Separate state demand by 10 Manipur MLAs to sharpen ethnic divide

Imphal: The BJP government in Manipur is facing a big challenge as 10 tribal MLAs from various parties, including five from the BJP, indirectly demanded a separate state for the Kuki tribals, leading to an ethnic division of the state.

On and off some pro-tribal sections of civil society and NGOs, for around a decade, had been demanding a separate state for the tribals living in Manipur. On Friday, 10 elected representatives belonging to the Kuki tribals raised the same demand pushing a division of the northeastern state on ethnic lines.

The separate state demand assumes more significance as out of the ten MLAs, two are ministers and one an advisor to the BJP chief minister N Biren Singh.

With the Manipur situation limping back to normal after the May 3 and subsequent ethnic violence, all the ten MLAs belonging to the Kuki community have accused the N. Biren Singh government of failing miserably to protect the community. Therefore, they have resolved to pursue a “separate administration under the Constitution of India” and live peacefully as neighbours with Manipur.

Just before the recent ethnic violence, Chief Minister Singh had been facing serious dissidence in early April when four senior BJP legislators quit their government posts. Of the four MLAs, two were cabinet ministers in the first BJP government headed by Singh.

The four BJP legislators also reportedly camped in Delhi to voice their grievances before the central leaders of the party. Besides these four MLAs, around a dozen saffron party MLAs were also reportedly unhappy with Biren Singh’s style of functioning.

The 10 legislators — five from the BJP, two from JD-U, two Kuki People’s Alliance (KPA) and one Independent MLA, demanded a “Separate Administration” for the tribals, who constitute around 37 to 40 per cent of the total 27.21 lakh population (2011 census) of the state.

There are differences of perception on many issues among the tribals and non-tribals in the northeastern region, where 27-28 per cent are tribals out of the 45.58 million population.

Though there are separate state for the tribals demand in several northeastern states including Nagaland, Tripura, Meghalaya, the separate state demand in Manipur assumes more significance as it was raised by the ruling party MLAs and their allies.

“The unabated violence that began on May 3 in Manipur perpetrated by the majority Meiteis and tacitly supported by the state government against the Chin-Kuki-Mizo-Zomi hill tribals has already partitioned the state and effected a total separation from the state of Manipur,” said the signed statement of the 10 MLAs.

“Our people can no longer exist under Manipur as the hatred against our tribal community reached such a height that MLAs, ministers, pastors, police and civil officers, common men, women and even children were not spared, not to mention the destruction of places of worship, homes and properties. To live amidst the Meitei again is as good as death for our people,” the statement said.

Saying that they would hold consultations with their people, the legislators noted that “as elected representatives of the people, we today represent the sentiments of our people and endorse their political aspiration of separation from the state of Manipur”.

“As the state of Manipur has miserably failed to protect us, we seek from the Union of India a separate administration under the Constitution of India and live peacefully as neighbours with the state of Manipur,” the statement said.

The ten MLAs include Letpao Haokip (Tengnoupal assembly constituency), Letzamang Haokip (Henglep), Nechal Kipgen (Kangpokpi) Paolienlal Haokip (Saikot), Vungzagin Valte (Thanlon), all BJP legislators, Ngursanglur Sanate (Tipaimukh) and L.M. Khaute (Churachandpur), both JD-U MLAs, Kimneo Haokip Hangshing (Saikul) and Chinlunthang (Singhat ), both KPA members, and independent MLA Haokholet Kipgen (Saitu).

The hills, comprising 10 of the 16 districts, account for 90 per cent of the state’s area and 10 per cent population while the valley occupies 10 per cent land.

In the valley, there are Hindu, non-tribal Meitei communities while the hills are inhabited largely by the Christian Naga and Kuki-Zomi communities.

Several years after the erstwhile princely state of Manipur merged with the Indian union in October 1949, the Meitei community feels that with the infiltration from Myanmar, Bangladesh and Nepal their demographic balance and position would be jeopardised if they did not get constitutional protection.

With this observation, the Meitei communities, who constitute around 53 per cent of the total population, have been demanding Scheduled Tribe (ST) status, which has been strongly opposed by the tribals.

The tribals’ logic is that the Meitei communities as the majority population got many constitutional and government benefits, and if they are categorised as ST, the tribals’ constitutional benefits would be shared further with them (Meitei communities).

Claiming over 66 lives and damaging government and private property, the northeastern state witnessed unprecedented violent clashes, attacks, counter-attacks and arson of houses, vehicles and government and private property in more than 10 districts during and after the May 3 ‘Tribal Solidarity March’ called by the All Tribal Students’ Union of Manipur to oppose the demand for inclusion of the Meitei community in the ST category.

Acting on a writ petition filed by the Meetei (Meitei) Trade Union, the Manipur High Court acting Chief Justice M.V. Muralidaran on April 19 had directed the state government to submit the recommendation for inclusion of Meitei (Meetei) community in the Scheduled Tribes (ST) list to the Union Tribal Affairs Ministry.

The High Court order snowballed into a major controversy with thousands of tribals turning up for the ‘Tribal Solidarity March’ in 10 hill districts on May 3 called by ATSUM.

Earlier a civil writ petition filed by eight members of the Meetei (Meitei) Tribe Union led by union secretary Mutum Churamani Meetei had sought the issuance of a writ of mandamus directing the first respondent (Manipur government) to submit a recommendation in reply to the Union Tribal Affairs Ministry’s letter dated May 29, 2013.

The Manipur High Court on May 11 has extended a period of one year for consideration of the March 27 order for inclusion of the Meetei/Meitei community in the Scheduled Tribe list.

The high court last month had directed to submit the recommendation of inclusion of Meitei (Meetei) community to ST list to the Union Tribal Affairs Ministry by May 29.

The May 3 incidents were preceded by anger and strong opposition against the eviction of Kuki villagers from reserve and protected forest land and destruction of poppy cultivation by the state government leading to a series of agitations and tension between the majority Meiteis and the minority Kukis.

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