By- Yambem Laba
For Manpur the year 2020 began in imphal as the 4th Indian State to be ’shielded’ by the Inner Line Permit under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation of 1873.This archaic law was drawn up by the then British Crown to safeguard the interests of the indigenous tribal population then residing in the Districts of Lushai Hills now Mizoram State ,Naga Hills now Nagaland State and the un -administered areas of te then North Eastern Frpntier Agency (NEFA) now Arunachal Pradesh State.The Lushai and Naga Hills had then formed part of Assam while NEFA was loosely administered from Shillong t the then capital of unified Assam. Theoretically it was plain and simple that these innocent tribals mostly of whom were yet to be introduced to the money economy needed to be shielded from the greed and avarice of the plains people from Assam and elsewhere in Bengal and be exploited to the hilt.Thus although being fellow Indian citizens one would still need a special permit a Visa of sort to visit these areas for a given duration of time not exceeding six months.Amongst the Dos and Don’t’s listed to the holder of the permit is that he/she cannot be engaged in killing of elephants and tapping of rubber. In the post independence era this protection was continued in Assam and NEFA and continues to do so till date.In Manipur it was implemented because it was not a part of British India but an Indian Princely State.But post 1947 when Manipur was administered by its own elected representative under a titular king it had adopted a permit system whereby outsiders required a permit to be obtained before entering the State.Then after Manipur got merged within the Indian Union in 1949 through the controversial and much debated Merger Agreement signed between the then Maharajah who was a titular head and the Government of India in Shillong the same entry permit system continued to be in vogue till 1952 when the then Chief Commissioner Himat Singh had it abolished opening up the Floodgates of illegal immigrants to flock to Manipur in search of greener pastures.
Then came the Foreigners’ movement of Assam which had crippled the State for more than half a decade a saw the hoisting into power of the likes of Messrs Prafullo Mohanta and Brigu Phukan to power riding on the euphoric waves of the people following the Assam Accord which was signed at the behest of then Premier Rajive Gandhi.The agreed points was to detect and deport all foreigners who had strayed into Assam post 1971.By 1979-80 the Foreigners’ movement had found reflection in Manipur under the All Manipur Students’Union (AMSU) and the All Manipur StudentsCo-ordinating Committee (AMSCOC).In 1980 the then chief minister R.K.Dorendra Singh signed a truce between his Government and the AMSU and AMSCOC inking down every details which the agitators were demanding.But it was not an executive order like the Assan Accord where although signed in the presence of Rajive Gandhi it was inked by the then Union Home Secretary on the part of the Government of India and officials of the Assam Government on one part and the All Assam Students Union (AASU) on the other part.In the case of Manipur it was done so for it contained the signatures of the Chief Minister and other political leaders on one part and the student agitators on the other only.
Meanwhile the fears of the Manipuri people losing its identity like those of the Tripuris of Tripura and te Kacharis of Assam and the Bhutia-Lepcha communities of Sikkim had continued to haunt the State.And in 1994 the Foreigners’ movement was relaunched by the AMSU under the leadership of N.Mohilal who was then President.Manipur began to burn again .Manipur incidentally was under President’s Rule and the Governor was the old soldier Lt.General V.K.Nayar(Rtd) the man who got N.Bisheswor the founder Chairman of the proscribed People’s Liberation Amy (PLA) of Manipur captured in 1981.The wizened od soldier first offered te olive branch to the AMSU and had instructed me to reach out to them.So I then told Mohilal to enter into an accord then for Manipur being under Presidents’ Rule it will tantamount to signing an accord with the Government of India. General Nayar had earlier objected ti his presence during the signing ceremony but I remainded him that although as the Head of the State it might be true but also reminded him that he was also the Head of the Government and hence his presence was mandatory.So it was sometime in the fall of 1994 that the formal accord to identify and deport the illegal immigrans from Manipur was signed at the Raj Bhawan Imphal. Signing on behalf of the Government of Manipur was K.K.Sethi IAS Chief Secretary and H.V.Goswami IAS (Rtd) Advisor to the Governor of Manipur as Witness,N.Mohilal President on behalf of AMSU and yours truly, myself as the witness on behalf of AMSU.The simple process of identification was to ask simple questions in Manipuri as to what his name was and his grandfather’s name and village.And within six months the Government machinery was able to detect more 4000 illegal immigrants and the entire process like almost all government schemes died a natural death.
Then came Irom Sharmila and her 16 years long fast crusade against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act ad the outrage over the rape and murder of Manaroma Devi by personnel of the 17-Assam Rifles.Then came the Naked protest of the 10 Meira Paibi (women social activists) in front of the Gates of the Kangla where the Assam Rifles were garrisoned with a placard that had simply read “Indian Army Come rape us”.That picture went viral and the Indian Army was seen the world over as a “Rapists Army”.The timely damage control by Manmohan Sing then premier saved the Day.He had instituted the Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee to to study the feasibility of replacing the AFSPA with a more”humane” Act and also ordered the Assam Rifles out of the Kangla ending more than a century old British legacy.
Then came the footfalls of the Indo-Naga peace talks between the NSCN(I-M) and the Government of India.Earlier in 2001 the Government of India got a taste of the fury of the Manipuri read Meitei the plainsmen of the State when the clause without territorial limits to the cease-fire agreement.
Then came the movement for the demand for the implementation of the Inner Line Permit System in Manipur. Earlier the UPA Government had categorically stated that the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation 1873 was an archaic law which has no place in modern India.However a hard pressed then Chief Minister Okram Ibobi of the Congress Government enacted an Act which ran something like Manipur Guests Regulation Act and sent it to the Centre for its accpeptance which was obviously denied.Then came the N.Biren Singh led coalition government in Manipur which is being headed by the BJP and hard pressed again the Biren Government again passed the Manipur People’s Protection Act on which the Centre sat on it again.
Then in a State where public agitations can be said to be a habitual way of life the CAB ghost crept in.And before the last elections to the Lok Sabha the BJP had withdrawn it for fear of not seeing through the Rajya Sabha CM N.Biren Singh had returned home almost claiming singlehandedly not seeing the Bill through and had orchrseted victory rallies and receptions across the State.But in the post election scenario when it became crystal clear that the BJP was going to see through it’s main election agenda of seeing the CAB through agitations began rearing its head in Manipur with the formation of the MANPAC a conglomeration of various civil society organizations and the battle lines began to be drawn. A worried CM Biren rushed to New Delhi to plead with Union Home Minister Amit Shah to insert a searate clause in the CAB exempting Manipur from it.
(to be contd.)
P.S.The author is the Special Representative of The Statesman based in Imphal
By- Yambem Laba