STAFF REPORTER IMPHAL, 12th Nov: Expressing his happiness on seeing the new BJP government enjoying love and popularity in the hill districts; former chief minister and MLA (Thoubal) Okram Ibobi said that if detractors of Congress party believe that territorial integrity of the state can be protected by working together with BJP, he is ready to worship and wash their feet daily with warm water.
Ibobi made the statement during a sit-in-protest staged at Khoyathong here on Sunday. The event was organised by Thangmeiband Block Congress Committee as part of Manipur Pradesh Congess Party's resolve to dissipate the fear of the people regarding the future of the state due to the framework agreement signed between NSCN(IM) and Government of India.
Interacting with mediapersons on the sidelines of the protest, Ibobi said that he is glad that the incumbent government has been showered with garlands and love when they visit the hill districts, compared to the previous government when it was welcomed with bullets on the alleged ground that it was trying to break Manipur apart.
“If these supporters of BJP can help protect the integrity of Manipur, then I will gladly wash the feet of each and every one of them,” Ibobi said.
He went on to say that in the last assembly elections, only nine Congress candidates emerged victorious out of the total 20 constituencies in the hills. If there had been no interference from certain outfits, the total number of victors would have been 15, he added.
Ibobi further said that he is aware of the hatred of the hill people towards him and the party but neither him nor the party has any hard feelings whatsoever. The reason for all this hatred was only because they (Congress party) were against breaking Manipur apart or violating the cease fire ground rule. The most probable reason will be the formation of new districts which some opposed. But formation of new districts did not have anything to do with handing over land to a particular community, and it was done in consideration of administrative convenience, he added.
Ibobi pointed out that as Congress was allegedly "trying to break apart Manipur", the haters can work together with BJP to protect Manipur. But the Congress will not sit quietly, if there is any threat to the territorial integrity of Manipur. Even the Congress president Sonia Gandhi won't stand for it, he said.
The former CM revealed that when the framework agreement was signed between NSCN(IM) and the Central government, some MLAs from the northeastern states had requested Sonia Gandhi to support the agreement. Even though she expressed her wish to end the insurgency problems, she out rightly refused saying that it was like signing a blank cheque owing to the fact that the terms of the agreement were not known to her.
He further said that BJP may accuse Congress of taking political advantage or say it is a facade for greed of power. But the issue of protection of Manipur’s territorial integrity has nothing to do with political advantage. Congress does not like wasting time organising sit in protests. All it is requesting is for BJP to reveal the terms of the agreement, for which the BJP is welcomed to take credit. It is not favourable to allow formation of administrative autonomy, financial autonomy and cultural autonomy as options for territorial integrity. These will lead to breakup of Manipur within a year. The recent all-political party meeting and the formation of a consultative committee are spreading fear and panic amongst the people.
If the Centre bypasses the State government and gives funds or administrative and financial autonomy to ministers, just to pacify some groups, the demand to form their own respective states is inevitable. Instead the centre may earmark crores of rupees for the development of hill districts. The state government will never touch that money, Ibobi said.
Thangmeiband MLA and Manipur Pradesh Congress Committee spokesperson Kh Joykishan, who also attended the protest, said that newspapers published in Manipur and outside are saying that the Naga issue is soon coming to an end. It has even been said that the Nagaland State Assembly elections will not be held until the solution to the Naga issue is brought about.
He stressed that Congress supports the need for peace in the region, something which it has been fighting for the last 70 years. It would be helpful if a deadline is set, he said, while urging that the solution be made applicable within the jurisdiction of Nagaland state only without harming the interest of neighbouring states.
He further remarked that if the BJP-led government at the Centre is really capable, they should try to work out a solution with NSCN(IM) without affecting the integrity of the neighbouring states. Saying something else while doing something else to pacify an insurgent group will not work, he said.
The MLA also pointed out that it is suspicious on the part of the BJP-led government in the state to convene an All-Political Party Meeting and added that the Congress is ready to fight for the territorial integrity of Manipur along with the people.
The people already know who is against them and who is beside them and who is responsible for the tragedy that occurred on June 18, 2001. Congress will always be there for the hill people while the BJP are mere puppets of the insurgent groups pointing a gun at them. It is not right to do whatever you want just because you are in power, he cautioned.
The sit-in-protest demonstration was also attended by former Speaker Lokeswar, former minister AK Mirabai, MLA Okram Henry and other Manipur Pradesh Congress Committee and Thangmeiband Block Congress Committee members.