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Union Home Ministry’s review of Manipur situation sans CM raises eyebrows

Manipur Legislative Assembly | File photo

Regardless of personal opinions about the Chief Minister, he is the elected leader of Manipur and should be accorded due respect and responsibilities as mandated by the Constitution. If found inadequate, he should be replaced democratically.

By RK Nimai

According to Clause (1) of Article 1 of the Constitution of India, “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States,” and under Clause (2) of the same article, the states and territories are specified in the First Schedule. A close examination of the 7th Schedule to the Constitution reveals that several items previously listed in List II-State List have been omitted and transferred to either List I-Union List or List III-Concurrent List. Essentially, subjects originally under state jurisdiction have gradually been encroached upon by the Union. Recent major changes include those related to education and taxes on the sale and purchase of goods. This effort has been made by parties irrespective of their political leanings, provided they had a large majority in Parliament. The trend has been to weaken state powers in favour of the Union, shifting from federalism towards a unitary system of governance.

During the recent Lok Sabha election, one of the opposition’s main concerns was that if the BJP returned to power with a larger representation, the Constitution might be amended to further centralize power. The electorate seemingly shared this apprehension, as the BJP did not secure a simple majority on its own and now relies on allies, some of which are unpredictable, to form the government.

Regarding the crisis in Manipur, the Union Government has intervened without invoking the mandated provisions of Articles 352, 355, or 356 of the Constitution, which allow intervention during grave emergencies affecting national security, external aggression, internal disturbances, or failure of constitutional machinery in states. This overreach by the Union has been facilitated by a compliant State Government, unable to effectively maintain public order. Initially, the Chief Minister (CM) declared that law and order in the hills would be managed by the Union Home Minister (UHM), while he would oversee the valley. Recently, the UHM chaired a review meeting on June 17th, excluding the CM. If the meeting had been called by the Union Home Secretary, it might have avoided criticism. The exclusion of the CM, who also heads the Home Department in the state, raises questions. In contrast, in a recent review meeting concerning Jammu & Kashmir, the Lieutenant Governor (LG), the political executive, was included. Jammu & Kashmir lacks an elected government and is governed by a Union-appointed LG. In Manipur, a popular government with a significant legislative majority exists, yet the political executive was denied participation in such a crucial meeting.

The state’s representatives at the meeting were the Advisor (Security), Chief Secretary (CS), and Director General of Police (DGP), all appointed by the state government on the verbal advice of the UHM. This setup implies that the state’s perspective was likely underrepresented. The CS, being a cadre officer, would have a grounded perspective, while the other two, non-cadre officers, included a retiree and an officer on deputation from a Central Police Organization (CPO). This meeting, perceived as a constitutional violation, appears to encroach on state responsibilities. Manipur seems to be treated as a Union fiefdom, contrary to constitutional provisions, with a CM who “cooperates” as previously noted by the UHM in Parliament. Constitutional mandates must be upheld without undermining state responsibilities through extraneous means, despite the CM’s cooperation, which holds limited relevance.

The publicized decisions from the review meeting offer little beyond the potential deployment of additional Central Security Forces (CSF) if necessary. The UHM’s instructions to the CS to ensure proper health and education facilities for displaced people and their rehabilitation, while justified, overstep state jurisdiction. His announcement that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) would engage with both the Kuki and Meitei communities seems impromptu, with no evident efforts towards this. The question arises whether the UHM perceives the CM as a Meitei representative rather than the state’s leader, which would be even more concerning.

Despite narratives suggesting the potential imposition of Articles 352 or 356, the government’s failure to manage the crisis might indicate a leadership change, not necessarily Presidential Rule (PR) or emergency, which could benefit the party. Alleged support for the Kuki National Army-B (KNA-B) in containing insurgent groups in Myanmar was refuted by authorities, though these denials are met with skepticism. Historically, the Kuki have been used to monitor insurgent movements. The recent death of an insurgent commander on the border between Tengnoupal and Myanmar could exacerbate tensions between the Kuki and Naga communities. The reported recall of Kuki-Chin immigrants after an incident, leading to threats against the Barmar and Shan communities in Kabaw valley by KNA-B, resulting in their seeking refuge in Kamjong District, highlights rising inter-community tensions.

Northeast India’s residents of Mongoloid descent have long been marginalized, often derogatorily called “chinky” or “Chinese” elsewhere in India. Conflicts within these communities, even when resulting in significant casualties, rarely impact the national consciousness. However, the escalating crisis threatens to make restoring normalcy in the state increasingly difficult. The conflict between the insurgent groups in Myanmar could easily spill over into India, potentially sparking a larger crisis between the Kuki and Naga communities, reminiscent of the 1992 conflict. The Government of India (GoI) must be aware of developments along the Kamjong and Tengnoupal borders with Myanmar. Reports of illegal immigrants constructing houses in Maring territory without the knowledge of nearby villages or the state government indicate significant illegal immigration. If the Assam Rifles (AR) are indeed aware of this, it suggests GoI’s cognizance of the situation, necessitating immediate biometric capture and listing of such immigrants.

The UHM’s review of the Manipur situation without inviting the CM has raised more questions than answers. Regardless of personal opinions about the CM, he is the elected leader of Manipur and should be accorded due respect and responsibilities as mandated by the Constitution. If found inadequate, he should be replaced democratically. The CM should prioritize the dignity of his office and constitutional provisions over his position. The nation, especially those in Manipur, will closely monitor the outcomes of the review and any subsequent meetings between the UHM and CM. Alternatively, the review might have been a pretense before Parliament session.

(RK Nimai is a retired bureaucrat and a popular columnist whose views are well respected by stakeholders in Manipur)

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