Manipur is facing a major constitutional crisis of contested boundaries

Careful steps need to be taken to tackle the old inter-tribal dispute between Nagas and Kukis in the state’s Hill Areas.

 |  5-minute read |   22-12-2016
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Manipur's current political situation is dire. Unlike in the past, the contestation is not just between the plains and the hill peoples, but is also inter Naga-Kuki.

Expectedly, Manipur chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh has blamed the United Naga Council, calling it the "mouthpiece and frontal organisation of the NSCN-IM" (National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isaac-Muivah)). Ibobi Singh, who heads a Congress government in the state, which goes to Assembly polls early next year, also alleged that the Centre was "not intervening and taking action in time" to restore order in the state.

This is typical of Manipur politics. The majority Valley people, the Meities, have always had a grouse against the hill people, the Nagas and Kukis. Given the fact the CM and his ministers are with the Congress, with an early election coming, the Congress is unlikely to intervene despite Article 371 C of the Constitution.

During the reorganisation of the north-eastern part of larger Assam in 1971, states like the composite state of Manipur were created. The population comprises about 60 per cent of the Meiteis, mostly concentrated in the Valley, and the two tribal communities, including the Nagas, the larger community (consisting of various tribes/sub-tribes), followed by the Kukis (also consisting of many tribes/ sub-tribes).

The tribal peoples, though a minority, own the bulk of the land. The dominant Meiteis had moved three Bills in the Assembly to deprive the tribal people of their land, right to citizenship, on the grounds that they did not have adequate documents on their settlement in their areas, and the time of their "immigration into Manipur, latest by 1951".

Many tribal peoples throughout the Northeast did not have legal documents just four years after Independence, because of non-availability of legal skills, etc. Earlier-formed districts where tribals reside have been broken and re-organised leading to resentment.

As a consequence, even supplies that were being sent to Ukhrul, have had to be escorted by the police. Ukhrul is the stronghold of the Tangkhul Nagas, who are part of the core of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isaac-Muivah). There have been blockades, violence and disruption of civil life.

But now the issue has become largely inter-tribal, between the Nagas and Kukis.

manipur_122216042614.jpg Manipur's current political situation is dire. [Photo: Reuters]

Passions rose after the Sadar Hills virtually became a district with its headquarters in Kangpokpi because of tensions between Kukis and Nagas. The Nagas have always considered Kukis as late immigrants. There have been clashes over the years between Kukis and Nagas – the latter backed by the UNC (United Naga Council) and the NSCM-IM.

The Manipur government, to avoid clashes, split seven of the existing nine districts in the process. It is questionable if this is constitutional under Article 371 C, if both the governor and the President of India are not consulted. In any case, it did not help matters.

In Manipur, there are apprehensions about the Naga Accord finalised by the Modi government, whose details have not been fully disclosed, and there are fears particularly about the Naga districts being made more autonomous, if not actually merged with Nagaland. Since several mixed districts have both Nagas and Kukis, this is a potential source of violence, curfews, and blockade of goods.

This is clearly against the Constitution's explicit direction on the manner in which Hill Areas are to be administered.

Article 371 C (1) states: "Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution, the President may, by order made with respect to the State of Manipur, provide for the Constitution and functions of a committee of the Legislative Assembly elected from the Hill Areas of that State, for modifications to be made in the rules of business of the Government and in the rules of procedure of the Legislative Assembly of the State and for any special responsibility of the Governor in order to secure the proper functioning of such committee."

Article 371 C (2) states: "The Governor shall annually, or whenever so required by the President, make a report to the President regarding the Administration of the Hill Areas in the State of Manipur and the executive power of the Union shall extend to the giving of directions to the State as to the administration of the said areas."

[Explanation: in the above mentioned article, the expression "Hill Areas" means such areas as the President may, by order, declare to be "Hill Areas".]

This Article is clear, wide ranging and there is no room for denying the residents of Hill Areas of their rights. But the problem is how does one tackle an old inter-tribal dispute?

Many of these disputes have little to do with the Manipur government. There has been little reportage in the national media, though there must have been discussion in the state and the regional media. Because of the degree of intervention by the governor in the Assembly, many decisions are not known outside Manipur.

For example, we don't know what report the governor of Manipur sent to the President of India following those decisions.  Also the President's response is equally unavailable in public domain.

Immediate intervention is called for. This matter has been simmering regularly, bursting into flames, and by all appearances, the concerted political, judicial, administrative and constitutional action has not been taken.

Also read - Why Manipur crisis won't die down anytime soon


Kamal Mitra Chenoy Kamal Mitra Chenoy @kamaichenoy

The writer is an academic and activist.

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