The law and order situation in the Indian state of Manipur deteriorated on December 18 with a mob defying curfew imposed in Imphal East and West districts to attack vehicles on their way to the predominantly Naga Ukhrul district. Police rescued nearly 300 people travelling in the vehicles.
At least 22 cars, buses and other vehicles were torched in the area by angry residents as a sign of protest against the Naga economic blockade and several incidents of militancy targeting security forces.
The violence in the state has its roots in the announcement made by Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh last week. On Dec 9, the CM had announced the creation of seven new districts in Manipur, bifurcating the existing nine districts of the state, and taking the total number of districts in the state to 16.
Manipur has largely three main communities – the Naga and Kuki, who are tribals and Meitei who are non-tribals. While the Naga and the Kuki occupy the hilly areas, the Meitei reside in the valley. The decision has refreshed a fresh divide between these communities in the state with the United Naga Council (UNC) accusing Manipur of taking portions which were “traditionally ancestral Naga land” and adding these to the newly formed districts.
Sizeable lands in each of the seven new districts created belong to the Nagas, and the community fears being reduced to minorities in their own lands if the districts are formed.
Manipur earlier had 9 districts – Imphal West, Imphal East, Bishnupur, Thoubal, Ukhrul, Senapati, Tamenglong, Churachandpur and Chandel. The newly formed districts are Kangpokpi, Tengnoupal, Pherzawl, Noney, Kamjong, Jiribam and Kakching
An indefinite economic blockade on the state’s two national highways imposed by the United Naga Council in November to protest against Manipur government’s formation of Sadar Hills (Kangpokpi) and Jiribam districts has only made matters worse. It has not only crippled trade and normal life in the state, but has also stoked up the existing divide between the valley and the hill populace.
While Ibobi has claimed the bifurcation was done for administrative reasons, many are of the opinion that the decision to create new districts was passed by the CM as a last ditch effort to retain power in the state.
Manipur is due for assembly elections in 2017. The Idobi led Congress government is not only facing anti-incumbency from the public, but also dissent from within with the last few months seeing five MLAs deserting the party.
The close fight given by the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) to the Congress in the civic polls last year where it managed to win 10 seats against latter’s 12, also seems to have rattled the Congress dispensation. Apart from Meiti Hindus shifting to BJP in the election, BJP was also able to make a backdoor entry in the Christian dominated hills by assisting the Naga’s People Front (NPF).
The understanding between the two being the NPF would look for getting votes from Nagas in the valley, the BJP could build on the Meitei votes in the valley. NPF is already an ally in the NDA government and has a sound presence in the Naga dominated hills in Manipur.
With the saffron party emerging as a threat in both hills and plains, the CM’s move then seems like a perfectly orchestrated move to exploit the majority Meiteis and minority Kukis by creating the seven districts that have been a long-standing demand from people belonging to both the hills and valley in a bid to reap electoral dividends.