In the backdrop of an unprecedented unified protest all over the northeastern states over the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB) in the last few months, Manipur chief minister Nongthombam Biren Singh has categorically ruled out any chance of a united regional political formation in the region.
“I think regionalism is almost gone. That time is gone. We are now joining the mainstream, hand in hand with the central government,” the chief minister said in an exclusive conversation in state capital Imphal.
"The states may raise issues but from our side there is no question of uniting the whole North East,” he says adding that there is support for the CAB in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura besides Manipur.
“The nation is one. The regional force comes only when the Centre neglects it. But in the last two years (of his government in Manipur), what has the Centre not done for us?” the former footballer said pointing at the development works in Assam, Arunachal and Manipur.
On the recent standoff between the NSCN(IM) and Assam Rifles in Ukhrul district of his state, Singh said: “Manipur doesn’t fall under the ceasefire agreement [between the government and the NSCN (IM)]. There has been some movement of NSCN(IM) cadres and establishment of some temporary camps... The people and the government of Manipur cannot accept it... So Assam Rifles has asked them to withdraw. They [NSCN(IM)] have to withdraw.”
Singh had recently courted controversy after news reports quoted him as telling voters to take money from the Congress but to vote for the BJP, drawing the ire of the Election Commission. The BJP leader rejected the reports. “I did not say it. I said if the Congress which has ruled for 14-15 years, offers money, because most of the time their mentality is to buy the people during the time of the election, I said if someone offers, take the money but don’t give the vote (for them). That is the people's money... If I had said take the money and then vote then it would have violated the electoral code of conduct... I have already given clarifications to the EC," he said.
On the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, the 57-year-old said, “My stand is very clear. I seek rectifications... so that we can be safe. Manipur cannot be compared with West Bengal or Rajasthan.... We can say we are a very small group, we have a very unique identity and our population is at a micro level. So please keep a provision to protect us."
When asked whether he will oppose the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill if it is brought up again as the BJP has promised it in the party poll manifesto, he said, "The question doesn’t arise. Already the prime minister has stated he will look into the concerns of the northeastern states. I am fully confident of that. Now that the bill has lapsed whenever the new bill is taken up, the prime minister will definitely address the concerns of the North East”.
Singh also said that his government is determined to find a resolution of the Naga issue, which is intertwined with the Greater Nagalim demand, however, boundaries of the state will not be altered.
“Demand is one thing and the solution is another thing. When the solution comes, whatever I demand I cannot get. If I stick to only my demand then the solution will not be there. We also want to give a solution because Nagaland and Manipur have suffered immensely due to the Naga issue including parts of Assam and Arunachal Paradesh. Solution will be within the state. Boundaries of the states will not be allowed to be altered,” he said.
But the real challenge in front of the Singh-led BJP government in Manipur is the underground insurgent groups. On the prospects of peace with the Manipur valley-based insurgent underground groups, Singh said: “That is the main headache I am facing. I have requested the central government also to have a dialogue with the insurgent groups that are not in talks. And personally, not officially, I have met many senior citizens from the civic society requesting them to kindly give directions to the underground outfits so that they may come out and have a political dialogue. Till now no signal has come but I am trying and I will try.”
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Updated Date: May 08, 2019 17:43:40 IST