Ethnic Strife of Manipur May Derail Assembly Elections

Ethnic Strife

Manipur was facing one of the worst kinds of economic blocked since November 1st. Naga People Council was agitating against the formation of new districts. It was a pressure tactics by the Naga people to prevent Congress Government of Iboba Singh from dividing the Naga populated districts of the state, but the state government refused to budge under pressure and seven new districts were created in the second week of December. This action of the government further escalated the tension and both national highways were blocked causing a lot of hardships to the people, who live in the valley of Manipur.

But, after dialogue with the administration, Naga students have suspended their block and people are heaving some sigh of relief expecting that normalcy may return soon. Students decided to suspend their agitation only after the touch talk of the Central government, which sent additional 4000 paramilitary forces to tackle the agitation. BJP is a partner in the Nagaland government, which is led by Naga People Party. It used its clout as the coalition partner to ease the tension.

Block of this type is not new for Manipur. On many occasions in the past, it had witnessed such blockade by ethnic Naga people, who are always at loggerheads with the state government.

In fact Manipur has never seen peace after its merger in independent India in 1949. Earlier it was a part of British India and was a princely state. When Myanmar was created as a separate political entity by the British government in 1930s, Manipur was given option either to join Myanmar or remain in British India. Manipur chose to remain the part of British India.

When the British left India in 1947, Manipur as a princely state did not join it immediately. It took some time and the then Prince of Manipur signed to instrument of accession to India. After that it became part of Independent India, but there were some people, who wanted to see Manipur a separate sovereign state. They formed many organisations and started violent agitation for an independent nation.

That is not the only problem for the state. There are ethnic strifes too, because Manipur is the home of several tribes. Meitei tribe is the main tribe of the state, which inhabits in the valley, while Naga and Kuki tribes are also in significant number, which reside mainly in the hills. Naga and Kukis fight among themselves and on many occasions severe bloodsheds have occurred between these two tribes. Naga people of northeast are fighting for a greater Nagaland, which they name as Nagalim. They are demanding that all area of Manipur populated by them should merge in the neighboring Nagaland, which is protested by both Kuki and Meitei tribes. This is the main problem of ethnic strife in Manipur, which has resulted in economic block by Naga People, who are resided at strategic place in hills of Manipur and also in Nagaland, blocking the roads at their will to punish the people of Manipur, who live in the valley.

The agitation, which has not entirely subsided, is going on at a time, when general elections are going to take place in the state in the early months of 2017. The decision taken by the Iboba Singh government to divide the districts to create new ones is meant to influence the voters. Kuki people are supporting it and they have joined hands with Meitei, the tribe of Iboba Singh, but Naga people see a design to divide them by these new districts. Hence they are opposing the decision tooth and nail.

Ibobo Singh is Chief Minister of the State since 2002 and it is facing an uphill task to meet the challenge of BJP, which is ruling both in Assam and Nagaland. BJP has got absolute majority of its own in Assam, while it is a coalition partner in Nagaland. That is why Congress government of Iboba Singh has taken the drastic decision of creating new districts. It has posed problem for BJP, too, which is a coalition partner of Nagaland People Party, which is against the division of the old districts, but since Meiteis are in majority and Kukis are supporting the creation, BJP cannot go with the Naga aspirations. Hence, BJP is also supporting the new districts, which has created some rifts with its alliance partner of Nagaland.

Both Central and State governments face the task to keep situations under control in Manipur, which is going for Assembly elections. If unrest escalates and violence erupts, holding of Assembly Elections will become very challenging for Election Commission of India.

-Contributed by Kriti

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