Aspirations of some groups of the multi-ethnic Manipur and their demands have always been challenging the idea of Manipur and its very existence, and have been posing a threat to the unity of Manipur and coexistence of the different ethnic groups.
The most recent cases are the demands for the introduction of “The Manipur (Hill Areas) Autonomous District Councils Bill, 2021” prepared by the Hill Areas Committee (HAC) of the 11th Manipur Legislative Assembly and its passage in the recently concluded Second Session of the 12th Manipur Legislative Assembly; and the demand for a Kuki State in Manipur.
The All Tribal Students’ Union Manipur (ATSUM) pressing their demand for the introduction of the said bill and its passage had even imposed economic blockade in all the hill areas of Manipur beginning from 6 am on August 5, 2022 right after its extended total shutdown ended.
However, the economic blockade wich was earlier announced by the ATSUM to continue till their demand is met had been suspended with effect from August 10 considering the hardships faced by the common people. During the ATSUM indefinite economic blockade, hundreds of heavy vehicles ferrying essential commodities were seen stranded along the NH-2 at T Khullen village in Kangpokpi district while another 20-30 trucks were seen stranded in the old taxation check post at Hengbung village.
ATSUM General Secretary S R Andrea announced the their decision to suspend the economic blockade while speaking to the media after convening a meeting with federating units of the apex tribal students’ body on August 10 in Senapati and Kangpokpi.
While the Second Session of the 12th Manipur Legislative Assembly was going on, pressing their demand the ATSUM had earlier imposed 24-hour emergency shutdown from August 3 in the entire hill districts of Manipur in protest against the arrest of its five leaders by the police ended at 6 pm on August 4, 2022. However, ATSUM extended its total shutdown for another 12 hours till 6 am on August 5.
Notably, the 12th Manipur Legislative Assembly in its 11th Sitting of the Second Session on August 5, 2022 has passed the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils (Sixth Amendment) Bill, 2022 which has increased the number of District Councils to 10 from six.
Moreover, Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren’s government has tabled in the House on August 3 the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils (Seventh Amendment) Bill, 2022, which incorporates many of the provisions from “The Manipur (Hill Areas) Autonomous District Councils Bill, 2021” prepared by the Hill Areas Committee. However, the Bill has been referred to the Hill Areas Committee after a motion by Tribal Affairs and Hills Minister Letpao Haokip, who said that there were some technical errors in the bill and needs to be examined by the Committee.
It may be mentioned that before the announcement of the suspension of indefinite economic blockade, the Government of Manipur has reached a Memorandum of Understanding with the representatives of the ATSUM, Kuki Students Organisation (KSO) and All Naga Students’ Association, Manipur (ANSAM) on August 7. The MOU stated that as the Seventh Amendment Bill of Manipur Hill Areas District Councils for devolution of power of ADCs have been refered to Hill Areas Committee (HAC), the HAC will have consultation with Stakeholders before recommending to the Manipur Legislative Assembly.
Meanwhile, Kuki State Demand Comittee (KSDC) on August 9 reiterates its demand for a separate Kuki State. In a fresh memorandum submitted to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on August 9 the KSDC urged to create Kuki state immediately, and claimed that Kukis’ demand for a separate state was a legitimate and a long overdue demand.
The Memorandum stated Kuki people under the aegis of Kuki Inpi formed the Kuki State Demand Committee (KSDC) in 2010 in order to bring home to the notice of GoI and Indian public that Kukis demand for separate statehood is the genuine and legitimate rights and demand of the Kuki people of India.
It stated that Kukis were independent people before the British colonial state annexed their territory. It added that immediately after India got independence, they had demanded a separate “Kuki district” on the line of other tribal districts in the Northeastern region.
But when the concept of “district” changed in the new India, they also switched over to the idea of “state”. The Kuki National Assembly, India (KNA), which was formed in 1946 as the political front of the Kuki people, spearheaded the movement for “immediate establishment of Kuki State” since 1960.
The KSDC stated that the KNA submitted a memorandum to the Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru for the creation of Kuki state in northeast India by bringing together “all contiguous areas now under the habitation of the Kukis in India.” Unfortunately, the government of India (GoI) had given a deaf ear to the democratic demand of the nationalist Kukis despite several other representations. However, even after seven years of SoO no political dialogue was initiated by the government despite several rounds of talk and an equal number of promises, the KSDC stated in the memorandum.
Reiterating that the government must create a separate state for Kukis, the KSDC stated that the Kuki population is scattered across all the states of Northeast India with maximum concentration in the state of Manipur. It said Kukis continue to remain backward even after 60 years of Independence.
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren has questioned as to how the State Government will accept “the Manipur (Hill Areas) Autonomous District Councils Bill 2021” which has divisive agenda.
In a 2:19 minutes long video footage uploaded on social media on August 11, Chief Minister Biren said that the hidden agenda of the contentious Manipur (Hill Areas) ADC Bill 2021 is to dismember the State into two separate administrations with two separate Chief Secretaries and two Secretariats for the valley and the hills.
Chief Minister Biren questioned how the State Assembly would pass such a Bill, saying being the Chief Minister of the State; he cannot support such a Bill that allegedly intends to dismember the State where different communities live together in harmony. He also asked whether Members of the Hill Area Committee (HAC) will support such a Bill if they were the Chief Minister of Manipur.
Manipur is like a paradise. With the blessing of God, the State is yet to face any extreme natural disaster, sufferings and deaths till date. However, the number of selfish and vested interest individuals who do not fear God is on the rise. He said that people of Manipur suffer as number of people who prayed to Jesus Christ and indulged in looting at the same time with their right hands and those chanting Hare Krishna and indulged in looting with their left hands at the same time have increased.
Maintaining that Manipur is a land where several communities have coexisted coherently for the last many years, the Chief Minister questioned how the State Assembly would discuss and pass the ADC Bill that allegedly aims at disintegrating the State into two separate administrations with two separate Chief Secretaries for the hills and the valley.
Blaming the government for not tabling a Bill that will infringe on the unity and integrity of the State is quite unjustified, he said.
He said that the new government in consultation with the members of the Hill Areas Committee has decided to insert more provisions that will devolve more powers to the District Councils for benefitting the hill areas after deleting the provisions of the contentious ADC Bill 2021 prepared by the HAC that allegedly pave the way for bifurcating the State into two separate administrations.
The number of ADC has been increased to ten from six. After the HAC requested the government for more powers in the hill areas, the government has given time to the HAC for thorough discussions. The government is making all out efforts to provide welfare programmes for the people in hill areas. While doing so, some vested individuals are indulging in dry argument and trying to put the government in the wrong light.
For more than 2000 years, all the indigenous people of Manipur have been living together with harmony and hence there cannot be any division of big or small communities, Biren said in the video, adding that the present government will not allow suppression of smaller communities by bigger ones and division of big and small communities. He also said that smaller communities should not feel isolated and should not live in fear.
Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren in the video clip also said that the government will not succumb to the demands and pressures which may dismember Manipur.
Senior Editor: Imphal Review of Arts and Politics