A five-year-old conglomerate of insurgent groups in Manipur has called for a shutdown in the state to ensure Prime Minister Narendra Modi has no listeners while campaigning for the BJP in Imphal on Saturday.
Police have tightened the security after the Coordination Committee (CorCom) issued the shutdown ‘notice’ on Thursday night.
However, what worries them more is a new “axis of evil” between home-grown groups and some outsider outfits that has cast the shadow of terror on Manipur’s Mandate 2017.
The two-phase elections to the 60-member Manipur assembly are scheduled on March 4 and 8.
Manipur-based rebel outfits with ethnic or ideological similarities had formed umbrella groups before the 2012 assembly elections.
That year, a militant posing as a voter killed five of them at a polling booth in Chandel district bordering Myanmar.
Chandel is back in focus after United National Liberation Front of Western Southeast Asia (UNLFW) ambushed and killed 18 Indian army soldiers in the district in June 2015. UNLFW was formed by the SS Khaplang faction of National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K) with the anti-talks faction of United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa-Independent) and other northeast groups.
These outfits floated UNLFW around the time the Myanmar-based NSCN-K walked out of a 14-year ceasefire with the armed forces. It lost no time in striking a strategic partnership with CorCom.
CorCom was formed in July 2011, but lacked the kind of firepower possessed by the UNLFW, allegedly backed by China and Pakistan for a greater design to keep India’s north-eastern sector in turmoil. Before the June 2015 incident, the last militant major strike in Manipur was in 1987 when the NSCN had not split into the Khaplang and Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) factions.
The Congress government in Manipur perceives NSCN-IM as a major threat, particularly after an ambush on chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh’s chopper at Ukhrul in October last year and the killing of three policemen in the newly-created Tengnoupal district last December.
The new trend of disparate groups hunting in packs in a state polarised along ethnic lines is expected to impact Mandate 2017. It is the reason why the Election Commission has marked almost 81% of 2,053 polling stations in the high-risk categories.
“Only 397 polling stations are marked normal, while 1,656 are sensitive and hypersensitive,” the state’s chief electoral officer Vivek Kumar Dewangan said.
“The economic blockade (since November 1, 2016) has posed some law and order challenges. External threats (from outfits operating from Myanmar) and renegade members of groups under SoO have also posed challenges. We are trying our best to ensure a peaceful election,” LM Khaute, Manipur’s director general of police, told HT.