It's time to designate Moreh as a Special Administrative Zone

Yenning *

  Indo-Myanmar Friendship Gate at Moreh , a border town between India and Myanmar on 23 August 2012
Indo-Myanmar Friendship Gate at Moreh , a border town between India and Myanmar on 23 August 2012 :: Pix - CK Sharma

Those who control the border town of Moreh will control the economy and business of Manipur in future. This fact is best known to the think-tank of Chin-Kuki community and that is the reason why they have been making efforts to keep Moreh town under their control.

The May 3rd, 2023 incident, which was planned and orchestrated by them, provided best opportunity to cleanse the indigenous Meetei minority community from Moreh town for all time to come as they did to the Tangkhul community in the 1991-93 Naga-Kuki conflict.

On that fateful evening of 3rd May, when Meetei, ignorant of what would befall to them, were celebrating the last day (Lairoi nummit) of Lai Haraoba, the burning of houses belonging to Meetei community started by the Chin-Kuki armed militants and thousands of miscreants. Indigenous Meetei minority community had to flee for their life and had to take refuge in the Assam Rifles camp and in the jungles of neighbouring Myanmar.

Unfortunately, on that day the mighty Indian State’s coercive apparatus stationed at the strategic border town failed to control the situation. Kuki militants and miscreants had a free hand on that day.

After cleansing the Meetei from Moreh, their next strategy is to block the entry of state forces in Moreh because as long as state forces are stationed in Moreh, Meetei will come back and resettle in the border town. That is why Chin-Kuki community had been blocking the entry of state forces at different locations along Pallel-Moreh highway, which is Asian Highway No. 2.

The situation, however, changed after the cold-blooded murder of Moreh SDPO, Chingtham Anand Kumar Singh by Kuki militants using sniper when he was supervising the cleaning of a ground for making helipad. The killing of SDPO was a signal that they will do everything to keep Moreh under their control and it was also a show of strength.

For the Manipur state, the incident was beyond tolerable limit and it started mobilizing troops to nab the culprits in the crime. When the reinforcement team of state forces were sent to Moreh, they were ambushed by the Kuki militants at Sinam village on their way to Moreh. This clearly indicates their resolute will to prevent state forces from entering Moreh.

The Iron Fist of Law & High Drama

When the State started to apply the iron fist of law to nab the culprits in the aftermath of the cold-blooded murder of the SDPO, Moreh, once again there was high drama in Moreh. The play was scripted and directed by the think-tank of Chin-Kuki community. When the combined forces of BSF, Assam Rifles, IRB, MR and CDO started widespread combing operation to maintain law and order and nab the culprits and armed miscreants, women and children started fleeing to AR camp and BSF camp pleading to save them from ‘oppression’.

This was a clear case of playing the victim card, when they themselves are the oppressor to minority communities inhabiting Moreh. A high ranking officer of Assam Rifles had clarified that no incident of human rights violation took place in the ongoing operation and the operation is conducted by the combined forces. This clarification has exposed the blatant lies and stage-managed drama of human rights violation in the ongoing combing operation.

The point here is, the political class, intellectual class and armed militants of Chin-Kuki community will leave no stone unturned to keep the border town Moreh under their complete control by hook or crook. The government should understand this intention and reality and act accordingly like the “Fox and Lion”.

Moreh: A Cosmopolitan Border Town

Moreh is a strategic border town located in the Indo-Myanmar border. For Manipur, Moreh is an important trading and business hub as most of the Indo-Myanmar trade takes place in this border town. This border town has been a multi-ethnic town where many communities co-habited peacefully for decades. Before the Chin-Kuki community came to settle in the border town, there were Tamils, Nepalese, Tangkhuls and Meetei etc, inhabiting the town peacefully.

It may be mentioned that Tamils were the majority and before 1970, not a single kuki village was found in Moreh as experts opined. Now the demography has completely turned upside down with Chin-Kuki community completely dominating the town as they became majority. Many factors led to the change in the demographic profile of the border town of Moreh. The turning point came in the Naga-Kuki clash of early 1990s.

In the ensuing conflict, 140 houses belonging to indigenous Tangkhul community were uprooted from Moreh and the Chin-Kuki clash victims from different parts of Manipur began to throng the border town. It may be mentioned here that the Naga-Kuki clash also coincided with the Burmese military crackdown on pro-democracy movement in Myanmar.

The military crackdown led to large scale migration of Chin-Kuki people towards the Indian side including Moreh. Large scale immigration also took place following the military took over of power in Myanmar in February, 2021. It may be remarked that the phenomena of immigration from Myanmar is a continuous process.

Absence of proper border fencing and existence of FMR (Free Movement Regime) coupled with same ethno-linguistic groups inhabiting both sides of the border greatly facilitated the illegal immigration. Thus Chin-Kuki community’s journey to Moreh can be summed up like from non-existent to minority; and from minority to majority with the import of population from the neighbouring country.

In the recent combing operation following the murder of SDPO, combined forces picked up 44 suspects for verification, 32 were found to be Myanmarese. This only vindicates the truth about large scale influx of foreign Myanmarese nationals from Chin state and Saigang region to the Indian state of Manipur. Flushing out foreign nationals and proper NRC are highly necessary for sustainable and durable peace in the border town in particular and Manipur in general.

Moreh: Need for Special Administrative Arrangement

Since Moreh is located at the Indo-Myanmar border, its strategic importance to India’s internal security is well known and needless to emphasise. Moreh is also a transit route for a great many lucrative illegal trades, be it timber or drugs from the golden triangle and drugs from the Indian side. The community that controls Moreh will control these lucrative trades.

It is obvious that a battle is waged by the Chin-Kuki community to completely dominate the border town for the obvious reasons. In addition to these, geo-economic significance of Moreh has increased manifold with the dawn of India’s Act East policy. The policy aims to integrate North East region of India with the economically vibrant Southeast Asia.

In view of India’s two prong strategy of connecting India with Southeast Asia, both at the maritime front and continental dimension, Moreh is going to be a major route for continental/territorial linkages with Southeast Asia. In the next few years from now, Moreh shall be the hub of various connectivity networks such as roads and railways.

The Asian Highway 2 and Trans-Asian Railways will pass through this border town. In the next 20 to 30 years, Moreh is going to be the major business hub of Manipur and North East India as a result of India’s Act East Policy and various agreements of economic cooperation that India signed with ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations), a 10 member regional organization of South East Asia. The emergence of a free trade regime between India and ASEAN is just a matter of time.

In view of the above facts, it is the responsibility of Government of Manipur and India to preserve the cosmopolitan and plural character of Moreh and protected it at any cost. The state government should take up immediate necessary steps to resettle the Meetei/Meitei victims of Moreh and Tangkhuls and Paites, who had been uprooted by the Chin-Kuki community from the border town of Moreh.

In view of India’s Act East Policy, one may emphasise that Moreh is a special economic zone in the making. Special economic zone calls for special administrative arrangement. Moreh, a strategic border town, should be put under a special administrative arrangement considering its geo-economic importance, cosmopolitan and plural character.

Moreh should be excluded from the purview of Hill Areas and kept as a zone of special administration by properly demarcating its boundary. The responsibility of administration of Moreh should be kept under the direct control of state government. The Department of Home, Government of Manipur may be assigned with the responsibility and authority to administer the border town of Moreh.

* Yenning wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on 16 November 2023.

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