DATELINE Guwahati /Wasbir Hussain
The Imphal valley is in the grip of an uprising to press for the introduction of the Inner Line Permit System that can restrict the entry of ‘outsiders’ (non-domiciles) to the State and prevent them from buying land to settle down. The question is—why have people in Manipur, primarily in the Imphal valley, decide to take to the streets and battle the police to press for introduction of the Inner Line regulations? Is it pure xenophobia or something more?
The ILP System is in force in the northeastern states of galand, Aruchal Pradesh, and Mizoram. All ‘outsiders’ require a permit from the concerned state authorities to enter the state concerned. Now, Manipur has joined the race to have these regulations in place. In Meghalaya, too, voices in favour of this demand are being heard. All this seems to be part of the fear in the region that large-scale entry of ‘outsiders’ or illegal migrants could alter the demographic profile of the states.
In view of the demand gaining steam, the Manipur Government, in May, introduced the Manipur Regulation of Visitors, Tents and Migrant Workers Bill, 2015 in the State Assembly. The joint committee of the ILPS demand rejected the Bill on the ground that it did not contain any provision prohibiting transfer of land to ‘outsiders’. Street protests and police retaliation led to the death of a teeger, which worsened the situation, forcing the authorities to clamp indefinite curfew in the two Imphal districts and protesters defying the curfew.
Is the agitation seeking ILPS politically driven or is it an outcome of genuine fear of the indigenous Meiteis of ‘outsiders’ overwhelming them? A simple yes or no answer is difficult to provide in this case. Of Manipur’s 2.7 million population today, less than 10 lakh are believed to be people from outside the State. And after militant groups have trained their guns on migrant workers from time to time, there are no reports of any large-scale influx of ‘outsiders’ into the State. Why then is the uprising? Is it actually a move by the domint Meiteis in the Imphal valley to deny space to non-Meiteis, including people from other parts of Manipur itself like the gas, Kukis and other tribes-people? Is it actually a movement to deny non-Meiteis to come and settle down in the Imphal valley? It would be interesting to have answers to questions like these. One would expect the protagonists of the ILPS agitation in Manipur to argue their case better.
The street battles have subsided after the Manipur Government announced it would withdraw the Manipur Regulation of Visitors, Tents and Migrant Workers Bill, 2015. But, the stage is set for a prolonged agitation over the issue because the agitating groups have demanded a backdated cut off date of 1951 that would make land transfer deeds concluded after that year null and void. This is something that will be opposed by all those land owners who had purchased land after 1951. Whether the ruling Congress in the State can afford to concede such a demand is left to be seen.
The Imphal valley comprises just about 10 per cent of Manipur’s territory, the rest falling under the hill districts. But, 60 per cent of the State’s total population dwell in the Imphal valley. This has led to a battle for space, and what we are witnessing now—the ILPS agitation—is actually sort of a turf war. When such a huge population live in a 2000 sq km area, trouble will certainly mount. Viewed from outside, the agitation looks more like an attempt to protect the interests of the Imphal valley residents than anything else. One will wait to see if this hypothesis is proved wrong.