Manipur : From demand for NRC, blasphemy, arms looting to Miss India pageant

Yambem Laba *

Manipur has been seeing a plethora of events for the last few days.

First came the vociferous demand for the implementation of the National Register of Citizens in the State. This is because there is a genuine fear that a large number of illegal immigrants originating from Myanmar belonging to the Chin-Kuki group have infiltrated into the State and have found themselves in the electoral rolls and have obtained Aadhar Cards etc., which is poised to alter the already fragile demographic balance in the State.

The demand for the implementation began from New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, the venue for demonstration and demands in the National capital. There, groups of various Manipuri Civil Society Organisations had converged and raised the demand hoping to catch the eyes and ears of the Mandarins that rule over New Delhi’s North Block and attract the attention of the National media at large.

The student bodies comprising various valley based groups as well as the all Naga students unions then submitted a memorandum to Union Home Minister Amit Shah to implement the National Register of Citizens in Manipur. This was on 20 March.

Earlier in 2022, the Manipur Legislative Assembly had adopted a resolution to establish a State Population Commission and also to implement the National Register of Citizens in Manipur. Then they converged at Imphal and took out a huge rally comprising of the ‘emas’ women vendors that mans the huge Ema Keithel, the largest all-women market in Asia, and representatives of various student organisations and took out a rally towards the Chief Minister’s office but were halted halfway by the police.

Then they held a meeting at the market area where the president of the Democratic Students’ Alliance of Manipur (DESAM) Leishangthem Lamyanba Meetei questioned as to how after 75 years of independence India has not been able to identify its own citizens and that this laxity has seriously affected Manipur and other North Eastern States and as a consequence, illegal immigrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh have occupied huge chunks of the land in the region.

Chief Minister N Biren Singh was quick to respond because on 31 March, he declared the formation of a State Population Commission. He said, “We have already constituted a Population Commission and have already appointed the members of the Commission.” As far as the implementation of the NRC was concerned, he clarified that it required the approval of the Central Government, while in Assam it was done at the instance of the Supreme Court’s directive.

He also added that the Inner Line Permit was introduced in Manipur, after Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland, with a view to prevent the settlement of non locals in the State, revealed that since its implementation so far 3,52,311 ILP permits including 3,17,715 temporary permits have been issued till December last. He also said that a house-to-house survey was on the cards to identify bona fide citizens the same time CM Biren announced that 9 Revenue Officials have been suspended from work for manipulation of land records.

Amidst the cry for detection of illegal immigrants, the Congress Party has cried foul over the discovery of 1,33,556 ‘photo similar’ entries in the electoral rolls of the State. Protesting to the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of Manipur, a Congress delegation led by S Shyamacharan of the Party’s Legal Department has asked for the cancellation of these ‘bogus’ voters with valid photos.

He gave a complete Constituency wise breakdown of the double entries with Churachandpur District having the highest with 24,159 entries. He cited Rule number 26 of the Registration of Electors Rules 1960 and asked to remove them from the electoral rolls so that the next elections can be held in a free and fair manner.

In the meantime, a charge of blasphemy against a Christian Pastor has evoked an uproar across the sections of people across the State. The Pastor in question, one Takhellambam Ramananda, a Meitei Hindu converted to Christianity, had mocked first the ethnic Meitei population both those belonging to the Hindu faith as well as those belonging to the indigenous Sanamahi faith by mocking at their death rituals and spitting on the floor to prove his point.

Then he turned his attention to those belonging to the Muslim faith by mocking them for inserting chillies in their backsides to chase a runaway cow on which he had earlier inserted chillies. Then he picked up on Satjal, an occultist group having a strength of about 1,00,000 cadres.

A highly infuriated titular king and member of the Rajya Sabha Leishemba Sanajaoba declared that the Pastor would be skinned alive and face the consequences whether as an MP or not. Then members of the Aramba Tenggol (Battalion), came to his house but he was soon missing. The Rajya Shaba Member instead of venting out his anger in public should have just written a letter to the Director General of Police to take cognizance of the crime and it would have carried out a lot of weight and withstood political pressure.

However, on 1 April the Imphal Police Station picked the Pastor up and lodged him in the lock up after his blasphemous speech went viral and a complaint was lodged with the police. But even as the news went around that he had been picked up, a tribal lady MLA landed up at the Imphal Police station and whisked him away. The identity of the lady MLA has not been made public till now.

This writer had called up the Police authorities to ask if an FIR had been lodged against the Pastor or not but was unable to give an answer. Subsequent calls were not answered from the police side. The questions to be raised now are the following:-
1. Whether an FIR was lodged against the Pastor or not.
2. If so, how was he handed over to the MLA without producing him before the Magistrate ?
3. Was he taken into protective custody by the Police ?
4. If he was placed under protective custody, then what was the term and condition of handing over the culprit ?
5. The identity of the Tribal lady in question should also be made public.

No one has dared to ask the identity of the MLA in question in public.

Then as a sideshow, members of the Kuki Independent Army (KIA) on 9 April looted the armoury of the designated camp of the Kuki National Army under a truce of Suspension of Operations with the State and Central Government. Apparently, only four KNA cadres were present at the Horeb SoO Camp at Chongkhazou in Henglep Subdivision in Churachandpur District.

The haul included quite an arsenal enough to raise a rag tag militant group. The KIA is not a signatory to the SoO truce. The question arises as to how the armoury is to be placed under two sets of locks one belonging to the groups and the other to the State.

An embarrassed CM Biren did not rule out the possibility of inside hands in the looting. He has also declared the setting up of a committee to investigate the matter and did not rule out the possibility of an underhand tie up between cadres of the KNA and the KIA. He also added that the Government did not take the matter lightly and all levels of governance would be activated to resolve the matter as swiftly as possible.

In the meantime, the State Government had entered into an agreement with the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and hosted the trination football tourney in Imphal. India, Myanmar and Krygyz participated in it.

Played to a packed capacity of 30,000 in the flood lit Khuman Lampak Main Stadium, India won the tourney. Then to liven things up, CM Biren had arranged for the final crowning of the Femina Miss India Contest in Imphal and thirty beauties from across the country landed up in Imphal for the final moment dropping every one’s jaws.

Keeping all the football, beauty contests, blasphemous charges and arms looting apart, there has been an acute shortage of water with a 1,000 litre tank of semi treated water being sold for Rs 600 and a total disappearance of PDS rice from the market. Rice agents for the PDS rice have complained that they have not received any rice since January. As a result, a bag of Punjab Superfine rice which used to sell for Rs 600 for 50 Kg bag has now shot up to Rs 1700 per bag.

Perhaps if you are not getting rice or water you are at least getting to see Miss India being crowned in front of your eyes seems to be the answer.

This article was first published in The Statesman.
Views expressed here are of the writer

* Yambem Laba wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is a senior journalist at The Statesman.
This article was webcasted on 26 April 2023

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