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Manipur Political Initiatives to Supplement Adm Security Measures

In the last two weeks, the Central Government has taken a number of administrative security measures which have been debated for some time in the hope that these could meet some of the demands made by the vexed communities in Manipur. One was the decision to repeal the Free Movement Regime [FMR] and to fence the Indo Myanmar Border.

In a press release, the Ministry of Home Affairs stated that it has decided to scrap the Free Movement Regime (FMR) between India and Myanmar to ensure the internal security of the country and to maintain the demographic structure of India’s North Eastern States bordering Myanmar. 

The Ministry press release quoted Union Home Minister and Minister of Cooperation, Shri Amit Shah in post on ‘X’ which said that “It is Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi Ji's resolve to secure our borders, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has decided that the Free Movement Regime (FMR) between India and Myanmar be scrapped to ensure the internal security of the country and to maintain the demographic structure of India’s North Eastern States bordering Myanmar. Since the Ministry of External Affairs is currently in the process of scrapping it, MHA has recommended the immediate suspension of the FMR.”

In another press release the Ministry again quoting the Home Ministers post of X said that ‘It has decided to construct a fence along the entire 1643-kilometer-long Indo-Myanmar border. To facilitate better surveillance, a patrol track along the border will also be paved”. Home Minster added that “Out of the total border length, a 10 km stretch in Moreh, Manipur, has already been fenced. Furthermore, two pilot projects of fencing through a Hybrid Surveillance System (HSS) are under execution. They will fence a stretch of 1 km each in Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur. Additionally, fence works covering approx 20 km in Manipur have also been approved, and the work will start soon”. 

These administrative initiatives will take some time to be put into effect. What is also important is to undertake political initiatives that will assuage both sides of the divide in Manipur, the Meitei, and the Kuki, where civil society groups are now calling the shots.

Radical Meitei group Arambai Tenggol raised a six-point demand to the Centre during a series of meetings with a delegation of Union home ministry officials who visited the state on January 22 and 23 this year. 

Later, in a meeting with sitting MLAs and MPs on January 24, including Chief Minister N Biren Singh [in absentia] and Union Minister of State for Education and External Affairs Dr RK Ranjan, these demands were reiterated, and forcible signatures were reported to have been taken from the honourable members of the legislature at the centre and the state which has shocked many. While announcement has been made by the Ministry of Home Affairs on two of the demands – FMR and border fencing a third, which is expected to raise some concern if accepted, is the replacement of the only central paramilitary force deployed in the State – the Assam Rifles.

The distinction between the Assam Rifles and other central police forces needs to be made here, for the latter though mistakenly referred to as para military [PMF], is essentially a central armed police forces. The Assam Rifles is the only force which is officered by the Army on deputation- a distinct characteristic of any PMF. Implicit in this is that Assam Rifles units replicate the no-nonsense approach of the Army, which indeed may be an anathema to some of the civil society and vigilante groups.

This antipathy towards the Army and Assam Rifles is not new in the North East and goes back to the dark period of the implementation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act when insurgency was at its peak. Nevertheless, the situation is varied today, violence is controlled, and the military forces have reviewed their operating procedures.

The grouse against the Assam Rifles amongst Meitei groups is a perceived bias towards the tribal Kukis. It is nobody’s case that there could be some individual biases, but as an organization, the Assam Rifles can be vouched to be completely professional in approach approaching the task at hand without any inclination towards one or the other community.

Will the central government now acquiesce to the demands of the Meitei groups remains to be seen?

There are allegations by the civil society on the Kuki side as well,

Churachandpur-based Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum, has in a meeting with with A.K Mishra, Adviser, Northeast, Ministry of Home Affairs, and Intelligence Bureau officials alleged that the Chief Minister of Manipur is using cadres of the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) as his proxy army and the signing of a peace accord with a faction of the militant outfit in November 2023 has had a serious impact on the ongoing ethnic conflict. Indeed, these allegations are serious, and the doubts may have to be dispelled.

Significance of the Political Initiative

It is evident that a situation which in May-June last year was not seen as a militancy is today increasingly assuming a militant posture resulting in high level of insecurity in Manipur which may permeate to other states – Nagaland in the North and Mizoram in the South while having fallout of the adverse security situation in Myanmar as well.

A political initiative to bring the divided communities was the option that was initiated at the outset in June last year, but it is apparent that this has not gained traction. Today the divide is widening and dialogues with ministry of home affairs interlocutors may not be enough. But they can create the framework for intervention by the top leadership at the State and the Centre, which has yet to be achieved so far.

Civil society on both sides has a strong voice in the community and can, if deftly handled can soften their approach without a policy of appeasement. 

Looking at community leaders beyond the civil society groups who have the respect of the masses is another option.

Clearly, the possibilities are unlimited and need to be given momentum even if these may not bring immediate results – just as the administrative measures are not likely to be a panacea in the short term.

And yet, with tempo building up for Lok Sabha elections, Manipur is emerging as a blip on the national radar at the peril of widening community divide.


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