PMP Bill as the springboard for autonomy of the hills

Yenning *

ILP : Public meeting at Churachandpur public ground and Sit-in Protest across Churachandpur :: September 4 2015
ILP : Public meeting at Churachandpur public ground on September 4 2015 :: Pix - Deepak Oinam

The month of August 2015 witnessed 3(three) intense negotiations that carry the potential to disrupt the body politic of Manipur. In the first case, the negotiating parties were Manipur's National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN) and Kuki National Organization (KNO) and the negotiation was over the distribution of territories. The second negotiation was over the Inner Line Permit or a similar mechanismbetween JCILPS and Government of Manipur. The third negotiation deal was between Government of India and Manipur's NSCN known as Naga Accord (framework agreement). The passage of 3(three) bills for the Protection of Manipur People Bill as an outcome of the second negotiation deal has been not only decried as anti-tribal but also has been taken up as the rallying point for tribal solidarity and demand for separate administration for the hills in Manipur.

The first case of negotiation deal between two "historical" enemies who have killed more than 1500 innocent livesaltogether in the 1990s appears to be so, a game plan for gathering the tribals together to pursue divisive politics on a spatial basis (hill-valley divide). However, the contrivance reveals a game plan of deeper hue and shade, in fact, a real politics of high degree marked by cunningness to outwit each other, the negotiating parties.

Seen in this perspective, the present churning in the hills of Manipur is the outcome of the framework agreement between the Government of Manipur and Manipur's NSCN. On the part of the Manipur's NSCN, it needs tribal solidarity to push ahead it narrow divisive politics and on the part of the CHIKUMI, it seeks a windfall in the form of autonomy. And the only way both parties can push ahead their agenda is to claim that the valley people as well as the Government of Manipur are communal.

In such a context, they have grabbed the passage of the 3(three) bills in the Manipur State Assembly as a communal procedure and the 3(three) bills as anti-tribal even if tribal interest is not affected at all. In other words, the 3(three) bills are used as a political tool to push ahead the communal agenda of the CHIKUMI as well as NSCN.

Accusation and Blame Game for Political Expediency

It would be wrong to assume that the negotiation processes involving the second case were undertaken in complete shroud of secrecy. As a matter of fact, tribal brethren including the Cabinet Ministers, MLAs and bureaucrats along with the Chief Secretary were part and parcel as well as witness to the entire process. In fact, deputy Chief Minister was the chairman of the drafting committee of the Bills.

Further, the Government of Manipur published the demands (five points) of JCILPS and Government action taken up thus far in the local newspapers for public information on 17 August, 2015. None of the tribal activists, politicians, civil society bodies, retired bureaucrats and politicians raised objections. They did not bother to intervene as they are well aware that the proposed bills do not affect their interest. If that was the case then they would have surely intervened.

Take for instance, the two apprehensions raised by the tribal brothers. One pertains to the cut-off base year 1951 and second one is the proposed (seventh amendment) to the Manipur Land Revenue and Reforms Act 1960 (MLRRA). Every bill or act is accompanied by rules and regulations for the purpose of implementation. This means that for practical reasons even if the base year has been assigned as 1951, at the time of implementation, the practical base year is bound to be spelt out.

1951 as base year equally affects the Meeteis who have migrated from Bangladesh or other parts of India. And in the specific case of the hill areas, one is bound to acknowledge the ethnic clashes that occurred between the Nagas and Kukis in the 1990s and subsequent human traffic. The case of Assam is a positive pointer. Although 1951 has been fixed as the base year, for practical reasons it has fixed 1971 for the preparation of the National Citizens Register in Assam. As far as MLRRA is concerned, this is an act which is not applied in the hill areas. Further, the insertion of Article 14B does not compromise the Article 14 of MLRRA. So the apprehensions are misplaced.

The second negotiation succeeded and the process for special Assembly was convened and Bills was introduced on 28 August, 2015. It was unanimously passed on 31 August, 2015 by the member present in the House including the four NPF MLAs. In this context, the resignation of the four NPF MLAs cannot be treated as anti-Bills movement as they were part of passing the bills without even showing any sign of reservation. It was reported that they expressed their reservation to the resolution to protect the territorial integrity.

The resignation was not to show sympathy but to push Manipur's NSCN political design in order to create anarchy in the hill districts particularly Kuki and to trigger mass resignation among the tribal MLAs, which incidentally did not happen as the tribal have realised their plan. So the CM of Nagaland and Mizoram and MP from Nagaland intervened in the process on behalf of Manipur's NSCN as all are cronies of NSCN - IM.

Game plan to Outwit Each Other

It was at this stage that the negotiation started between Manipur's NSCN and KNO. However, they also fear that the outcome of the negotiation will be merely treated as their agenda as none of the two organisations carries the mandate of respective community. Besides, KNO, there are more than dozens of other armed group operates in the name of Kuki while the Naga People Mandate claims by the Manipur's NSCN and UNC has been defeated since 2007 when the mandate was introduced. In addition, there are ZUF, MNPF UNPC, MNRF, NSCN (K) representing Naga community. So they need to create a situation to exploit the sentiments of the tribes and to introduce their agenda as tribal agenda.

So, the Bills which were not an issue to any of the tribal community and which was in the public domain for the last two months was intentionally blown out of proposition. This was evident when KNO prioritised the demand for a separate administration instead of opposing the Bills. It was similarly joined by the Manipur's NSCN and supported in the form of rally and protest. Besides showing support, it was also an intentional agenda to reiterate their territorial claims to the Kukis. This is evident in the "Proposed Memorandum of Understanding between the KNO and the NSCN - IM".

The territory claim by the KNO is listed Sl.No 2 and No. 3 of the MoU which states:

2. The Hill areas, presently demarcated as Churachandpur and Chandel Districts of Manipur, the autonomous Sadar Hills Region of Senapati district and all Kuki villages in Ukhrul, Senapati and Tamenglong Districts contiguous to Chandel, Sadar Hills and Churachandpur belong to the Kuki people and shall form a Kuki state. Likewise, the Hill areas presently demarcated as Ukhrul and Tamenglong Districts of Manipur, the areas in Senapati District other than the Sadar Hills Autonomous region, and all Naga villages in Sadar Hills region of Senapati, Chandel and Churachandpur Districts contiguous to Ukhrul, Tamenglong and Senapati other than Sadar Hills belong to the Naga peoples and shall be integrated into greater Nagalim.

3. The Kuki villages in the interiors of Ukhrul, Tamenglong and areas of Senapati district other than the Autonomous District Region of Sadar hills shall remain within greater Nagalim, and the Naga Government shall endeavour to protect, promote and develop these villages and the people with equality, a spirit of fraternity and fairness. The Naga villages in the interiors of Sadar Hills Autonomous Region in Senapati District, Chandel and Churachandpur Districts shall remain within Kuki state, and the Kuki Government shall endeavour to protect, promote and develop these villages and the people with equality, a spirit of fraternity and fairness.

As reported, the MOU could not be signed as the Manipur's NSCN sensed the clever move of KNO to outsmartit.

Constitutional Safeguard for Manipur

The death of nine people in Churachandpur is highly condemnable. There is also an urgent need to constitute an independent committee to examine the death and to give justice to them. Similarly an independent legal expert of high repute can be constituted to examine the Bills and to clear the doubt of the tribals. However, following narrow divisive politics is a dangerous proposition. Misuse of public sentiments to gain such an objective is akin to throwing ashes to the eyes of the innocent people and misleading them. This is exactly what had happened in the tragic case of Churchandpur where vested-interest elites have misled the people.

One lesson we have learnt in Northeast from the politics of autonomy has been that the mechanism has ended up inciting mistrust, hatred and violence. This has been precisely because the Government of India has not identified the root cause conflict but has prescribed a symptomatic treatment, which has resulted in multiplying the conflict effect. The Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) is a grim reminder of such experience.

Even after providing the highest form of autonomy to Bodos through this mechanism the Bodo dominated areas in Assam continue to be in conflict. It is reported that in the "Operation All Out"to eliminate NDFB (Songbijit) militants from lower Assam, Air Force is deployed along with the Army, paramilitary forces and state police.The ongoing process to address the question of NSCN - IMcarry similar potential consequences. The 18 years of negotiation between the NSCN - IM and GoI seems to fail in creating a space for peaceful conflict resolution.

The present process initiated under the PM NarendraModi and the interlocutor, RN RAVI, has succeeded in identifying that the NSCN (Muivah Manipur faction) is the biggest block to the process and they are focusing on the separation of Manipur Nagas and Nagaland Nagas and give separate solutions such as Greater Autonomy with the Constitution of India for Nagaland and Autonomy in the line of sixth schedule for Manipur Nagas.

This is exactly at this juncture, an artificial political contrivance has been built up on tribal lines by using the 3(three) bills as spring board so that autonomy is achieved by the CHIKUMIS as well as Nagas of Manipur. The need of the hour, however, is a larger constitutional safeguard (autonomy?) for the whole of Manipur.

* Yenning wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer can be reached at yenning05(aT)rocketmail(doT)com or visit
This article was posted on September 28 2015.

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