Demand for strict entry rule ups heat in Manipur

On August 3, the Manipur Government lifted propitiatory orders that was imposed on state capital Imphal and its suburbs since July 8 when in a police action on an protest rally, school student Sapam Robinhood was hurt and later succumbed to his injuries. The agitators had taken out a rally, where students demanded immediate implementation of the Inner Line Permit regime, a strict rule that does not allow any migrant to enter Manipur until state government issues him/her a special travel pass. The rule now applies in Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh.

The death of the student was an immediate trigger, the greater Imphal area busted in protest asking for immediate implementation of the ILP regime and punishment for the police personnel who were on duty when the protesters and police locked horns on July 8. Since then, for over a month, Imphal has been in total lockdown situation. Bandh, blockades, pitched battles between protesters and the police, rallies and sit-in protests have been the order of the day till the city closed down for night curfew. It had been over a month that this crisis has been boiling.

The protests are led by Joint Committee on Inner Line Permit System (JCILPS), and have been around for half a decade. This time around, the protests have found teeth. A cornered Manipur government had to withdraw the Regulation of Visitors, Tenants and Migrant Workers’ Bill, which made it mandatory for non-Manipuris to register themselves with the government. This was introduced earlier and the protesters alleged that it was a ‘soft rule’ that does not protect the interests of indigenous communities of Manipur against a migrant explosion.

In Manipur, protests are part of life. Almost every other day, there is a bandh or a blockade affecting normal life. But the ongoing ILP protests have been most intense since it is happening at the heart of the state capital. The state government has formed a committee to draft a new bill to check illegal influx and sought three months’ time. But the problem in Manipur is that people by and large don’t have trust in the government. This has been the fallout of a long and battered history of conflicts and communities staying in utter distrust.

The worst hit are the schools and colleges. The bandhs and blockades cripple the academic sessions. For decades, educational institutions in Manipur have not been able to complete academic sessions. The pro-ILP pressure groups are using students in the forefront of their agitation.

The core demand in Manipur is same like other Northeastern states - checking illegal migrant population and prohibiting non-Manipuris from acquiring or buying land in the state. There are rules in Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland on these lines, so in legal terms, meeting the demands is feasible. But the problem lies in the fact that in Manipur, the government is not engaging the civil society. The civil society is also trying to arm-twist their demand through protests.

The protesters claim that illegal migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh, Nepal and even Myanmar have been entering the state. There are also cases of these people being detected. But the condition of Manipur is not like Assam, the protesters claim that they don’t want the problem of illegal migrants to become the main political discourse in the years to come as it is in the case of Assam. Seizing the state capital is only making the matter more complex.

While analysts believe that one way for Manipur to reduce the heat is to open up to the outer world, the very essence of ILP demand tries to put people of Manipur in a cocoon, away from the outer world. The roots of the demand also lie in the history of Manipur, which was a princely state before the merger into Indian Union.

Constitutional amendment
Earlier to the Anglo-Manipur war of 1891, non-Manipuris needed permission from the cabinet of the Royal to enter and exit the territories of the princely state. The British later introduced the ILP and it remained in force until 1950. The first demand of renewal of ILP regime in Manipur was started in 1980.

The Manipur government does not have much power at its command. It can frame a new bill, introduce it in the legislative assembly, get it passed and send it to parliament. The implementation of ILP in Manipur would need a constitutional amendment, which can only be done by Centre through Parliament.

It is not unlikely that the protesters or at least the leaders of the protesters are unaware of this. In fact, they are aware of the legal bottleneck, yet they are creating a situation where the government at the state level would have to give in. What is more worrying is that BJP-led Centre has not stepped into this at all. This may be because Manipur is ruled by the Congress and the BJP would like to see the Okram Ibobi Singh government caught in troubled waters.

There is an even bigger problem. All communities living in Manipur are not on the same page on the ILP issue. In fact, the protest is going on only in the majority Meitei dominated Imphal valley. But in the hill districts of Manipur, dominated by the Naga and the Kuki tribals, there is no resistance.

Rather, the Nagas and Kukis are themselves wanting more autonomy since they accuse the majority Meities who dominate politics and administration in Manipur, of being partisan. The Centre also does not want to take the initiative and it has been seen siding with the demand of one community and thus, the ILP issue remains contentious.

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