The fractious demand for ILP in Manipur

Published on August 27, 2015

By Nehginpao Kipgen

The Hindu – August 27, 2015

The government could implement the Sixth Schedule in the hill areas; the Kukis and Nagas would enjoy autonomy in their respective regions but remain within Manipur

Manipur has witnessed a series of protests starting in July this year, following demands for the implementation of the Inner Line Permit (ILP) system in the State. The protesters have demanded that the government introduce the ILP bill in the State Assembly. The agitation gained momentum after an 11th grade student from Ananda Singh Higher Secondary Academy, demanding the implementation of the ILP system, was killed when police used teargas to disperse protesters.

If the bill is passed and enacted into law, it will require outsiders to obtain a special pass or permit to enter the State. The system is in force in the neighbouring States of Nagaland and Mizoram and also in Arunachal Pradesh.

Initially, the British colonial government had introduced the system to protect its commercial interests, particularly in oil and tea. It was continued to protect the tribal peoples and their cultures. The ILP, which remained in force until 1950, was revoked by the then Commissioner of Assam, whose jurisdiction also covered Manipur. Since Manipur, which attained Statehood in 1972, is not officially a tribal State, there are constitutional challenges to implementing the ILP system.

Though the majority Meitei community would have liked to make the demand an inclusive one, the issue has become divisive and in some instances has even taken a communal tone. Among the three major communities of Manipur – Meitei, Kuki, Naga — the ILP system has been demanded only by the Meiteis. As a result, following opposition from the local community, a planned rally in support of the ILP was cancelled in Churachandpur, a predominantly Kuki town.

In Moreh, a town on the India-Myanmar border, an indefinite curfew was imposed on August 18 after clashes broke out between ILP supporters and those against it. The campaigners, spearheaded by the Joint Committee on Inner Line Permit System (JCILPS), have not planned rallies in Naga-dominated areas of the State.

Kuki concerns

The Kuki population is wary of the motives of the ILP campaign. The apprehension has recently been heightened by the fact that some within the Meitei community have called the Kukis ‘foreigners’.

Though the Kukis are an indigenous group in Manipur, there are some who fear that the Meiteis could use the ILP to advance their stand of Kukis being foreigners. This seems to be an important reason why many within the Kuki community do not support the ILP or the Meiteis’ demand for tribal status.

On August 3, the Government of India and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) (NSCN-IM) signed a peace accord in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Though the details of this agreement are yet to be disclosed, there is serious concern that Naga-dominated areas within Manipur will be integrated with Nagaland. Given how Telangana was created in 2014, there is a possibility that the Indian government may consider redrawing State boundaries, if it sees potential benefits outweighing the status quo.

There is also a lingering question of whether the armed Kuki and Naga groups would reach an agreement on land disputes in the hill areas. Or, will the Indian government hold a political dialogue and sign peace accord with the Kuki groups?

One possible amicable solution for the government is to implement the Sixth Schedule in the hill areas. Under such a political arrangement, the Kukis and Nagas would enjoy autonomy in their respective areas but remain within the State of Manipur.

Nehginpao Kipgen is a U.S.-based political scientist and author of Politics of Ethnic Conflict in Manipur.

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