Manipur's new districts: Nagas allege state govt wants to derail peace process
Manipur continues to be tense, especially after the 9 December notification of the state government creating seven new districts by bifurcating of the existing nine districts, which has not gone down well with the Naga community.
Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh has appealed for calm, even as districts including Imphal East and West continue to be under curfew.
Manipur is one of five states which are set to go to the polls early next year.
KS Paul Leo, a representative of the United Naga Council, told a press conference at the Press Club of India in New Delhi: "We are already in a minority in the state. They want to further relegate us to a minority in the districts as well."
In a memorandum submitted to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, the United Naga Council has demanded that President's Rule be imposed in the state, and that the Government of India expedite the settlement of the Indo-Naga issue. Rajnath has accepted the memorandum but has not offered any solutions, the Nagas' delegation said.
It says that the government of Manipur is "creating a law and order situation to scuttle the political negotiations at the highest levels", and that "the communal government of Manipur has imposed the new districts to put a spanner in the peace process for political mileage and extend its hegemonic rule over the Nagas and tribals."
Widening hill-valley divide
The hill-valley divide in Manipur has sharpened lately, especially after the issue of inner line permits was raised two years ago by the valley inhabitants - something the tribals from the hill districts did not support.
The creation of new districts will take the divide further, according to Naga representatives.
The seven new districts include Kangpokpi, which the Nagas claim has taken away most of Naga areas. It was also a long-standing demand of the Kukis, who wanted a separate Sadar Hills district.
In addition, Tengnoupa district has been carved out of Chandel, another Naga majority district. Pherzawl and Noney were part of the predominantly Naga Tamenglong district, while Jiribam has been carved out from Imphal East. Kamjong and Kakching are the other new districts.
Nagas' rising anger
Meanwhile, the United Naga Council also said it is aghast at the way Nagas are being targeted by the Meities, even as the state government does nothing to ensure their safety. This was something that was also articulated by Nagaland Chief Minister TR Zeliang, who sought the intervention of both the Centre and the Manipur government in securing the lives and property of the Naga people in the Imphal valley.
"It is reported that several buses and other vehicles carrying Nagas have been stopped and torched. It appears that the law enforcing authorities in Imphal are not in a position to check or stop such lawless and violent activities, which is endangering the lives of the Nagas in Manipur," Zeliang wrote in a letter to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh.
The United Naga Council has cited several incidents of attacks, including three IED blasts targeting Naga houses in Imphal city, the 17 December attack at the Manipur Baptist Church, and the 18 December attack on students from the mainland heading home for Christmas.
The attacks, however, may have been in retaliation to the violence and the blockade imposed by the Nagas, according to reports.
"While our protest was directed at the communal state government, the dominant community in the Imphal valley (a reference to Meities) have targeted our people with counter blockades of goods and commodities being taken up to the hills, and also preventing them from buying their daily needs in the Imphal valley," the memorandum states.
The United Naga Council claims that the decision to impose a blockade was taken as a last resort, since the government of Manipur was not heeding to their demands. And that things may turn really bad, if the Government of India doesn't intervene in a tripartite dialogue which also includes the Nagas and the government of Manipur.
The blockade began on 1 November, and as the UNC claims, as a response to the Manipur government's preparation for the "bifurcation of Naga ancestral lands through declaration of Sardar Hills and Jiribam as full fledged districts on the pretext of administrative convenience and development needs."
The Nagas were further infuriated after the arrest of the president and the secretary, information and publicity, of the United Naga Council on 25 November.
In the memorandum to the Home Minister, the United Naga Council has specified how no local self governing bodies were consulted. "The Hill Area Committee, which enjoys a special protection under the Article 371 of the Constitution, were not consulted in this regard. Even the district administration of the affected district were not consulted," the memorandum states.
The United Naga Council says the decision to bifurcate the districts was "surreptitiously done purely with malice, and to sow hatred amongst the communities for political mileage, with the 2017 elections in mind."
Meities are the dominant tribe in the valley districts, which account for most of the seats. Moreover, the Congress is also losing its grip amongst the Nagas especially after the latter's engagement with the Government of India, which resulted in a framework agreement last year.