Manipuris) and the Nagas. Last year, nine Kukis were killed in police firing in Kuki-majority Churachandpur district and the bodies were reportedly not claimed yet in protest.

Nagas alleged that by elevating the Kuki dominant Sadar Hills to a district, Manipur government was trying to assuage the feelings of the Kukis and keep them in good humour in view of the 2017 polls.

Nagas claim that Sadar Hills is their "ancestral homeland". They allege its elevation will now encourage the Kukis to claim it as their homeland. Jiribam, where Meiteis are in majority, was a sub-division of Imphal East district but in between lies Naga-majority Tamenglong district.

Nagas alleged the decision on Jiribam was taken to benefit the Meiteis as it would be created by bifurcating Tamenglong.

While the Nagas settled on more than half of Manipur's land, have much less population compared to the Meiteis, have nothing against the creation of five more districts, they are enraged over the decision on Sadar Hills and Jiribam and the United Naga Council (UNC) enforced an indefinite "economic blockade" on two national highways - lifelines of Manipur - since 01 November 2016, thereby choking supplies.

In retaliation, the Meiteis imposed a counter-blockade, preventing goods-laden vehicles from moving to the four Naga-dominated hill districts from Imphal Valley where they are in a large majority.

Both blockades are still on. The 15-year-old Congress government is faced with a resurgent BJP and a strong anti-incumbency wave. Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh's announcement on 09 December 2016 of the creation of seven new districts from the earlier four valley and five hill districts, taking the total number of districts in Manipur to 16, is being seen as ruling Congress's ploy to gain political mileage in the polls.

Tension between the Nagas and Meiteis erupted again as the United Naga Council (UNC) opposed the move, accusing Manipur of apportioning "traditionally ancestral Naga land" to these to the newly formed districts.

The NSCN(IM) alleged that the violence against was sponsored by the CM himself and issued statement, "The recent communal flare-up lit by Manipur Chief Minister Ibobi Singh by deliberately announcing creation of several districts by slicing from the land of Nagas without consulting the Nagas and targeting their lives through serial bombings is tantamount to attacking the whole Naga people.

The Manipur Naga Peoples Front which has owned responsibility for the bombings is a puppet paid to serve the interests of Manipur's valley-based militants sponsored by Ibobi Singh." While the current blockade is on, it is not the first.

On 11 April 2010, the All Naga Students Association of Manipur (ANSAM),United Naga Council (UNC) and some other Naga organisations of the state launched a blockade of the only two crucial national highways (NH) of the landlocked border state to press for their demand to put on hold an election to the autonomous district councils in the five hill districts.

NH-39 runs from Manipur's capital, Imphal to Dimapur in Nagaland and NH-53 runs from Imphal to Jiribam, Manipur's east and its only railhead.

On an average, at least 100 trucks and oil and LPG tankers drive up 115 kms of NH-39, which also happens to be a highway where militant groups almost freely collect "taxes"? as the authorities pretend not to have seen them run their writ.

The third is NH-150, which connects Imphal via Jessami in its Manipur's Ukhrul district, to Nagaland's capital, Kohima.

On 3 May 2010, the Naga Students Federation (NSF) blockaded the Nagaland stretch of NH-39 because a student delegation was refused permission to enter Manipur to attend a meeting of Naga student bodies at Ukhrul.

The two blockades were also connected to the much-hyped visit of NSCN(IM) general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah to his native village Somdal in Ukhrul district of Manipur.

Though the Union home ministry had specifically instructed the Manipur government to ensure Muivah's visit to his native village, Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh refused, contending that there were numerous cases against Muivah in the state,and the moment he enters, Manipur Police would arrest him.

Muivah, also 'ato kilonser'? (prime minister) of the underground ?Government of the People's Republic of Nagalim, who also gets Z+ protection from the government.

While Muivah, under the ceasefire with the government since 1997, is free to move about inside Nagaland, he wanted after decades to also tour the Naga-inhabited districts Senapati, Ukhrul, Chandel and Tamenglong ? because the NSCN(IM) wants a Greater Nagalim? that includes ?Naga-inhabited areas of not just Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh but also Myanmar.

On the Centre's intervention, Muivah temporarily put off his visit to Somdal and under civil society pressure, the student bodies also finally withdrew their blockades.

But, by then,Manipur had already undergone a 66-day ordeal, with stocks drying up and prices of whatever little was left skyrocketing.

The state government moved a few hundred trucks under heavy security through NH-53, a route that is not just longer than NH-39,but also nothing more than a dirt track in large portions.

But,even after the blockades were called off, truckers refused to ply on NH-39 till the authorities ensured that extortions were stopped.

Imphal based journalist, Yambem Laba, who this writer interacted with lamented that from "Switzerland of the East', Manipur can aptly be called "Blockadepur" as all three national highways that connect Manipur with the mainland have been blockaded to pressurize the state government on land/district related demands.

He further said,"By definition, Manipur has been called a "failed state". Personally, I prefer the term "functional anarchy" because, going by the events of the day, Manipur should have ceased to exist amidst the chaos and confusion that prevails when such blockedes are launched.

How does one exist in a situation where onions costs Rs 60 a kg, potatoes Rs 40 a kg, eggs are pegged at six rupees apiece, petrol costs Rs 150 a litre and an LPG cylinder sells for a "mere" Rs 2000? The going rate for a sub-inspector's post in the police department is Rs 25-30 lakh and a supervisor's post in the social welfare department is said to be available at Rs 30 lakh.During the 2010 blockade, even life-saving medicines could not reach hospitals and ambulances could not ply, resulting in hospitals closing down their intensive care units and postponing operations".

In one of his articles published after the previous blockade, Chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh was likened to Nero fiddling as Rome burned, as he was off on a jaunt to Japan with and an extended tour of Europe on the cards.

But apparently he had to return post haste from Tokyo upon the Union home ministry's directive. Then BJP national spokesman Prakash Jadavedkar was in Imphal too, demanded that President's Rule be imposed in Manipur, citing the failure of the state to open up the highways and curtail the runaway inflation that is still plaguing Manipur.

NSCN-IM, also a major insurgent- turned- terrorist group of Manipur, has made a mockery of both the cease fire and talks without surrendering its arms and freely using them to extort money and commit murders.

For two consecutive years, 2010 and 2011 and now in 2015-16, it caused months long blockades of the major arteries to Manipur as part of its attempts to consolidate its hold in the state; has unabatedly been continuing extortion and selective killings/ambushes; apart from its earlier links with Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) based in Bangladesh, it has links with the Chinese also as part of its "business" of acquiring and supplying arms to Left Wing Extremists/ Maoists-Naxals.

The other terrorist groups in Manipur are United National Liberation Front (UNLF), Peoples Liberation Army (PLA)-both having links with ISI and Chinese intelligence, Kangla Yawol Kana Lup (KYKL), Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP) Peoples Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK)-all Meitei- and some more, are also involved in extortion, recruitment of cadres including from school children and killings.

These are proverbially, few tips of icebergs. India's much talked about Look East policy cannot succeed till terrorism is meaningfully contained and tribal issues are resolved .

What are New Delhi's plans for this geo-strategically vital part of India? The views expressed in the above article are that of Col.

(Retired) Anil Bhat..

Source: ANI