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BJP-Cong face-off: War of Words over War on Drugs in Manipur

MLA Meghachandra and a Congress member Kshetrimayum Kennedy coming out of the SP's office

As acrimonious and politically evocative comments are exchanged, the silent majority still remains quiet for reasons best feared by them.

By Wakching Lai

While the government of Manipur has been intensifying its efforts to wage an ostensibly serious ‘War on Drugs’ by making key seizures, arrests and destruction of poppy plantation in the hill areas with tall claims of success, there has been another War of Words between the ruling BJP and opposition Congress Party in recent weeks.

The most recent showdown between the BJP and Congress had been triggered by the seizure of a huge consignment of drugs from a team of Manipur commando personnel by Kakching district police on January 16, 2023 at Pallel (Kuraopokpi) along Moreh-Imphal highway.

Soon after the seizure of the drugs from the commando team, Manipur Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC) president and Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) of Wangkhem Assembly Constituency K Meghachandra visited the office of the Superintendent of Police (SP) Kakching and later addressed the media in connection with the incident.

Reacting to the visit of the MLA, chief minister N Biren Singh is reported to have promptly stated that no MLA came to inquire when the police department destroyed drug manufacturing units. However, when seizures were made from police personnel, one of the MLAs visited the office of the SP, Kakching. The chief minister had apparently warned that the elected member who went to the SP’s office should take responsibility if there were hurdles in solving the drug case.

The BJP Manipur Pradesh vice-president Ch Chidananda also said that Congress party should not indulge in populism taking advantage of the situation in which police personnel were involved. Speaking to media persons at the BJP office recently, Chidananda said that the Congress party should stop projecting the War on Drugs as a “game” and refrain from obstructing police officers from performing their duties.

FIR against MLA Meghachandra, Kennedy

Later, it was learnt that Kakching Police had registered an FIR against MLA Meghachandra and a Congress member Kshetrimayum Kennedy of Kakching. According to the FIR registered on January 21, the complainant accused the MLA and Kennedy of “obstructing public servant in discharge of public functions, criminal trespass with common intention – punishable under section 186/447/34 IPC”. The complaint further stated that when the SP returned to his office between 3pm to 3.15pm, he found that the MLA and Kennedy were already there. Through social media, the SP came to notice that K Meghachandra had given an interview to the press after leaving the office “without any intimation to him”.

According to the complaint, the SP had submitted that “providing interview to the social media at a time when the peak of investigation is underway and at a location where investigation work is going on, acts as a huge distraction for the police who are investigating a case, especially in the house immediately after the detection of a crime”.

“Further, passing unpleasant remarks on the war on drugs initiative and in close proximity to the place where investigation is under going without intimation to the undersigned serves as a huge distraction to the working of the police.  Such activities dampen the momentum of investigation and acts as an obstruction while performing the duties of police. It is therefore, requested to kindly registered a regular case for proper investigation”, said the complainant.


Congress Reacts

Reacting to the allegations of the BJP and the complaint, Congress leader O Joy in a press briefing stated that after the seizure of illegal drugs from a police commando team’s vehicle, MLA Meghachandra went to the SP’s office at Kakching and expressed his opinions and views. He indicated that it was under the instruction of the chief minister, an FIR was filed against the MLA and a congress member.

O Joy further stated, “We should note that all the democracies of the world and their elected representatives are enjoying the power, privilege and immunities under respective provisions of their constitutions. All states in India and all members of the Commonwealth are enjoying the same privilege…..It is not a sin or crime to enter the offices of government functionaries”, he said.

The Congress leader pointed out that all representatives and civil servants are governed by certain principles and conventions. “It is not a crime. It is permissible under law and parliamentary practices. And if the state decides to apprehend an MLA for visiting the office or police officer, is it not a violation of the same convention and laws provided under the constitution….It amounts to breach of privilege of an honourable member of the house. And it would amount to contempt of the house… Where will the value of parliamentary democracy be if a prime minister start instructing police to arrest elected members of the parliament?”, O Joy argued and asked.

While appreciating the efforts put in by the Manipur chief minister N Brien Singh, the Congress leader pointed out that “there are so many questions that can be asked to the government on its War on Drugs. So many drugs have been seized, but where have all the seized drugs gone? Every seizure has to be properly accounted while maintaining accountability….there are some lapses on the part of the government”

Hand over drugs related cases to CBI, Congress proposes

Manipur Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC) has proposed that all illegal drugs related cases reported between 2012 and till date be handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) so that the same can be independently investigated.

As the war of words unfolded, the BJP also raised the question of 28 cases involving security personnel when the Congress was in power in the state and had sought to know if any of these cases were investigated by the CBI.

The Congress was quick to point out that during the Congress government headed by O Ibobi Singh, a huge consignment of drugs was seized at Pallel from some individuals including a military officer. The party said that after the incident, the military officer was dismissed from service and one drugs related case in which a relative of O Ibobi Singh was alleged/suspected to be involved, had been handed over to CBI under strong public pressure.

Amid allegations and counter allegations flying thick and fast, a youth Congress leader Ningthoujam Popilal on January 25 reportedly stated that there is a high probability that police personnel are being used as drug transporters in the state.
“If police personnel are used for transportation in drug business, then where will the war on drug go?,” he asked.

The youth leader pointed out the possibility of involvement of high profile persons in the case and even demanded the chief minister and the DGP to resign on moral ground if they are unable to face drug related cases honestly.

The war of words continues. As acrimonious and politically evocative comments are exchanged, the silent majority still remains quiet for reasons best feared by them. The impact of a war as such has the possibility to not only fuel angst but also confuse the common people on the interpretation of facts on the ground, on one hand and the façade of a statist response to a crisis that is real and hard, on the other.  The public as well as the critics of the measures adopted by the state government, are trying to figure out if there is any space left for them to freely express their views. However, they will have their way someday.

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