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Security Challenges in Manipur and Tripura in NE

B.L.Vohra IPS (Retd.) - Northeast has always been a security challenge for India since Independence starting with Nagaland initially and continues to be so even today after 66 years. The latest challenge is the racial attacks on the youth of that region in Delhi in the beginning of 2014 though this challenge is of a different kind. Of the eight sisters (Sikkim has been added later), the situation is generally okay except Assam and Manipur. Assam has been having problems of ULFA, Bangladeshi illegal migrants, demands of Bodoland etc. Manipur, an erstwhile princely state is worst because it is a small area with much less population than Assam and yet the violence there has been going on unabated for decades except in the recent past. In sharp contrast in the region is Tripura, another erstwhile princely state with a small population, where the state government with a strong political will backed by the local police has tackled insurgency and the state is peacefully on road to development.

The people of Manipur have been facing violence for many decades now. Sometime back we read about bomb blasts close to the residence of the Chief Minister in Imphal, the state capital, and it was not for the first time. We can only imagine the situation in rest of the state. The people are suffering both at the hands of more than two dozen insurgent groups of Meities, Nagas and Kukis on the one hand and by the security forces on the other hand. Ambushes, murders, kidnappings, extortions etc have been going on for a long time though of late the violence is rather low. There is no economic development, in fact there are sufferings. . In the interiors there is not enough drinking water, electricity, roads; schools, dispensaries etc. and the poverty continues. Then there is economic blockade by the Nagas for long periods on the main highway from Dimapur to Imphal leading to more economic sufferings. There is no political will to tackle the situation in Manipur and this in turn is due to deep-rooted corruption in the state led by the politicians and followed by police, bureaucracy and others, of course with honourable exceptions. The central government is a milch cow and most of the money being sent by it is being pocketed in one form or the other.

A landlocked state with a valley in the middle and hills around it, is primarily inhabited by the Meities, mainly the Hindus, and Kukis in the valley and Nagas and Kuks in the hills. All three communities have their aspirations and all took to guns to fulfill these aspirations. Whereas the Naga insurgency is quite old, the main group now fighting for independence is NSCN (I-M). Both Issac and Muviah, after whom the faction is named, belong to the Ukhrul district of Manipur. There is a ceasefire of the central government with this group and negotiations have been going on for a long time on its demand of autonomy within the Indian Constitution (earlier they were demanding a separate country). They have also been wanting merger of the Naga inhabited areas of Manipur with Greater Nagaland which is not acceptable to Manipur. Then the Meities in the valley have also been demanding independence and have many underground groups starting with UNLF (United National Liberation Front), PLA (Peoples’ Liberation Army), PREPAK, KCP and many others. These days MPA (Manipur Peoples’ Army consisting both of UNLF and PLA) is strongest. These groups have been a force to reckon with by indulging in lot of violence like NSCN. Kukis are following the same path and have groups demanding a separate homeland though there is ceasefire with a few groups these days. But essentially most of these two dozen groups are extortionists and criminals. Since there are no economic opportunities in the state, this has created a serious security situation. With the international border with Myanmar, many of these groups have their camps on the other side and we have not been getting any help from that country due to its own problems.

Then China has been fishing in troubled waters by giving training and weapons earlier and now also may be involved. The police are under tremendous pressure all the time. Even though CRPF, Assam Rifles and Army are there for decades now, no real difference in the situation is there. People have been demanding the withdrawal of AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act). We have all heard of iron lady Irom Sharmila in Manipur who is on fast for more than a decade on this issue. It is a pity that such a wonderful state in the lap of nature with lovely people, which is also called the sports factory of India in the form of well known players in all disciplines playing all over the country for different teams (remember Mary Kom, the recent Olympic Bronze Winner boxer woman who incidentally now is SP in Manipur Police) is having this fate with no light anywhere on the horizon.

Tripura also had its violent insurgency from seventies of the last century onwards. It was the state of tribals. After the partition of India Hindus from Bangladesh came in large numbers to Tripura and became the majority population in the state. They captured the land of the tribals, trade, commerce, and politics and became the rulers. The tribals having been driven away took up arms demanding their own homeland wanting the migrants to be driven away. The insurgency there was fuelled earlier by Pakistan, from East Pakistan, and later by Bangladesh thorough their intelligence agencies. The Islamic fundamentalism in Bangladesh added to the problems. Even though Tripura played an important role in the liberation of Bangladesh, its long border with that country (it is surrounded by Bangladesh from three sides) has been more of a problem with most of the insurgents of Tripura and even others of northeast establishing camps there aided and abetted by that government. Violence, kidnappings, ambushes, murders, arson were the order of the day from mid seventies of the last century up to the year 2000 when the state took on the insurgents.

The state police backed by a strong political will took on the main insurgent groups of NLFT (National Liberation Front of Tripura), ATTF (All Tripura /Tribal Front of Tripura) and others with no help from the Army but backed by CRPF mainly. Today there is peace in the state. Of course there is normal crime there now with increase in rapes etc. but insurgency has withered away though there is a need of keeping a close watch. The state government there is giving its due to the entire population spread all over the state by running an honest and efficient administration with a tight control on money. The main reason for this success has been the political will of the honest Chief Minister Manik Sarkar of the CPM. And this trait of honesty follows in the police, bureaucracy and elsewhere generally. Because of this Sarkar last year won his fourth term as Chief Minister. Personally he is known to be the poorest Chief Minister in the country with only about Rupees Ten Thousand with him with no car, house or any other property and bank account. The people there are so happy with him that they elected CPM again against all odds even when it was washed away in West Bengal and Kerala where it had been ruling for a long time.

Reverting to Manipur since the state government has failed to show the results mainly due to lack of political will, logically the central government should have stepped in effectively. But Manipur is far too away from Delhi to merit any attention. Moreover it has just two MPs which count for nothing in a house of 543 members. So politics is responsible for the mess there. The institution of having an elected state government, which is applicable across the board in India based on the Constitution, has not paid dividends here.

Twice during informal meetings I asked Shri P. Chidambaram, when he was the Union Home Minister, as to why Manipur can’t be sorted out, he told me, “The Chief Minister there is a problem”. So they know here at the Centre also that the politicians are the main reason behind this situation there but can’t do or don’t want to do anything about it. I also told this twice to the Prime Minister, again during informal meetings. He knew the problem and asked me to suggest a solution. I told him to have President’s rule for a long time. Obviously that is not possible due to democratic system adopted by us across the board in the country. The tragedy is that everybody knows what is wrong there and yet nobody is doing anything about it or shall we say unable to do anything because of the democratic system that we have adopted. It is good to have elections, have representatives in the state assemblies, and the majority party ruling the state. But if it is no good for ages in any particular state of the country, should we not have a provision for a different set up in case of such a need?

One way could be to have President’s rule with the best of bureaucrats, serving or retired, from all over the country to work in the state in all areas of work. They should be given double the pay of the last pay drawn and surely the matters will improve. But according to the present constitutional provisions, President’s rule can be imposed in a state in certain circumstances of which the current ones as in Manipur are not included. Moreover President’s rule is only for a short period -generally for six months and sometimes up to one year. This period is not good enough for improvements situations like Manipur. And we can’t send honest efficient politicians from other states (though hardly any are available) on deputation to places like Manipur!

In my humble view there should be a constitutional amendment giving much more powers to the Governor to rule the state with an advisory council of the local people’s representatives, elected or otherwise. And this should be for a minimum period of five years to begin with. May be during that time the public is able to throw up good, honest and efficient politicians who can take up the reins of the state government. Meanwhile the central government has to make sincere efforts on all fronts including diplomatic with the bordering countries for a just and peaceful north-east along with the rest of India.

Let me also add that I am not holding any brief for CPM saying that it is a good party or saying that Congress is a bad party. It is the leadership in the states that matters. In Punjab it was the Congress Chief Minister Shri Beant Singh who showed the political will to tackle insurgency and even laid down his life. In Tripura it is the CPM which has succeeded.

A word about the functioning of the police would be in order here. It the same police all over India. It is competent and can deliver provided it is given the political backing and resources. Punjab, Tripura and Andhra Pradesh have been outstanding examples. How is it that the same policemen can deliver results in Tripura and not in Manipur? Of course the police leadership has also to rise to the occasion. 2014

The author has served as DGP Manipur and Tripura

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