Sadar Hills movement and its impact

Published on August 19, 2014

By Tonghen Kipgen

The Sadar Hills Movement in Manipur may be divided into two phases. The first phase covered the period from 1971 to 2010, while the second is the public movement that occurred in the year 2011. Sadar Hills movement can be termed as public movement in view of the mass response and mass participation and also the fact that the issue has gone up to the level of the Indian central governemnt. It is also referred to as 123 days of agitation which covered the period between July 1 to October 31, 2011, the day Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed and the agitation suspended. One significance of the movement was that it was mostly manned by women that infers no woman no society.

A. Political consciousness

The expansionist policy of the valley brethren gave rise to distrust among the people in Manipur. The hill people realized that sooner or later their ancestral land would be snatched away by the majority community. Their apprehension was reaffirmed by the statements of Manipur chief minister and his cohorts, certain valley based revolutionary forces, and in talks and discussions in seminars organized by certain valley-based civil society groups in Imphal. Such a clandestine policy to intrude into the tribal areas was immensely resented by not only Sadarians but all the hill peoples of Manipur. The movement, however, implicitly brought about many fruitful results. It inspired the people the value of land for which others were envious of. It also laid strong foundation for the tribal people in Manipur the feeling of oneness and helped in building political consciousness, awareness for justice and a sense of unity.

Subsequently, the movement also led in ushering a significant change in the mindset of certain valley-based civil society groups. Many leaders are aware of the sentiments of the deprived tribals. But what is heartening to which the people of Sadar Hills are deeply indebted is that in the crucial joint-meeting with the valley-based civil society groups on October 17, 2011 at the secretariat complex in Kangpokpi, most of the leaders expressed their support for district-hood to Sadar Hills. It is also encouraging to remember that there is one just and fearless leader from the valley in the person of N. Binoy Singh, the leader of a renowned society, Manipur Senior Citizens, who heartily declared and publicly supported that Sadar Hills should be accorded full-fledged district for peace and development. The admonition of a well-known legal expert in Manipur Khaidem Mani to legalize the issue and to fight in the court is a good advice which is not practicable.

History is a testimony to the fact that the collapse of the powerful multi-national Austro-Hungarian Empire during 1914-18 was due to the growing forces of nationalism which it could not withstand. Likewise, the movement for district-hood was undoubtedly an eye-opener to the denizens of Sadar Hills for the growth of a new political idea. In spite of certain shortcomings, the movement laid strong foundation for political consciousness among the people. This new political concept inspired the people that ‘so long as they are under the domain of Manipur justice will not be provided to them’. In an interaction with delegates of Manipur Senior Citizens Society headed by N. Binoy Singh at Kangpokpi on August 1, 2012, Seikhomang Khongsai, a public worker, had stated that “It is in the notion of several leaders that Sadar Hills issue will not be materialized so long as we are under the dominion of Manipur state headed by brethren Meiteis.” To this Ch Haujakam, former president of the Kuki Inpi Manipur, the apex body of the Kukis in Manipur added that “….the Kukis are the community who staunchly stood for the integrity of Manipur since time immemorial and even during the turbulent times of the then Maharajas. It is that loyalty that more than hundreds were butchered and thousands rendered homeless during Kuki-Naga clashes; we are yet to be compensated.”

B. Economic impact

One of the greatest consequences of Sadar Hills movement is inflation and economic depletion in Manipur. With the increasing intensity of the movement, vehicles along the three lifeline National Highways in Manipur connecting the landlocked state to other parts of the country came to a grinding halt. The agitation triggered rise in prices of most essential commodities, not sparing even grocery items and locally available perishable goods and vegetables. With prices of essential goods sky-rocketing, the Manipur State Level Price Fixation Committee held several meetings. Instructions were given to the traders to put up the price notice board for all to see but that was not a remedy to the hardship of the people. In his open letter to the Hon’ble Prime Minister, government of India, L. Lalit Singh, former president of MPCC (I) and ex. finance minister of Manipur had exclaimed that….blockade and counter blockade has been worsening the grave situation both in the balley and hill districts of Manipur since the first of August 2011 onwards. The 30 lakh population of Manipur feels alarming and panicky that they are strangulated. The innocent, poor and helpless people may die due to scarcity of essential food items including life-saving drugs/oxygen, etc., petrol, diesel and domestic cooking gas are not available……The people of Manipur are bearing and surviving with untold miseries in a most awkward and deplorable condition so long (IFP 15/9/11).

Apart from shortage of consumer items, oxygen stock and life-saving drugs at both RIMS (Regional Institute of Medical Sciences) and SHIJA Hospital & Research Centre had been reportedly exhausted that resulted in suspension of all routine operations. In view of untold hardship of the people, especially the patients, the SHDDC had later exempted ambulances and medical related transportation on humanitarian ground. It not only taken its toll on the essential commodities, fuel stocks were dried up and whenever little quantity was available there used to be elongated queues at fuel outlets in the city. With price of the staple food items like rice shooting up miserably, price of various vegetable items had also been increased by double or more. In this regard even BJP, a national political party, strongly condemned the government of Manipur over the inability to ensure availability of essential commodities at appropriate prices. In his press briefing on September 10, 2011 at Imphal, Prakash Javadekar, BJP National Spokesperson, stated that the SPF government in Manipur had lost all credibility and that he asked the governor for imposition of president’s rule in Manipur. On the other hand, the president of MPP (Manipur Peoples Party), Nimaichand Luwang had asserted in his press briefing on September 14, 2011 that….The scarcity of essential commodities and abnormal price hike due to economic blockade has caused much suffering to the common people.

It is not only the economic condition of the valley but even the hills were vehemently affected, especially in Sadar Hills where the agitation erupted. But with the hope for future economic aggrandizement even the bread earners were the stronger supporters of the movement by abandoning their daily wage earning and staunchly demonstrating their angers on the streets. The economy of the state was immensely affected, the people had lost unaccountable wealth and hundreds of crores of rupees was undeniably loss of which the leaders of SHDDC deeply regretted. But leaving aside the denial of justice and administrative opportunities, no one is aware that the economic deprivation of Sadar Hills in all spheres during the last 40 years which approximately amount to more than 38,000 crores of rupees. The people have been mercilessly impoverished. This matter of economic loss and deprivation of economic opportunities was brought clearly to the notice of the chief minister of Manipur in the memorandum of SHDDC on July 26, 2011, the day leaders of SHDDC and all the Hon’ble Members of Sadar Hills Autonomous District Council staged a sit-in-protest at the office complex of Additional Deputy Commissioner at Kangpokpi. Specifications of economic affect and firm/reliable estimates regarding the loss of the government as well as individuals could not be brought out; however, it is out of doubt and dispute that irreparable economic loss is besetting Manipur due to Sadar Hills movement on several occasions.

C. Administrative Effect

The movement for Sadar Hills in 2011 has also affected the administrative set up of Manipur. Besides the existing three sub-divisions, the government of Manipur had created three more sub-divisions and Tribal Development Blocks in Sadar Hills along with the creation of Lhungtin Sub-Deputy Collector office under the existing Saikul sub-division. The state government also issued orders in renaming and shifting the existing sub-division of Kangpokpi as Champhai sub-division and Tribal Development Block with its headquarters at Champhai. Consequently, official inauguration of the newly created three SDOs/BDOs along with SDC Lhungtin was done by the Hon’ble Chief Minister of Manipur O.Ibobi Singh on December 17, 2011 at Kangpokpi Mini Secretariat complex. However, to their blatant ploy the government of Manipur had clandestinely put several police stations and police out-posts under the domain of valley police administration, which is a covert attempt and indeed injustice. However, the government had issued corrigendum in putting the newly created New Keithelmanbi police station (along National Highway 37) under Sadar Hills from Imphal West police administration, and also Kangchup police out-post from Imphal West to Sadar Hills police administration. The public also alarmed the state government to relocate the newly created Purum Likli police station and Maphou police out-post in Saikul sub-division under Sadar Hills from the elsewhere Imphal East police administration to which the government is yet to issue necessary orders. Needless to say, the given police stations or out-posts were under the territorial jurisdiction of Sadar Hills Autonomous District Council.

D. Attention of Central Government

Unlike any other issues in Manipur, the concerned and the intervention of the high level officials of the government of India is encouraging though not satisfactory. As reported by the local dailies, the Chief Minister of Manipur called on the Union Home Minister Shri P. Chidambaram in New Delhi on August 20 and 21, 2011 and held two separate meetings on the political situation prevailing in Manipur following the movement for Sadar Hills and prolonged imposition of economic blockade on National Highways. The Chief Minister also held talks with the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh, on August 22, 2011 at around 1930 hrs (TSE 22/8/11). While meeting with delegates of Sadar Hills (SHDDC) at his official residence in New Delhi, as invited, the Union Home Minister Shri P. Chidambaram stated that….I am very much concerned of your problem, your demand is genuine, matter of Sadar Hills is unique and cannot be compared with other issue….so I met your Chief Minister yesterday and advised him to amicably solve your problem. The Chief Minister of Manipur was again summoned by New Delhi on September 1, 2011 to table a detailed action plan of the state government on Sadar Hills before the Prime Minister and Home Minister (IFP 3/9/11).

On the other hand, the Union Home Minister, in his press conference in New Delhi on September 29, 2011 appealed for the withdrawal of economic blockade on National Highways passing through Manipur and also stated that the matter of the agitation for Sadar Hills district-hood is looked into by the government.

Meanwhile, in his briefing to media persons after a cabinet meeting on the evening of October 11, 2011, Shri N. Biren Singh, spokesperson and Minister of SPF government in Manipur stated that the Chief Minister of Manipur is leaving Imphal for New Delhi tomorrow to meet the president, prime minister, home minister and other central officials. Subsequently, as summoned, the chief minister had met UPA Chairperson and Congress President Sonia Gandhi on October 14, 2011 and discussed the issue of economic blockade in Manipur. While meeting with central leaders, the union home minister had expressed dissatisfaction with the measures taken up by the state government on matters of Sadar Hills (TSE,17/10/11). Though what really transpired in their meetings was not known, it is worth to note the momentum of Sadar Hills movement that drew the attention of high level officials of the central government.

Mention may also be made that, the BJP delegation comprising leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj, leader of the opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley and National President Nitin Gadkari, BJP Manipur State leaders Shanti Kumar Singh, Janglet Haokip and others met the prime minister of India on October 20, 2011 and sought his intervention over the agitation in Manipur. In her press briefing after meeting the prime minister, Sushma Swaraj said, “While apprising the prime minister about the situation in Manipur, which is not only sensitive but also dangerous, we made some demands. Prices of essential commodities have sky-rocketed, petrol and diesel being sold at arbitrary prices, potato and vegetable prices are so high that even the rich cannot afford them. So we have demanded……president’s Rule in the state”.

E. Emotional Impact

Some people felt that the 2011 Sadar Hills movement was a failure as it failed to attain the goal of district-hood. This view is true in the sense that inauguration of Sadar Hills district as demanded is not materialized for the time being. Besides, the Manipur state government too has been requesting the SHDDC to have faith once more in the sincerity of the government to solve and address the issue for which the agitation had to be suspended.

After signing MoU, the SHDDC leaders met some prominent social leaders to admit that the desired goal of district-hood could not be attained this time too and that the present phase of agitation has to be suspended once more. Yet certain socio-political leaders reacted with words of encouragement. Paokam Kipgen, a social leader, said that “there is nothing to be disheartened for not having attained a full-fledged district-hood as a movement of such magnitude this time would keep the issue alive for ultimate realization of the goal one day.” C. Doungel (Retired IRS), and former cabinet minister of Manipur governemnt strongly believed that “….though the ultimate desire of district-hood could not be achieved in this phase of movement the people of Sadar Hills have made known to the world their aspiration, existence and sense of unity which is a more precious achievement.” Certainly this phase of movement is unique in terms of mass response and participation and also the fact that the issue has gone up to the level of the union government, the prime minister of India and even her excellency the president of India. While talking to The Chinland Guardian on September 8, 2011, a U.S.-based political analyst, Nehginpao Kipgen, asserted that…The ongoing situation in Sadar Hills District, Manipur, India has attracted attention of not only the ethnic peoples in North East India but also the Chins from Burma.

The signed MOU was not a matter of stones in lieu of bread. The agitation was suspended but the movement for Sadar Hills is not eliminated. Therefore, the sacrifices and sufferings of the people of Sadar Hills in pursuit of their goal for attainment of justice, more political autonomy, administrative power and economic development so far would not go in vain.

Till around the 1930s, India was a united nation with emotional integrity in spite of the fact that there were some ill feelings for the political autonomy of the Muslims, however, they were leaderless and divided and fearful. However, exclusive policy and the domineering attitude of the Congress leaders after the election of 1937 in which the Congress commanded majority in most of the provinces avoided and betrayed the Muslim leaders that was led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah who initially was against two nation theory. Later on, congress unsolicited approach caused the unexpected diversion of the spirit of oneness in the minds of the Muslims. This was a bitter blow to Jinnah….It also formed a Rubicon in his life, to which, once crossed, he never looked back….He never trusted Congress leaders again and determined that the only way to deal with them was to throw their tactics of obstruction back to themselves….the success he had achieved in so short a time (Percival Spear, A History of India, p.229).


Sadar Hills issue cannot remain stagnant in spite of the state government’s reluctance and the Kacha Nagas’ (Nagas of Manipur) opposition to it. The state government has been depriving the people of their right for 40 years but it will not be able to suppress the people for long. Here, some pertinent questions arise: Why was MoU signed? Why the agitation was suspended? These questions must be lurking in the minds of all who are concerned with Sadar Hills and who have gone through this article. Particulars of those who played negative roles, from where different types of threats came, reasons for criticisms/allegations levelled against the leaders that have not been clarified, etc. cannot be divulged at the moment as full-fledged political autonomy has yet to be achieved. The people’s support and trust on the leaders is stronger than those reckless criticisms. Everything would be laid bare in the course of time after attainment of the ultimate goal of justice, economic aggrandizement and more administrative autonomy.

Before and since independence, several tribes launched movements demanding ‘autonomous’ states or districts in which they could manage their own affairs (G.Shah, Social Movements in India, p.94). Movement for autonomy to Sadar Hills was neither the first nor would be the last movement in Manipur. It is an outcome of denial of justice and deprivation to the denizens of Sadar Hills. Valley-centric policy and monopolizing of every promising projects, concentration of development infrastructures in the congested valley areas, the lust of the fertile lands and parts of hills areas, and domineering attitude of the dominant community are the main causes of disunity, underdevelopment and people’s discontentment in Manipur. Sadar Hills is in the process of being full-grown district which is inevitable like a chicken nearing its hatching. The public are just impatient as it has stretched out for too long. To undermine the people’s aspiration and rightful claim would mean prolonging a chronic ailment for Manipur State. Colonel Swaran Singh of 43/AR during an interaction on May 3, 2012 had also admitted that “Public is power; public movement is the most powerful movement.” Hence, no one in the world can crush a popular movement.

More autonomy to Sadar Hills will consolidate the integrity of Manipur. If justice is not done to Sadar Hills at the earliest as per laws of the land and the aspiration of its inhabitants, the sense of fury and desperation would compel the people to take an all indifferent political stand including declining district-hood itself which will alter the geo-ethno-politics of Manipur. Prolong delay in solving Sadar Hills issue will only create radical political change in Manipur. This will be a political blunder for the authority concerned, the state government. A thing is worth if acceded to when demanded; worthless as useless junk when no more needed or asked. In view of the genuineness and legitimacy, amicable solution would have been better than repressive measures and indifference dealing. The Chinese revolution, with the communists finally triumph in 1949 was partly a consequence of the state’s inability to cope with the various issues of the 1930s and 1940s.

Ironically, a system may response too vigorously to challenges and the effective response may set in motion a chain of events that the government was seeking to avoid. An armed insurrection in Dublin in 1916 offered little direct threat to British rule in Ireland; it was poorly supported and easily crushed. However, such was the ferocity of the British government’s response; especially the execution of some of the captured rebels that opposition to British rule increased enormously and helped pave the way for the creation of an independent Irish state later in 1922 (Allan R.Ball, Modern Politics and Government).

Tonghen Kipgen is the author of a book eintiled “Sadar Hills Movement” published in 2012 by Spectrum Publications in India. He was the general secretary of Sadar Hills Districthood Demand Committee (SHDDC) during the 2011 public movement. He can be reached at

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