Manipur Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren on February 8 appreciated the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and other central leaders including Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman for listening to the voice of the people of the State, and for taking the decision to construct fencing along the entire 1,643-km Indo-Myanmar border and immediate suspension of the Free Movement Regime (FMR).
While addressing a press conference at his residential office along with some of his cabinet colleagues and ruling party MLAs, the Chief Minister maintained that the BJP government, since its formation in 2017, has been working in different ways to check the demographic imbalance in population growth, drugs trafficking and other concerns like border fencing and uncheck FMR among others.
Chief Minister Biren also stated that the Central Government’s decision is not related with the demand of one particular organisation, but it has been the long-term demand of the people and the Government of Manipur. The other demands of the people of Manipur cannot be fulfilled at once, but it is a good sign that two-three demands have been fulfilled so far, he added.
He said that normalcy is coming back compared to the earlier stage, and the permanent solutions initiated by the Central Government will bring welfare to the future generation of Manipur.
To safeguard the people of the state from drugs, incomplete border fencing work, illegal population influx, etc. the people of Manipur along with the State Government have been demanding to solve such issues, he mentioned.
The Central Government has decided to initiate the border fencing work, while a trial of hybrid fencing has started. In the hybrid fencing area, even drones are not allowed to cross the fencing, he mentioned. CM Biren said the border fencing, including hybrid fencing work progress, will be started from vulnerable areas.
Earlier in the day, Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren also posted on X saying, “Immensely grateful to Hon’ble PM Shri Narendra Modi Ji and Hon’ble HM Shri Amit Shah Ji for their commitment to securing our borders. The decision to scrap the FMR between India and Myanmar, as recommended by the Minister of Home Affairs, India, is crucial for our internal security and the demographic integrity of our North Eastern States.” “This is yet another historic decision in curbing illegal immigration and strengthening our internal security after the recent announcement to fence the 1,643km Indo-Myanmar border by Government of India,” CM Biren added.
Notably, earlier in the day, February 8, the Union Home Minister Amit Shah announced for “immediate suspension of Free Movement Regime (FMR)” between India and Myanmar to ensure the internal security of the country and to maintain the demographic structure of India’s North Eastern states bordering Myanmar.
“Since the Ministry of External Affairs is currently in the process of scrapping it, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has recommended the immediate suspension of the FMR,” Shah said.
The Home Minister in a post on X, made the announcement, saying that the aim of abolishing the FMR between India and Myanmar is to safeguard the internal security of the nation and preserve the demographic composition of India’s North Eastern states that share borders with Myanmar.
“It is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s resolve to secure our borders. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has decided that the Free Movement Regime (FMR) between India and Myanmar be scrapped to ensure the internal security of the country and to maintain the demographic structure of India’s North Eastern States bordering Myanmar. Since the Ministry of External Affairs is currently in the process of scrapping it, MHA has recommended the immediate suspension of the FMR,” Shah said in the post.
Significantly, this comes just two days after the Home Minister’s statement that the government has chosen to erect a fence along the entire 1643-kilometer India-Myanmar border.
On February 6, Union Home Minister announced that a patrol pathway will also be constructed along India-Myanmar border in order to enhance surveillance capabilities. Furthermore, the Minister had said, two pilot projects of fencing through a Hybrid Surveillance System (HSS) are under execution, and they will fence a stretch of 1 km each in Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur.
“Additionally, fence works covering approx 20 km in Manipur have also been approved, and the work will start soon,” Shah had stated further.
The fresh announcement to scrap FMR is significant in an effort of the government to curb the influx of illegal migrants and insurgents, besides drug smuggling and arms trafficking.
Moreover, it may be mentioned that Manipur Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren on February 3 after meeting the Union Home Minister Amit Shah informed that Government of India is set to take some important decisions in the interests of the people of Manipur.
CM Biren stated in X post, “Today, I had the esteemed privilege of meeting with the Hon’ble Union Home Minister, Shri@AmitShah Ji in New Delhi. Engaging in a profound exchange, we discussed matters of paramount importance concerning our state. Rest assured, the Government of India is set to take some important decisions in the interests of the people of Manipur”.
The Chief Minister stated in X, “Post-meeting with Hon’ble Union Home Minister Shri @AmitShah Ji, I convened with senior officials of the Ministry of Home Affairs at the North Block, New Delhi. Held a productive discussion on the strategic measures undertaken for fostering peace in Manipur”.
Now, a number of civil society organisations including the Coordinating Committee on Manipur Integrity (COCOMI), a conglomeration of Manipur’s civil society organisation, welcomed the decision to fence the 1643km long Indo-Myanmar border. But the COCOMI cautioned that no land areas of the state should be compromised during the process.
The Arambai Tenggol (AT) also hails the announcement of Union Home Minister Amit Shah to scrap the Free Movement Regime (FMR) and construct fence along the 1643-kilometre long Indo-Myanmar border.
In a press communique, AT said that all the MLAs and ministers had on January 24 assembled at the sacred Kangla and took oath to safeguard and protect the State.
It is very fortunate and a blessing that the Union Home Minister announced scrapping of FMR which allows people from both sides of the country to travel up to 16 km inside each other’s territory without a visa. The other remaining demands are also expected to be fulfilled very soon, the release said.
It may be mentioned that border fencing is one of the 6-Point demands AT submitted to the team of Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) who visited Imphal and met them on January 22 and 23; and contained in the pledge by the 37 MLAs and 2 MPs in Kangla on January 24.
The other points contained in the oath including implementation of NRC with 1951 as base year, abrogation of SoO agreement with Kuiki militants, deportation of Myanmarese refugees in detention camp to Mizoram, withdrawal of AR from Manipur and replacement by other paramilitary forces and delisting the Scheduled Tribe (ST) status of the illegal Kukis.
Besides Manipur, the Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh, another Northeastern State bordering Myanmar, Pema Khandu said that the step will check the movement of inimical elements from across the border.
“A great move in the right direction to make our borders foolproof. Gratitude to Hon’ble Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi ji and Hon’ble Home Minister Shri Amit Shah ji to fence our borders along Myanmar,” Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister posted on X.
However, there are also many stake holders who oppose the move of the Union Government of India to scrap the Free Movement Regime and construction of border fencing.
According to reports, Mizoram Chief Minister Lalduhoma and many Mizo organizations have opposed both the fencing and the scrapping of FMR. Lalduhoma had said in Aizawl that his government does not have the authority to stop the Centre from erecting border fencing along the India-Myanmar border and scrapping the FMR between the two countries, but it would oppose both the moves.
Lalduhoma had said that the border with Myanmar in Mizoram was “unilaterally imposed” by the British without consulting the people and the Mizo-Zo-Chin community people living on both sides of the border do not accept the boundary.
Kuki organisations, namely, Zomi Council Steering Committee (ZCSC), United Zou Organisation (UZO) and Kuki Inpi Manipur (KIM) have expressed discontentment over the central government’s decision to scrap the Free Movement Regime (FMR) along the Indo-Myanmar border.
The Kuki bodies said that scrapping the FMR is unfortunate and painful, as this would be breaking up the ties with their brethren, living on the other side of the border (i.e., Myanmar)
Moreover, Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio had said the decision of the Centre to fence the Indo-Myanmar border needs thorough discussion before implementation. “We have to work out a formula on how to solve the issue for the people and prevent infiltration as well, because Nagaland is bordered by Myanmar, and on both sides there are Nagas,” Rio said.
Besides the Naga Students’ Federation (NSF), the Isak-Muivah faction of National Socialist Council of Nagaland – NSCN (IM), and the Eastern Naga People’s Organisation (ENPO) have also opposed both the fencing and the scrapping of FMR.
The All Naga Students’ Association, Manipur (ANSAM) also on ThursdayFebruary 8 urged reversing the decision made by the Central Government to revoke the Free Movement Regime (FMR), and appealed to reinstate the same at Naga areas along Indo-Myanmar border.
“If the government is serious about dealing with the issue of illegal immigrants and committed to curbing the same, the government may invoke various mechanisms like updation of the National Registration of Citizen (NRC), Constitution of Population Commission, strict implementation of Inner Line Permit (ILP) etc. and more fully, effective checking of illegal immigrants rest with the sincerity of the enforcing security agencies under your government,” ANSAM Tribunal Member AC Thotso, speaking to the media at Manipur Press Club on February 8, said.
The United Naga Council (UNC) and Tangkhul Naga Long separately also have also expressed their opposition to the decision of the Central Government to suspend the Free Movement Regime and construction of border fencing along Indo-Myanmar border.
As there are mixed reactions to the decision of the Central Government to construct border fencing along the Indo-Myanmar Border and suspend the Free Movement Regime (FMR), it will not be an easy task for the Centre to impliment it.
Furthermore, even as the Centre’s decision to construct border fencing and suspension of Free Movement Regime (FMR) appease Manipur Government and its section of people, more conflict of interests among stakeholders of the State on the issue opens up.
Senior Editor: Imphal Review of Arts and Politics