Were Ukhrul ambush and Sadar Hills issue stage-managed by State, and for what? - Manipur Government needs to play its cards right -

 The recent news of ambush on Manipur chief minister at the fortified Bakshi helipad, Ukhrul, by suspected militants has turned out to be a mystery with allegations and counter-allegations over the incident. Evidences and hints have led one to doubt if the chief minister, O Ibobi Singh, was indeed attacked during his Ukhrul visit on the 24th October. In fact, there is an increasing belief that it was a stage-managed incident to score political points for the forthcoming assembly elections early next year.

With the unusually heavy deployment of security personnel, it would have been a very difficult, if not impossible, task for militants to gain access to the site and attack the chief minister. There was no report of exchange of fire, nor was there a combing operation immediately after the incident. Except for the report of injury sustained by two IRB jawans due to the bomb explosion before the incident, there was no report of arrest or casualty either on security forces or the assailants.

While the state government has pointed finger at the NSCN-IM for the attack against the chief minister-led ministerial team, Ukhrul public, Naga civil organisations and the NSCN (IM) have rebuffed this and insisted that it was stage-managed by the Government of Manipur to sabotage the ongoing Naga peace process. Peeved about it, several Naga civil organisations have demanded a CBI probe into the incident, whereas the state government has ordered an inquiry headed by a top ranking Manipur police officer.

People of Ukhrul led by Tangkhul Naga Long (the apex body of Tangkhul community) boycotted the chief minister’s Ukhrul visit and imposed public curfew in protest against the State government’s plan to inaugurate several government projects, including the newly constructed Ukhrul government hospital, which allegedly were incomplete and not yet ready for service operation. Defying the boycott call, the chief ministerial team flew in a helicopter to Ukhrul to inaugurate the projects at Ukhrul town and Chingai, but had to return to the state capital without inaugurating any of the projects.

Then came the end of October, the issue of Sadar Hills became boiling again. The people of Sadar Hills have been betrayed again by the Government of Manipur, which has assured them of making Sadar Hills a full-fledged district on numerous occasions, the latest being at this year’s Kut festival.

The people were quietly cheering that Sadar Hills was going to be finally inaugurated either on October 31 or November 1. Even a plaque that has an inscription of inaugural ceremony was already erected at the premises of the Office of the Additional District Commissioner, Kangpokpi, reportedly at the instruction of the chief minister Ibobi.

However, their hope was soon dashed to the ground with the chief minister yet again failing them. Not only the general public, but the three MLAs, MDCs and leaders of civil organisations of Sadar Hills felt betrayed, insulted and angered.

Rumour has it that the chief minister retracted his decision to inaugurate Sadar Hills due to stiff opposition and pressure from Naga legislators and Naga civil organisations and threat from the NSCN (IM) against Naga legislators.

There has been agreement after agreement, memorandum after memorandum and assurance after assurance for making Sadar Hills a full-fledged district since the enactment of the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council Act, 1971, the Parliament Act that granted six Autonomous District Councils (ADCs), including Sadar Hills, in the hill areas of Manipur, to be subsequently upgraded as districts.

While all the other five ADCs – Churachandpur, Ukhrul, Chandel, Senapati and Tamenglong – have been upgraded as full-fledged districts long time back, Sadar Hills is not till now, despite people’s relentless demand since 1974, when a district demand committee for Sadar Hills was already formed. All the districts of Manipur have been created solely for administrative convenience, the last ones being the bifurcation of Imphal district into Imphal West and Imphal East following a resolution adopted by the W Nipamacha-led MSCP government on 17 November 1999. Sadar Hills was to be inaugurated simultaneously with the two new districts, but again left out. Why?

The demand for Sadar Hills district is purely on administrative grounds and should not be construed otherwise by both sides – those for and against it. Consisting of three assembly segments, that is, Saitu, Saikul and Kangpokpi, Sadar Hills is inhabited by different communities. Because it is demographically dominated by a particular community, just as in any other ADCs or districts, it does not mean another community will be deprived of their rights and privileges once it becomes a full-fledged district. In fact, all the communities and individuals residing in the district will have equal opportunities to enjoy the benefits of separate district administration.

It does not mean taking away the land of one community and giving it to another, but implementation of the Parliament Act, 1971 and translating assurances and agreements into action purely for administrative convenience and making life of the people easier. Essentially it means upgrading the existing offices of Additional Deputy Commissioner into that of Deputy Commissioner, Additional Superintendent of Police into Superintendent of Police and all other relevant offices without any alteration to the existing geographical boundary of the ADC.

While the support and consultation of all stakeholders are important, the reason for opposing it has to be justifiable and sensible, not communal. It is here where the State government’s judgement and ability to take a decisive action are crucial. The government should play its cards right.

The government lacks sincerity and commitment over the issue of Sadar Hills. On the one hand it promises, assures and reassures those for district-hood a full-fledged district, even fixing a date or time for inauguration on a number of occasions, but on the other hand it does quite the opposite with those against Sadar Hills district. The government should not make two contradicting promises over the same issue simultaneously.

It appears that the Congress government stage-managed both Ukhrul incident and Sadar Hills for political gains with the assembly elections round the corner. Ibobi’s or Congress party’s calculation may have been that the Ukhrul incident would evoke the issue of territorial integrity, stir up the sentiments of the valley people and win their hearts to vote for Congress party. (To be contd)

In the case of Sadar Hills, which is long overdue for inauguration, there are three probabilities as to why it may have been stage-managed. First, the government would present to the people of Sadar Hills as if it was really serious about Sadar Hills and that it would have inaugurated had it not been for the opposition from the Nagas. This rhetoric would have been with the determination that it would translate into pro-Sadar Hills district votes for Congress.

Second, the government would tell the Nagas that the plan to inaugurate Sadar Hills was dropped as a respect to Naga public sentiment and due to the pressure from Naga Congress legislators against the plan. This would have been with an aim to entice them to vote for Congress party.

Third, communalising or politicising the issue of Sadar Hills and lingering it would rake up the Naga-Kuki conflict of the 1990s and this would ensure that the (perceived) divide and rule policy towards the tribals remains effective. As long as the issue of Sadar Hills is communalised, tribal unity is bound to be at stake. This probability assumes significance in light of the unprecedented tribal unity in the aftermath of the passing of the infamous three anti-tribal bills in Manipur Legislative Assembly on August 30, 2015.

The war of words in the media between Naga and Kuki organisations over Ukhrul incident followed by Sadar Hills issue has not helped, and will not, bring a solution to the issue. It has instead worsened the situation and created communal tension. Leaders of different communities need to deal with this sensitive issue cautiously and refrain from making potentially harmful statements. There needs to be a sense of maturity and mutual respect in dealing with the issue.

In an extremely ethnic sensitive society such as Manipur, playing communal cards can easily overshadow the vitally important issues of governance, development, corruption, law and order, human rights violation, social justice etc. This may have been what the Ibobi-led Congress government is trying to exploit Ukhrul incident and Sadar Hills issue for its own narrow political gains in view of its popularity increasingly diminishing both in the valley and the hills of Manipur.

However, the Congress government is likely to face the backfire. In fact, there has been backlash from some quarters and the general mood of the public is against the government’s incompetence in handling critical problems.

While the passing of the three bills considered by the tribals as anti-tribal has upped the disapproval rating of the Congress party by the tribals, failure to implement the bills or an inner line permit system will impact on its election prospect in the valley, too. The growing public disaffection with the Congress government coupled with the rumbling within its own party is likely to make it tumble down soon.

Is the government playing communal cards over Sadar Hills issue? If not then, it must make its stance clear and try to settle the issue once and for all. If Manipur chief minister is so incapable of inaugurating Sadar Hills as a full-fledged district, then should a chief minister of another state do it?

How many more times does the government have to betray people of Sadar Hills and how many more times should the people believe the same government or party that has betrayed them over and over again? This time around the people of Sadar Hills seem to be really serious about the repeated betrayal and denial of their rights by the government and determined to pay back against the party in the coming elections.

For Manipur society, a broken society, to be mended, all communities need to live in peace and harmony with mutual respect and cooperation. If a government fails to deliver, then it deserves a lesson. If people want a good government and a change, then they have the chance to do so at election time. This is why democracy is called government of the people, by the people and for the people. People of Manipur should make that true for Manipur.