The Government of India (GOI) is reportedly said not to support the decision of the Government of Manipur (GOM) to withdraw from the tripartite agreement for Suspension of Operation (SoO) with three Kuki-Zomi militant groups.
The Manipur Cabinet on March 10 took a decision to withdraw the State Government from SoO agreement with two Kuki-Zomi militant groups, namely the Kuki National Army (KNA) and the Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA) whose leaders hail from outside Manipur.
However, reports quoted Manipur Chief Minister as saying that the State Government had also later on the same day decided to withdraw from SoO with Kuki Revolutionary Army (KRA) too.
The decision of the State Cabinet was made following a detailed deliberation reviewing the law and order situation in various districts of Manipur in view of the rallies held on March 10 at Churachandpur, Kangpokpi and Tengnoupal districts organised by the Kuki Students’ Organisation (KSO)-GHQ and the Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum (ITLF); and a clash that took place with police in Kangpokpi district over the state government’s eviction drive.
A release of the state government regarding the cabinet decision said he Cabinet also noted that the rallies were organised for a cause which is unconstitutional and the rallies therefore were illegal.
After detailed deliberation, the Manipur Cabinet has decided to withdraw the State Government from the tripartite talks/SoO Agreements with the Kuki National Army (KNA) whose leader hails from Nagaland and the Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA) whose leader hails from Myanmar.
The Cabinet further reaffirmed that the State Government will not compromise on steps taken to protect the State’s forest resources and for eradicating poppy cultivation, the release said.
The release also added that showcause notices have been issued to DC and SPs of Churachandpur and Tengnoupal for allowing the rally in violation of prohibitory orders under CrPC 144. Strong action will be taken on officers responsible for lapses in security.
Reports quoted Manipur Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren as reacting to the clashes at Kangpokpi: “They were challenging the constitutional provisions… the people there were encroaching reserved forests, protected forests and wildlife sanctuaries for poppy plantation and drugs business. That’s the reason why the rally was organised.”
The Manipur government based on its assessment believes that these outfits are supporting the influx of Myanmarese immigrants from across the border, encouraging illegal poppy cultivation in the areas they dominate and the drug trade.
These Kuki-Zomi militant groups out of the 25 who entered the SoO agreement are instigating the poppy cultivators in the state against the government, which has been taking action against illegal poppy cultivators, and destroying poppy fields in the forest lands, especially in the areas of Rreservd Forests and Protected Forests of the state.
Meanwhile, it is said that the GOI’s unwillingness to support the decision of the GOM has been communicated to the State Government although the GOI agrees with the Manipur Government’s concern over recent activities of some Kuki-Zomi groups.
Report quoting government sources said the Ministry of Home Affairs which is closely watching the developments in the state and added, “The concerns raised by the Manipur government are serious and they need to be dealt with. But whether withdrawal from the Suspension of Operation pact is the only way is something that needs to be thought through.”
Earlier, Manipur Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren met Union Home Minister Amit Shah in New Delhi on March 13 and discussed the state’s welfare and security issues with the Union Home Minister and captioned a photo post of him meeting Amit Shah on Twitter, “Delighted to meet Hon’ble Home Minister Shri@AmitShah Ji in New Delhi today. We discussed about various issues pertaining to the security of the state as well as the welfare and development of Manipur.”
Reports also added that the Union Home Minister was positive to the steps taken up by the state government and assured all support in its endeavour towards protection of forest lands and the war against drugs and poppy cultivation in the hill areas.
The state government is said to have shared its concern with the Union Home Ministry that these outfits were supporting influx of Myanmarese immigrants from across the border, encouraging poppy cultivation and drug trade, and are behind the protests against eviction drives in Kuki villages that exist on “encroached forest land”.
Manipur Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren is reported to have urged the Union Home Minister Amit Shah to clarify the provisions of the agreement and ensure the regulations are strictly followed on the ground.
A delegation of State officials consisting of Manipur Chief Secretary Dr Rajesh Kumar, Home Commissioner T Ranjit Singh and Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) AK Joshi also met Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla and the GOI’s peace talks interlocutor A K Mishra to discuss issues pertaining to the recent cabinet decision to withdraw from the tripartite SoO agreement.
Report quoting state government sourses said, “Illegal immigration from Myanmar has jumped over the past year-and-a-half. There has always been infiltration of illegal immigrants in smaller numbers and since they all belong to the Kuki-Zomi group of tribes, it is difficult for the administration to tell the difference between Indian residents and illegal immigrants. There have been dozens of villages that have simply come up in the state overnight. We believe that if this influx continues, there is a real possibility of the demography of Manipur being changed entirely.”
The state government claims that many of the leaders and the cadres of the Kuki-Zomi militant groups are from outside the state – either from Myanmar or of Myanmarese descent – among them ZRA president Thanglianpau (Phanznianpau) Guite was a former MP of Myanmar.
However, the Kuki National Organisation (KNO), the umbrella organisation of 17 Kuki militant groups who entered into the SoO agreement dismissed the alleagations of the Government of Manipur and said these are baseless.
Joint Secretary, Information and Publicity of KNO Stephen Kuki stated on Sunday, March 20 that the primary purpose of signing the SoO on August 22, 2008 was to create an atmosphere conducive for amicable political dialogue among the Government of India, the state Government of Manipur, and the two umbrella organisations, Kuki National Organisation (KNO) and the United People’s Front (UPF).
Concerning the question of nationality, the KNO leader clarified that P S Haokip is a citizen of India, born at Akhan village in Phek district of Nagaland while Thanglianpau Guite was formerly a Member of Parliament from the National League of Democracy, Myanmar, but has acquired Indian citizenship.
The KNO, a signatory of the tripartite talks with the Government of India and the Government of Manipur has stated that the State Cabinet decision to withdraw KNA and ZRA from Suspension of Operations contradicts the essence of Suspension of Operations (SoO).
Notably, the ongoing tripartite Suspension of Operations (SoO) between the GOI, the GOM, and two umbrela organisations of Kuki-Zomi militant groups, namely Kuki National Organisation (KNO) and the United People’s Front (UPF) has been extended for another year with effect from March 1, 2023 as it expired on February 28, 2023.
On February 17, 2023, all parties to the SoO agreement – GOI, GOM, KNO and UPF – in New Delhi mutually agreed to extend the SoO for an additional 12 months. The extension will be effective from March 1, 2023, until February 29, 2024.
Representatives of the United People’s Front (UPF), Ketheos Zomi, and Joshua Thadou, as well as Dr. Seilen Haokip from the Kuki National Organisation (KNO), attended the tripartite meeting in New Delhi with the GOI and GOM. The KNA belongs to the KNO while the ZRA and KRA belong to UPF.
The Government of Manipur was represented by Devesh Deval, the Resident Commissioner at New Delhi, while Piyush Goyal, the Additional Secretary (NE) at the Ministry of Home Affairs, represented the Government of India during the tripartite meeting in New Delhi.
Importantly, the parties to the SoO agreement particularly the Government of India (GOI); the Kuki National Organisation (KNO) and its member-groups to which KNA belongs; the United People’s Front (UPF) and its member-groups to which ZRA and KRA belong; and the Government of Manipur (GOM) will definitely not want the ongoing tripartite talk for 15 years to derail although the State Government is not happy with the reported activities of the KNA, ZRA and KRA.
Furthermore, it may be mentioned that the KNO and the UPF extended their full support to all the BJP candiates for the 12th Manipur Legislative Assembly election held in last year 2022 on February 28 and March 5.
President of KNO, PS Haokip in a statement on February 25 last year stated, “In line with the ongoing political dialogue between KNO and Government of India, the central government and ruling BJP leadership have promised swift settlement of Kuki political aspirations. Union Home Minister, Shri Amit Shahji has announced the same in his public address on 23rd February, 2022 at Churachandpur public Ground. Therefore, KNO has resolved to extend support to all BJP candidates for the 12th Manipur Assembly elections”. He also added, “Accordingly, KNO appeals to all chiefs, CSO leaders and all voters to support BJP candidates in all KNO operational areas. Any person or organization acting contrary to this appeal will be deemed acting against Kuki interest.”
In a statement on February 26, 2022, UPF convenor Sanga Hmar urged all the chiefs, village authorities, community leaders and the people at large to support BJP candidates in all UPF operational areas.
As per the statement, the appeal has been made in line with the assurance given by Union Home Minister Amit Shah in Churachandpur and Kangpokpi on February 23, 2022 to “settle the Kuki political issue and bring a logical conclusion to the ongoing political dialogue between Government of India and UPF-KNO”.
According to the terms of SoO agreement, it is said that the signatories of UPF and KNO abide by the Constitution of India, laws of the land, and territorial integrity of Manipur.
More importantly, the two Kuki-Zomi umbrella organisations of Kuki-Zomi militants, KNO and UPF formed a Core Committee in an attempt to work out a common policy that they intend to put before the Government. Both the two groups are not against the Constitution of India and they look for solutions under the Constitution of India. The KNO is demanding a separate Kuki State while the UPF has insisted on a State within a State under Article 244A of the Constitution of India.
Senior Editor: Imphal Review of Arts and Politics