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What Is Article 355, That Manipur CM N Biren Singh Said Has Been Imposed Since Last Year?

The revelation around Article 355 imposition in Manipur drew flak from the Opposition, with leaders at the all-party meeting criticising the Centre and state government for not making it public sooner.

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Manipur Violence
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A delegation of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) arrived in Manipur on Monday to take stock of the situation in the ethnic violence-hit state and hold discussions aimed at restoring peace and normalcy. The team included former Intelligence Bureau special director AK Mishra, SIB New Delhi joint director Mandeep Singh and SIB Imphal joint director Rajesh Kamble.

The delegation visited the Meitei-dominated valley areas and met leaders and MLAs who demanded the delisting of Kukis from the ST list, deportation of refugees to camps in Mizoram, border fencing, replacement of Assam Rifles with other paramilitary force and revoking Suspension of Operations (SoO) agreement between Centre and Kuki militant groups, officials said. A day before that, Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh chaired an all-party meeting in which several legislators, including the ruling government’s allies demanded to scrap the tripartite agreement.

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Meanwhile, amid these discussions, another piece of information that came to light was that Article 355 of the Constitution, a security measure short of President’s Rule, has been applied in Manipur ever since the clashes between Meitei community and Kuki tribes turned violent last May. This revelation drew flak from the Opposition, with leaders at the all-party meeting criticising the Centre and state government for not making it public sooner.

What is Article 355? 

Article 355 of the Indian Constitution falls under the emergency provisions of the Indian Consitution, which are meant to be used in rare circumstances. it empowers Centre to take any necessary step to deal with "external aggression and internal disturbance".

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“It shall be the duty of the Union to protect every State against external aggression and internal disturbance and to ensure that the Government of every State is carried on in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution,” the article states.

It was introduced in 1949 as a stopgap to applying Article 366, or President’s Rule, which is considered an extreme measure. While the President’s Rule transfers powers from a state’s legislative assembly to the Union, Article 355 allows Centre to take charge of the state’s law and order without completely dismissing the state government.

The Curious Case of Article 355 in Manipur

Speculations around this had first surfaced in May last year, soon after violence broke out, after an elected MLA tweeted that Article 355 is “implemented” in Manipur and the state police chief hinted in a presser that it had been imposed. However, no formal order had been issued at the time by the Union government regarding invoking the constitutional provision.

In the days and months that followed, convoys of trucks belonging to the Army, Assam Rifles, Rapid Action Force, and state police moved into the affected regions. Hundreds have died, as the violence still continues; over 4,000 houses have been burnt, and more than 50,000 people have been displaced, according to government figures. Still, there was no announcement from the Union or state government until Monday, when the CM put these speculations to rest.

The Kuki-Zo tribes have been demanding the President's rule in Manipur. They have said that the President’s Rule will ensure neutrality of security forces and government policies in the state. However, Home Minister Amit Shah had said in the parliament last year that there was no such need as the state government was cooperating. He did not mention Article 355.

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Moreover, according to a report by The Wire, in August, the MHA had responded to an RTI query saying there was “no information” on the issuance of any notification on Article 355 for Manipur between January 1 to June 13, 2023. This is contradictory to CM Singh’s latest announcement. 

Speaking at a press conference in Imphal, Manipur Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC) expressed concern that there was no clarity on this before. "It reflects the insincerity of both the Centre and the state government," state Congress chief K Meghachandra Singh said, as per NDTV report.

Demand For Revoking SoO Agreement

Amid this revelation, there is also a demand by the representatives of the Meiti-dominated valley to revoke the suspension of operations. The SoO was signed with the Centre, the Manipur government and two conglomerates of Kuki militant outfits – the Kuki National Organisations and United Peoples Front. The pact was first inked in August 2008, during the Kuki-Naga clashes, and extended periodically.

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The representatives claimed that in several areas, the Assam Rifles were "not responsive" and remained "mute spectators" when unarmed civilians, mostly farmers, came under attack by armed men. 

The Meitei community in and around Imphal valley has repeatedly blamed the Kuki militants as being responsible for the violence, whereas the Kuki hill tribes have claimed that it is actually Meitei militants backed by CM Biren Singh and the Manipur Police Commandos that have been carrying out attacks on their villages.

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