By Aroonim Bhuyan
With agitators in the Manipur valley setting a fresh deadline for the state government to implement three controversial bills and the people of the hills continuing to vehemently opposing this, renewed tensions have loomed over the northeastern border state.
This week, the Joint Committee on Inner Line Permit System (JCILPS) that spearheaded a three-month-long agitation earlier this year in the Valley, set a fresh deadline of December 15 for the Manipur government to implement the three bills, failing which it threatened to resume its agitation from December 16. The people of the Valley carried out the agitation demanding the enforcement of an inner line permit system (ILPS) similar to one that are in force in Aruchal Pradesh, Mizoram, and galand to check the influx of non-Manipuris into the state.
The JCILPS says that according to the 2011 census, Manipur's population is 2.7 million. Of this, only 1.7 million are indigenous people while the rest are people who have their roots outside the state.
Ostensibly to safeguard the rights of the indigenous people, the state government, bowing to the pressure from the agitators, convened a special session of the assembly on August 31 and passed three controversial bills - the Protection of Manipur People Bill, the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms Bill (Seventh Amendment) and the Manipur Shops and Establishments (Second Amendment) Bill.
The very day the bills were passed, protesters, mainly comprising tribal organisations, torched five houses belonging to Congress legislators. Among them were the dwellings of Health and Family Welfare Minister Phungzathang Tonsing and Lok Sabha member from Outer Manipur Thangso Baite in Churachandpur district.
The violence and resultant police action left at least nine people dead.
According to the tribes inhabiting the hills of Manipur, the three bills would directly undermine the existing safeguards for the tribal hill areas regarding land-ownership and population influx, as the primary threat for the tribal people came not from outside the state but from the Meitei people of the Valley itself.
The protests of the tribal people spread to New Delhi, with the Manipur Tribal Forum, Delhi (MTFD) holding rallies and submitting memorandums to the president as also to union ministers, including those of home, tribal affairs and development of northeastern region (DoNER), seeking the centre's intervention in resolving the issue.
The MTFD, along with the Joint Action Committee (JAC) against the three bills, the All Tribal Students Union Manipur (ATSUM) and women's organisations, have said more than once that they did not trust the state government. They want the central government to convene a tripartite meeting and have demanded a separate administration for the hills.
With President Prab Mukherjee not assenting to the three controversial bills and the centre yet to act on the demands of the tribal people, matters have reached a stalemate of sorts.
On Wednesday, however, Khomdram Ratan, convenor-in-charge of the JCILPS, held a press conference in Manipur capital Imphal at which he said that the indifferent attitude of the state government has led to the three bills rotting in the president's hands.
"If the state government really wanted to save the indigenous people of the state, they should pressure the central government," media reports quoted him as saying.
On Friday, an indefinite strike launched by the MTFD in the tiol capital demanding the withdrawal of the bills completed one month. Nine symbolic coffins laid out at the protest site at Jantar Mantar reveal the most tragic side of the whole saga - the bodies of the nine people killed in the protests in Churachandpur are still lying in a hospital morgue with the families refusing to claim them till the demands of the tribal people are met.
"The state government should have taken all stakeholders on board before passing the bills," Mani Charemei, former Lok Sabha MP from Outer Manipur constituency, told IANS at the protest site here.
Charemei is of the opinion that the Imphal dispensation should be more sensitive to the demands of the tribal people.
"Now, if both the parties step up their movements, the state government will be compelled to somehow resolve the issue," he said.
Addressing the protesters, the former MP said: "It has become very clear to the state government that the tribal people are not at all happy at the way they are being governed."
Meanwhile, on Friday, an MTFD delegation met Satyendra Garg, the newly appointed joint secretary (northeast) in the home ministry, and apprised him of their demands.
"We were told that all memorandums and other documents that we had submitted have been sent to the judicial wing of the ministry," J. Moivio, co-convenor of the MTFD, said.
"Action can also be taken only when the remarks from the judicial wing come in," he added.
With December 15 close ahead, the question is: Who will blink first?