The >crisis in >Manipur stems from the demand to stop ‘outsiders’ from buying land in the State, in a context where the local population, predominantly the Meiteis, harbours fears of being marginalised. The valley constitutes only 10 per cent of the State’s geographical area and Meiteis constitute about 50 per cent of the population there. The long-standing demand has been to introduce a system similar to the >Inner Line Permit (ILP) in other northeastern States, or some similar stipulation, to stop in-migration. But for this to be effective, the State needs to identify the ‘outsiders’ first. But that is a complex issue anywhere in the northeastern region as the borders are largely porous and the Government of India has not done enough to check the passage of people across them. One reason this was not done was to protect the state’s own interest: for a long time now, a section of the immigrants have been engaged to counter local insurgent groups. But as the demand for an ILP >escalated , a cut-off year of 1951 was determined in the new Bills passed on Monday in order to identify outsiders. However, one of them, the Protection of Manipur People’s Bill, and two amendments, have been opposed by the tribal organisations, which claim control of the Manipur Hill districts. These are chiefly groups of Kukis, Mizos and Chins. They feel insecure as many of them who came to Manipur after 1951 or whose lineage may not meet the list of criteria set out in the Bills, could now be legally identified as ‘outsiders.’ Many of them also believe a rumour that the two amendments would be valid in the Manipur Hills districts, which is untrue.
The issues might not have escalated had the State government consulted the Hill Areas Committee before passing the Bills in order to clear any misunderstanding. Neither the organisation that had led the pro-ILP movement nor any of the tribal organisations was approached for any kind of dialogue. The pro-ILP movement was mostly confined to the Valley districts, while the people in the Hills isolated themselves, assuming and arguing that they were protected from outsiders under existing laws. As the tensions grew in the absence of dialogue, political groups added fuel to the fire to try and topple the Congress-led government and invite President’s Rule. Hence, it is not any genuine fear of becoming marginalised but realpolitik that is playing out in the hills of Manipur. But from any perspective, this is a dangerous portent for all the northeastern States. The Centre and the State need to come forward quickly to engage the people and figure out a solution to the crisis in order that it won’t go out of control.