New Delhi: Ahead of the crucial special session of the Manipur assembly on August 21, eight Naga MLAs have backed chief minister N. Biren Singh’s move to press the Union government to not listen to the ‘separate administration’ demand of the Kuki community following the brutal ethnic violence in the state.
One of the eight Naga MLAs is K. Jumo Sha, an Independent from the Karong constituency. The rest are from the Bharatiya Janata Party’s allies in the National Democratic Alliance – the Naga People’s Front (NPF) and Nationalist People’s Party (NPP).
The Naga community has 10 MLAs across party lines in the state assembly. NPF MLA Losii Dikho was the sole legislator among the five from the party to not support the move. NPP MLA from Tabudi constituency, N. Kayisii, was also the only one among his party’s seven MLAs to not support this move.
This development took place on August 8, after a meeting of 40 Manipur MLAs in New Delhi. In the light of this, there is strong likelihood that a resolution will be moved at the August 21 special session of the assembly by the Biren Singh government, which will seek to maintain the territorial integrity of the state.
In other words, the statehood or Union Territory demand of the Kuki leaders, which is being supported by all 10 MLAs from the community across party lines, will be met with a clear ‘no’.
Powerful Meitei civil society organisations like COCOMI have been demanding such a resolution on territorial integrity for some time now.
The eight MLAs include NPF president Awangbou Newmai, also a minister in the Biren Singh government. On August 9, the eight had been among the 40 MLAs who had submitted a memorandum to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This was a day after the meeting of all the 40 MLAs in Delhi.
The memorandum signed by the MLAs categorically said, “There is a most important point that must be made. A ‘separate administration’ as demanded by the ITLF/Kukis is absolutely unacceptable under any circumstances.”
Also read: Special: Manipur Violence Broke Out Days Before MHA Was to Finalise Kuki Accord that CM Did Not Support
The memorandum also categorically sought implementation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Manipur and added that the collection of biometric data of immigrants from Myanmar has started in the state and it “should be expanded and strengthened”.
The 40 MLAs also reiterated the Biren Singh government’s earlier demand that the Union government withdraw the suspension of operations (SoO) agreement with Kuki armed groups “at the earliest”, stating that they have violated “the ground rules.” The Ministry of Home Affairs, currently, is in talks with the SoO groups and has recently extended the ceasefire agreement with them. On August 17, the groups are to hold a meeting with MHA officials.
Aside from Awangbou, the signatories among the Naga MLAs are his NPF colleague Khashim Vashum, who is also the state transport minister, Ram Muivah (MLA from Ukhul) and Leishiyo Keishing (Phungyar MLA).
Losii Dikho who decided against attending the New Delhi meeting, told The Wire from Manipur, “I was contacted by my party colleagues, including my party president, to join them on the trip to New Delhi for the August 8 meeting. I was not told what exactly was on the agenda. I told them I am not clear on what it is about.”
Dikho said that since the United Naga Council (UNC), the apex body of Nagas in the state, was organising a rally in his home district of Senapati, he felt that he should rather join it as its purpose was to urge the Union government to find a solution to the Naga political question soon.
The date of the submission of the memorandum to the prime minister by the MLAs was significant as on the same day, the UNC too submitted a memorandum to Modi, urging him to sort out the Naga problem, and not touch the community’s traditional land while dealing with any other community’s political movement. Earlier, the UNC and the Naga Hoho had also issued press statements asking all the Naga MLAs of the Manipur assembly, across party lines, to not attend the session as they felt it was at the behest of Meitei civil society organisations.
NPF sources told The Wire that their party MLAs, led by the president, met the chief minister in Imphal in the first week of August. CM Biren asked them to travel to Delhi to sign on the memorandum rejecting the demand for a separate administration by Kuki leaders, including those from within the BJP.
The NPF entourage to Delhi was joined by the independent Naga MLA K. Jumo Sha and one other Naga MLA, Janghemlung Panmei.
Panmei, an MLA from another BJP ally, the NPP, was joining five other MLAs from the valley areas who belong to his party. However, his party colleague and fellow Naga, Tadubi MLA N. Kayisii, refused to be a part of it.
S. S. Olish, an MLA from Chandel district seen as close to the chief minister, was also a signatory to the memorandum on August 9. Interestingly, most of the rebel MLAs of the BJP stayed away from the August 8 meeting.
CM Biren himself didn’t attend the August 8 meeting in New Delhi but his son-in-law and BJP MLA R.K. Imo Singh did and signed on memorandum.
Also read: Special | Controlling Manipur Matters: Even Solutions for Peace Risk Drawing in More Communities
Meanwhile, on coming to know about the Naga MLAs’ support to the chief minister’s move, several Naga civil society bodies including the UNC came down heavily on them on August 13.
In a statement, UNC particularly mentioned that the MLAs chose not to attend the August 9 rally called by it in the Naga-dominated districts of Manipur and instead went to New Delhi. UNC said their move “negated the collective sentiments of the Naga populace”.
It said, on a day when “all Nagas (of Manipur) were out reiterating for an inclusive, acceptable and honourable solution Indi-Naga political issue,” these eight MLAs were busy “submitting representation with some contradictory demands to the prime minister of India” which “was highly uncalled for”.
“Therefore, it feels necessitated to place on record that the Naga legislators who have appended their signatures (to the memorandum) do not carry the collective aspirations and sentiments of the Nagas and hence disowned their representation.”
In a press statement on August 13, the Working Group for Naga Rights in Manipur said it was “pained and aghast” at the move by the eight Naga MLAs. Calling it an “abrasive act” and “not representative of the Nagas”, the working group said these MLAs “have chosen to bow down to the diktats of certain vested interests groups whose sole purpose has been to maintain the status quo in every respect, in the state of Manipur.”
While The Wire failed to contact the NPF president who had signed on the memorandum, sources in the party said that following the largely negative reaction in Naga society to their August 9 move, it doesn’t look like the MLAs will attend the special session of the assembly.
Before leaving for the August 8 meeting of the BJP with its allies in New Delhi, R.K. Imo Singh had urged all legislators of the state including those from his party and those who belong to the Kuki community who have demanded a separate administration for the Kukis, to attend the special session and express their thoughts on the floor of the assembly. He said all measures would be taken to ensure their safety and security in Imphal.
However, pointing fingers at the former BJP ally, Kuki People’s Alliance, Singh had said since it withdrew support to the government and is also demanding separate administration, its MLAs should resign from the assembly. KPA has two MLAs in the 60-member house.