The Bharatiya Janata Party led Government of Nongthombam Biren Singh is all set to introduce the Inner Line Permit (ILP) Bill in the forthcoming monsoon session of Manipur Assembly. The activists are threatening to start the agitations again and also demanded that there should be a time frame to prepare the bills, while the Joint Committee on Inner Line Permit System women’s and students’ wings have been rounding up non-locals who sneak into Manipur using forged identity or Aadhaar cards. Police have stepped up vigil along the Manipur-Myanmar border and at Jiribam bordering Assam to prevent any breakdown of Law and Order.
After maintaining peace for some time, the state of Manipur once again is heading towards uncertainty in terms of Law and Order, as an umbrella group- the Joint Committee on Inner Line Permit System (JCILPS), demanding re-introduction of the Inner Line Permit (ILP) system in Manipur announced.
The Pressure groups have stated that this is the first step of the renewed movement and that more agitation are in store in the coming days until the three bills pending in the office of the President are given assent. The three bills - the Protection of the Manipur Peoples Bill, 2015; the Manipur Land Reforms & Land Revenue (7th Amendment) Bill, 2015; and the Manipur Shops and Establishment (2nd amendment) Bill, 2015 - were passed by the Manipur assembly on August 31, 2015.
That year Manipur Assembly had passed three bills in this connection in 2015 but the President did not give assent to one bill while the two others were rejected even as most tribals in the state had objected to the bills terming them as “anti-tribal”.
As many as 11 tribal youth were killed during violent agitations in 2015 against the bills in Churachandpur (10) and Imphal (1) and the tribal activists refused to claim the dead bodies for more than one year, saying that the government should first withdraw the bills. However, once the BJP led government was formed on March 15, 2017, the bodies were claimed for performing the last rites.
It may be reminded that during agitations on the same demand, trains were being halted at many train stations across Bihar in search of people of Manipuri origin, by none other than workers of Jan Adhikar Party-Loktantrik (JAP-L) led by its expelled RJD MP Rajesh Ranjan alias Pappu Yadav. This came after a threat made by Yadav that Manipuri people found in such trains would be pulled out and forcibly sent back to Manipur which received protests from various quarters. Although it has been controlled, the resultant fear psychosis will take some time to abate. This threat has caught the attention of the nation even after the citizens in the state had suspended the demand for the implementation of the Inner Line Permit (ILP) after Manipur Assembly had passed the Protection of Manipur People Bill, 2015, the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (Seventh Amendment) Bill, 2015, and the Manipur Shops and Establishments (Second Amendment) Bill, 2015, to protect the ‘indigenous’ people of the state.
In this backdrop, it is pertinent to note that Meiti people consider themselves the ‘original inhabitants’, and term all other tribes ‘settlers’.
On the other hand, former Mizoram Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla and several organisations based in Assam and Manipur have urged the Centre not to give consent to the three controversial Bills passed by the Manipur Assembly on August 31, 2015, terming such Bills as a curtailing of the rights of ‘non-locals’. This has ruffled feathers beyond the state boundaries and has resulted in a situation which can be loosely termed as a ‘hills versus valley’ issue.
Lal Thanhawla, in his September 4 letter written to Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi, stressed that the bills had been passed because of a pressure group of the Meitei community. Tribal people were neither consulted nor were sympathetic to this demand, which is infringing on the rights of citizens, he said this even as he opined that it is a serious matter not just in India but elsewhere in the world too.
Earlier, the agitation for ILP in Manipur had raised worries about an exclusivist agenda and has pushed the development of the state backwards. Manipur, which probably has more bandhs in a year than all the Indian states put together, has been on the boil for the past few years over the contentious issue of the ILP, coupled with over decade old agitations for the removal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA).
The ILP, which was introduced by the British government to protect their own commercial interests in the North East, is a special pass that is required to enter Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram. This mechanism is now essentially used to limit the exposure of tribals and their cultures from the ‘onslaught’ of outsiders.
In keeping with such volatile demands, the Naga People’s Front (NPF), a regional party with influence in the Naga hills of Manipur, has also written to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, seeking President’s rule in the state. The All India United Organisation Against Harassment and Racism and the Northeast People’s Organisation also urged the Centre to repeal the newly introduced bills.
The biggest shock came as tribal parliamentarians from the Northeast on September 16 suggested that the creation of two union territories out of existing Manipur is the only solution to the prevailing impasse that has claimed the lives of eight civilians in clashes.
The parliamentarians, who are considered to be veteran tribal leaders of the Northeast, have also stated that if the Governor gives the assent to the bills, then the clashes that Manipur will witness will be far more extreme than what it has witnessed in recent times.
“If the Governor gives the assent for the bills that have been passed, the tribals, including Kukis, Hmars and Nagas, will start revolting which will be far more extreme than what Churachandpur has witnessed recently. However, if the government doesn’t give the assent for the bills, then the Meiteis will go on a hunger strike and commit suicide. So, it’s a complete deadlock for the government,” Rajya Sabha member from Nagaland, Khekiho Zhimomi, who is also a veteran Naga leader pointed out.
The whole issue seems to be fragmenting the region, while the Central Government is leaving no stone unturned in order to develop the region and turning it as the hub for the South East Asia countries for promotion of tourism and trade. The paradox here is that while the Central authorities are contemplating to give the region a facelift and turn it into the next global destination, here the citizens are all playing to an exclusivist agenda!
The Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government led by Narendra Damodardas Modi on the other hand is not encouraging the implementation of ILP in Manipur knowing it well that there are many other states, including Meghalaya are also demanding the same, which might hamper the Tourism Industry, at the same time the mechanism on checking the visitors base on ILP should not be misused by various section of the society to harass the public.