Will Manipur vote against AFSPA, Greater Nagalim today?
With many unresolved issues, the state will vote for the 16th Lok Sabha today, hoping for some concrete answers in the heap of tall promises, made by political parties.
Often surviving under the gun barrel and chronic unrest, Manipur has always struggled to keep itself peaceful. Despite being famous for sports personalities like boxer MC Mary Kom, weightlifter Sonia Chanu, archer Laishram Bombella and playwright Ratan Thiyam, this landlocked state in India's North East has always been in the news for wrong reasons.
Its border issues with Myanmar, it frequently being held to ransom by Naga bodies, the countless secessionist groups and AFSPA are some of the burning issues of the state. With these unresolved issues on for long, the state will vote for the 16th Lok Sabha today, hoping for some concrete answers in the heap of tall promises, made by political parties prior to the polls.
"It is possible to lift the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) if we have good governance. If it is possible in Jammu and Kashmir at least partially why can't we do that in Manipur? We do not have a conflict like situation they have in Jammu and Kashmir. The Congress government in the state and at the Centre have failed to deal with the situation," Manipur BJP general secretary M Asnikumar Singh told Firstpost from Imphal.
Manipur has been under AFSPA for over 50 years leading to decades of protests and pleas to lift the draconian law. The state's Iron Lady Irom Sharmila Chanu is still on hunger strike since 2 November 2000 demanding the repeal of the Act from the state. There are allegations that security personnel often resort to harrassment of innocent youths even leading to questionable encounters raising serious human rights concerns.
Congress MLA from Heingang constituency Nongthombam Biren Singh believes that the state government is not doing its bit to get AFSPA removed.
"AFSPA is the main concern for national security. We cannot take it off on our own. We need the Centre's permission to do that. As you know, Manipur shares a porous border with Myanmar allowing the insurgents a free run. Moreover, these groups are supported by China," Nongthombam said.
"We have requested the Centre to replace the AFSPA by some other humane law. Even the prime minister has accepted that and the Centre is actively considering the proposal. To start off, the AFSPA has been lifted off from the southern Imphal municipality area," he said.
As per a decision in November last year, the AFSPA was removed from the seven Assembly constituencies of Wangkhei, Yaiskul, Thangmeiband, Uripok, Sagolband, Shingjamei and Khurai within the Imphal municipality. The rest of the state continues to be covered by the Act.
The state also does not share a cordial relationship with its neighbour Nagaland particularly on demands of a Greater Nagalim and over alleged atrocities on the minority Naga community in the hill areas of Manipur. This tension between the two communities reached a height when Naga groups blocked the Imphal-Dimapur-Guwahati (NH-39) and the Imphal-Jiribam-Silchar (NH-53) leaving Manipur to reel with 100 days of sky-high prices and fuel shortage in 2011.
"There is no doubt that both the state and Central governments are weak. They simply did not care for the three months of intense sufferings that the people in Manipur went through," M Asnikumar Singh, state secretary of the BJP, said.
"Why did the Centre fail to secure the 220 km of highways we have by making it an all-weather road safe from all elements till date? All the promises made by Rahul Gandhi are false. There is absolutely no delivery at all from both the governments regarding Manipur. In fact, this has fuelled the alienation of Manipur from the Indian mainland," he said.
The BJP leader was also quick enough to add how the party would make the difference if gets power at the Centre. "We will make the two crucial highways all-weather roads and raise a special force to secure them. We will make sure that every rupee spent on these roads are accounted for," he said.
However, the Congress refused to buy the BJP charges.
"We have requested the Centre for securing the national highway 44A. We already proposed the Centre for an armed battalion in the next few years to secure the road network," Nongthombam said.
The Manipur-Nagaland conflict took a politically ugly turn recently when Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio during recent campaigns for his party Nagaland People's Front in Manipur attacked his counterpart Okram Ibobi Singh as the number one enemy of the Nagas. This was apart from his lashing out at the Congress party.
"We have already complained to the Election Commission. These are all stunts by Rio. There are 42 tribes in Manipur and the government is for all the communities. We are doing our best in the hills," Nongthombam said.
Rejecting the charges levelled by Rio and the BJP, he said, "People are supporting Congress in the state's five hill districts of Senapati, Tamenglong, Churachandpur, Chandel and Ukhrul. So many Congress MLAs are from the hills. We are doing good work in the hills. If we had not done it people won't have voted for us to power for 10 years."
The Congress leader also made it clear that not an inch of land will be ceded for Greater Nagalim.
"There are 6-7 lakhs Meiteis living in the Barak valley in Assam. Can we claim that area belongs to Manipur? So many Bengalis live in Assam bordering West Bengal. Can West Bengal claim it as their land? This is impossible and it will affect national interest," Nongthombam said.
Apart from these issues the state also has to deal with multiple militant groups. Not very long ago, CorCom, an umbrella organisation of Manipur-based militant groups—KCP, KYKL, PREPAK, PREPAK-Pro, PLA and UNLF—had warned both the Congress and BJP to stay away from campaigning.
"The world is changing. We all have entered into a digital stage. The young people who strayed into the wrong path are our brothers and sisters. The ultimate aim is a good life for the people. This can be achieved through a political dialogue," BJP's Asnikumar said.
The Congress too adopted a similar stand. "More than 400-500 cadres returned to the mainstream. But some are left. We are arguing with them for political talk. At the moment, 80 percent of the militancy in Manipur is under control," Nongthombam said.
What has added more spice to this poll theatre in Manipur is the presence of BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. While the saffron believes it is a factor, the other simply denies it.
"Narendra Modi is reaching out to the people of Manipur. People in the state want him to be the prime minister. They have a strong faith in him," Asnikumar said.
The Congress was dismissive. "There is no impact of Modi in the entire North East leave alone Manipur. In Manipur, Christians, Muslims, Meiteis and Hindus all live together. A divisive force like Modi simply doesn't connect," Nongthombam said.
While BJP is fielding two former professors RK Ranjan Singh (for Inner Manipur Parliamentary Constituency) and Gangmumei Kamei (for Outer Manipur Parliamentary Constituency), the Congress has put up its sitting MPs -- Thangso Baite and Thokchom Meinya for the two seats in the state.
The BJP claimed it had better candidates in this election.
"The credentials of the sitting MPs are not good. For us the candidates should be qualified and presentable. They should to be fit to represent Manipur. Both have clean images. While one is a historian and a scholar, the other is an environmental activist," said Asnikumar.
The Congress countered by saying that what was important was the zeal to work for the state's people.
"In politics, being a doctor, IAS etc. does not matter. Even education is not countable. What counts is attitude and experience. There has to be an interest to work for the people. There has to be a zeal for it," said Nongthombam.
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