Centre removed free movement regime along India-Myanmar border to thwart conspiracy to change Manipur’s demography, says Amit Shah

In Imphal rally, the Home Minister says the Modi government wants to secure Manipur; Congress asks why PM has not visited the State since the ethnic violence began

Published - April 15, 2024 10:09 pm IST - New Delhi

Union Home Minister Amit Shah holds a sword during a public meeting in support of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Inner Manipur candidate Thounaojam Basanta Kumar Singh for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, as Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh looks on, in Imphal on April 15, 2024

Union Home Minister Amit Shah holds a sword during a public meeting in support of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Inner Manipur candidate Thounaojam Basanta Kumar Singh for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, as Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh looks on, in Imphal on April 15, 2024 | Photo Credit: ANI

Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Monday said that the Narendra Modi-led government had ended the Free Movement Regime (FMR) along the 1,600 km India-Myanmar border to thwart a “conspiracy” to change the demography of Manipur. “No matter how hard anyone tries, we will not let anyone divide Manipur,” he said at a campaign rally in support of the BJP’s Inner Manipur candidate in Imphal.

Earlier this year on February 8, Mr. Shah had posted on social media platform X that the Government of India had decided to scrap the FMR between the two countries.

Also read | PM Modi abandoned all responsibility for ‘BJP-manufactured crisis’ in Manipur: Congress

Ethnic violence between the Kuki-Zo people and the majority Meitei community erupted in the State in May 2023. While Kuki-Zo legislators, including those from the BJP, have demanded a separate administration, Chief Minister N. Biren Singh has blamed the porous border and free movement along Myanmar as the reasons for the violence.

The Kuki-Zo people share ethnic ties with people in Myanmar and Bangladesh and are among the hill tribes for whom the FMR was meant.

At the rally, flanked by Mr. Singh on one side and the BJP’s Manipur president on the other, Mr. Shah said, “I know that in this state, intruders are coming in and conspiring to change the demography of the State.” He said that this was why the Modi government had decided to start fencing the India-Myanmar border and had decided to scrap the Free Movement Regime between the two countries, adding it was “being abused to traffic narcotics”.

This is the second visit the Home Minister has made to Manipur since the ethnic conflict broke out in the State between the Meitei people and the Kuki-Zo people on May 3 last year. After the first wave of violence, Mr. Shah had visited the State last year in May-end, despite which the conflict has continued.

Continuing violence

The latest violence was seen on Saturday when two Kuki-Zo village volunteers were killed and their bodies mutilated.

So far, over 220 people have been killed in the conflict, thousands have been injured, and tens of thousands have been internally displaced and are living in relief camps. With muted campaigning, the BJP is in a tight spot while promising peace and also having to defend the State and Centre’s handling of the conflict.

At the rally for Inner Manipur candidate Th. Basantakumar Singh, Mr. Shah said, “I want to say to the people in the hills and in the valley. In the future, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s priority is to talk to the parties involved in the conflict and bring peace to the State while ensuring that Manipur is not split up under any circumstance,” he said.

Mr. Shah also made it a point to state that the Modi government had successfully gotten the Ram Temple built in Ayodhya after years of struggle.

The Inner Manipur constituency is dominated by Meitei people, most of whom are Hindu by religion.

“Your Chief Minister, Biren Singh does not say much about what he has done for the people of Manipur, but I will tell you. He mustered the courage and brought the bold proposal before the PM to introduce the Inner Line Permit to save Manipur from being broken apart and Modi ji has followed through on it. To secure Manipur,” Mr. Shah said.

The Home Minister, however, did not mention the National Register of Citizens, in his remarks, an issue that the BJP in Manipur has been using to campaign for votes. The BJP has also decided to drop the NRC from its manifesto in 2024 after having it featured in the 2019 manifesto.

The Home Minister framed the ongoing ethnic conflict in the State between parties “that have done it” and parties “that have suffered from it”. He said, “Whoever has done it will be heard and those who have suffered will also be heard.”

Taking aim at the Congress, Mr. Shah said that this election in Manipur was not a fight between the Congress and the BJP. He said, “It is between those who talk about breaking Manipur apart and those who talk about keeping it together. Congress always talks about breaking the nation into pieces…”

He continued that “the Congress has turned Manipur into a naka bandi (blockade) State” while citing past clashes such as the Kuki-Naga conflict of the 1990s, the Meitei-Pangal conflict and the Kuki-Paite clashes — accusing the Congress of presiding over these and overseeing the spate of “fake encounters” that had taken place in Manipur.

Mr. Shah went on to brand the Congress as “tukde tukde gang” (“divisive gang”), also accusing its Inner Manipur candidate and Jawaharlal Nehru University associate professor A. Bimol Akoijam of being a part of this “gang”.

However, Mr. Akoijam’s campaign in Manipur has maintained categorically that Manipur’s territorial integrity cannot be compromised, that he is in favour of the removal of the Free Movement Regime, and is also in favour of the NRC as long as it is de-linked from the Citizenship Amendment Act.

While Mr. Shah went on to stress how important, the northeastern States, and specifically Manipur, was to Mr. Modi’s agenda, he also mentioned that Mr. Modi had visited the northeastern region 70 times, the most ever by a PM. But Congress general secretary (communications) Jairam Ramesh hit out at the BJP over the Prime Minister’s absence from Manipur ever since the conflict began.

Congress counter

On Monday, Mr. Ramesh, posted a set of questions to the BJP-led government and the PM, saying, “The Prime Minister has abandoned all responsibility for the BJP-manufactured crisis in Manipur. However, his Home Minister has found the time to campaign in the State today, and we hope he takes the initiative to answer a few questions on behalf of the PM.”

In his speech, the Home Minister sought votes for Mr. Basantakumar Singh, praising his father, Th. Chauba Singh (former Union Minister in the Vajpayee government), and their family for their sacrifices. He added, “Elect Basantakumar and I promise I will make him a big man.”

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