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'Can No Longer Exist Under Manipur': 10 Kuki MLAs’ Demand For Administrative Separation Adds A Twist To Manipur’s Tale

Manipur: With MLAs hoping 'to live peacefully as neighbors with the state of Manipur', insurgent groups may find the ground fertile again.

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In a major development to the ongoing crisis in Manipur over ethnic clashes, 10 of the state’s 60 MLAs have issued a statement demanding a separate administration for the Kuki-Chin-Zomi-Mizo people – commonly referred to as the Kukis – hoping to become Manipur’s “neighbours.” 

The statement, issued on Friday, is signed by all 10 Kuki MLAs in the Manipur assembly. Seven of the signatories are BJP MLAs, two of them ministers and one is an advisor to the BJP chief minister N Biren Singh. The Kukis are Manipur’s third major ethnic group, after the majority Meitei Hindus and the Naga tribes. 

The recent violence that started with the state government’s drive to evict people from forest areas has claimed 68 lives till Friday. It required the deployment of the Army and the Assam Rifles, issuance of a ‘shoot at sight’ order, and evacuation of more than 30,000 people from violence-hit areas. Even on Friday, a commando was killed in a gunfight with alleged Kuki militants in the Bishnupur district. 

The MLAs’ statement alleged that the violence that started on May 3 was “perpetrated by majority Meiteis tacitly supported by the existing government of Manipur,” targeting the Chin-Kuki-Mizo-Zomi people, “has already partitioned the state and effected a total separation from the state of Manipur.” 

“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, laymen, 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,” reads the statement. 

It adds that the signatories, as representatives of the Kuki people, “endorse their political aspiration of separation from the state of Manipur.” They will hold “political consultations” with the people regarding further steps at the earlier, it says.  

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

Speaking to Outlook over the phone, independent MLA Haokholet Kipgen, one of the signatories, says that whether the new administrative unit that they demand would be a Union Territory or something else remains to be decided by the Union government, but “it has to be outside the Manipur government’s purview.” 

“The areas inhabited by the Kuki people have to be separated. The territory is largely contiguous,” he says. 

Complex Scenario 

Political observers think this initiative can add volatility to the situation in Manipur, a state often considered the last bastion of armed insurgency in the northeast. Even though a large number of such insurgent groups are currently observing a ceasefire with the government, there still are multiple active groups and the possibility of them getting involved in this conflict cannot be ruled out. 

While the largest active insurgent group, Coordination Committee (CorCom), a conglomerate of seven Valley-based militant outfits, continues to oppose ‘the annexation of Manipur by India’ and keeps calling for bandhs during visits of prominent Union government personalities, including the prime minister, there also are Kuki insurgent groups pressing for a separate state for the Kuki people. 

Only in March, the state government withdrew from the suspension of operations arrangement with two Kuki insurgent groups, Kuki National Army (KNA) and the Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA), on the ground that their leaders were from outside Manipur. 

In April, the Kuki Independent Army (KIA), which is not part of any ceasefire arrangement, was accused of looting weapons from a camp housing members of insurgent groups as part of the suspension of operations programme. 

The current set of developments can easily become fodder for such groups, says a prominent human rights activist who does not want to be identified because of the sensitive situation on the ground. 

Among the signatories, Letpao Haokip is the tribal and hill affairs minister, while Nemcha Kipgen is the minister for textiles, commerce, and industry and Vungzagin Valte is an advisor to chief minister N Biren Singh. Valte was attacked on May 4 and is currently at the AIIMS, New Delhi, where he is recovering from his injuries.  

Other BJP MLAs include Ngursanglur Sanate from Tipaimukh, LM Khaute from Churachandpur, Paolienlal Haokip from Saikot, and Letzamang Haokip from Henglep constituencies. Of the rest, Chinlunthang from Singhgat and Kimneo Haokip Hangshing from Saikul are Kuki People’s Alliance (KPA) MLAs and Haokholet Kipgen, an independent MLA from Saitu. 

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Six of these 10 MLAs are from the Churachandpur district, three are from Kangpokpi, and one is from the Tengnoupal district. In fact, Churachandpur district has six assembly constituencies and the MLAs of all of them are signatories to this statement. Similarly, all three MLAs from Kangpokpi have signed it. 

While nearly half of Manipur’s Kuki-Chin population live in the Churachandpur district, a significant number of them also live in Kangpokpi and Tengnoupal districts. 

While Churachandpur and Kangpokpi do share a border, Tengnoupal does not share a border with any. Besides, creating a separate administrative unit involving Churachandpur and Kangpokpi would also nearly divide the state from the middle. Due to these factors, the Kuki MLAs’ demand is not only likely to face opposition from Meitei leaders but could also trigger protests from the Naga tribes. 

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“It’s a significant development, as the demand for separation from Manipur could become really problematic. What territory these MLAs claim will be crucial from several perspectives. It depends a lot on how the problem is approached at this point. If not settled, the issue can revive insurgency and help grow the ranks of the insurgent groups,” says veteran Imphal-based journalist Pradip Phanjoubam, editor of ‘Imphal Review of Arts and Politics’.

He thinks that the best possible solution is to ensure a consensus is reached during meetings involving “all sides.” If only the Kuki MLAs seek administrative separation, it can create conflict with the Naga population, who too live in the hills. There are 10 MLAs who come from Naga tribes. 

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The Nagas did not face violence from either side during these few days, neither in the tribal-inhabited hill areas nor in the Meitei-dominated Imphal valley. 

Speaking on the possible conflict with Naga tribes over the separation demand, as his districts are also home to Naga people, another Kuki MLA says, “Nagas are there but the three districts that the signatory MLAs represent are overwhelmingly Kuki homelands.” 

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