Manipur’s Disturbing Downslide of Terrorism, Law and Order and Corruption-2009 and 2010
Lt Col Anil Bhat

“When Jammu and Kashmir was blockaded a couple of years ago the matter kept the Government and media preoccupied for months. Manipur has been blockaded for at least a month and a half, without any respite-people are starving, there are no medicines-but there has been no concern shown by either. Can you imagine what would happen if Delhi was to undergo such an ordeal?” This was the lament conveyed by a delegation of intellectuals and prominent citizens from Manipur, led by Col(retd) H Bhuban Singh(former state minister and member of state Public service Commission), Col (retd) Lokendra Singh (writer), Mr Premananda Sharma(journalist), Kh Bhabananda Singh (educationist), Salam Rupachandra (advocate) and Amrik singh Phawa (former Municipal Commissioner-born and brought up in Manipur) visited the Vivekanada International Foundation (VIF) and had an intensive interaction with the Director, Mr Ajit Doval and selected Distinguished Fellows and members of this think-tank.

With already a plethora of problems related to terror, law and order and corruption, which have kept the Union Home Ministry busy, Manipur is again in the news for a major crisis caused by its Chief Minister, Okram Ibobi Singh preventing the entry of Thuingaleng Muivah, ‘Ato Kilonser’ (prime minister) of the Isaac-Muivah faction of National Social Council of Nagaland/Nagalim (meaning Nagaland plus Naga inhabited areas of neighbouring states) into the state.

In a freshly renewed effort to make some progress, Government of India, in early March 2010, held what were reported as meaningful sessions of talks with group (NSCN-IM) - the first since Mr. R S Pandey took over as the newly appointed interlocutor.

The Naga group’s delegation headed by Muivah submitted a list of 30 demands, which include sovereignty for Nagaland and unification of all Naga-dominated areas of neighbouring North Eastern states (in 2001, the NSCN-IM leaders insisting on the concept of Nagalim or Greater Nagaland, which includes areas of other neighbouring States, where Nagas at some point of time settled, led to much violence in Manipur, one of the States majorly affected by the Greater Nagaland demand; protests also came from Assam and Arunachal and tribal communities, including the Kukis, Dimasiyas and some others).

The rounds of discussions were preceded by the Naga delegation calling on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Union home minister P Chidambaram. During the meeting with Mr. Chidambaram, others present were home secretary G K Pillai and special secretary (internal security) U K Bansal. Interacting with media later, Muivah said: "We had a comprehensive discussion and the NSCN (IM) will continue the negotiation with the Government of India”.

Speaking to this writer, Mr. Pandey expressed satisfaction at the talks being held after over a year of uncertainty, at the positive signs of the delegation visiting the Prime Minister, Home Minister and the commitment and hope of both sides about further forward movement towards an honourable negotioated settlement. He further added that henceforth talks would be held formally or informally.

On August 14, 1947, the Nagas under their leader, Angami Zapu Phizo, declared Independence under the banner of the Naga National Council (renamed "Federal Government of Nagaland in 1959), taking the stand that they did not belong to india. Phizo escaped to erstwhile East Pakistan in December 1956, from where Pakistan government arranged for his passport and journey to London, UK.

In 1988, a violent clash between NSCN’s two dominant groups - Tangkhuls, hailing largely from Manipur’s Ukhrul and Senapati districts under Thuingleng Muivah and Issac Chisi Swu and Konyaks hailing from Mynmar’s hill tracts under S. S. Khaplang - resulting in an acrimonious split of the NSCN. Both groups continued wanton violence and extortion in Nagaland and Manipur.

50 years after Independence , since the ceasefire signed on 1 August 1997, violence reduced greatly but extortion continued, along with some other violations.

The March talks in Delhi were followed up by a number of sessions with Mr Pandey in Delhi as well as in Nagaland.

Then, in May this year, came the intensification of a crisis caused by Muivah trying to visit Manipur

“Manipur has been blockaded for 40 days now. Rice is being sold at Rs. 80/- per kg, petrol for Rs. 200/- per litre, a gas cylinder is going for Rs. 1000/-, no medicines are available, operation theatres in hospitals have no oxygen and schools are closed…the people’s plight is simply miserable…”. This is the most shocking part of a list of laments conveyed to me by Premanada Sharma, son of late Madumangal Sharma, a BJP Leader from Manipur, who was killed by terrorists some time in the 1990s.

Muivah came to Viswema village, Senapati district, Manipur, very close to its border with Nagaland, on 5 May, 2010, as part of his plan to visit his hometown, Somdal, in Ukhrul district. His visit began when the economic blockade of Manipur on National Highway (NH) 39 by All Naga Students Association of Manipur (ANSAM) on ANSAM and All Tribal Tribal Students Union Manipur (ATSUM) had been on since three months earlier to protest against Manipur government’s proposal to hold autonomous district councils elections, was intensified since 6 April, 2010.

On 5 April, 2010, the Naga frontal organisations led by ANSAM denounced the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council (Third Amendment Act, 2008), which was reportedly passed in a closed door meeting and volunteers burnt its copies in the district headquarters of Chandel, Senapati, Ukhrul and Tamenglong. An Imphal based news network quoted United Naga Council (UNC) chief Samson Remmei saying that government of Manipur would be well advised to consider the wishes of the people by not imposing its move of conducting the autonomous district council elections under the present status.

Late in the evening on 5 May, the four Naga organizations—the Naga Hoho, Naga Students Federation, Naga Peoples’ Movement for Human Rights and Naga Mothers’ Association—issued an appeal letter to Muivah asking him to postpone his proposed visit for a few more days so as to “facilitate proper arrangement of the visit”.

On 6 May, 2010, a day after Muivah’s arrival in Viswema, the tension building up at Mao Gate took an ugly turn, when the crowd attempting to take out a protest rally against the Manipur State Cabinet decision to bar Muivah from visiting Manipur, began vandalising by setting fire to police vehicles and other goods kept at Mao Town Hall. At least two persons were killed and a number of others were injured when Manipur police / India Reserve Battalion personnel fired tear gas shells, ‘mock bombs’ and live bullets to control the crowd. Seven Naga MLAs of Manipur resigned after this incident. Reverberations of the crisis were felt even in Delhi , where, on 7 May, about 300 Naga youth pelted stones at Manipur Bhavan and tried to storm it.

Union Home secretary GK. Pillai and Government of India - NSCN-IM peace talks interlocutor RS. Pandey arrived in Imphal on 11 May and had an over two hours closed door meeting with Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh. The next day talks at Viswema between Pillai, Pandey and Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio with Muivah and other senior NSCN (IM) leaders for diffusing this crisis failed, with the latter maintaining that Muivah will go ahead with his plan and Pandey saying that it will not be possible till such time the situation improves. Pandey informed NSCN (IM) about the decisions taken by the Manipur government on lifting of curfew at Mao gate, replacement of state police forces with central paramilitary forces and ex-gratia to the members of the families of two persons killed in the Mao gate police firing, to instill confidence among the people.

Interacting with media later, Pandey said the Centre would continue parleys with “all concerned” to break the impasse caused by the Manipur government’s objection to Muivah’s visit to Somdal village in Ukhrul district. “We have requested Muivah to wait till the situation becomes congenial in Manipur to undertake the visit because of security reasons…security remains the big issue….We will continue discussion with all concerned - Nagaland government, Manipur government and civil society leaders - to make the situation congenial for breaking the stalemate,” Pandey said.

While the Centre is reported to have informed Manipur Government about approving Muivah’s visit to Manipur, Pradip Phanjoubam, editor-owner of a popular English daily from Imphal, speaking to me, felt that the Centre should have consulted and given more time to Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh, whose contention is that Muivah should not come at the time of the district council elections scheduled after great effort since 2008, when the mentioned Third Ammendment Act was passed. Another view of some Manipur government leaders is why after 40 odd years Muivah wants to come now and if he had come after due consultation with Manipur government, he may even have been welcomed officially.

Interacting with me after his return from Manipur and Nagaland, interlocutor Pandey said that this crisis will have to be resolved by a spirit of accommodation and statesmanship from both sides. He does not feel that the peace talks, resumed in March this year at Delhi will be affected because despite New Delhi making it very clear time and again that borders between states cannot be touched on the issue of Nagas inhabiting other states, Muivah has had many more meetings with the him and that till before this crisis he has maintained that “talks are progressing well despite difficulties”.

Meanwhile, till 15 May, there was no let-up in the blockade news/progress on airlifting of necessities to Manipur by the Centre and Churachandpur - Goite Road route being constructed by Border Roads Organisation, is so far only jeepable. On 16 May the first air transporation of essentials was made by Indian Air Force. However the vital issue of using NH 53 for bringing in supplies by road recommended by Food and Civil Supplies Minister Irabot Singh was shot down by Ibobi for reasons that it is not secure enough. Apparently, it is a political issue as there is enough of Army and Assam Rifles available to secure the road.

This impasse, which began on the issue of Manipur’s autonomous district council’s elections, scheduled for May 2010, during which Muivah decided to come, must be resolved peacefully. Manipur already has been reeling under deteriorating terror and corruption since 2004 at least. A considered recommendation may be on these lines:

Muivah, whose official status of a banned violent organisation’s leader, has not been rescinded by Nagaland, but, who, in the light of the March 2010 resumed peace process, wants to come to Manipur to meet his Tangkhul and other Naga tribes people, must get off his high horse and officially request Manipur Government to do so, with an assurance that he does not mean to spark any trouble and has no problems about visiting after the district council elections. Ibobi on his part must be magnanimous enough to not only allow him to visit, but provide him security too. Under no circumstances must Ibobi and his cabinet ministers give an impression that they are averse to Muivah’s entry into Manipur. After all, Manipur also had a Tangkhul Chief Minister, Rishang Keishing, was removed in late 1980s, after the NSCN (IM) attacked the Assam Rifles company at Oinam village in Senapati district. While that is history, Manipur has too many Nagas to allow a Naga-Manipuri feud to crop up. Muivah should also think far more and ahead about the well being and progress of the Naga people and not keep raising the boundaries issue, which is too sensitive, particularly in Manipur.

At a time when Christianity, ‘introduced’ by the Brits, is completing a century in Manipur (land of jewels), where Lord Krishna has been worshipped for aeons, blessings from both are most welcome.

Manipur’s media has been bearing the brunt of both menacing threats from the many terrorist groups and pressure from the state government. While some reporters have been killed, quite often editors have been hounded and even abducted. So, reporting on the deterioration of security and law and order in Manipur, right since 2004 has been quite hazardous. This writer is out of very few in New Delhi who has been regularly reporting and commenting on the situation in Manipur and the North Eastern states.

It is no wonder then that two disturbing and highly newsworthy developments in Manipur, which local correspondents and reporters may have been justifiably been hesitant to report on, came my way through two retired Army officers in Imphal, who write regularly for local dailies.

Major R. S. Jassal, who served in Assam Rifles, married a Tangkhul Naga lady and settled in Manipur, has written about how non-Manipuris are being intimidated by underground groups from both the valley and the hills. The diktats against ‘mayang’, meaning non-Manipuri, being implemented under fear of the terrorists’ guns since the past five months are: (a) Non-Manipuris will not travel by bus from Guwahati or Dimapur to Imphal/will not be issued a ticket. They are most welcome to travel out from Imphal.
(b)An ultimatum has been issued for all non-Manipuris to leave Manipur by 31 May, 2010. (c) National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang) group announced through newspapers to pay road taxes to a particular person by name, for traveling on NH 39-from Imphal to Guwahati. This is also applicable to non-Manipuris in the truck service business.

This is besides the killing of Hindi speaking persons in the recent past, the known tally of which has reached 32. The shock waves have been effective enough for some families settled for decades to leave. Those who haven’t, are exceedingly worried about their safety and dilemma- ridden whether to carry on with their trade / profession / vocation. Advisories by police to this category of people not to venture out from municipality limits has further created panic for them. often in the past months, labourers and menial workers have been huddled at Imphal’s Dharamsala and Kalimandir. Okram Ibobi Singh’s government’s assurances are not at all being believed as it has often been reported how close some of its political leaders are to these groups.

Adding to the woes of the state, Naga insurgents, operating from Nagaland and the hills districts of Manipur, have been dominating the only two national highways, NH-39 totally and NH-53 patrially, imposing taxes on the use of the roads and threats of ‘punishment’ for not paying them. There are 26 permanent and organised ‘tax’ collection points along these roads, which are Manipur’s vital links with Assam and the rest of India .

The silence from human rights groups, usually very vociferous about alleged atrocities by Army/Assam Rifles / imposition of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Manipur, has been deafening.

Lt. Col. L. Lokendra Singh is the one who has written about the Ibobi government’s latest swindle.

Loktak, the only fresh water lake in the North East, covering an area of 236.21 sq.km. is slowly being choked by the massive amount of municipal waste flowing into it coupled with the uncontrolled growth of a typical thick and stout floating biomass, locally called ‘phumdi’, that has been accumulating over the years. So much so, that a terrorist group was able to set up a very well-concealed camp, which the Army eliminated last year.

Ibobi’s Government -late by a few decades- reportedly got Rs 374 crores sanctioned by the Centre under the Special Plan Assistance and ‘K Pro Infra Works Private Limited.’, a Delhi based Company has been entrusted with the work of cleaning phumdis over a contractual period of 2 years 3 months. The work involves scooping out of 132.94 lakh cubic metres of phumdis, cutting of 63.48 lakh square metres of the same for piling them up over 80 lakh square metres around the lake area. Rs 374 crores. over 2 years and 3 months, works out to Rs 0.45 crore per day earning for K Pro.

Till early February, 2010, a month after launching of K Pro’s project, no phumdis had been heaped up. Further search and queries confirmed that no work had been done and the only few truck loads of phumdis strewn were near Sendra hill, area where the inaugural function was held and as Lokendra put it, “but it was too little to be worth Rs. 13 crores (cost of one month’s work at Rs. 0.45 crores per day) unless each kilogram was worth Rs. 1 lakh”.

Interestingly, local media reports recalled that Planning Commission had sanctioned Rs 25 crores as Special Plan Assistance during 2008-09 for a project called, “Conservation and Development of Loktak Lake and Associated Wetlands Integrating Manipur River Basin”, the main thrust of which was, removal of phumdis from Loktak Lake. While there was no implementation of cleaning the lake then and again, till February 2010, the latest reports are of “some cosmetic work on ground but a great amount on paper”.

K Pro’s office, flat No. A-104, Plot No. 29, Sector 6, Dwarka, New Delhi 110075, is reportedly locked and unused.

Other serious problems are some terrorist groups trying to extort money from schools and kidnapping children to add to their numbers, tensions between valley based Manipuris and some tribal groups. Unable to handle the situation, over 500 residents of Leirongthel Pitra, a village with 118 households, located about 45 kilometers from Imphal, decided to leave in March 2010, requesting the state Governments for protection from tribal militants.

Home Secretary, G. K. Pillai toured Manipur in March this year to expedite efforts to bring the Kuki National Front (KNF) which signed an agreement for suspension of operations with the Union Government in 2005, to the negotiating table.

In January 2010, following Pillai’s visit to Myanmar , both countries agreed to launch a `coordinated operation’ against northeast separatist outfits taking shelter and setting up base camps there. It remains to be seen how sincere Myanmar is in its implementation.

2009 was yet another year when Meitei terrorist groups of Manipur were very active despite the Army and Assam Rifles busting some of their major hideouts. That is so mainly owing to a reportedly long standing nexus between them a number of members of the State government in power. Compounded by underground outfits operating in this farthest Eastern border state having links with Myanmar based groups, Chinese and Pakistan’s ISI based in Bangladesh (which, thanks to ULFA, made its entry into the North Eastern region, including Manipur, since early 1990s) and their involvement in trafficking of narcotics/weapons, it is a major liability for national security.

It is not very often that both the Prime Minister and Home Minister express their alarm over deterioration of security and law and order in States ruled by the political party they represent. However, that is exactly what both Dr Manmohan Singh and Mr P Chidambaram conveyed about Manipur , Assam and Nagaland, in August 2009. On 15 September, Mr. Chidambaram was reported to have singled out Manipur as the biggest problem in the North East and a blot on improving its picture.

Calling upon the Chief Ministers of all the North Eastern States to pay particular attention to the implementation of infrastructure projects, Dr Singh also noted a need in the North East for more emphasis on pro-active State police forces rather than exclusive reliance on the Central Para Military Forces and Army. He also urged all North East States to ensure transparency and representation of all groups and communities in recruitment in their police force.

Manipur’s Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh highlighting the “problem of extortion by undergrounds-UGs” in Manipur as one of a serious concern pleaded that it “could not be dealt without the intervention of the Union Home Ministry”, which he said, should give “necessary instruction to the Ministry of Telecommunication for cancellation of pre-paid mobile phone facility”. He also urged for setting up a dedicated security force to prevent extortion activities of UGs along National Highways 39, 53 and 150, which are the lifelines of the people in the State, by making the Highway Patrolling Scheme operational.

The Prime Minister felt that Manipur Government must put in place appropriate mechanisms for increased participation of people in developmental projects and pointed out that while resources for policing need to be enhanced substantially, the increased posts sanctioned at the police station level remained largely unfilled.

Terrorist related violence in Manipur, which trebled since mid- 2004, steadily increased, shot up further since 2007 and the trend in 2008 indicated an even further acceleration which has been proved by a number of incidents this year. With 388 deaths caused by terrorism in 2007 and 484 in 2008, Manipur remains the most violent in India 's troubled Northeast, leaving behind the much larger Assam (384), and Nagaland (201). Manipur, with just 8.52% of the territory and 6.12% of the Northeast’s population accounted for as much as 47% of terrorism related fatalities in the region in 2008.

While as many as 39 ‘underground’ outfits / factions are operating in Manipur, six Meitei based underground outfits banned by MHA since 10 November, 2007, are Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP), Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL), Manipur People's Liberation Front (MPLF), People's Liberation Army (PLA), People's Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK) and United National Liberation Front (UNLF). While that ban came quite late, the fact that Home Secretary G K Pillai visited Manipur after prolonged public protest following the killing of a suspected militant and a pregnant woman on 23 July, ’09, had long discussions with Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh and instructed Manipur’s Home Department to do more ‘home work’ on these groups and other matters indicated that the concern expressed by Prime Minister and Home Minister is being followed up seriously.

The levels of corruption and lawlessness that utter lack of governance of Ibobi’s government has led Manipur to nothing short of anarchy. The UG groups mentioned have ruined the quality of life of a people so rich in culture and sports. Manipur, where Sagol Kangjei became Polo in the 1850s and where there are many potential Olympians, has, as lamented by theatre maestro Ratan Thiyam, no playing fields for children; instead, they have often been kidnapped or lured -even in the State capital region - by some of these terrorist groups for recruitment. Many innocent people have been intimidated or killed by terrorists, including UNLF planting Chinese landmines and mass-raping tribal women in Churachandpur. Life changes so drastically after 5.00 p m, when it is already dark, because the sun rises and sets much earlier in India ’s North East than in ‘mainland’ India . Far too often Manipur is paralysed by ‘bandhs’. It costs only Rs 3,00,000/ (3 lakhs) to recruit one man into the state police and state-recruited paramilitary forces, so that that these same terrorist outfits with links to Pakistan’s Bangladesh-based Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and also the ruling political party, can penetrate the state’s security apparatus for a pittance. In people’s eyes Ibobi’s government has lost all legitimacy. There are so many more instances of degeneration of the State’s political, security and administrative systems, which make a mockery of the word ‘anarchy’. For obvious reasons, sources of these inputs are not named.

Following the unprecedented level of protest after Thangjam Manorama’s killing in August 2004, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) was lifted from Imphal’s municipal zone of four districts and the Army was withdrawn from it. However, Manipur Police’s special force known Manipur Police Commandos (MPC- police commandos is a highly misued term as there is no comparison between them and the kind of training and conditioning that army commandos go through), who replaced the Army in these four districts – Imphal East, Imphal West, Thoubal and Bishnupur - became notorious for extra-judicial killings, particularly, fake encounters. In 2008, there were 27 recorded cases of torture and killing attributed to the MPC. Whereas earlier, they conducted ‘encounters’ in isolated places, they now do so in cities, in broad daylight, as on 23 July, killing Chungkham Sanjit. Photographs of the alleged ‘encounter’ clicked by a local lensman and published in a tabloid clearly reveal that contrary to the official version, Sanjit was standing calmly as the police commandos frisked him, spoke to him, took him inside the storeroom of the pharmacy, shot him and brought his dead body out.

While New Delhi has taken note and some action on Imphal, much more needs to be done about too much that has happened and is happening there linked to China and Pakistan (through Bangladesh), both of which-as brought out periodically by this author- have India’s North East well within their sights to not only exacerbate existing problems there but also to create as many more as possible.

Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League, which came to power in Bangladesh with a massive mandate since end of 2008, has indeed made some meaningful moves to make a quantum improvement in its relationship with India . During her recent visit to India , she signed some major treaties involving cooperation against terrorism and exchange of extraditions between the two countries. In view of Ulfa leaders getting chased out of Bangladesh and getting nabbed, Government of India must try for the same for PLA and UNLF groups of Manipur, whose detachments located there have been in contact with Pakistan ’s ISI.

Born in New Delhi , on 18th August, 1951, alumnus of St Columba’s School, New Delhi , National Defence Academy and Indian Military Academy , Anil Bhat was commissioned into 19th Battalion, The Madras Regiment on 31st March 1972 and later, transferred to 4th Horse. Hand-picked for posting to Defence Ministry’s Directorate of Public Relations in 1998, he raised two of its regional offices at Imphal and Guwahati in 1988 and 1991 respectively. In 1993 he was posted as Public Relations Officer, Indian Army, in the capital, from where he took early retirement in April 1999. A recipient of Vishisht Seva Medal by the President of India and Commendations by Chief of Army Staff and GOC-in-C, Eastern Command, he was Research Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (2001-2003), working on a new subject, ‘Public Information and National Security’ and authored ‘Information And Security: Where Truth Lies’ (Manas), followed by ‘Assam Terrorism and the Demographic Challenge (Centre for Land Warfare Studies and Knowledge World). With papers, articles and book reviews in many edited books, journals and newspapers, he is a syndicated columnist, and Editor, WordSword Features and www.wordsword.in. He has maintained a major focus on the North Eastern region.

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