Bold moves to settle niggling issues
AFTER the success in convincing the United Naga Council to lift the protracted economic blockade imposed along the two national highways in Manipur sector, the BJP led coalition government seems equally determined to bring an amicable end to the impasse over the passing of three bills, which the previous Congress regime initiated to uphold interest of the indigenous communities settling in the state. Regardless of the said bills aiming to protect the indigenes from the rapid influx of non-locals, the proposed legislations, which the Centre had rejected, had seen organisations spearheading the demand holding the valley areas, the capital city in particular, hostage for over two months while its passage in the assembly resulted in the death of nine people during mob protests in tribal dominated Churachandpur. Apart from the loss of nine lives, the Churachandpur agitation led to the torching of houses of the then health minister Phungzathang Tonsing and some tribal MLAs, on the ground that their elected representatives were unable to prevent the Bills from being passed. Contrary to organisations in the valley districts demanding implementation of Inner Line Permit (ILP) or a similar mechanism to restrict the entry of outsiders or ‘mainland Indians’ in order to safeguard the indigenes, the said bills were construed by some section of the tribal population as an infringement on their rights.
Of the three bills passed – the Protection of Manipur People’s Bill 2015, Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms Bill, 2015 and Manipur Shops and Establishments Bill, 2015 – the tribal population was vehemently opposed to the Manipur Land Reforms Bill which would ostensibly bring all land under the Manipur government and make sales to outsiders difficult. The tribal population of the state, whose land is protected by the 6th schedule on account of their being tribal, assumed that it is a tactic of the government to grab tribal land, which is governed by customary law and can only be sold to only tribal. It seems the tribal population’s apprehension against the Land Reforms Bill is that the land will be taken away by the state, that the power of the chieftains, who are the custodians of tribal land, will be eroded and made redundant, and that the tribal population will be pushed out and marginalised further. The anti-bill protests had even blurred the tribal lines with the traditionally hostile rivals coming together to fight the government. Significantly, the pro-ILP bills passed by the Manipur assembly evoked strong protests from leaders of neighbouring Nagaland and Mizoram states, where the inner line permit system are being enforced. Thus, for the N Biren Singh government, settling the Churachandpur issue will be another litmus test for bodies of eight out of nine persons killed during two days of violence in the hill town are yet to be given a respectable burial. If at all the invitation sent to the JAC Churachandpur for holding talks on March 25 evokes positive response then the new government will have the opportunity to iron out all differences and settle the dispute for good.